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Old 31st August 2013, 20:04   #1
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Default A Road Trip to Chail

Hello everyone.

It's been a while since I last checked this website for interesting travelogues to read. It so happens that I, along with my wife, recently drove down to a quiet little town in Himachal Pradesh called Chail. I'm sure many of you would've heard of it, some of you would've already visited it and some, still, would be pondering about when you’ll be able to tick off “Chail, HP” from your list of places to drive to.

I'd like to let you know, first of all, that I belonged to that third group till 14th August 2013. Chail had been on my mind since I last drove down to Kasauli (from Gurgaon) in Dec 2012, because of the simple reason that I just had to get back in the car and drive straight on NH1 and enjoy the meandering and hilly NH22 again!

The trip to Chail kept getting postponed because of the busy work schedules of both my wife – Kanika – and me. (Yeah, tell me about it.) So, around the start of this month, we decided to make the trip by clubbing the weekend with the Independence Day holiday. I made online reservations at Chail Palace (the only HP tourism hotel there) and checked the car for basic essentials: engine oil, coolant, windscreen wiper blades and wiper fluid. Got the tank filled up and tyre pressures checked while returning from office on the evening of 14th. On the morning of 15th August 2013, we left our home in Gurgaon around 6:30 a.m. and by 6:45 a.m. were cruising on NH8 towards Delhi.

The route that we took was:

- Delhi to Ambala (NH1) – 200 km
- Ambala to Zirakpur (NH22) – 33km
- Zirakpur to Kandaghat (NH22) – 81km
- Kandaghat to Chail (narrow, meandering road that has no name) – 29km

Total: 343km one way

Lest we forget, the car: Ford Ikon 1.6 Nxt (petrol)

In order to avoid the mad rush at Azadpur (it’s crazy even at early morning, trust me), we turned left from Inner ring road to Outer ring road at Wazirpur crossing. Kept following the ORR till we saw a left cut with "Karnal" written over it. That took us (finally) to NH1 and after about 15 mins of seeing the last of Delhi traffic, we were on our way up north. It was raining very lightly and overall, the weather was great. We had started on empty stomachs because the paranthas at Murthal were waiting for us (they just didn't know it yet).

We reached Murthal around 8:30 a.m., by which time rainfall had increased and my speed was slowed down considerably. This place is a favoured pit stop for almost all travellers who are heading north from Delhi, be it to Punjab, Haryana or Himachal Pradesh. We stopped at Pahalwaan Dhaba and thankfully found a place to park the car as well as a table to park ourselves. The fresh, hot paranthas, smeared with a big blob of white desi butter, were heavenly. The cool weather made the meal that extra awesome. By the time we were done and ready to go, it had started raining quite heavily. We waited for about 10 minutes in the hope of the rain easing up and then, without actually noticing whether the rain had eased up or become heavier, just dashed towards the car and got in. You gotta have your kicks in life, even if they seem stupid sometimes, right?

Hurriedly getting into the car while the rain makes that incessant “tap-tap” sound on the roof, while fully aware that you’ve got a long stretch to drive on one of the busiest highways in the country, makes two important thoughts cross your mind – first, that the next driving stretch requires all senses on full alert. And second, that this one is sure going to be fun! So off we went, setting off towards Panipat on NH1. The rain got really heavy after about 10 minutes, and I had to considerably reduce speed and switch on the headlights, hazard lights and wipers on full speed. Remembering that 45 minute drive now, I wish I had the sense to take some photos. But then the wise part of my brain reminds me that I was a little too busy ensuring that the poor visibility doesn’t cause me to crash into passing cars. So, pictures could wait.

The rain eased up as we crossed Panipat, heading towards Karnal. The ‘aerial bypass’ at Panipat, was awesome as ever to drive on. Paid the toll and, the day being 15th August, wished the toll booth operator “Jai Hind”, to which the guy merely nodded and mumbled something in response. This was actually Kanika’s idea. I initially told her it was a weird one, but then thought that reminding someone to be happy for living in an independent country should by no means make him/her feel awkward, right? So, we decided to do this at every toll booth we came across, starting at Panipat. The responses, though cold and I-couldn’t-care-less at first, slowly started getting more cheerful, with the final one near Parwanoo on NH22 being a jovial “Jai Hind, sir!” Now, that’s more like it, eh? But more on that later.

The trip was going well so far. Rain had lightened up to just the right amount, creating an absolutely great weather to drive in. Those of you who’ve driven on NH1 must be aware of the flyover constructions currently (not) going on, and the resulting diversions, which start around Karnal and continue intermittently till Ambala. Now, in all my previous journeys on this road, I didn’t get so bothered about these diversions as they didn’t really kill my speed considerably. In fact, they were mere patches where I had to be careful driving on a narrow road and not overtake unnecessarily, content with the fact that within a minute or two I’ll be back on the highway. But, one thing both Kanika and I had failed to anticipate was that narrow roads that are at a lower level than adjoining land tend to get filled up with water during rains! The heavy rains had done their damage to these diversions and our journey from Karnal onwards was slowed down considerably. The big long diversion at Pipli was in such a mess that Policemen were diverting the traffic to go through Kurukshetra! So we did a mini driving tour of the town and rejoined the highway after losing about 25 mins. It was a little frustrating, but there was no other way (literally). The weather was still very pleasant and the traffic controlled, so things were okay.

Driving straight ahead on NH1 and wiggling through the occasional diversions, we finally reached Ambala. Somwhere around there we came upon another toll booth. I remember telling Kanika that maybe we should skip the Jai Hind part here as from previous experience, the toll booth operators didn’t exactly show a great deal of patriotic zeal. As I collected the change and put the car in first, Kanika leaned over and said to the guy “Jai Hind bhaiya!”. The guy, a little taken aback, showed a little smile and said “thank you”. I could almost read his mind – where do these people come from?! I nodded with a smile, and we moved on.

The road from Ambala onwards is actually NH22, as after a while you come across a bifurcation where NH1 goes towards Ludhiana/Amritsar and you need to stick to the road towards Chandigarh. From here, you’ll start seeing milestones showing the distance to Shimla. The drive is smooth, with some occasional city traffic and busy crossings. You need to keep in mind not to go all the way to Chandigarh. In fact, you’ll come across a flyover that goes to Chandigarh, which you need to avoid and instead take the left road, which heads straight in the same direction parallel to the flyover, but takes you to a little town called Zirakpur. Going a little further up on this road, you come across the main crossing from which you should take a right towards Panchkula (under the flyover). This parallel road was filled with water and I had to slowly trudge along in first gear, mindful of the fact that if water gets inside the silencer then it will be all over. (There was a black BMW stuck in the middle of the road with its tyres almost completely submerged in water; clearly its owner had not taken water logging seriously.) After taking the right towards HP you get to drive on a wonderful road that bypasses Panchkula and ultimately leads to the Himalayan Expressway. Now, this is the part where the hills start and the drive is one to remember. We paid the toll and got a slightly more enthusiastic response – this time the guy actually wished us back – and then got out our 12 mp Canon Powershot. So what if we didn’t have one of those high-tech SLRs, we thought. This one would do just fine. It was still raining lightly and the drive, finally, felt like you were leaving a congested place behind and going towards some place that had nothing to offer except simplicity, silence and clean air. It felt like you were leaving a world where people are more interested in your life than you are, and going to one where people just see you once and then move on. Perfect weekend getaway!

Kanika took a few pics along the way, which I have uploaded here. Just like us, we saw other families and couples driving towards the hills with seemingly the same anticipation as ours, on cars and bikes. The weather and drizzle made the whole journey amazing. Final toll booth – where the Expressway ends – was the most patriotic one. It wasn’t one of those big covered concrete structures, and instead just consisted of a few counters where people were doing their job wearing raincoats. The young man’s enthusiastic “Jai Hind Sir!!” was just the kind of response we were looking for. And it was just the kind of break that, I’m sure, he was looking for, as he did his work dutifully while it rained and trucks tried to jostle their way through. As the Americans say, “Ma man!”

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It was more than 4 hours since we had last eaten, as the rain had made our progress slow. I had read about Giani da dhaba at Dharampur, (esp. their lemon chicken), so we decided to resist the temptation to stop at the numerous dhabas that dot this highway and instead go for the ‘most famous one’. The drive on NH22 was good and it felt great winding through the hills. Since it’s a single road which is frequented by trucks, we came across occasional slow moving convoys being led by a slow moving truck, with 5-6 cars stuck behind waiting for the first car up front to make the move. This can be tricky as you need to wait for the perfect opportunity to overtake the vehicle in front. Even a single wrong move can result in something that calls for a slot in the TV series ‘Destroyed In Seconds’. So, although this drive is really good, be very careful while turning / overtaking here. This goes out especially to those who don’t have much experience of driving on hills.

We reached Dharampur around 2:30 p.m. and came upon the famous dhaba. The place was jam-packed and we had to park the car a little further up, on the side of the highway. As we entered, we came upon exactly what we were hoping to get away from – a loud and big crowd. Found a place to sit, ordered lemon chicken, daal and roti. Food was fresh and delicious. People seemed to be continuously pouring in, and by the time we were done eating, a couple with a kid were literally hovering over us, waiting for us to vacate the table. We paid the waiter a good tip as his service was quick and walked back to the car thinking “Hmm, so that was the famous Giani da dhaba.” We decided to avoid the place on our way back.

Moving on, we continued through Solan till we reached a place called Kandaghat. Here, the highway continues on to Shimla (to the left) while a narrow road cuts off to Chail (to the right). The distance to Chail from Kandaghat is 29km. The road is almost deserted and is great fun to drive on, owing to the zig-zag hilly terrain, scenic views and good road surface. We came across little towns on the way, biggest one being Sadhupul. The rain had picked up slightly and we drove on slowly, at an average speed of 20-30 km/h (that’s the maximum you can go on that stretch), and finally reached Chail around 5:45pm. I had booked a room for 2 nights at the Chail Palace Hotel (run by HP tourism) so thankfully we didn’t have to endure any hotel searching. The palace is located a little further up from the main town bazaar, and is divided into 3 campuses – one is Himneel Block that contains a few double bedrooms and a dorm, the second consists of log huts, located at a walk of about 10mins from HB, and the third is the main palace which is located at the top. Our room was booked in HB so we took that diversion, parked the car and stepped out to stretch our legs. It had been a long drive and we were glad to have finally reached our destination. I inspected the car and it looked really cool, with mud splashed all over the sides giving it a rally-like look. She’d had a long journey without giving even an ounce of trouble. We went inside the building and found out, to our surprise, that HB is essentially a ‘living quarters only’ place, with no restaurant. The building is built well, with a big courtyard and nice, comfortable bedrooms; but one needs to go to the main palace to first check in and then for all subsequent meals too! The palace is about 5 mins drive up, or about 10-15 mins walk. That was a bit of a let-down at first, as we were tired and just wanted to lie down for a few minutes and then order for dinner later. But you can’t stay in a hotel without checking in, so we headed up. Upon reaching the main palace – which is really splendidly located and looks very regal – we inquired if there were rooms available there so we could save ourselves the meal journeys from HB. Unfortunately the place was full with the only available room costing 7500 per night, so we checked into our already booked room at HB and got some sandwiches, chicken cutlets and French fries packed from the hotel restaurant before heading back down. This was to be our dinner as there was no way we were coming back up later in the night being so tired! Went back to HB, checked into the room and sprawled down on the bed. Thankfully they serve tea/coffee at HB so we ordered for some and relaxed deservedly. Room was good and warm. Switched on the TV, amused ourselves at some of the News Headlines splashing on screen, ate, checked out the pics we had taken en route and then took a small walk around the courtyard around 10pm. It was cold and surprisingly quiet and I felt grateful to all the team-bhp travelogues on Chail which had coaxed me to make this trip. What a place!

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Next day we decided to explore the little town a bit. There are some shops that sell simple stuff, from everyday grocery items to shoes, little toys and utilities. There are no petrol stations here, which at first came as a shocker as my car had about 5-6 litres of petrol left in it. But then, this is India, and there’s always a solution available closer than you think! It so happens that a certain puncture repair guy in the main market moonshines as a fuel seller. If you are low on fuel in Chail, he’s the man to go to. Without revealing anything more of his lucrative business, I’ll just say that I got 10 litres of petrol filled up and tyre pressures checked, before driving up to a place called Kalighati. The drive starts fine with beautiful surroundings, and then the road (or lack of it) becomes more rugged after a couple of minutes. At one point, the road became really narrow and steep, and we were praying for no incoming car from the other side. Reached the place in 10 mins and came upon a beautifully constructed Kali temple at the top of a hill. Though my wife and I are not particularly fond of visiting religious places, this place had a very serene charm to it. There’s a splendid 360 degree view of the valleys all around and the air is fresh and smells of damp grass and leaves. This is the kind of place you wish your house was situated at. We hung around for 20 mins and then came back down to the main town bazaar. Had brunch at a dhaba in the main street consisting of simple Indian food, and walked around exploring the town. Came back to HB, lazed around for a while and simply did NOTHING except for walking around. Kanika has studied in a boarding school near Mussourie (Oak Grove) and the place reminded her of those good old, healthy days of her life in the hills. Chail has lots of trails where you can take long walks, especially around the palace campus, and you can’t help but stop and admire the absolutely green surroundings and tall (really tall) pine trees. Apart from the occasional sound of a car climbing up the road, you’ll only hear birds chirping and tree branches swaying to the wind. Weather was clear with a blue sky, with no rain and a very pleasant air temperature. If you’re one who likes to spend time with nature, this is the place to be.

The place boasts of having the highest cricket ground in the world (higher than the one in Dharamshala?), but we decided to skip that as we just wanted to continue on our tryst-with-nature path. There are many monkeys around the place, and people need to be a little careful with their food items. But unlike their Delhi cousins, these monkeys are not really aggressive. We were careful to hide whatever food items we were carrying inside our jacket pockets, so there was no problem. Before long it was dark and we had worked up a good appetite from all the walking, so we decided to head up to the main palace for dinner. The sheer, quiet darkness all around was enthralling. Restaurant was full as, understandably, many people had utilized the long weekend to visit this place. (Word of advice here – if you’re in Chail Palace to eat then go for the Indian food.) After dinner we went back down to HB and called it a day.

Next morning was the day we had to head back to Delhi. Since we had to check out at the main palace anyway, we headed back up to have breakfast before checking out. The veg cutlets were really good which I’d highly recommend. Settled the bill, checked out, bid goodbye to the hotel staff and were on our way back at 10 a.m. on the narrow meandering road to Kandaghat. Upon joining the highway, we got the tank filled up at Solan and decided to continue driving without stopping till we reached Karnal. We figured it would be 4-5 hours’ drive to Karnal so we could have lunch at McDonald’s situated there by the side of the highway. The weather was very pleasant without any rainfall, and it stayed that way for a long time. We took the exact same route while coming back, and finally switched on the A/C after Ambala. The diversions along this stretch were tolerable as there was no water logging anywhere. Reached McD’s, had our fill of unhealthy fast food, continued on and finally reached the outskirts of Delhi around 5:45 p.m. Upon entering Delhi, we took the outer ring road and – as expected on any road in Delhi during a Saturday evening – we were staring at a sea of cars till as far as eyes could see. Wasted about 20 mins while crawling through a major traffic jam, then finally hit the inner ring road and took the highway back to Gurgaon. Reached home around 7:15 p.m. and boy, the energy that the last hour and half of driving in Delhi/Gurgaon drained out of me was equivalent to at least 5 hours of driving on NH1.

So, overall as with most of my other road trips, this turned out to be a great trip to an awesome place. We definitely plan to return to Chail, maybe sometime in the winter. And next time, we’ll probably break the journey by making a night stop at Chandigarh before continuing on to HP. To those of you who are planning to go to Chail and are stuck in the procrastination mode (as I was till very recently), I’d suggest just prep the car and go. In my opinion, a road trip to the hills offers a great getaway from our hectic office lives. Though it is good and comfortable to work in an air conditioned office 5 days a week and have that occasional week-long trip to Goa or Sikkim once in a while, it’s a whole different thing to be on the road, driving your own car, with no prescheduled trains/flights to catch, stopping whenever and wherever you want and reaching the place at your own convenience. For me, that kind of self-indulgence is worth constantly looking forward to.

Thanks for reading and let me know if I can be of help with any specifics that aren’t mentioned here.
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Old 1st September 2013, 18:50   #2
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Default Re: A Road Trip to Chail

Looks like one of those utterly relaxing do-nothing holiday trips to Chail, where you had a good time!

How is the road surface from Kandaghat to Chail? Last I knew, it used to be a patchy and broken road, though with very little traffic and with lots of greenery all around. Look forward to a detailed update from you.

And what about the the rest of the photographs?
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Old 1st September 2013, 19:08   #3
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Good to read your experience. I have also been to chail in 2011 and loved the place. In fact droved to chail from NOIDA in my Ritz diesel. The only problem I faced was that there was no petrol pump in chail. Overall, far better place as compared to crowded shimla.
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Old 2nd September 2013, 19:27   #4
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Default Re: A Road Trip to Chail

Originally Posted by SS-Traveller View Post
Looks like one of those utterly relaxing do-nothing holiday trips to Chail, where you had a good time!

How is the road surface from Kandaghat to Chail? Last I knew, it used to be a patchy and broken road, though with very little traffic and with lots of greenery all around. Look forward to a detailed update from you.

And what about the the rest of the photographs?
Yep, it was one of those leisure-getaways. We picked Chail because I'd heard the place offers just that.

Road surface from Kandaghat to Chail is actually pretty good, especially if you take into account that it's not a 'proper' road like NH22. Traffic is sparse and yes, the greenery is enjoyable. If I compare this road to the one from Dharampur to Kasauli (which I last travelled in Dec2012) then I would rate this one better. Maybe it's because the number of cars going to Kasauli is more, which affects the overall road condition. The only thing to keep in mind is that it can easily take you an hour to reach Chail from Kandaghat. I let a car or two overtake me as they seemed to be in a hurry (one of which is shown in the pics below), but I doubt that they gained more than 10 mins on me.

I've uploaded a few more pics here. There are some more but I can't seem to compress their size to anything less than 1 MB, so cannot upload them! Looking at the quality of these pics, I'm thinking I should start saving money to buy an SLR before my next trip.

Second last pic looks pretty lame, but is kind of spooky!

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Old 3rd September 2013, 08:42   #5
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Default Re: A Road Trip to Chail

Originally Posted by Supercool View Post
Good to read your experience. I have also been to chail in 2011 and loved the place. In fact droved to chail from NOIDA in my Ritz diesel. The only problem I faced was that there was no petrol pump in chail. Overall, far better place as compared to crowded shimla.
Thanks. I've heard Shimla is now pretty congested, as you mention. In fact, going by some of the travelogues here, the place looks like a concrete jungle now with traffic jams and whatnot. Still, I'd like to visit the city, maybe club it with Kasauli, Chail and Kufri in a week-long trip during the winters.
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Old 3rd September 2013, 12:03   #6
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Default Re: A Road Trip to Chail

Shimla is over-hyped!

Surrounding places like chail and kufri are less crowded and offers more peace.

Beautiful view of shivalik range from kali ka tibba are breathtaking.

Did the same trip in July this year when Delhi was burning. Wanted to avoid shimla but the rest wanted to visit it ,ended up in traffic jam for 5 long hours!
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Old 21st July 2014, 14:58   #7
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Default Re: A Road Trip to Chail

Thanks a lot for sharing your experiences! Am myself planning a trip to chail this year around the same weekend but was still not sure. Your travelogue has helped gaining information on a lot of things!
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