Sunday, January 01, 2006

Chakrata : Got chilled this christmas

Snow, reindeers, a sledge and a smiling Santa conjures up the image of a perfect Christmas. Most of the high altitude hill stations in North India had a perfect Christmas this year. There was no Santa, but there was plenty of snow this Christmas. So, while the entire North India was shivering in the unrelenting cold wave making most people stay indoors, we had decided to get chilled. And we got chilled at the little known place called Chakrata.

The place:
Chakrata is a tiny hill town located around 95 km from Dehradun via Kalsi. Its altitude is about 7000 feet, i.e., around 500 feet more than that of Mussorie. Chakrata is a restricted area and foreign nationals are not allowed. We did not get any affirmative answer as to why Chakrata is declared a restricted area but found two plausible answers. One is that army has a training centre for its intelligence units. The other one we got from an army officer is that Indian Army trains here forces from Tibbet. I did not know that Tibbet has its own army (commanded by Dalai Lama!!).

How to reach there : the driving guide
There are two routes from Dehradun – via Kalsi and via Mussorie. We took the route via Kalsi as it is shorter. The road is on plains upto Kalsi and beyond that it is all hills. The road between Kalsi and Chakrata is one way with gate system. Gates at both ends opens at the same time with 2 ½ hrs. intervals between each opening. So you may have to wait if you arrive at Kalsi between gate openings. Be sure to put your vehicle as much ahead as possible in the queue and make entries at the gate. There is one more gate at a place named Sahiya which is the mid point of this stretch where vehicles from both side crosses. No entry is required at the gate at Sahiya. The gates are manned by army personnel. The road distances from Dehradun are as under:

Dehradun 0.0km
Herbertpur 34 km…Turn right here for Vikasnagar
Vikasnagar 06 km
Kalsi 08 km….There is a diversion here. Keep moving straight will take you to
the gate at Kalsi
Sahiya 21 km….Take right turn over a small bridge at Sahiya
Chakrata 25 km….Keep moving straight by the road to Tiuni for hotel
Jhadi 13 km….This is on the road to Tiuni. Motorable but two way road.
Lokhand 20 km
Kanasar 06 km….One of the point on sightseeing list.
Koti 29 km
Tiuni 80 km

You would be traveling at the most to Kanasar. You should have enough petrol in the tank to drive about 150 km in the hill. There is no petrol pump beyond Vikasnagar. No petrol pumps at Kalsi, Sahiya or Chakrata. You may get petrol paying a premium at Chakrata but that will most likely be adulterated.

Accommodation at Chakrata :
There are only two hotels for tourists. One is Hotel Snow View and the other one is Hotel Himalaya Darshan. Both these are located on the Chakrata – Tiuni motor road. Keep moving straight through the gate for going to any of these hotels. The road that goes to the right near the gate goes to the local market (1.5 km) and also to Mussorie (via Kempty Fall). We were told that the market has two guesthouses for local travelers only, not meant for tourists. We stayed at the Hotel Snow View which is located about 1 km from the gate. The other hotel is located further downhill and is about 6 km from the gate. The Hotel Snow View is housed in an old building with nice backdrop of a section of snow clad Himalayan peaks. Each of the rooms is actually suites and has two rooms. Though it lacks many things you may want, but it still is a good hotel at such an isolated place. Rooms have tiled flooring and also have fire place. We bargained for Rs.400/- per room which I felt was a good price. Honestly speaking, you will have no option but to pay whatever they ask. Hotel phone nos. are ---
Hotel Snow View : 01360-272241 / 272242 / 272231 (

What to see at Chakrata :
Chakrata provides a 5-6 km range of Himalaya on its backdrop. We were told that if there is no snow, then there is nothing to enjoy there. Well, this of course was opinion of travelers who do not fit into off-beat category. The place provides you a break from the hustle bustle of a hectic life. If you can not go to far away places like Kausani, then you can come here. Chakrata town itself has nothing to see. What you can see is as under:

Tiger Fall : This is a magnificent 360 feet fall located 20 kms away. Start by the Tiuni road and then you will have to take a diversion about 2 km or so to go down. After driving for 20 kms, you will have to track for about 20 minutes to go the foot of the fall. Going down would be easy, but stay aware of the fact that you will have to climb up that track afterwards.

Deoban : 16 km from Chakrata at an altitude of 9500 feet. From the name it seems to be a forest of Deodar or Pine. You need to take a diversion from the Tiuni road , may be after traveling for 5 / 6 km. But from that point onwards you will have to track. If you are interested then you may check out tracking programmers conducted by Forest Deptt.

Kanasar : Located 26 km away on the Tiuni road. Altitude not available. But my guess is that for going there you will have to drive at least 1000 feet up from Chakrata. It is said to have a thick forest of Deodar. The Deodar trees here said to have the largest trunk in Asia.

My Trip : 24 hours in Chakrata
As Indians we could travel to Chakrata without any hindrance. We started from Dehradun at around 10 am to be able to catch the 12:30 pm gate comfortably. We killed the spare time by visiting the rock edict of Ashoka located near the gate at Kalsi. By arriving early at the gates we were almost in front of the queue of vehicles. There was a long line of vehicles consisting mostly of pickup jeeps which seemed to be the common mode of travel in this area. The road between Kalsi and Sahiya was mostly dusty with stretches damaged in landslides. It is difficult to maintain roads in the hills in this area because of landslides. My driving in hills has improved a lot because of the several forays I have made in the hills in the last one-year or so. In fact, I have started enjoying driving in the hills. My Wagon-R’s power steering has been of great help. In my last trip, I tried driving a car of my colleague without power steering in the hills. It was terrible. We reached Sahiya well ahead of time. At Sahiya, take the right turn over the bridge to be on the queue at the gate. In face we missed this diversion and went straight for a kilometer or so. Once we realized the mistake, we had to come back to the gate. But by that time, we had fallen behind in the queue. However, once started, I could easily get ahead of the motorcade. The road between Sahiya and Chakrata was much better. We finally reached Chakrata at around 2:15 pm.

After a brief enquiry, we found a hotel to stay and checked into Hotel Snow View which is located about 1km away from the gate. Though there is a sign to guide you to the approach of the hotel, the approach is not built completely and doubt may pop up in your mind whether you are on the right track. The sun went behind the hills as early as 3:30pm. This made the place very cold. We felt that the cold in Dehradun was biting. But this was icy cold that would make you shriek. There was a strong cold breeze which was worsening the matter. We had no option but to stay indoors. I got out in the afternoon expecting the snow clad peaks to turn pink. But it was not as spectacular as I had expected. Meanwhile, all my fellow travelers remained stuck to the comfort of their rooms. There were TVs in rooms, but the cable network was out of order. Voltage was so low that hotel had to use generator. Because of the abnormal low voltage, the geyser could barely warm the water. The tap water was icy cold and just a mug of water would maim your palms for few minutes. Fortunately, the rooms had fire place and we could arranged for fire in our room at an extra charge of fifty bucks. For dinner, you need to tell them early so that they can buy items from market if required The menu has non-veg but both chicken and mutton were available not on a plate basis but on ½ kilo or 1 kilo basis. We had a relatively early dinner and went to bed as there were no means to kill time.

Next morning we got up early to experience the sunrise. It turned out to be another damp squib. There was nothing spectacular as the peaks hardly turned orange. But what was soothing was the sight of a light layer of snow on roof of my car. This meant that there had been snowfall previous night in nearby areas. After breakfast, we checked out of the hotel at around 10am. Rather than tracking to the Tiger Fall, we decided to enjoy the snow and so headed for Kanasar. Anyway snow is always alluring for most of us from plains.

Kanasar is on the Chakrata – Tiuni road. We had hardly traveled 1 km when we get to see the first patch of snow on the road. The patches become more frequent and bigger as we moved up. Though this road is two way, there was hardly any traffic. The scenery unfurling on both sides of the road was really magnificent. These hills in Uttaranchal are really fascinating. They provide breathtaking views while you drive. We had crossed at least three very high hills en-route and so my guess was that we traveled to at least 1000 feet more from Chakrata. However, there were no road signs to confirm. With 4 adults, my Wagon-R refused to move even at 2nd gear in some places. It was kind of 3rd gear for 65%, 2nd for 25% and 1st gear for 5%. The only residential area we had crossed was Jhadi, located 13 km away from Chakrata. The small population there looked like a Tibetan settlement. Caracas of a monkey hanged on a pole greets you to this area. We went ahead further and reached Lokhand, located 20kms from Chakrata. On taking the turn at the top of a hill there, a thick cover of snow on the road of ahead greeted us. After a brief pause and inspection of the road, I drove ahead carefully, but found the road slippery. It was my first experience of driving in snow. Just a little pressure on brakes made the vehicle to skid. I drove for about ½ km to get into a clear area. We all got down and walked for more than a kilometer of road covered in about 4 inch fresh snow. At many places snow had become ice and we were skidding even while walking down the road. I could not gather courage to drive further. The hotel owner told that there would be at least a feet deep snow at Kanasar. But there was no way we can travel to Kanasar though it was just 5 kilometer away from this point. We had enough snow to lift our spirits. It was perfect Christmas for all of us. We called off the trip at Lokhand and came back to Chakrata.

We managed lunch at the only eatery near the gate. In hills, you can not afford to be choosy. Eat wherever you get. We took the 3:30 pm gate and reached Kalsi by 5:15pm or so. It was dark by the time we reach Dehradun. One more trip has come to an end. What was special is that this time I probably had driven to about 8000 feet or more, the maximum I had ever driven. After coming back, I felt confident enough to drive to Badrinath. Also this may be my last trip from Dehradun as I will be moving to Delhi on transfer soon.

(Note: This trip was taken on 24th and 25th December, 2005)


quotidian said...

My wife will take me to India (she's Gujrati, but born here in the U.S.) this December....I'm excited!

abhiuday said...

hey i think u have mentioned the name of one hotel wrong its himalayan paradise not himalayan darshan if ur talking of the one thats 6km away from chakrata n its one the best places to go ..for real nature lovers.....

Anonymous said...

Hi, it was really good information. I love traveling in Himalayas and skiing. Can you give me some places like this around Dehradun. Thanks. Nagabhaskar

prafulla mishra said...

hi rups, this is prafulla. I am planning a visit to Chakrata this month and it was great to see your informative blog of this town. The telephone number of hotel snow view provided on the blog is of great use. Thanks again.

Baggu Chopra said...

Hi Rups,
I am after the telephone number for HOTEL SNOWVIEW in LADDAKH. How can I find it?? Can you help...
Baggu Chopra

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