The long wait for a weekend trip with friends, finally rested upon with the choice of Chakrata amongst a number of other birding destinations. Chakrata, a small defense cantonment in the Dehradoon district, is one of the closest places from Delhi where you can reach elevation of 2,000m to 2,800m in the shortest possible time from NCR. Birding data from Chakrata and around is still limited and finding the right person to guide you to the right spot is difficult, however the magic of the place is such that you can find best of the mountain species at various points while driving towards the town or its nearby regions.
One can opt for three different routes to reach Chakrata: 1) Delhi- Karnal-Yamuna Nagar-Paonta Sahib-Herbertput-Chakrata, 2) Delhi-Shamli-Saharanpur-Herbertpur-Chakrata, 3) Delhi-Meerut-Dehradoon-Chakrata. First route can offer you amazing wildlife experience all along the route with Kalesar Wildlife Sanctuary, Asan Barrage being on the way.
Exciting birding starts from the various villages before Chakrata, beginning Sahiya village and beyond. Scaly Bellied woodpecker posing 5 feet away at eye level, Speckled Piculet peeking at you from the top of the tree, Rufous Fronted and Himalayan Woodpecker playing drums at the tree trunks, screaming Yellow Billed Blue Magpies and Red Billed Blue Magpies, Grey Treepie, phantom of the mountains Bearded Vulture, Mountain Hawk Eagle, Common Kestrel, White Browed Fantail, Great Barbet, Blue Throated Barbet, Grey Headed Woodpecker, Chestnut Bellied Rock Thrush highlight just a glimpse of what all we can find on the way towards our destination. Once at Chakrata, don’t miss out the offroad trails toward Deoban FRH and Budher Caves FRH for some of the most amazing views, experience and birding spots. Area around Deoban FRH is especially good to find Spotted nutcrackers and Yellow and Black Grosbeaks but beware that the rocky path to these FRHs need you to have a high ground-clearance vehicle and good driving experience, alternatively take the vehicles locally available. Drive towards Tiger-falls to get a chance to shoot Griffons and Bearded vultures flying low in the valleys and for forktails, dusky eagle owl, and brown dipper near the falls. The experience at the mighty water falls, known as highest direct falls in Asia, and surprisingly still less spoiled by visitors, would be just an icing on the cake. For chilling out after a rigorous birding session, try strolling on the old lanes of Chakrata Sadar Bazaar and get an opportunity to buy the local specialties of kidney beans (rajma), and tomato walnuts (walnuts of the size of tomato hence the name).
Stay can be managed at couple of resorts and camps at Koruwa village or near Chakrata. A couple of days in the area can lead to some unexpectedly good birding sessions and photographic opportunities but beware that route is also prone to landslides, although mostly during rainy season. Chakrata certainly is a cantonment of a different kind and a must visit place for the season which will not disappoint you even at a time when other Himalayan hotspots and foothills lack birding activity.