The Simbalbara Wildlife Sanctuary lies mainly in the lower Shivalik region, but merges into the middle and upper reaches with an altitudinal range that goes up from 350m to 700m. It shares a boundary with the Kalesar forest to the west, and is contiguous with the Darpur, Majra and Nagli reserve forests, which together have much larger populations of wildlife. It was originally the hunting ground for the Maharaja of Sirmour, and historical records point to elephants in the region; it’s believed they were driven away when the Yamuna barrage cut off their migratory corridors. Perennial waterholes, streams and pools are spread over the sanctuary area in which goral, sambhar, chital and wild boar are easily seen. Leopards and barking deer lurk about less commonly, quite like the Himalayan yellow-throated marten. Rhesus macaques, pangolins, crested porcupines, Hanuman langurs, wild pigs, Himalayan black bears and Indian muntjacs also make this sanctuary theirs.
Simbalbara is bang in the middle of what’s arguably the most picturesque part of the Shivalik range, a heartbreakingly beautiful wilderness of hills forested with sal trees, deep green valleys and tumbling streams of water. There is no resident human population here, and a 2014 study says that only 50 tourists made it this way over the year; so be an explorer when you get here and see if you can find the walking trails that are supposed to remain marked. Being near the Paonta Sahib and Renukaji pilgrim routes, dhabas on the highway serve piping hot vegetarian food, including the must-try Himachali jhol (a thin, flavourfully spiced gravy, often made with potatoes and tomatoes, and served with freshly prepared rotis).
LOCATION AND HOW TO MAKE THE BEST OF IT
Simbalbara is situated in the Paonta Valley of Sirmour district in Himachal Pradesh, 12km off the frequently traversed Paonta Sahib-Nahan road (plenty of buses plying it; Nahan falls 24km from Simbalbara). Well-connected Ambala (63km from Nahan) is the nearest major railhead. Dehradun (79km) and Chandigarh (82km) are other options, both endowed with airports as well. Pre-winter (October-November) is ideal for birding, and although it can still get frigidly cold, especially at nights, November to March is great to go too. The Simbalbara Forest Rest House places you right in the middle of all the beauty and action, and Chail, 63km away, has other nice places to stay.