Cycling the Pangi valley
It's 2017 and I've been true to my will of setting on an adventure on my bicycle to the remotest villages, sharing happiness and building bonds. This time I'd take you through a visual treat of the legendary Sach Pass.
While working on a film project I had my mind subconsciously going around finding the perfect place for a bike-packing tour and disconnecting from the monotonous routine that had been feeding on me was getting more like a necessity. That's when a random chat to one of my traveller friends introduced me to Sach pass - I had never heard of it before and now I couldn't wait to head on to the world's most dangerous roads.
I had an image of myself riding off-roads with snow on both sides, having to cross a few deadly water streams but I could only have thought of less than half of what I conquered.
Sach pass is at a height of 4420m which connects Chamba to the secluded Pangi valley. The route sure is breathe-taking in all ways. The pass serves as a gateway to people of both the valleys to connect and is accessible from the end of June till October.
Hold on your horses as we begin the Journey to the unknown from Jaipur to Manali leading to Sach pass.
Day -1 Jaipur to Manali
Figuring out what goes where while packing for a trip is a pain. The ones who are well organised would surely have an upper hand in this, unlike me. Thanks to Chinmay for being a helping hand to pack my bike just in time before I left from Jaipur. I wanted to avoid re-shuffling once I reached Manali and start straight away for Sach pass on the next day; so to avoid extra fatigue and inconvenience of carrying my bicycle I chose to reach Manali by a Volvo. I always try to minimise the cost of my travel but this time I didn't even think about it. In summers Manali and Rohtang seem to have turned to the hubs for couples and families - where else could you find snow without the hard work of trekking?
As I crossed Bhuntar there was a long traffic jam towards Manali - Leh highway which was an indication for serious distraction and delays on the way. I had planned to spare a day for acclimatisation and bike assembly, staying in Manali at 4play's house. Although reaching there from the bus stand was not easy too with rickshaw drivers being least interested in wanting to give rides crossing the long jam until one agreed at a sky high price of Rs250 for 3.5km!
What better could I expect than having a bunch of crazy creative heads welcoming me at their place!
Day- 2 Acclimatize
As per geographic aspects, Low landers take time to get accustomed to a new climate especially at an altitude their bodies have never experienced. I studied about this during the basic mountaineering camp back in 2016. Hence a day's break in Manali not only helped me feel adapted, retain energy but also boosted my moral.
I met Mr. Naga Raj who determined going from Manali to Leh by foot with a 20 kg backpack. We exchanged the ideas our journeys and agreed upon the fact that an endearing journey could be the best medium to share cultures and being one with nature. I got to meet some serious Mountain bikers in Manali at the Bike Bar store and at 4play's house, their hard work reaches a different level! Thanks to Naveen at Bike Bar for taking care of my bike and being generous enough to listen to all my chatter. That was enough motivation to pep me up for getting started the other day!
Manali's got a good number of serious mountain bikers, among whom I met Devendra, Naveen, Shiven and Yogi. If you are into mountain biking then Manali is the place for you.
Day -3 Manali to Marhi
I chose to have a bike-packing setup but had heavy gears.
I had my sleeping system and few essentials tucked well with the rack and frame, the rest was in the seat post bag by Via terra.
It took me more than 2 hours to load everything onto the bike.
Starting with a steep descend towards the Manali - Leh highway I was finally moving. I never climbed in my entire life, not this much! It was going to be the same till I crossed Rohtang pass.
Manali - Kothi - Gulaba and then to Marhi
I wanted to push till Marhi to avoid delays. As I crossed Gulaba it was already 4pm and the weather changed drastically, within a few minutes it started raining. Gulaba is the last point before Marhi where you would get some snacks and Kothi for lodge and restaurants. I kept myself going till I made it to Marhi pwd rest-house.
It was a great help from the ITBP camp and care takers of the rest house to allow me camp for the night. Not just that they fed me diner too. I knew I pushed my self too hard the very first day and was facing symptoms of AMS, so Diamox was at it's rescue to avoid further health issues.
"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!"That day summarised to the Katy Perry song -
Day - 4 Marhi - Rohtang - Sissu
Rohtang is 12 km from Marhi and is a steep climb but, what makes crossing it more difficult is the traffic! There were several jams on the way which is seems like the biggest task when you have to paddle with a heavy-loaded bike.
With lots of breaks in between I managed to reach at the top and again the weather was not on my side. 3km before Rohtang I faced the rain yet again accompanied with a heavy hailstorm which is definitely the last thing you'd want to go through at this altitude. On the top of Rohtang pass I was quite surprised to see a jam. Could you have imagined a jam on a pass ? The reason being people carelessly leaving their vehicles on the highway, enjoying snow!
I stopped many times in between to get a hold of my self and keep a check on weather. I was continuously being chased by horrid weather condition till Khoksar. I only had one motivation for crossing the pass - the upcoming downhill towards Khoksar and Sissu which turned out to be a myth because of horrible road conditions. For the first time in my life I feared losing my hands because of frost bites.
The road from Khoksar was the best till now, it's mostly down hill which goes along a river till Sissu. I was overjoyed to see some amazing green landscapes on the way to Sissu.
Sissu village is a tourist spot and has many options to stay but, most of them were highly priced. There was a dorm providing beds for Rs300; although you'd find everyone providing homestays for as much as around Rs1000. I travel keeping a daily estimated budget of Rs500 including everything. I don't try not to bargain with anyone as it's a question of their livelihood.
I had to find a place to stay sooner as it was already late. Meanwhile my search was on, I was welcomed by a Buddhist family to camp outside their house. I took a quick shower and was offered a great meal, I felt homely and attached to them. After all - "Home is a feeling, it can be anywhere".
I will always be highly grateful for their kindness.
Day-5 Sissu to Chuling
I started around 10:30 am from Sissu towards Udaipur and the next stop was Chuling. On my way I met my friend Shiven who lives around Udaipur. Although his dad and I couldn't talk much, his childhood stories were pretty amazing. Shiven's mom made me acquainted to new beliefs about our culture which really helped me to go deeper to find my existence and I felt so deeply connected after meeting them as if they were my own family.
On the right is the view you get from the washroom.
I was quite surprised when I saw the house. It has everything a person would need. Now, I dream of living in a house like theirs and would want to spend the rest of my life.Their house was traditionally built. I love such houses with cultural influences.
Inside the drawing room was a traditional cooking setup where we did some welcoming rituals and munching. I tried some tea made using special wood and butter for the first time.
There is a strange pleasure seeing life in the most simplest way.
Shiven's dad serving tea to everyone.
I feel so attached to them now :)
Day -6 Chuling to Tindi
Honestly after riding the first stretch of rough roads my body felt extremely exhausted as it was not ready for a journey this rigorous. I was told to be cautious while riding especially to Pangi valley. Landslides are very much common in this region.
This would be the most frightening road journey I've done till now. After Udaipur there are a lot of water streams flowing directly through the roads. The most notorious stream is called Pagal Nala which is just ahead of Udaipur. I crossed it with all my strength and wit. After riding about 30 more kilometres I reached a place called Tindi where I got the news about the pass being easily accessible. I had omelette and rice at a dhaba and looking for a place to stay, luckily there was forest rest house which was vacant. It is an amazing place inside a nursery.
Day - 7 Tindi to Killar (67Km)
I knew I had to reach Killar as soon as possible because crossing the pass would take another 3-4 days. I started early morning from Tindi and entered Pangi valley.
On my way I crossed many remote areas. I cannot imagine doing all of this again; The danger of landslides and roads closing anytime would be a trouble being a cyclist! There is a very narrow rough road which goes from Tindi towards Shoar and then Killar. On the way there was a little break down and luckily I got a lift from Pangi towards Killar. They had 10,000 trout fish with them to free into the river.
They dropped me 12km short of Killar from where I started cycling again and thought of staying at the Pwd rest house. Roads around Killar were really bad and mostly had me dragging my bike in the scorching sun. I managed to get a room at the rest house, it was really difficult though. Fortunately an officer helped me convince the care taker.
Day 8 Killar - Sach pass - Tissa
I had to decide about my attempt to Sach pass, I gathered information about the pass and road conditions. I hadn't received a single positive feedback on the roads with everyone saying it would be impossible to do it on bicycle. Finalised breaking the attempt in two - Killar to Bagotu and then from Bagotu - Sach pass - Tissa.
I believed leaving it on my fate for the next day. I still had "plan B" as an alternative for the climb. Which would have me sharing a taxi till the temple at the top of Sach pass and then riding back towards Bairagarh on my own.
Next morning I chose the plan B, sharing a taxi till highest point on the pass. As we entered the forest trail it started raining. By the time we reached Bagotu the weather gods took a flip. There was hardly any visibility on the pass. Bagotu is the mid point of the journey towards Sach pass where people take halt for food. We had a meal and tea there.
After that comes a steep climb again towards Sach pass. I was constantly thanked god for the plan B! I further have the taxi drive me through the Sach pass and planned to directly get down at Tissa where I had to meet a friend. I never had such a thrilling experience, this being my 2nd mountain pass and also the highest altitude point! Pangi valley definitely tests your patience and will power giving you an experience pure beauty.
On a serious note - mountains are no game! I was lucky to safely cross the pass on that day.
For knowing the 10 essentials I always carry for full packed adventure. Stay tuned for the next time
Special thanks to : Rohit, Sudhanshu, Jaipur cycling comrades, Chinmay, Gagandeep, Aviral, Nikhil, Sonali, Shiven and his family. This would not have been possible
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