One of the most comforting rides on flats compared to all earlier rides in the last four years or so. Aditya and I were pacing our rides pretty well with no evident restlessness to reach the hills sooner. This patience comes with experience and it has taken some good years to learn to ride in the present moment.
The credit goes to weather and the planned itinerary for the first day, as well. It was humid but cloud patches comforted us from the direct heat while riding. We were expecting showers and hence had well planned our gear for the same. But to our surprise, it did not rain.
We drove to Ropar and then towards Hoshiarpur-Dasuya-Pathankot. We had started by 7:30 am from Chandigarh. The green paddy fields were inviting me to try my hands on clicking a portrait of Aditya. But a good portrait requires the attire of the subject contrasting to the environment. Aditya was dressed in black and that attire would have not created the portrait I would have been proud of clicking. We dropped the idea.
I was reconfirming my expectations while riding about the next 12 days of the trip. And I am sure Aditya must be also thinking on similar lines. With every passing hour on the first day, I had a feeling of driving away from my near and dear ones, my daily routine, and from work. The work-related pings on Whatsapp groups were still being read at every halt by me. But soon I will be away into a no-network zone and then the handphone will be forgotten. Our heads (I am sure it is no different for Aditya either.), will soon be raised upwards absorbing the beautiful landscape as seen by our eyes.
We covered 330 odd km on the first day and opted to stay at Dalhousie instead of Chamba. The idea was suggested by Aditya who reasoned that Chamba is too crowded and Dalhousie will be a better option.
Dalhousie was at its peak offseason. There was no traffic on the narrow roads of the hill station. The air was fresh but heavy with moisture. We walk into the first Hotel with an attractive display board. Hotel Oak Valley cost us Rs 1000 for a night. The corridors of the hotel had water dripping from the ceiling. The walls had seepage creating a foul smell. At Rs 1000 a night, we could have tried searching for some better options but we saved time by not doing so and parked ourselves for the night.
By 5 pm, we were back on the streets for an evening walk. We walked for a km to the church and central market area. There was very little to click but the visit to church allowed us to get some pics in the presence of Jesus Christ.
We munched on some oily pakoras and french fries while busy fiddling with our handphones. Aditya wanted to learn using his DSLR in manual mode from me. “Surely, I guide you”, I reaffirmed.
After a couple of hours, Aditya says, “I suggest we skip dinner.” “Yes, we can but then it will be more than 12 hours till morning when we have breakfast. It is better to have a chapati at least.”
We finally had dinner and went for a night walk. With a gradual climb on a well-paved road, we were lifting each step with the least effort as possible to neither sweat nor strain our legs. The hill station turned foggy as clouds swept by and we're back with a clear view of the valley in few minutes.
Banikhet is 6 km from Dalhousie was the main town to stock-up reserve fuel. We checked out by 8 am and headed towards Chamba. At Banikhet, we were informed by locals about the last day of the Chamba festival. Since Chamba was just 45 km from Banikhet, we had doubts if it would be a good idea to spend an extra day at Chamba. But we opted to first reach Chamba and then decide whether to drive further to Bairagarh or spend a night at Chamba enjoying the festival in the evening.
Chamba was hot and humid when we reached. "It is better we drive further ahead and get as close to our first leg of ascent to Sach pass i.e Bairagarh." Aditya agrees and we drive ahead after getting our bike chains tightened. We averaged around 15 km an hour and reached Bairagarh at 3:30 pm.
Chamunda Hotel was newly built and had no tourists. We were the first customers to check-in for the day. It was sunny but the cool breeze is calming. The fantastic view from our hotel room is of the valley with several mountain ranges full of greenery. Below our hotel, the farm has an apple, corn, and cherry plantation.
Unlike in the past trips when we usually ended the rides by 6:30-7 pm, this time we had enough time to take a walk, relax, and talk one-on-one. Also, we get good rest before we ride through some bad stretch.
Next day, we started fresh and fit from Bairagarh by 6:15 am. The road was leading to woods akin to the ones in stories we read as children. The road was deserted with deafening silence which was occasionally interrupted by the singing of birds. We drove at speeds less than 10 km/hr to be able to look around while driving. We slowly gained ascent and the air was getting cooler.
We took a break at the first Dhaba to have our first-morning tea. We saw buffaloes being milked in the open on and then being let free to graze as much as they could. The greenery was so inviting and we felt that cows and buffaloes must have gone bored with having so much food.
The tea served was not up to the mark and despite special request to limit the sugar, the tea was too sweet to be enjoyed. Aditya still had it reluctantly but he requested Sharma Ji (the Dhaba owner), "One more cup of tea without sugar." When I sipped the freshly prepared tea, it was still sweet. I looked around towards Sharma ji and he was expecting me to turn up to him. He said, "Added just a little bit of sugar so that it tastes better."
"These people are good human beings and sweetness is an important element to show respect even though we were customers and not guests." Aditya listened to my rationale and pulled out his wallet and paid Sharma ji his dues.
We moved ahead and halted at almost every waterfall to make some video clips. We did not have a GoPro camera with us. But in a way, it was good since the video clips shot on GoPro are monotonous due to positioning the camera; most of the times, on the helmet of the rider. We opted to use our DSLRs and handphones to shoot. We were limited by some more handphones of our fellow riders which would have given as multiple angles to shoot the crossing of each Nala and later edit to make it look a well-shot clip.
We witnessed snow some 15 km before Sach pass. It was less likely for the leftover patch of snow to melt before October when the winters return bringing fresh snowfall. As we drove towards the Sach pass the vegetation was lost, patches of snow were all around with water flowing through road. The drive was very slow, not exceeding 20km/hr.
The dry weather made the ride easier and we had no issues balancing on a rocky-cum-wet road. Quite surprising to note from the show owner at the Sach Pass top that there is rarely a day when it does not rain and you guys are lucky to witness the Sach pass on a dry bright day.
I hoped that greenery would stay as is the case with Rohtang pass which is at the same altitude as Sach Pass, approx. 14000 feet. We planned to stop at Sach Pass for the night but when greenery at the Sach pass was missing and the hills were akin to any other pass of Ladakh region, we dropped the idea.
We did not wait for long at the Sach pass. We started our descent in 20 minutes after reaching Sach pass. We were pretty comfortable with the ascent and with weather being dry, we sensed little challenge while descending.
But to our surprise, the descent was a tough one with the far worse condition of the road. The road had sharp and steep turns downhill coupled with large rocks and stones lying loosely on the top. We were in for a difficult test of our riding and balancing skills.
I could hardly spare a second to look around while descending. If I had dared to do so, I would have lost the balance by skidding over a loosely laid stone and gravel. When we halted at another dhaba after descending from 14000 feet to some 11000 feet, I recalled the toughest rides and if I could try and rank them.
Our shoulders ached and we strained our back. We were being pushed towards the front up to fuel tank by the steepness of the descent coupled with the bumpiness of the road. I am not sure of Aditya but my knee joints were aching due to the frequent shifting of gear and application of the rear brake. The drive from Sach Pass to Killar was a long one and we did not run out of motivation since we are about to reach Pangi Valley, the much-talked valley with some beautiful villages rarely visited by tourists. But we were in for an unpleasant surprise.
We reached Killar and were disappointed to learn that it was hot and the roads of the town were dusty and crowded. The town lacked any majestic view, not even close to what we experienced at Bairagarh. Had we not been exhausted, we may move ahead towards Keylong since we still had some 5 hours of daylight available.
We checked in at Hotel Raj. Post lunch we took a nap for a couple of hours. In the evening, I was feeling feverish and decided to buy some antibiotic to limit the pain of sore throat and aching body. When we stepped into a medical shop, there was voting on for revoking article 370 for Jammu and Kashmir. This was something I was hearing since childhood and finally, a decision was being taken. Anyways we cared little for the same. We were out of network area since only BSNL services worked at Killar and we were subscribers to Airtel and Vodafone services.
Aditya looked unhappy and was indecisive. He did not want to lose the precious days of trip visiting places that lacked natural beauty. Spiti valley was still on our minds and we chose to take a final call in the morning. By 9 pm we were fast asleep.
We woke up at 8 am by when all the bikers had already left for Keylong. The hotel manager was free and I felt this will be the ideal time to seek in his inputs about local sightseeing.
He suggested us to visit Hudan Bhatori or Sural Bhatori, 18 km and 30 km from Killar respectively. We decided to stay back at Killar for the day and visit Hudan Bhatori. We were told that the village is beautiful but night stay option does not exist.
We iterated for a moment to either skip Hudan Bhatori and instead save the day to reach Keylong. In that case, we could cover the Spiti circuit and return home via Shimla. We choose to stay back and visit Hudan Bhatori since it was closer to Killar.
We drove through beautiful landscapes of the Pangi Valley and for the first time experienced the beauty of Pangi Valley. It does not rain much in Pangi Valley and hence not likely to be as green as valley on Chamba side. But it started getting more rains in the last couple of years and hence more greenery than usual.
The drive to Hudan Bhatori was less than 90 minutes. We decided to park ourselves for the night if we could just find out the watchman of the rest house. Hudan Bhatori has a rest house of Forest Department of Killar and can be leased out to visitors if they carry permit issued from Killar.
Hudan Bhatori is full of greenery and vegetation growing as close as on the edges of the road. Hudan Bhatori is peaceful and the rest house was clean, carpeted, and big. After a two-hour nap, we had lunch and then went for a short trek towards the hills. The trek route was full of greenery. The fragrance of a wide variety of flowers delighted us.
The watchman served us lunch and dinner. The next day we moved on towards Keylong. It was drizzling when we drove out of Hudan Bhatori. The road to Keylong was as bad as it could get. We continued to drive and not stop at some of the steep curves for clicking. The route was deserted one and we felt it be better to cross it as soon as possible.
The roads post-Udaipur were excellent and we could cover the 60 km distance to Keylong in one and a half hours. We can race and drive without worrying to slow down at the curves. BRO (Border Road Organisation) was doing a great job and we as tourists were reaping the benefit of driving on such beautiful roads.
We checked in at Nordaling Guesthouse for the night. I completed my ranking of the most difficult stretches in Ladakh and Himachal region.
Rank 1- Drive from Chandraral Lake to Keylong. This was done by me in 2016 but it is still in the same condition.
Rank 2- Descent from Killar to Udaipur.
Rank 3- Descent from Sach pass to Killar
Rank 4- Descent from Khardungla pass to Nubra Valley
Rank 5- Drive from Shyok to Pangong Lake. This way back in 2015.
Rank 6- Drive from Pangong lake to Changla pass
Rank 7- Karcham Dam to Reckong Peo when the roads were not good. This is in the year 2016.
Rank 8- Nubra Valley to Turtuk. The road seemed never-ending and deserted stretch with driving till late in the evening.
Rank 9- Sarchu to Pang
Rank 10- Ascent to Sach pass
Rank 11- Leh to Khardungla
The trip was shorter one compared to earlier ones but by God’s grace completed successfully.
The link to video if the entire trip is available: