The Pangi Valley, Himachal Pradesh
Motorcycles and mountains are two words that always create magic. Join the two and journeys become magical, distances reduce and metal speaks the language of tarmac.
Interesting journeys usually begin with a series of events that trigger an urge to ride- this time the events were the six days I was able to take off work and so were two of my friends who decided to join me on a journey to a very remote area of Himachal Pradesh-the Pangi Valley.
About the Pangi Valley:
The Pangi region is quite remote. So remote that we were literally on a road of discovery as every Road Atlas we bought skipped it and the erstwhile rajas of the region used to pay a special pension to all people who worked in the Pangi region.
We decided to visit it nonetheless. Surrounded by the lofty Zanskar range on one side and the Pir Panjals on the other, Pangi is considered one of the least developed tribal areas in Himachal. It is also one of the most picturesque.
The Journey: Day 1 : Chandigarh To Chamba Via Talwara and Jot.
A longer route was decided upon as our destination for the first day was Chamba. We drove to Chamba via Hoshiarpur-Talwara and took the Jot route to Chamba-very beautiful and devoid of the maddening traffic that plagues the mountains of our country. Our initial plan was to reach the pangi region on the second day and visit the Lahaul-Spiti region on our way back but Mother Nature had other plans.
The Journey: Day 2: Chamba to Bairagarh, via Tissa and Bhanjraru.
We started from Chamba towards Bairagarh, the last major village before we took the road to Sach Pass.This 14,000ft high pass connects Chamba to the Pangi region and is snow clad or blocked for most of the year. Heavy rains on the second day made us halt at Bairagarh, about 80kms from Chamba.
The Journey: Day 3 : The real Journey begins post Bairagarh : Bairagarh – Killar.
The really interesting part of our journey began the next day. We were told that the road is a “little” rough enroute Sach Pass. We thought of potholes or broken roads close to the pass akin to Ladakh. We thought nothing of it and pushed on. Three kilometers from Bhairagarh the road vanished.
We entered a path cut into a dense pinewood and deodar forest. A tree blocked our way a few kilometers ahead.
We managed to push the tree off the road a bit and moved on.We halted for tea at Satrundi, where the policemen told us that we were the first tourists to arrive this year.
The stone path got worse but we were greeted with lots of snow on the roadside and we were happy. Five kilometers before the pass the road (or whatever was left of it) ended and we were driving through snow cutter tracks filled with frozen slush.
The mighty Sach Pass:
We reached the pass in four hours-the last three being spent pushing the motorcycle through knee deep slush for about 150 meters, we decided to spend some time taking photos, enjoying the lovely view and of course, resting our aching limbs. The view was breathtaking. I would consider this to be one of the most beautiful, amazing, wonderful passes I have ever been to.
The Pir Panjals and the Zanskar ranges could be seen rubbing shoulders with each other. To do justice to the region, Sach Pass and the Pangi valley are incomparably beautiful. Dense, lush green forests, lofty snow clad mountains and waterfalls galore! This place has absolutely NO traffic. One may enjoy the change in landscape as it changes from a dense forest in the area around Bhairagarh to barren and rocky a few kilometers after Satrundi and finally completely snow clad close to and around the Sach Pass
The snow had increased; the walls on each side of the road were over 10 feet in height. We saw trucks stranded close to the pass unable to cross due to the massive amount of snow and mud at the helm. The snow walls were now close to 60 feet!
Never ending amounts of snow greeted us and so did a two foot deep nullah that had decided to choose the road as its path. We drove through it and pushed on. Our destination-Killar.
A mere 70 kilometers away, it took us another six hours to reach due to the road being under construction, slushy and full of slippery mud. The constant steep descent did not help!
What did help were the waterfalls that fell on the road, the tunnels made throughthe snow for trucks to pass through and the air- crisp, fresh, untarnished by smoke and pollution.The scenery changed dramatically after we crossed the nullah.
We were again in a Lush green valley with Walnut and Deodar trees all around. We stopped to take a few photos but pushed on as we desperatyely needed a place to spend the night in. We reached Killar at 6pm, broke journey and decided to stay the night. Killar is the district headquarters of the Pangi region. There were two ways to “civilization” as my co-rider put it. One road leads to Kashmir via Kishtwar and the other to Keylang via Udaipur. We chose the Udaipur route as we wanted to visit Lahaul and spiti enroute Chandigarh.
The Chamunda Peak towers over Killar and is also the major deity here. It is a lofty, snow clad peak that is a stark contrast to the extremely dense forest that covers the mountains around killar.
We moved towards Udaipur the next morning hoping to reach there by nightfall but the rain decided to spoil any plans we made. We had hardly gone 30 kilometers when we reached a village called Shaur. A nullah had burst its banks and had transformed into a raging torrent three feet deep.It was impossible to cross.
A PWD JCB tried clearing the way but was unsuccessful. He promised to return the next morning and drove off. We spent the night in a dhaba. The only sound we heard here was of the river, wind and rain. My ears were buzzing because it was too quiet for me! The residents of Pangi are extremely friendly people.
We met the some employees of the local Hydro-electric project who spent the evening with us chatting and shared some of the local brew called “Patraan”.We slept fitfully and woke early the next morning hoping that the nullah would have been reduced to a trickle by now. We were wrong. The amount of water in the rivulet had reduced, but was still too much for us to drive through as it was about three feet deep in places. Some villagers got planks of wood and helped us cross after a while. We moved on but had to stop after another 5 kilometers as the road had caved in and a jeep was stuck in it. The depth was about 15 feet and we had to wait for the local PWD to help us cross. It took them another three hours to clear and fix the road. We crossed the nullah and several others that blocked our way to finally reach Tindi.
Tindi is a small hamlet with a few kitchen tents and a PWD guest house with the mighty Chandrabhaga flowing on one side and a waterfall wafting down the mountain on the other. We spent the evening talking with the locals and other travelers who were stuck due to the “Kaala Naala” being full a few kilometers ahead.
We woke the next morning and pushed on. A few kilometers ahead we met the PWD staff again and another Nullah blocked our path. We decided to cross it and made it through with a lot of difficulty with help from the labour. We reached Udaipur late in the evening after crossing another nullah that had no water but was full of slush that made it exceedingly difficult to cross. Pushing, pulling we trudged out of the nullah to reach the city and decided to stay the night.
We visited the ancient temple in Udaipur and decided to move onwards to Manali the next day. About three kilometers from Udaipur there was a Major landslide that had blocked the road. We waited for the PWD bulldozer that took five hours to arrive as the road was blocked in multiple places.
We made it through to Keylang by late evening. By this time we had given up our plans to go to the Spiti valley but we made our way to Chandigarh via Rohtang-Manali.
The Pangi region is not for the ones looking for an easy, fun trip. This is for the adventure rider who wants to go through the journey of a lifetime in five days and spend some time being with the locals, learning their hardships and their way of life where rations are stocked for six months in a go; all emergency evacuations are now done by helicopters and the road only exists (for two months) until it begins to rain. After that- it’s just a traveler’s paradise.