12th September 2014, Friday
Got up to a beautiful morning at Bathri. Tilak, the caretaker of the rest house, was already up. He seemed to be a very religious man as I heard him sing prayers and prayer bells ringing in his room. Soon I heard footsteps near the door and I saw Tilak holding a tray carrying a cup of tea for me.
Weather outside was just amazing. The morning in mountains are always very beautiful. The valley below the rest house looked very fresh and green. After morning walk and another cup of tea, I hurried up and got ready for days ride.
To reach Leh by road, one has to cross at least one of these passes……Zoji La (11,575 ft) via Srinagar (J&K), Rohtang Pass (13,054 ft) via Manali (HP), Kunzum Pass (15,059 ft) via Kaza, Spiti (HP), Saach Pass (14500 ft) Chamba, Pangi Valley (HP).
I had initially planned to ride via Zojila. But due to floods in Kashmir, most of the roads in Kashmir were closed. I had crossed Kunzum Pass and Rohtang Pass in June this year and it was kind of boring to repeat that. In my opinion, Saach Pass is toughest of all these passes and thought why not start this ride through the toughest one.
It was raining for the last few days and it was not very clear whether Saach Pass was open or not. So before leaving Amritsar I called SDM office Killar and Tissa. Since both these offices are open at 10 am, I could start my ride at around 12 noon after getting confirmation that the pass was open.
Bade farewell to caring Tilak and left Bathri at 7 in the morning. After few kilometers riding on Bathri-Chamba road, at Goli, I turned left on a road that leads to Tissa/Bairagarh/Saach Pass/Killar along the beautiful Chamera lake and Baira Siul River. After crossing Koti bride the road meets the main Chamba-Killar road.
Bairagarh is the last village before Saach Pass. Bairagarh to Satrundi check post is 18 kilometers and passes through dense and beautiful kalaban forest area. Saach Pass is further 12 kilometer from Satrundi. Bairagarh has some homestays and guest houses. It also has some basic eateries.
Crossing water streams, pathol trek and slush is a major challenge for a biker on this road………especially solo. Water level in the streams increase and decrease depending on the rainfall and melting of the snow. Which in turn determines the difficulty level of the ride.
Satrundi check post is around 10 kilometers before Saach Pass. You will be videographed and your identity checked here. Satrundi has one basic dhaba which is the last one before Saach Pass. You can also stay here in case of emergency for Rs.100-
The 10 kilometer road from Satrundi till Saach Pass is very steep, tough, full of slush, lonely and scary. It took me around one hour to reach Saach Pass from here. At one point my red knight refused to move up and I had to descent back to gather momentum and climb.
Saach Pass (14500 feet ASL) situated on Pir Panjal range, is one of the toughest passes in India and gateway to Pangi Valley. I am lucky to be here 2nd time, solo. Reached here at 4pm, 12th September, 2014 amid light drizzle and snow flakes. There was a truck parked nearby. I asked the driver to click few pictures, which he did very reluctantly.
I stayed there at Saach Pass for around 15 minutes. Paid respect to the deity at the temple. After sometime the truck left for Bairagarh. I was the only soul at the pass now. There was no one else around. It was late afternoon, getting dark and murky. Time to go down to the other side of the pass, the Pangi Valley. This was for the first time I was riding to Killar, still 42 kilometers away.
If One stops for a longer period, there is a fear of body becoming numb with cold and chill. The icy winds would freeze the limbs. The mountains on the either side are formidable. The slopes supporting the peaks around are very steep and the silence at the pass is broken by falling boulders or avalanche.
The descent towards Bagotu is very steep, slippery and dangerous. The mountain slopes are rocky and bare. There are dangers of falling boulders. The fall is very rapid and loses altitude very quickly. The bare and barren landscape is very scary and looks very eerie. The drive on this road should be done with due care and caution. One small mistake can take one rolling down the slope to the open ground visible from far above.
Bagotu (11500 feet ASL) is an open ground surrounded by high cliffs and glaciers. There is one dhaba managed by a gurkha family. This is the first stop after Saach Pass. The road from Saach Pass to Bugotu (12 km) is one of the toughest roads I have travelled in my life. It compares very close to the Batal-Gramphoo road.
The descent on this road is very steep, sharp, narrow, slippery, rocky, full of potholes and lonely. It is scary even for a group or a four wheeler……..leave aside a Solo Biker.
It was 6pm and I had already had enough of tough Saach Pass and lonely, dark, slippery 42 kilometers road from Bairagarh to Bagotu. The place and the lone tented accommodation was very uninspiring. I had to make a decision whether to stay for the night at this uninspiring place or go to more lively place, Killar, which was still 30 km away.
The road ahead was unknown to me and I knew it was going to be dark pretty soon. But the gut feeling egged me to move on.
So I left the place (Bagotu) for Killar at around 6.30pm SOLO and it turned out to be one of my scariest yet memorable rides I have ever had.
After another 30 km in 3 hours, a crazy solo night ride, reached Killar at 9pm!!!
This was not the first time that this has happened to me. Once I trekked full night ALONE from Panchtarni to Amarnath cave in 1985. The other time I remember when I pushed my Yamaha RX 100 from Rohtang to Manali in the middle of night in 1994. Another time, a few years I ago when walking back. I lost my way from Roghi village and had to grope in the dark to find my way to Kalpa. And of course once I trekked down 9 kilometers from Triund in the night without torch light to Mcleodganj.
And in all those times I was alone, solo!!!
This time too I was alone, solo. As soon as I began riding down from Bagotu to Killar for a 30 kilometer ride at 6.30 pm, I knew instantly that I was in for another memorable experience. The road was rough, lonely, uneven, slushy, passed through rugged mountains and forest full of wild, strange animals. Roaring river emanating from Saach Pass was adding another dimension to the already fearsome atmosphere.
Soon it was pitch dark. I could feel no human being nearby. No vehicle from either side. No lights were seen anywhere. Darkness everywhere. Thunder of Chandrabhaga. Strange voices coming from the forests.
And in that darkness my Red Knight was trudging on. Strange thoughts were coming to my mind. Have I made a mistake one more time? Have I not learnt any lessons?
What if my bike got some problem? What if my bike got puncture? What if lights of my bike fail? What if a leopard or a bear starts following me? What if I encounter some man eater?
My mind was constantly enacting those fearsome pictures. It was kind of paralysing me. I was kind of shivering with fear.
Then a thought came into my mind. I would not be controlled by those negative thoughts. I thought I was in control and I would not let those strange thoughts control my mind.
So I started shouting……… ‘Jai Shivshankar Jai Shivbhole’….’Jai Shivshankar Jai Shivbhole’…..’Jai Shivshankar Jai Shivbhole’…..’Jai Shivshankar Jai Shivbhole’…..’Jai Shivshankar Jai Shivbhole’.
And the entire scenario started changing. Instead of thoughts of fear, my mind started filling with positive thoughts. Instead of negative scenes my mind started creating positive scenes. Instead of fearsome maneaters, mind started picturing beautiful ‘apsaras’. Instead of strange figures, my mind started picturing godly people. I started feeling as if I was surrounded by a heavenly light, a very positive energy.
Shouting ….’Jai Shivshankar Jai Shivbhole’….’Jai Shivshankar Jai Shivbhole’ even more loudly, I never knew when lights appeared and I reached Killar. It was 9.30 pm and almost all the town was fast asleep. I knocked at the door and heard a voice say ‘come in’.
Found a cozy room, took two drinks and got lost into the world of my dreams!!!