I took a early morning flights to Amritsar and took a 6 hour taxi ride to Chamba town. My stay was in a home stay, which was perched on a steep and tall hill. So I had to walk up the mountain with the porter. The home stay was quite lovely, and the Dhami family made me feel at home with their personal attention and lovely food. I met my co-rider Sahil the next day and we did a rather gruelling climb ride for about 2 hours where we walked through mountain trails, and I got my first taste of the daytime hot weather in Chamba.
Day 1 – Chamba to Banjraru – 73 kms
A long climbing day awaited us. We started from Chamba town in good weather. But as we climbed, so did the temperature. Reaching up to 36 days by noon. Climbing relentless mountains, riding along deep cliffs and gorges, the views were great. Lunch at a simple dhaba was rice, rajma and a local dish called madra. The daytime temperatures were about 38 deg C. I realised that the sun beats down quite harshly on these heights on the peak noon hours.
Suddenly at 2 pm, we got rains. So we had to take shelter in a tea stall for 2 hours. This brought the temperature to a pleasant 20 degrees and dropped further. The ride scenes were more spectacular now with wet mountains and greens. But the climbs just grew tougher by the minute. Up to 14% steep and endless climbs. We had a total elevation gain of about 5400 ft today.
Our booked accommodation was not available in the small village of Banjraru when we reached there around 8 PM. Hunting for another place took quite some time. Meanwhile the rains and sweat made me feel chilly in the 10-12 degrees cold. Finally, we managed to get a room in the local PWD guesthouse only at 10 pm. So this was a loooong, cold and tiring day for us.
Ride link – https://www.strava.com/activities/7227541079
Day 2 – Banjraru to Bairagadh
We had a relatively smaller distance of only 27 kms to ride today. But kept so for a reason as the route had massive climbs today. So this small distance would also take us 6-7 hours.
We start the day with breakfast at a local dhaba. The Day started with a small descend and soon we were climbing vigorously. At noon, temperature reached 40+ degrees. I was surprised that Himachal has such heat. The sun hits harder on altitudes. But few min in tea shop was a relief.
A cycle with luggage is about 30 kgs totally. So steep climbs mean a lot of effort. On few steep climbs of over 15%, my bike tilled back with the weight of the luggage. I had to put pressure on front handle to keep it on ground.
We reached our destination Bairagadh early by 2.30 pm. We had rajma chawal for lunch again. We walked around the village and got to take a shower today.
We slept early as we had a monstrous climb day again tomorrow. But now the roads were just trails – gravel, stones, rocks etc.
Ride link – https://www.strava.com/activities/7232228424
Day 3 – Bairagadh to Satrundi
I was told by sahil that this would be one of the toughest ride days. Only a 18 kms distance. But this was all super tough climbs, lot of elevation gain and the worst road conditions.
Well. The day did turn out to be one of the toughest cycling I have done in my life. The 30+ kilo bike was a huge challenge on these roads.
The roads were just tough, endless climbs. The road was a mix of stones, Rocks and gravel. Often, we saw climb grades of 10-15%. On few of the steep climbs, our bike front tires were actually lifting off the ground due to heavy weight behind. We also had to walk a lot of stretches as it was impossible to get traction mid-way up a slope. BTW the mobile and internet connectivity was completely cut off after we left Bairagadh.
But as we climbed, the views were spectacular amidst snow covered peaks. We crossed few sections with water falls and streams from melting snow. But the roads were quite narrow. So, riders have to be very careful with loaded bikes.
Overall, humbled by tough, raw and difficult terrain of these Himalayan mountains. I had never walked up climbs earlier. Not even on the 18000 ft Khardungla and spiti valley climbs. But the heavy loaded bikes and no semblance of roads meant that walking / pushing the bikes up was inevitable at some points.
A unique experience awaited me. Our stay at Satrundi was in a simple dhaba cum home stay. That itself was a experience to be remembered for long. The dhaba owner was quite helpful. We had multiple cups of Tea with local khari biscuits. The actual stay area was probably 30-40 sq feet area where 2 riders and the dhaba owner were to sleep. The temperature in the night was approx. 6 degrees. Remember there is no mobile or internet in these areas. So Completely cut-off from the world.
Ride link – https://www.strava.com/activities/7252880421
Day 4 – Satrundi to Sach pass and Pangi valley
Today was a highly anticipated day as we were to climb to Sach pass at 16500 ft and cross over to Pangi Valley. BTW The climb to sach pass was only 13 kms. But we had to climb over 7000 feet today to reach Sach Pass. The roads were worse than earlier days. The climbs were steep and nonstop bends after every few hundred metres made the ascent very difficult. The altitude, bad roads and steep gradients meant that we had to walk- push our bikes at many stretches. Speed was approx. 3 kms a hour.
after the first 1-2 kms from Satrundi, there is NO dhaba or any sort of outlet till sach pass. At 15000 feet, we were running out of water. Luckily, we got a stream and waterfall to save us. In the last 2 kms of climb, the weather had got colder at about 5-6 degrees. Soon It started snowing lightly. This could be dangerous to get stuck in the open with no support or shelter. So we pushed harder to reach the top.
Finally, after 6 hours of climbing, we reached sach pass at 16500 ft in bitter cold at 2.30 pm. In the solitary dhaba at the top, we ate hot Maggie and tea as that was the only choice we had.
Moreover the weather was worsening. The temperature dropped to 5 degrees in some time. But there is no shelter at the top. So, we had to continue to ride in this weather and descend in to Pangi Valley. So We started our descent in nail biting cold and snowfall. I wore a fleece cycling suit, 2 jackets, full gloves, Waterproof shoes and 2 face masks. Still my fingers and toes were numb. My Co-rider Sahil was quite used to cold weather. So, he braved the cold weather very well.
The 12 kms ride down to Pangi Valley turned out to be one of the most unforgettable and scenic rides of my life. The road was surrounded by huge snow-covered peaks. It looked so surreal to ride a bike in this weather. Meanwhile the bike computer showed temperature of -1.
The snowfall made the slopes even more slippery and dangerous. The steep cliff on the roadside was spine chilling. My bike weight of over 32 kgs with luggage meant that I had to take extra precaution on these narrow roads and tackle the stony, gravel paths.
Watch the Pangi Valley Descent video shot from my Bike mounted camera
My big problem was that my bike was not stopping completely on these roads even with full brakes engaged and I had to use my legs to bring it to a halt. I.e. skid and slide my legs on moving bike with full brakes engaged. Twice i gently rammed into the soft soil on side wall to stop bike on steep and bad roads. While it looked magical to ride in this weather, the bike mounted camera videos will give u a sense of the pervasive danger.
Truly a ride to remember for life.
My trek 520 touring bike had excellent hardcase tires and disc brakes. But this grade of wet gravel and stony road needed knobby MTB tires on descents. The next day ride was a jaw dropping 40 kms steep descent to killar on stony, gravel road. and deep cliffs on narrow roads all through
So I decided to finish my tour here as going ahead on the return journey to Chamba would be dangerous with tires that aren’t suited for this terrain.
Ride Link – https://www.strava.com/activities/7252817610
Summary / Advice
The Chamba region of Himachal is very scenic and the Sach pass, Pangi valley area is indeed very beautiful. This road is open for only 3-4 months a year from may to sept, depending on the melting of the snow.
A point to note that the roads are largely very narrow. Even the well paved roads are narrow, and 2 cars often have to manoeuvre back and forth to pass each other. So the cyclists riding here have to take care to stay away from the edge of the road whenever possible.
The climbs are tough, long and relentless. The terrain requires a tough and calm mindset to tackle the effort levels required to ride here.
The roads from Bairagarh to Sach pass and Pangi valley is almost completely gravel, stones and rocks. The twists and turns on bends make it difficult to catch road grip. Often, we found our rear wheels spinning and not moving ahead on such segments.
Altitudes of 15000+ ft require acclimatisation and the tour is best started from lower altitude places like chamba. Further it may be notes that there is little of NO availability of medicines or any sort of medical help on these roads. So carrying all precautionary medicines is strictly advised.
Drink Water at regular intervals to ensure proper hydration. Eat proper meals rather than packaged foods. I used only Peanut and til chikkis, Dates and dry fruits as my snacks and quick source of energy boosters.
Doing this bike trip with a support car would be a great idea. Further my Co-rider Sahil is a local rider, who also organises such tours. This is a huge help. He knows the area like the back of his palm. He understands the weather and could predict rains, snow accurately. His knowledge of the area also means that he can pace the rides as per stop points, food and drink dhabas etc. This becomes a huge advantage to non-local riders like me.