Watch the Toughness of the Road. Sach Pass – 4420 meters
I used to think and believe that Rohtang Pass is the toughest pass to climb on a motorbike. Tourists pouring in from all parts of country, road widening going on simultaneously, and the added bonus of rains make this ride one hell of a task. Sixteen kilometers uphill from Marhi (मढ़ी) to Rohtang Top take more than 3 hours and if you are stuck in a traffic jam or a landslide, you can stay close to nature for no body knows how many days, or unless BRO saves you.
However, Chamba as they say is a beautiful place and reaching Chamba is difficult because it is just difficult. We chose the worst month of year and the worst time of the month to go to Chamba. Rainy season is not the best season to embark on any journey in the hilly regions, especially going to the Sach Pass in rainy season is suicidal. But brave men ride high on luck and that’s what kept us going. Last year when we went to Chamba, we were naive riders, did not even have a camera and never expected the road to be so tough because we had not seen anything except the national highways. This year, we had an experience of 21,000 kilometers and that too in the toughest regions of Himachal Pradesh.
The day started with a cloudy morning and last journey’s experience was still afresh in our memory. As soon as we started, it started raining and by the time we reached Kangra, we were all drenched. No raincoat could have saved us because raindrops were as heavy as small stone pebbles. The rain stopped at Kangra and we were still hopeful that we will make it to Chamba tonight itself. The initial plan was to go via Jot Pass (2800 meters) but landslides and road blocks forced us to change our plan and go via the safer and better road via Dalhousie/Khajjiar. Soon we realized that our timing to go was not that bad. It was the Manimahesh Season and after every 20-25 kilometers, a free food stall could be seen run by the volunteers. Free food, free medical supplies, free tea , and at some places free accommodation was available for the pilgrims.
Religion has not always done bad to our society. We can spread love too in the name of religion.
Reaching Chamba was our primary motive on Day 1 but somehow we found ourselves running short of time and it was getting dark, so we altered our plans and decided to skip Chamba and reach Surangani, which would give us an early morning start on the following day.
Surangani is a small town established by the NHPC, the roads, the schools, the health centers exist in that town because of the NHPC projects. And if there was no hydroelectricity in Chamba, I doubt there would have been any roads or good schools. There is a Center School (Kendriya Vidyalya). One can find the petrol pump only in Chamba but you can always buy petrol from local shops, obviously by paying little more than the market price. Our friends told me that Sach Pass is very tough and very difficult on a motorbike. However, my reference point was Rohtang Pass, and I never believed that anything could be tougher than that.
However, definitions change with time. You do not cross the Sach Pass just like that, it is indeed tough.
On Day2, the journey started at 09:30 A.M, we thought of reaching Sach Pass by 14: 00 P.M. and then we embarked on one of the toughest journeys of our lives. PWD has sacrificed hundreds of lives in constructing those roads with limited manpower and primitive machinery. Landslides and heavy rains are characteristic properties of that region and constructing a road, which is wide, safe, and free from potholes is just not possible in that region, yet the PWD has managed to do a commendable job. All the names like Teesa (तिस्सा), Bairagarh (बैरागढ़), Satrundi (सतरुन्दी), Kalaban (कालाबन), which appear in newspapers, mostly because of deadly accidents are nothing but very small villages. You do not even notice their existence and they just stay as silent as they have remained since ages.
School kids still walk 15-20 kilometers to reach their schools, some of the villages still have to see roads and buses. Almost every shop sells liquor openly because that’s what keeps them busy. Road starts to deteriorate after crossing Bairagadh and thankfully it did not rain otherwise journey would have become even more difficult. Sharp stones, not boulders, can be seen as constituent elements of the roads and if you are not lucky enough, a tire burst is very much possible. As you approach Kalaban, the whole region becomes silent and dark.
Kalaban is just what its name suggests it to be, a black thick forest.
There is a police checkpost at Satrundi, this is where terrorists attacked and killed policemen few years ago. Satrundi is the entry point to the Pangi Valley and you get inner line permits here. The procedure here is slight different because they shoot a video footage because of security reasons, in case you are a terrorist then your video footage will help them to trace you. The J&K border is just within reach and J&K police has constructed bunkers to encounter any terrorist activity in the region.
Water, snow, fog, waterfalls on the road, and milestones kept us busy. The milestones were unique and designed exclusively for the Pangi Valley. If first milestone says Sach Pass = 105 KM, then the second will say Kilad = 170 KM, third will say Kalaban = X KM and the fourth one will say something else. And eventually you will forget which place is how many kilometers away. Once the steep climb started, the bike stared gasping for breath. At 4400 meters, surrounded by fog and snow, breathing is not the easiest tasks to do. There were few very tough spots on our way but unlike Rohtang, the region was free from tourist vehicles, so it went smooth. The hands were numb, and eyelashes were heavy because of dewdrops accumulated over them. We reached at the top and found two shepherds, a temple, and a shed for resting.
Eternal silence, mind boggling landscape, and zero visibility, that is Sach Pass. Zero visibility and deafening silence was what we saw on the top of Sach Pass. We reached exactly at 1400 hours and decided not to move ahead into the Pangi Valley but go back to Chamba.
Day 1- Hamirpur- Nurpur-Banikhet-Surangani | 227 kilometers
Day 2 – Surangani-Tissa-Bairagarh-Satrundi-Sach Pass | 103 Kilometers.
Chamba – Sach Pass = 138 km | Surangani – Sach Pass = 101 km | Chamba – Surangani = 35 km | Chamba – Kilad = 208 km