Glorious Jalori: A Ride to Remember

“Where are you from?” asked the unassuming Bong in a pink half sweater. However disappointed I was with him, I had to answer, “From Delhi”. “Delhi to Jalori Pass on a bike?” pink half sweater couldn’t believe what he heard and gathered all his sweatered and mufflered family members to witness the wonder that I was. I cursed the moment Pahji influenced me to interact with this group from Kolkata and there he stood giggling at my expense. Somehow, I managed to shake off the 10 odd Bongs of different shapes and sizes and went to settle scores with Pahji.

You know, we were at the top of Jalori Pass that easily qualified as one of the toughest places to access in the Himalayas. We rode our bullets to the limit for one and a half days to get there and there they were, a group of simpletons from Kolkata in a hired Mahindra Bolero, to spoil our glory. What business did they have in Jalori Pass? That place wasn’t meant for them, as simple as that. Jalori Pass could confer glory on us Bulleteers or the cyclists who almost broke their backs to get to the summit as part of a huge rally, but not on a bunch of sweatered and mufflered Bongs on holiday. For once, I was thoroughly disappointed with my own clan for spoiling our sense of glory on reaching Jalori Pass.

Well, that disappointment apart, we were really thrilled to have conquered a difficult mountain pass on our trusted bullets. Touring on Bullets is the common passion Pahji and I share. All difficult terrains in India feature in our list of rides, done or planned. Jalori Pass too featured in that list for long. But, since our Renukaji ride in early 2009, Pahji and I had struggled to match our leaves. That resulted in the two of us doing two separate rides. We wanted to plan something together again. The problem was that Pahji, of late, had developed this anti-3-day ride syndrome. The idea of a 3-day ride didn’t inspire him any more. I, on the other hand, couldn’t afford anything more than 3-days. Left with no choice, Pahji agreed probably thinking 3 days were better than no days.

The second issue was the destination. Both of us were very eager for Jalori Pass, but it looked a tight fit in a 3-day plan. But some extensive research told us that we could manage Jalori pass in 3 days if everything fell in to place. In October, we didn’t expect the weather to be an issue. So, Jalori pass was on. 2nd October, Gandhi Jayanti was a Friday and that made it an extended weekend. All our usual drills before a ride followed and by the 1st of October, our preparations were complete.

October 2, 2009, Friday
Plan for the day: Delhi – Karnal – Ambala – Kalka – Shimla – Narkanda (450 odd kms)

The plan for the first day was to reach Narkanda by sun set and stay for the night in the PWD Rest House. It was roughly 450 kms from Delhi to Narkanda, achievable distance barring any delays. We reached our customary meeting point at Badarpur border at 4-45 AM and after a tight hug, set off on our toughest ride till date. The target was tough, so we took very few breaks. The idea was to make good time on the plains. So apart from a breakfast break at Karnal and a couple of small water and loo breaks, we rode flat out till Kalka. It was 10-30 AM and we were happy to have left the plains behind. The ride to that point was routine. A group of riders on their imported cruisers tried to play with us for a while but soon lost interest and zipped off. They all had Maharastra number plates. Wonder what they were doing in north India.

At Panipat 6 in the morning

As is always the case, our ride turned meaningful with the first view of the Himalayas. We were in control after clocking good time in the plains and decided to take our first relaxed break. It had to be our signature joint, Cafe Coffee Day at Dharampur. First thing, we relieved ourselves of all kinds of nature’s calls. Refreshed, we ordered our favorite peach ice tea and chilled out for half an hour. The road conditions were not great till that point. I thought Himachal Pradesh was losing a bit of sheen. There was very little maintenance work going on. Till Solan the roads were pretty bad. But what was more disappointing was to see the natural resources of the mountains get ruined by the ever multiplying concrete structures. Solan looked like a concrete jungle as opposed to 10 years back. That was when I last saw it and the air was so refreshingly clean at that time.

Cafe Coffee Day Dharampur

The road conditions improved dramatically beyond Solan. The smooth and wide highway was a rush of two-way traffic but we managed to find passage. The commercial touch was evident on both sides of the highway. There were no shortage of restaurants and dhabas and filling stations. It’s not great to have that much luxury at your disposal on the hills. The more untouched and unexplored the hills are the better it is.

By 2 PM we were in Shimla, the signature town of Himachal Pradesh. However commercialized it might be, Shimla still has an aura of its own. But Pahji and I had been to Shimla many times before, so, we decided against stopping there. We took the Lakkar Bazar road to Kufri and Fagu towards Narkanda. That road through Lakkar Bazar is terribly congested and we were lucky not to get stuck in a traffic jam. We stopped to stretch our backs as we found some open space on the way to Kufri.

We stopped as it rained  

The weather, to that point, was excellent. The temperature was very pleasant. But as we gained altitude, rain clouds began to threaten us. As we left Kufri behind and headed for Fagu, the first few drops fell on my sun shades. We had time on our side so we decided to take a tea break at Fagu to let the light drizzle pass. These little things like having tea made on wood fire in small roadside stalls always add so much life to our rides. We have similar experiences on all our rides and never seem to get bored of it. We discussed our plans for the next day as we sipped at the steaming hot tea and waited for the rain to stop. I just had a rough idea about the distance and road conditions from Narkanda to Jalori Pass. It shouldn’t take more than 4 hours as per my information. We planned to reach Jalori Pass as early as possible next morning and then get down to Mandi by evening. If things went to plan, we should have a great day tomorrow.

The drizzle passed as we talked, so we started our bulls again and looked to make the last 40 kms to Narkanda as fast as possible. But when it starts raining on the mountains, it doesn’t give up so easily. A few km ahead we suddenly moved in to a heavy shower. I say moved in to because it looked like it was raining for quite some time in that place. At close to 8000 ft ASL the wind was pretty chilly and we didn’t want to get wet. So, we took another 20 minute stop to let the rain ease. Then, we cruised past Theog and started climbing up to Narkanda. The road cut through deep pine forests and was a pure delight. It was gradually getting colder and colder, so we stopped again and I had to put on a windcheater under my mesh biker’s jacket.

Despite a number of halts, we made it to Narkanda before dark. Right in the middle of the market was the HPPWD Rest House. First glance and we fell in love with the place. Built on a hillock, the bungalow type wooden house had great views of the mountains from the balcony. We got a nice and cozy room with quilts in the bed and a geyser fitted bathroom. First day of the ride had gone perfectly as per plan and Pahji and I were really happy. After a quick shower we set out to explore Narkanda.

Rest house narkanda

 Nice room at Narkanda rest house

Narkanda as a place deserves special mention. One can target Narkanda and the surroundings as a weekend get away. With the Hatu peak and a lucrative place like Thanedhar close by, Narkanda has quite a lot to offer. We didn’t have time to explore those places though as our sights were set much higher on Jalori Pass. Tomorrow was to be the day and we felt really excited. As it got dark, Paahji and I returned to the rest house.

As always, we had carried our booze along. As always, we made perfect arrangements for our luxury within a luxury. The chicken masala that we procured from restaurant in the market deserves special mention here. That was one of the best chicken preparations we had ever had. With a fair amount of chill in the air, drinking whiskey became really enjoyable. Pahji and I had great fun chitchatting about a lot of stray stuff. The Rest House (RH) caretaker served some tasty daal, sabzi, and chapatti for dinner. Full with some great whiskey and tasty dinner, we dozed off the moment we hit the sack.

October 3, 2009, Saturday
Plan for the day – Narkanda – Sainj – Ani – Khanag – Jalori Pass – Shoja – Banjar – Aut – Mandi (225 odd kms)

The big day dawned and it was a beautiful morning. The view from the RH was awesome. A panorama of misty mountains greeted our eyes and the rising sun made it even more surreal. After a few nice photos of the RH, we packed our stuff and loaded the bikes. We left Narkanda at 7 AM and made our way towards Kumarsain and Sainj. It was a sharp descent from 9000 ft ASL (Narkanda) to 4000 ft ASL (Sainj).

Early morning view from narkanda rest house

Narkanda rest house

between narkanda and kumarsain towards sainj

At Sainj, we stopped for breakfast. The straight road from Sainj went towards Sarahan and further to Kinnaur. With Kinnaur being a dream destination for us, the temptation was there to keep going straight. But this time it was Jalori. So, we took the road on the left towards Luhri. We were still going down. The guy at a filling station told us that the climb will start just after Ani. Of all the roads we traveled on, the road to Ani seemed the most pleasing. It was a beautiful valley with a roaring river, which I guess was Sutlej. The road was narrow and almost straight, so much so that we could see what was coming from the other side from a distance.

Diversion at Behna to Ani after Luhri

After Ani we started our ascent to Jalori Pass via Khanag. There was a big mountain bike race going on from Ani to Jalori Pass and we had the constant company of the heroic cyclists as we climbed up. My bull suddenly started struggling for pick-up. Pahji had experimented with loosening the air screw slightly and his bull was running strong. So, we stopped and did the same to my bull as well. It worked like magic. We roared our way up to Khanag.

Between Ani and Khanag

Jalori pass was almost at touching distance. A board read, “Jalori Pass – 6 kms – Steep climb – Drive in first gear only”. Can’t explain how excited we were. We wasted no time at Khanag and started off towards our dream destination. From Khanag, the road almost went straight up. If that was not difficult enough, the road condition was horrible. Half way up, we stopped to give the bullets some rest. I had been to Rohtang Pass a few years back, but Jalori pass looked different. There was a lot of greenery around unlike Rohtang. Tall trees shadowed the steep climb from both sides. We sat for a while on a nice green patch by the wayside and tried to soak in the glory of being at 10,000 feet above sea level. We gave ourselves enough time to sink in the feeling that we were about to conquer Jalori pass. Performing a feat and not enjoying it thoroughly would have been terrible. We made sure that didn’t happen.

Warning sign before jalori pass

Final ascent to Jalori Pass

We reached Jalori with another short burst. If you akin Rohtang Jot to a busy market place, Jalori Jot would qualify as a village grocery store. A couple of shabby looking dhabas and a deserted temple were the only things that were there. But on that particular day, there was a buzz around the place with the rally organizers and a horde of cyclists having a great time. Pahji and I congratulated each other on conquering glorious Jalori. Pahji ordered maggi from one of the dhabas as I captured the picturesque surroundings and the distant snowcapped peaks in my camera.

And we reached Jallori Pass

Resting at stalls at Jallori

This brings me to where I started from. All was well when a ridiculously overloaded Bolero huffed and puffed its way up to Jalori Pass. Pink half sweater led his team out of the crammed vehicle and I heard my mother tongue being notoriously overused. Had they looked excited on getting to Jalori Pass I would have forgiven them the audacity of getting there. But they were extremely disappointed. They were cribbing about how un-happening a place Jalori was. I went ahead and asked what brought them to Jalori. Pink half sweater seemed to miss the sarcasm and what followed you already know.

Breathtaking view from Jalori Pass

In the twilight of summer, there was no snow on Jalori pass. With the advent of winter, there will be fresh snowfall and the pass will be closed for travelers. All people doing business at the pass will go down to lower heights and the pass will stand deserted and covered in snow for months. I felt a tingling sensation as I visualized the place with thick snow all over. What a great sight that would be! But for now, the grassy slopes had a variety of animals grazing. On one side I could see a few carriage horses, while on the other, there was a huge flock of sheep and goats moving about in unison like a massive blanket. On the right of the temple, I spotted a trekking path that disappeared behind the mountain. That surely was the trek to the Serolsar Lake. 45 minutes either way, the trek was feasible for us, but leaving the bikes and the entire luggage unattended was out of question. So, we put huge boulders on our hearts to decide against the Serolsar trek.

 Shringi Vatika, Ghiyagi

We loved every bit of the time we spent at Jalori pass. By 1 PM we started our descent towards Shoja. The road demanded extreme caution. Our bikes were on the first gear with the clutch released and both brakes engaged. These extreme conditions continued till Shoja and also till Ghiaghi to some extent. We stopped at Ghiaghi to have a good look at the famous Shringi Vatika. As I took a few photos of the unassuming little place, Pahji engaged in talks with a local. That guy told him about the famous Dusshera Fair running at Kullu and said it was worth paying a visit. Pahji, as always, was game for it, so, we headed for Kullu. Then, we came across Banjar, the most prominent commercial center on this route and there on the road became excellent again. We got down to the Tirthan valley with the temperature soaring and couldn’t resist the temptation of getting down to the river for a refreshing wash-up.

Getting down to Beas River

We joined the national highway at Aut and instead of taking left for Mandi, headed in to the mighty tunnel towards Kullu. As it turned out, getting to Kullu was a waste of time. The entire town was flooded with people and it looked suffocating. Pahji made up his mind quickly and said he wanted to head back to Mandi. So, we turned the bikes and thundered towards Aut again. The only two high points of that fruitless venture were drinking chilled beer on the Kullu bypass and crossing the 3 km long Aut tunnel twice.

By the time we got to Mandi it was dark. We got a room in HPTDC hotel Mandav and a very nice room it was. The wide balcony at the back had the river Beas flowing just underneath. It was a brilliant place to sit in the dark and drink beer. Paahji and I took bath and made ourselves comfortable on the balcony. We had a few serious discussions on a few serious topics as we watched the lights go out one by one on the hills.

October 4, 2009, Sunday
Plan for the day: Mandi – Sundarnagar – Kitarpur – Chandigarh – Ambala – Karnal – Delhi (500 odd kms)

After two days of hard riding and great fun, it was time to head back home. I woke up really early on Sunday with the sound of rain coming from outside. There was a light drizzle. I stood there on the balcony for a while watching it rain on the river. Paahji too woke up soon and we decided to make an early start.

The last day of a ride is always hurried and boring. We left Mandi in the drizzle but thankfully, that rain didn’t get any heavier. We enjoyed the ride thoroughly till Kiratpur where the hills ended. From kiratpur to Chandigarh, the road condition was patchy. Work was in progress to widen the highway. That road would be brilliant in the near future but, for the time being we had to bear with the inconvenience. It started raining as we approached Chandigarh. That was the last thing we wanted. Getting wet while riding is not a nice feeling. So, we stopped hoping the rain would stop. Eventually, we made quite a few stops and starts but, unluckily the rain seemed to follow us wherever we went. By the time we reached Kurukshetra, we were completely drenched. I took off my wet shoes and put on my slippers. That was the first time I rode wearing slippers and it was quite ok.

The rain had delayed us quite a lot and we grew really desperate to reach home. Thankfully, the rain stayed at Kurukshetra and we got a much needed dry run till Delhi. At Badarpur border, we grabbed a couple of beers and raised a toast to the successful ride. We reached home comfortably by 9-30 PM.

Conclusion

As I took a nice bath and sneaked in to the comfort of my bed, my body gave up. I was really tired but my mind was still running. It took time to adjust to the rest mode after the day’s hard riding and that gave me just enough time to reflect on the ride. It was the first time we set ourselves a tough target and we achieved that with consummate ease. It was the first time I did so much homework for a ride and all the effort seemed to bear fruit. A few things going wrong here and there could have spoiled our plans, like if it had rained on the second day instead of the third, climbing to Jalori Pass would have been extremely difficult. I thought the ease with which we covered 1200 odd km in three days shouldn’t take anything away from the magnitude of the task. We had conquered Jalori Pass on our Bullets. The sense of achievement would last with us forever. I am not too sure about that Bong in pink half sweater though.

Riders:
1. Vishal Chopra (Pahji) on his black Electra 4S.
2. Anandarup Nandi on his silver Electra 4S.

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3 Responses to Glorious Jalori: A Ride to Remember

  1. very well articulated… Jibhi and Jalori pass are truly spectacular…. very well articulated…

    vishnu kumar January 2, 2013 at 12:01 am Reply
  2. Hi

    Manali to Jallori will be roughly 190 – 200 km

    Anu August 16, 2010 at 12:13 am Reply
  3. dear Anandarup,

    i went through your experience in written… it’s really exciting. I personally felt in love with H.P.. mainly its tribal range ( Kinnaur-Lahaul-Spiti).. i’m going to visit there this year again.. for the 3rd cosecutive time.

    i just wanted to know, the road distance of Rohtang from Jalori pass.

    Can you provide me the same to my mail ID??

    my mail ID is – saugatasen@ymail.com.

    waiting for your reply.

    thanks & regads,

    Saugata Sen

    saugata sen August 15, 2010 at 9:50 pm Reply

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