Riding the Cliffhanger Route - Killar to Kishtwar

The call from the Gods to be at Sach Pass and Killar Kishtwar Road had been ringing for a long time. Somehow it went unresponded for a while but then finally I couldn't stop myself and picked it up. I was invited to come to see for myself this remote land and its biosphere.

The timing coincided with the 15 August long weekend. I floated the idea in my local group but no takers there. I guess they didn't get the call.

So I was the chosen one and solo it was. I first got the very important approvals from parents and wife. With that done, I was all set for the ride on the 12th of August with the route finalized as Ludhiana-Chamba-Bairagarh-Killar-Kishtwar-Jammu-Ludhiana.

Then the weather Gods also got into the loop and I was ordered to postpone the trip by week for my happy traveling.

During the preparation for the trip, I ordered a set of saddle stays for my KTM Duke390. Somehow they got delayed. Not wanting to delay my trip, I had to improvise with a regular bag bungee tied securely at the back.

I got a cigarette lighter attachment fitted from battery directly to power my phone and an air pump as advised by a veteran of Sach Pass and fellow BCMTian Amandeep Grewal.

I requested and borrowed the air pump and puncture repair kit from a fellow BCMTian, co-rider of my Spiti ride in September2015, friend and also a KTM D390 owner Praveen Dua Ji. I also got my tires slightly overfilled keeping in view the stony and rocky terrain.

Two days before the ride Praveen Dua Ji called and said that he will be joining me in riding till Chamba as he had some work there.

So on 19th August morning at 5.30 am, two KTM D390 rolled into the sunrise, headed for Chamba.


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With the KTM390 cruising at a cool-110-115 kmph on the empty early morning highways, we reached Mamoon Cantonment Pathankot at 7.15 am and stopped for a cup of tea.

A drizzle started while we were there and Parveen Ji realized that he was not carrying a raincoat. With guidance from the tea stall owner, we went to the Railway station market about 3kms into the town. Luckily, we found a shop that was opening just his shop shutter and had raincoats. We bought one and just as we were rolling out, the drizzle turned into a downpour.

We donned our raincoats and off we rolled into the downpour. By the next 40 km we were fully drenched INSIDE our raincoats and so decided to stop for breakfast.

Our breakfast of aaloo-piaz parathas. We took a good 45 minutes to eat our breakfast but the rain didn't abate. With no option, we decided to carry on nonetheless. The idea was to lose as little time as possible but the progress was painfully slow.

The rain stopped abruptly the moment we entered the Chamba valley at Banikhet and were greeted with lush green farmlands. After packing our rain gear, we clicked some photos, and off we were to Chamba, speeding on the welcoming dry tarmac.

We reached Chamba at 12.45 pm. After filling petrol in our bikes we moved in opposite directions. Parveen Ji towards Hadsar for his Mani Mahesh Kailash yatra and myself towards Bairagarh and onwards to Sach pass.

The road to Bairagarh goes along the river Ravi at first. After some time, it leaves the Ravi behind and runs along its biggest tributary, the Kundla River. Both the rivers are very scenic but the overcast conditions didn't allow the most appropriate captures.

The road was initially good but I soon encountered broken and no road conditions with heavy dumper truck traffic ferrying sand. I had my lunch of rajma-chawal at the village Alawas at around 4 pm at a Dhabha run by a very hospitable guy named Karam Deen.

I reached Bairagarh which is 85kms from Chamba at 5.45 pm. After checking out various stay options, I opted for Chamuda Hotel at Rs. 900 for the night. It was a clean airy room and bathroom with a geyser. This place also has CCTV coverage for the parking.

I had a bath, lubed the chain of the bike, had dinner over a conversation about the details of Sach Pass, and retired for the night at 8.30 pm for a fitful sleep. Ludhiana to Bairagarh via Chamba had been a 385km ride with almost 240kms of it being mountain riding.


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The morning dawned clear and bright at Bairagarh. I got up at around 7 am and it was chilly enough to make me wear a fleece pullover over my nightdress. I took a leisurely stroll around town greeting everybody who was up and about. My smiles were returned with warmth.

A few energetic kids wanted me to accompany them up a hill where their herd of cattle was tied. I was short on time so I gently refused. I went back to the hotel at 7.30 am and inquired about breakfast. I was told that the cook will come at 8 am.

So I requested the staff for coffee. I told them to please mix a spoon of coffee with 2 spoons of sugar in a glass and bring it to me for creaming/beating. They were surprised at the request but brought the ingredients nevertheless. After creaming it properly, I took it to the kitchen upstairs and handed over the glass to the staff; instructing them to put one part milk and 3 parts water boiled together into the glass and give it to me in my room downstairs.

A few minutes later, they brought me an odd-looking liquid in the glass-which definitely didn't look like coffee. On inquiring that what have you guys done, the staff said that the cook asked him to put jaggery (gudd) in the glass. That is why the liquid is odd colored.

I could figure out that this was most likely because of overnight milk has gone bad. I told the waiter to get me another mixture of coffee and sugar, stand in front of me when I beat it, bring me fresh milk and then see for himself what a cup of coffee looks like; which I eventually got.

But this took well over 45minutes. I ordered the breakfast of omelet and parathas, packed luggage, and mounted it on the bike while sipping coffee.

I moved out after settling the bill at 9.14 am and started for Sach Pass. I barely went 2 km out of town and the weather turned cloudy. Just as I was entering the Kalaban area, an intermittent drizzle started. This would accompany me until Bagotu.

I was in no hurry and was soaking in the atmosphere which was rightly very scenic but the drizzly cloudy weather limited photography. Lots of small waterfalls and water crossing came along the way. The road now was stony and my overfilled tires were making me bounce on the seat; with absolutely no cushioning on the bumpy road.

But this discomfort was the price that I was ready to pay to minimize the chances of tire damage/punctures as I was alone. I met with a few bakkerwals with their sheep and horses grazing in the scenic grasslands. One group told me that they would have served me tea if I had arrived a few minutes earlier. They were winding up their breakfast and packing their utensils.

Now the snow could be seen in the ravines and mountain tops. When I reached the Satrundi check post, I was videographed by the police personnel there along with all RC and license copies and contact details.

There was a well-equipped Dhaba there with provision for meals near the check post. If I had known about this, I would have moved out of Bairagarh without wasting time for breakfast and could have easily saved an hour.

After Satrundi, the landscape becomes more barren and rocky. While I was absorbing the scenic beauty of the helipad area, a group of eleven WET Australian bikers with their back up Bolero came down from the Sach Pass area. They started at 7 am from Killar and it was now almost 11.45 am.

So I kind of got the idea what the ride down from Sach would be like. But my "Blor Betty", my D390 said "Giddy up boy" and off we climbed slowly and steadily as the road surface deteriorated from a stony path to wet boulders with dirty snow on the mountainsides.

The weather was now cold and I wore my fleece pullover under my riding jacket. But my hands were getting frozen due to the damp summer riding gloves. I had to ride real slow for the fear of falling on wet boulders and it took me well over one hour to reach Sach top with frequent breaks to admire the serene and absolutely stunning surroundings.

I thanked the deity, Mata Ji, at the top for allowing me safe passage and crossed over from the Chamba valley to the Pangi valley on the other side. Surprisingly the sun came out for a few minutes while I was at the top bathing the whole place with a pleasant glow and warmth for which I was heartfelt gratitude to the Lords of Sach.


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Just as I crossed over to the Pangi valley, the landscape changed from a open wide valley to a narrow valley not more than a couple of hundred meters across. As I stopped to view the ice walls, it hit me-The CHILLY wind.

My wet gloves led to numb hands. My helmet has a top air vent that is stuck in an open position. Hence the insides were wet from the area around the vent. It suddenly felt like I have an ice cube stuck of the top of my head inside my helmet.

A few hundred meters down the road, the rain joined the part in earnest. I covered my DSLR bag with its rain cover and wore my raincoat. Due to the wet boulder-strewn road and sharp descent, progress so very slow. A couple of shepherds walking down the slopes through the shortcuts could easily keep pace with my performance on a motorcycle and were smiling at my predicament. Nature is a great equalizer, isn't it?

My bike's ABS was working overtime. The rain stopped after about 30-40 minutes and then it became foggy. I had to keep my helmet visor open to avoid misting. I removed my raincoat. By this time due to the icy dampness inside the top of the helmet and keeping the helmet open and maybe due to the AMS, I developed a headache which slowing started getting more painful.

Just as I was nearing the Bagotu dhabas, the sun came out. The Bagotu nallah posed in front of me with full glory covering a distance of approximately 100 feet across. I stopped to gauge its flow force and depth and realized it was around 1.5 feet deep in the center and around 10 inches of water at the sides.

The patch along the mountainside had been trampled bypassing four-wheelers and so ruts were visible. I decided to ride along the outer edge and calculated my trajectory where there was some evenness in the size of stones below the water.

I gingerly tiptoed into the water and held constant steering and speed. But alas, in the deepest section a stone shifted under the front wheel and I had to balance with my left foot. I instantly felt the sting of the ice-cold water. So the nallah won.

After crossing the nallah, I smiled back at it accepting the defeat of my riding skills graciously. The Bagotu dhabas were empty as I rode in and ordered tea. I removed my wet shoe and wrung my socks dry and put them on the KTM's exhaust pipe to heat dry while sipping my tea.

Just then two jeeps full of chirpy college girls and their teachers arrived and alighted at the dhaba. Suddenly modest I and my fully loaded bike were the sole center of attraction for 18-20 girls and ladies.

Man, that sure felt good. I thanked the Lord's that be for my stroke of luck.

I had initially planned to move on after tea but my headache had not abated despite the beautiful environment and company. So I decided to have some food also, to recharge the belly batteries. I had half a plate of Rajma rice, paid up, and moved on.

The dry wind now carried the stony sand and grit with it and I could feel their pricks on my exposed neck. Some road work was also on as I descended.


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That the snow walls still stand in end August tells about the cold weather always at the top


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This road led to some village up the valley which I didn't explore


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Resting at the Chandrabhaga Bridge


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And she flows fast and furious



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The view from Killar


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The headache progressively got worse as I rode down. I didn't feel like taking any pictures and hence this section has the least photos. The countryside had changed from craggy rocky peaks to luxurious alpine forests. Very few vehicles crossed me on the way up. A couple of Sumos, a tempo traveler, one HPRTC bus, a Scorpio, 4-5 pick up jeeps, and two motorcycles, that was it.


I crossed the Chandrabhaga Bridge at around 5.30 pm and rode onwards to Killar.


At Killar, I checked the Raj Hotel and Chamunda hotel and felt they were pricey. So I rode into a tea shop and inquired from the locals where to stay. One of them guided me to the Chandrabhaga homestay where I stayed in a fully wooden paneled room for Rs300 (room exactly the same as in the famous Latoda huts). I took medicine for the headache finally and after an early dinner, it was time to call it a day by 8.30 pm.
 
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