With temperatures in Delhi reaching mid-life crisis, the traveler in me was getting restless and just wanted to go to the mountains for a night which can be spent without artificial air conditioning. However, regular destinations were now crowded with too many people. Crods – one thing I wanted to escape. The place decided was Tirthan Valley and driving to Jalori Pass. I had done Jalori Pass twice but on two wheels and this time I wanted to test how four wheels fare in such a situation. Then came the question of which one. It was too rough for a sedan or a regular hatchback and I am not a big fan of large SUV’s. Now with a car, driving alone is too boring to I asked a friend.
Nissan Terrano was decided as the tool of choice. Why? It will have the advantage of high ground clearance over hatchback/ sedan and advantage of stable handling and ride over a full blown SUV. It’s like mixing hot and cold water to get the right temperature for bath water. We also wanted enough boot space for luggage of two people including space for trekking equipment. The biggest bummer when we got the car was that the music system wasn’t working. So we packed two Bluetooth speakers because what good is a road trip without good music. It was the base RXL version so not too many bells and whistles. Just a crossover which will get the work done.
Day 1, 20th May 2018, Sunday:
No matter how many road trips I have done, there is always a little bit of anxiety a night before – will I be able to get up on time, I hope the car does not breakdown, I hope we reach on time etc etc. Just like exams. However, i am glad that exams are over and I wouldn’t want road trips to be over. With about 500 kms to be covered on Day 1, we wanted to start early by 05:00 AM. I tried to sleep early on Saturday but sleep eluded.
Got up a little late and we were able to hit the road only by 06:00 AM which meant a little more traffic on NH1. Being a Sunday we found several biking groups gathering on NH1 who would be riding to famous Murthal Dhaba’s.
We did encounter a bit of traffic till Karnal but soon the roads were empty and we were making good time after that.
Back to the rod. The roads were pretty good which is always great. My favorite Road trip playlist was being played in the JBL speakers. We recorded a few time lapse videos. Atleast we thought so. Later we found most were recorded as slow motion videos. Touch screens. Anyways, soon we reached the foothills at Bilaspur and the steep climb started. We did have to push the car a bit keeping it in low gears and engine running at higher RPM’s. There were some patches where landslides and road expansion has washed off the tarmac, but the 205 mm of ground clearance came in handy. The suspension did a good job going through the rough roads and this was probably the best rides I had on such roads. We suddenly started to see some traffic on the road and saw that if we took a little de-tour between Bamta and Gashas, we would be able to avoid the traffic. So rather than going to Ghaghas directly via NH154, we went to Kandrour (via SH33) from Bamta and then to Ghaghas (via NH103). It would add about 8 kms to the journey but would be sans traffic. We were glad we took the de-tour as the roads were amazingly smooth and traffic was sparse and we could wiggle out the maximum performance out of the car. Now the calculations started for when we would reach Jibhi – our night halt for the day. We were also famished and decided to eat at Mandi, as we knew some good places to eat there.
Once in Mandi, we crossed a narrow bridge into the town, and ate at Raj Mahal Palace Hotel. They have a huge dining room decorated with vintage guns and swords. They also have a bar cum restaurant. An old rustic feeling Food was good but service was a little slow. We do suggest eating here.
Having had our fill of food we started towards Aut, another 40 kms away. We took about an hour as roads were pretty good and barely any traffic. We wanted to reach Jibhi within daylight. Once you reach Aut, there will be a road going into the Aut tunnel and another one on the right. Aut tunnel goes to Kullu and then Manali and take the right to go into Tirthan Valley / Jalori Pass. 30 more kms to go for Jibhi, our night stay.
The road got much narrower and tight. However, the road was in a much better condition than I had expected. We encountered some traffic at Bali Chowki Market and then at Banjar. We were losing daylight.
Also, our booking was given away to someone else, when we called to check. However, the owner of the property assured us a night stay in another hotel nearby. Driving carefully but without stops we were able to reach Jibhi before nightfall and were the only occupants in the three room hotel. After freshening up, sat in the balcony trying to breathe in as much fresh air as we could with the stream below playing symphony in the background. Hit the bed after a simple dinner of dal and rice.
Day 2, 21st May 2018:
Ah, lazy mornings in the hills, and waking up to a cup of ginger tea. The simpler pleasures of life. Yes, it did require more than 12 hours of travel time to get there but was totally worth it. A slow day which should be sped up if we wanted to do Jalori Pass. Still having to finalize the hotel, we packed by about 10:00 AM and started the hotel search for next two nights. We did not want to stay close to the market, especially in Jibhi as there is a lot of construction going on new properties coming up in every nook and corner. We tried booking to the FRH (Forest Rest House) – beautifully located as per pictures I had seen but could not find the booking online. FRH in Himachal are now booked via eco-tourism website and not from FRH office like they used to be. So we decided to drive to FRH and do it the old school way. The road towards the FRH started about 2 kms after the town centre and we turned onto it, realised it was really narrow. We weren’t sure how far we could go on this but since I having fit into economy class of budget airlines, and having survived, I thought – “How hard can it be”. No guys, this is not Top Gear. It did not end up with a disaster. With careful driving and with photographer acting as navigator we were able to get to the. It was closed and no one in sight.
However, we did not let the effort to drive there go to waste. We took some good pictures and then drove down back to the road.
The large ground gave us enough space to turn the car around. We were more confident on the way back. But our hotel search continued. We already knew that a hotel in Jibhi, located in a beautiful farm, had rooms available. But the rooms weren’t very good, not to our liking atleast. We also wanted to do Jalori Pass and trek to Serolskar Lake today itself and therefore without wasting anytime, we continued to Ghiyagi. It was closer to Jelori Pass and more serene. I looked at the fuel gauge and thought I could do with a bit more fuel. We reached Ghiyagi, took water from a shop and inquired about any fuel stations. There was none nearby but we could buy from the shop for a premium. We knew we would be able to make it, but weren’t sure about what the range would be given the terrain driving in low gears. We decided to take 5 liters of petrol and realized we should’ve tanked up in Aut. This is what we suggest most should do. Tank up at Aut before turning into Jalori Pass route. Having quenched our and car’s thirst, we asked if there are any rooms available. He said he owns a small hotel and and rooms are available. We walked to the hotel and really liked the place and decided to stay here. We however did not dump our stuff as we were getting a bit late. So we drove on towards Jalori. We barely drove for half a kilometre that we saw a roadblock – They were laying foundation for new road. It would take atleast an hour for the roadworks to complete. Doing some calculations, we thought it’s better not to try for Jalori today. We weren’t sure if we would be able to trek back on time and in daylight. So we turned around and settled back into our hotel.
Correction for Video: I say we are going back to Jibhi, but we went back to Ghiyagi where we spend the night.
It was beautiful weather out and we just sat by the flowing stream nearby breathing in fresh air and just thinking if our Delhi lungs would survive this clean air. We had tea and a big plate of pakodas next to the stream and the best part was we left our phones and camera in the room. No pictures, no temptation to take pics and no disturbances. Just nature.
Soon it started getting a little dark and we decided to freshen up before dinner. Part of freshening up was some Old Monk with lukewarm water and some snacks. Before we knew, it was late night – 9PM and our hotel owner bought the chicken and rice – saying – he too has to sleep.
Yes, 9 PM is almost late night in the hills. For us city folks, it’s late evening. “We can use this time to catch up on sleep which we waste in stalking our ex on Facebook” we thought. So we hit the bed by 10:00 PM.
Day 3, 22nd May 2018:
We woke up to a symphony of bird chirping and sounds of the Tirthan river. Sunshine was filtering through the window and painted the walls in bright yellow. The wood panels in the room plastered with sunshine gave the room a very classic look like a room in Oscar nominated movies. But we were not in a movie and therefore we had to get going rather than brood about life. It was already 08:00 AM. Had our morning cup of tea and decided to leave for Jalori as soon as we could. Ok, we took our own sweet time to get ready. We had seen a place in Jibhi which served great breakfast – Cafe Jungle Valley. We drove back to Jibhi for a sumptuous breakfast. Probably the best hash brown I ever had.
The road laid out the previous day helped. Though it was just packed stones with mud covering it, without any layer of tar, it did provide enough grip and a relatively pot hole free service. Jalori Pass was about 12 kms away and it took us about 30 mins to get there. Thanks to low traffic. Road to Jalori is still narrow with high drops on the side. At several places one has to stop on the side to let oncoming traffic pass. Be extremely careful on driving on these roads. There are no side railing to stop a car in case it overshoots the turn.
Once at Jalori, there was a lot of hussle and bustle with several people heading to Serolskar Lake. Some had camped nearby and there was a cyclist who had cycled all the way from Bangalore. There is a golden rule to visiting a place like Jalori Pass – you have to eat Maggi. If you break this golden rule, your spirit would be forced to watch re-runs of Ekta Kapoor serials for eternity. So, to ensure a sane spirit, we had a plate of maggi and a cup of tea each before we started for the lake. We could see camp sites coming up, given it’s start of the season. There were lot’s of people on the trail, compared to a solo walk when I did the trek last in September 2010. The trail is well laid, flat for most parts and one of the easiest treks, good for beginners. But still not as crowded as some of the other easy treks. The views are pristine and provide good view of the ranges all through the trek.
We did cross some groups of trekkers who were taking their own sweet time trying to find mobile signals for live update on Instagram. Not that we hate it, or that we did not take pics, we wanted to soak in the experience. The path has green vegetation throughout the trail and lots of trees so it’s good for city damaged lungs. We came to a small dhaba – Buddha Café, a decent rest stop in case someone wants to fuel up.
The location does help. We took a bottle of water, took a few sips and moved on. Beauty of this trek is that you do not see the lake until you reach very close to it. We finally got the view after an hour and forty minutes of walking from Jalori Pass. A cemented path with railing protection surround the lake and we decided to circumvent it. However, once we reached the other side of the lake, the path stopped and we have to ground a little hill to complete the circle.
It was quiet and sitting on the other side of the lake, we took a much needed breather. Thankfully, they do not allow tourists to go near the lake. We all know what happens if you let people around pristine nature.
We started our walk back soon and had Rajma Chawal at a dhaba nearby. Rajma Chawal comes in second as preferred food in the hills. It took us about one hour thirty minutes to get back to Jalori Pass. On the way back it does feel that you are climbing at few places but gradient isn’t steep. Still, the entire trek wasn’t too tiring. Once back, we recorded a short video of the experience, clicked some pictures and had another round of tea. Now it was time to head back to Ghiyagi.
Some pics of the Terrano at Jalori Pass
We took about 30 mins to get back. We decided to sleep early tonight as we wanted to start by 05:00 AM the next morning.
Day 4, 23rd May 2018:
We were able to start early by 05:10 AM and made good progress with no traffic and empty markets. We reached Aut by about 06:30 AM and continued towards Bilaspur.
Terrano was easy to drive on the narrow roads with good control and now it was time to open up the taps a bit more as road got better and much wider. Even at higher speeds, there was not much of a body roll and with decent steering feedback, it was a pleasure to drive.
Usually fast corners are not a SUV’s best friend but Terrano seemed to liked them, if not being completely in love with them. Not having eaten anything since morning, not even a cup of tea, we stopped for tea and continued soon after. I usally get calls from family about my whereabouts when I am on the road. But thanks to technology, I cold put both my mom and myself at ease by sharing my location on WhatsApp for 8 hours. Great way to let family know where you are.
Return journey’s are usually boring. One just wants to get home. But the good roads, less traffic made it bearable. We wanted to get back intime to get enough rest for the next working day. We made good progress on the hills and only had one of two quick photo stops. However, hunger started getting better of us by the time we were near Ambala so stopped for a typical Punjabi non-veg cuisine after crossing Ambala. Filled our tummies to the brim, and moved ahead. Soon we were at the border and thankfully not the usual traffic jam. By 07:00 PM I was home and a bit tired. Parked the car, took my stuff, threw them in corner of the house and fell on the bed with a smile running ear to ear. What a trip.