Mighty Chanshal Pass – A breathtaking trip to heaven touching mountain
Chanshal Pass – Seven years of planning (2015 to 2022)
I stumbled across a travel blog from Yayawar in 2015 in which he described his journey on Tiuni to Chakrata road. Upon tracing that route, I was enthralled to learn that this relatively new route connects the two hilly states of Himachal and Uttarakhand along the rivers Pabbar and Tons. Upon exploring further, I was thrilled to know that this route further connects to Chanshal Pass via Rohru, a small settlement on the banks of the river Pabbar. For the last seven years, I nurtured my desire to explore and ascend this formidable pass one day. The plan was discussed repeatedly with various people, but somehow it never materialized. The desire kept ebbing, and finally, the four of us decided to take the less traveled road.
The Plan and the Gang
The plan was kept simple. Day 1 began with a 15-hour drive to Rohru, our starting point for the Chanshal Pass. Day 2 would be comparatively simple because we would climb to Chanshal Pass, which is at almost 14000 feet, and then descend to Rohru. On the third day, we would begin our return journey via Uttarakhand. We would travel in the same direction as Yayawar, via Tiuni and Chakrata. Here we would have the night halt after exploring the local attractions. Our final descent would be via Paonta Sahib on the fourth and final day before heading back to Gurgaon.
Trip dates: 6th Oct to 9th Oct, 2022
Stay on Day-1&2: The Chanshal Hotel, Rohru
Stay on Day-3: The Himalayan View Hotel, Chakrata
Gaurav, Gaurav & Gaurav (3G): Khattar, Arya & Ahuja
Pramanshu Ranjan – Gabru of the gang
We decided to go on this trip no matter what, so we planned and reserved the hotel one month before our departure date. We formed a WhatsApp and splitwise group to monitor expenses and developments. Surprisingly, instead of XUV5OO, we decided to travel on WagonR, as all four of us could drive it effortlessly.
All four tires were replaced, along with the clutch plates, brake shoes, engine mounting, gearbox, new shockers, fresh air filters, front and rear wipers. Also, we kept an air compressor, a phone stand, and an extra tool kit for emergencies. I also had the car serviced. Despite spending a fortune, I was happy that my car was now equipped to handle the treacherous Chanshal pass.
Our Dr. Arya had already purchased his airline tickets from Bhopal and was eager to travel to Delhi on October 5, Dusshera Day. We intended to depart Gurgaon at the crack of dawn, at around 2.30 am, and arrive in Rohru no later than 17.00 hours. We were mentally prepared for the long drive ahead of us.
The euphoria gradually increased as we counted each day. We were eager to drive on our first guys’ trip. The excitement was palpable. Similar to what happens on a Goa or Ladakh trip, at the last moment, Gaurav Ahuja had some unavoidable situation at the office and canceled his plan. However, our plan remained intact. On the Dusshera evening, as Dr. Arya’s flight landed in Delhi, we knew the moment had come. In our minds, the trip had already begun. After dinner, we thought of catching up with sleep as it was a long day ahead of us.
Day-1: Marathon drive to Rohru
The 4-5 hours of deep sleep, followed by the cold bath at 2 am, finally got us kicking. By 2.30 am, we were downstairs loading our luggage on WagonR. Pramanshu, too, reached on time, and we started driving by 2.50 am from my residence.
Despite it being Dusshera night, Delhi was quiet. We quickly passed through Delhi, Kundli, and Murthal because there wasn’t much traffic. By 5 am, we zipped past Panipat, and by 08.30 hrs, we were done with breakfast and on the way to the Himalayan Expressway. Since it had rained recently, there was a nip in the air. The refreshing breeze was comforting. The AC was turned off less because it was cold and more because WagonR needed a little extra strength to climb the hills quickly. By 10.30 hrs, we had crossed Parwanoo, Dharampur, and Solan. We left the Shimla National Highway from Solan and took the state highway towards Kotla & Hatkoti.
The tar roads gave way to broken roads, which soon turned into loosely packed gravel. As Pramanshu rightly observed, it seemed that JCBs had scooped a chunk of the road every 10 m. The entire stretch of 135 km seemed like an ordeal that didn’t seem to end. We encountered terrible roads (oblivious to the fact that this was just the beginning), landslides, narrow streets, nasty pickup truck drivers, and fatigue. However, the road’s condition significantly improved as we approached Hatkoti. By the time we entered Rohru, it was almost 4.30 pm. It took us nearly 14 hrs; with two meal breaks, one tea break, and one landslide, we finally arrived in Rohru. Not a bad deal at all, considering WagonR’s prowess and highway manners.
Rohru – a quaint town on the banks of River Pabbar
After settling in at Hotel Chanshal, we considered exploring the town. The hotel receptionist advised that we should go for a stroll along the river. The serpentine bylanes of Rohru took us to a dilapidated bridge spanning the Pabbar river. As we walked over it, it cranked & squeaked, slightly wobbled to express its displeasure towards us. We were unwelcomed. Still, we braved the challenge head-on and made it across without incident.
The river seemed like the stroke of a painter’s brush. Cold water gushed through the rocks with remarkable swiftness. The riverbank was lined with pods of pebbles. We used them to make rock cairns against the backdrop of the setting sun. A few pics turned out stunning. Bending down, I scooped a hand through the water and drank my fill. It was thirst-quenching. I leaned against a rock and closed my eyes, enjoying the sunrays slowly caressing my cheeks. The sweet aroma of flowing water drifted to my nostrils as I reflected on the beauty of nature.
After spending a reasonable amount of time, we climbed the bridge back to civilization. It was just 7 pm, but the town seemed sleepy. Most shops were closed, but fortunately, a few restaurants were open. We got the dinner packed and returned to our hotel. Tomorrow would be the day I had waited for, for a decade. Mighty Chanshal pass, here I come.
Day-2: CHaNshaL PaSs
I woke up before the alarm could disturb my sleep anymore. The clock showed 06.30 am. The weather was chilly outside. A fresh whiff of cold wind hit me as I opened the patio door. We must pack our jackets for the Chanshal pass weather, I mumbled.
We soon prepared to leave. Amid the excitement, we decided to stop for breakfast en route, possibly in Chirgaon or Larot, two small towns on the way to Chanshal. Today, we wore “vacationsnippets” t-shirts that were specially printed for the occasion. At 08.30 a.m., after taking a few ceremonial photos, we left for Chanshal Peak. Gosh! I was as jubilant as a child anticipating the purchase of a new bicycle. On the journey to Chanshal pass, the river Pabbar, which clung to us, became our new companion.
Initially, the road was average, and the climb was gradual. However, as we passed through Chirgaon, the already damaged roads quickly degraded into loosely packed gravel and, ultimately, a cloud of muddy water. Slowly, I observed that WagonR was grunting and coughing more to deliver the extra power required to keep up with elevation. Driving here would test one’s skills, I thought.
We are Stranded, GUYS!
We were about 10-12 km up and away from Chirgaon towards Chanshal Pass when suddenly, the front tyres went inside a pothole with a loud thud sound. I felt that the underbelly was hit despite a 165 mm ground clearance. As we crossed the pothole, we noticed a constant sound coming continuously from the car’s underbelly. As we parked the car on the side and looked under, my worst fear came true. We were dripping engine oil through a crack. The oil chamber was hit, and we were stranded in the middle of nowhere. My ashen face revealed my feelings. However, soon we overcame that edgy turmoil within, and then stopped an ongoing Mahindra Pickup truck to inquire about a car mechanic nearby.
We had two options. Either travel an additional five kilometres uphill to reach Larot or descend ten to Chirgaon. Dr. Arya suggested we go down despite being a lengthier route as Chirgaon was a more prominent place than Larot and closer to Rohru. Each minute delay in the decision was going to cost us some engine oil. We turned around, and I accelerated it downhill.
We arrived in Chirgaon in the next 30 minutes. At this moment, it resembled a megacity with plenty of auto workshops. We stopped at one of the workshops. The guy arrested the leak by rubbing soap and then applied MSeal. Miraculously, the leak was plugged in. We had lost more than a liter of oil. We got it refilled. Next, what he told me filled me with anger towards the shoddy work done at the Maruti workshop at Gurgaon. Before embarking on this journey, I had changed the engine mounting at Gurgaon. The mounting stands on two main nut bolts.
The Gurgaon workshop guys had not bolted the second nut. When the car went into the pothole, due to a sudden jerk, the engine struck the oil chamber, which cracked and leaked the oil. It took him more than two hours and two screw jacks to insert the nut bolt properly in its slot.
Meanwhile, some guy named Sonu, in his Maruti 800, came to the workshop for some other minor repair work. His residence was at Larot. Pramanshu chatted with him about the Chanshal pass weather and road. It was 13.15 hrs when our car was finally repaired. Given the effort, I anticipated at least a 1-2k bill, but the mechanic (Singh Automobiles at Chirgaon… +91-8894636123) only sought Rs 600. I was pleasantly surprised.
With the car repaired and engine oil filled, our tummies, too, craved food. As our human emotions returned, we realized that we had skipped breakfast owing to this car breakdown episode. After looking around the main market for a restaurant, we came across Hotel Annapoorna. We parked the car at Chirgaon Bus Stand car parking and ordered lunch at Annapoorna. It was a simple meal comprising of Paneer bhurji, dal, rice, and tandoori roti with a green salad. Either we were starved, or the meal was scrumptious, or both. We ate till our bellies were overloaded. The clock showed 14.00 hrs. We were supposed to start traveling back from Chanshal Pass at this time. However, we were still around 32 km away, which would take at least two hours from now.
Chanshal Pass – A second attempt!
I was deliberating whether we should try to cross the Chanshal pass today because WagonR was still recuperating from the underbelly hit, and time was running out. My backup strategy was to return to Rohru, have the car fixed, and then head back to Chanshal pass the following day. This meant our Chakrata plan would go for a toss. Amid this conundrum, my friends suggested that we cautiously try it again.
Grudgingly, I agreed and started driving again towards Chanshal pass more carefully. Every bump in the road, no matter how slight, was carefully avoided. I utilized my two decades of driving experience to avoid potholes. Unfortunately, all my efforts went in vain as, just before Larot, the loose tar road gave way to a muddy, dirty, slushed, unpaved road. The deep tyre marks of heavy vehicles were clearly visible. The ride had turned bumpy again. We had crossed the first three squelchy throughway stretches when we saw a Honda BRV stuck in the muck ahead. Chanshal pass was still 18 km farther. It was almost 3 pm, and soon it would be dark. Another conundrum confronted us.
As we parked our car on the side to consider our options and decide the next move, we saw the same guy Sonu whom we had met at Chirgaon a couple of hours before, coming from the opposite side in his Maruti 800. We halted him to inquire about the upcoming route. He acknowledged that the situation on the road was dire and would only get worse. We asked if he could take us to the Chanshal pass in his car. He agreed to take us to the top in some time as this was apple harvesting season, and he had labourers working at his apple farm. We parked the car properly on the side, took our gadgets and jackets, and hopped in his Maruti 800. When we started from Larot, it was almost 3.30 pm.
The Maruti 800 is not referred to as the “queen of hills” for nothing. Although it screamed and grunted, it never disagreed. The 800 CC engine’s power amazed me, whether it was dealing with a road rock or swampy slush. I admired Sonu for dexterously maneuvering the car. Slowly, we climbed the mountains. The temperature continued to drop while the elevation continued to rise. Finally, after driving through these nightmarish conditions for more than an hour, we found ourselves at the Chanshal Pass top, located at 14,830 ft. The time read 16.45 hrs.
Finally! We made it. Ultimately, the risk was all worthwhile. Had our WagonR not hit its underbelly, we would not have met Sonu, and had we not met him, we might have given up the climb midway. The only Sanskrit phrase I learnt at school, “Ishwarah yat karoti, shobhanam karoti,” was now beginning to make sense.
The serrated Chanshal Pass loomed in the distance. The heaven-touching apex of the mountain was drenched in the brilliant light of the sun, which was creeping out of moving clouds. The craggy mountains were Zion quiet. In a jiffy, all our gadgets were out, and we went berserk, clicking pics, flying drones, and creating GoPro videos. Sonu opened the bonnet of the Maruti 800 and let it cool. Not a soul was around, and we had the entire sky-punching mountain to ourselves.
When the chilly wind became intolerable after 30 minutes at the top, we decided to return to Larot. The time read 17.15 hrs when we started our descent from the Chanshal pass top. As we gradually descended, it began to drizzle. The already slushy road found a companion in the drizzle and slowed our speed. By the time we reached Larot, it was almost 18.45 hrs. As we bid our goodbye to Sonu, Pramanshu got some fresh apples packed as a souvenir of the journey. The drizzle had turned into a downpour by now. It was 19.00 hrs when we departed from Larot, for Rohru, on the swampy road. Non-existent road, rain, winding mountain road, complete darkness, occasional fog, and a damaged car. All I had was my driving skills and close friends as navigators. It was an exhilarating yet mind-blowing experience driving in such extreme conditions. We reached our hotel at around 21.30 hrs.
What a day it was! Full of ups and downs. Yet, all is well that ends well. Had we not met Sonu, Chanshal Pass would have been so near, yet so far. If you’re planning to conquer the Chanshal pass, you can contact Sonu at +91 8627096309 for the latest weather or road updates, to buy fresh apples, or for a ride to the Chanshal pass.
Day-3: Chanshal Pass to Chakrata
Chakrata was merely five hour drive from Rohru. We were relaxed as the ordeal was over. We got up leisurely and ensured we had a hearty breakfast before leaving Chanshal hotel. We checked if there was any engine oil still dripping. None. So, that was a good omen. The sun was shining brightly when we started from the hotel at around 09.00 am. The road from Rohru to Hatkoti was fully tarred and double laned. We easily touched 60-70 kmph on these serpentine roads. We should be at Chakrata by lunch, I grinned. As we left Hatkoti towards Tiuni in Uttarakhand, the road turned narrow, the sun disappeared, and a series of landslides greeted us.
However, the surrounding meadows became greener, the Pabbar river’s flow and energy increased, and the landscape became more pulchritudinous. We took several photo stops on the way, and by the time we reached Tiuni, it was almost 12.30 pm. We stopped here for a quick refreshments break. The tea at the roadside was delicious, and we ended up having two cups each. With caffeine now gushing through our veins, we again skipped lunch and continued driving until we reached Koti, a tiny village before Kanasar. Here we stopped for a Maggi-Tea break. This break lasted for more than an hour.
Minutes turned into an hour, and by the time we reached Kanasar, it was almost 15.00 hrs. We were behind schedule as we wanted to cover Tiger Falls today. After a quick stop at Kanasar, we sprinted towards Tiger falls. The exit towards Tiger Falls from Lakhamandal road was in horrible shape. Loose gravel had got washed away during recent rains. Slowly, we inched towards the parking at the bottom of the hill. Almost 100 m before the falls, a fallen tree blocked our way. We parked the car and rushed towards the fall. The time read 17.00 hrs.
Tiger Falls has never disappointed me; it was no different this time. We were kept away from the fall’s base by the water’s brawny mist, which had formed as the flow had increased. After admiring its untainted beauty in awe for some time, we decided to drive back to the Chakrata hotel, which was around 35 km away. The time read 18.30 hrs.
It was almost dark when we started from Tiger falls. We had encountered a similar situation a day before yet had learned nothing from that escapade. The tall trees on the hilly side stared at us like silent sentries. These gloomy scrubs hid dangerous creatures lurking in the dark, I thought. May be I imagined, but the musty air and fog around, coupled with the primeval forest, had a spooky vibe. Bewailing sounds ghosted through the trees. Whether it was from the victim or victor, only the forest could tell. It was truly a drive which made our veins freeze over.
As we crossed Chakrata town, I observed not a soul was out in the open. It was almost 19.45 hrs. As we took the narrow road toward Makhti, the fog grew thicker. The visibility was hardly 10 m. We drove extremely slowly. The hotel was still 8 km away. At one turn, I stopped the car and turned off the headlight. It was pitch dark outside. What added to our paranoia was the deafening silence with the owl’s sporadic howl (hoot).
What if we come across a wild animal or see a lady in a white saree seeking lift? What if I look in the rear-view mirror and see someone else there instead of my friend? My thoughts drifted along, in line with the prevailing creepy atmosphere around me. Slowly, we saw signs of civilization with some lights at a distance. It took us over fifteen more minutes to reach the source of light, the village of Makhti, where our hotel was located. It was almost 20.30 hrs when we reached our hotel, nearly 12 hrs after we started from Rohru, which was supposedly a mere five hours away. After a quick call to our homes and dinner, we crashed onto the bed.
Day-4: Home calling!
Dr. Arya had to board the train from Nizamuddin at 20.40 hrs. So, we decided to leave Makhti latest by 09.00 hrs and head towards Paonta Sahib. The weather was fantastic. It was overcast with intermittent drizzle. As we started towards Paonta Sahib, every turn turned the scenery more breathtaking. We repeated our mistake and frequently stopped for clicking pics.
By the time we reached Paonta Sahib, it was 12.30 pm. After a quick darshan and hogging onto kadhava-prasad, we decided to have lunch upon joining the main Ambala-Delhi highway at Karnal. Despite being hungry, we kept on driving. It took us a long time before we parked our car at Neelkanth Dhaba by 15.30 hrs. The food was excellent, and we satiated our taste buds with a familiar type of food (parathas with white butter) after three days. By the time we left the joint, it was almost 16.30 hrs. Once more, we were face-to-face against the ticking clock. The traffic worsened as we drove towards Delhi, and the dark nimbus cloud welcomed us with a drizzle at Murthal. We decided to drop Dr. Arya at Jahangirpuri metro if we entered Delhi later than 18.30 hrs.
Thankfully, the traffic dispersed from Mukarba chowk, as we entered Delhi. We decided to drive to Nizamuddin as it was raining, and it would have been a hassle for Dr. Saab to take the metro or cab. By the time we reached Nizamuddin, it was 19.30 hrs. The sweet-spicy trip finally came to an end. We bid goodbyes and promised to join on some other journey soon. We left Dr. Saab and started our drive to Gurgaon. It took us almost an hour to get home. The time read 20.45 hrs when we parked WagonR in our parking slot.
What a trip it was! Riveting to the hilt. We drove more than 1200 km in four days with so many twists and turns in the story. Even while writing this excerpt, it gave me a high with a cocktail of goosebumps and thrills.