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Old 12th January 2015, 11:35   #1
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Default Driving & Camping: Himalayan Escape in an Audi Q5 & Mahindra Thar

After the winter trip to Spiti in Jan 2014 ( http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...er-thar-6.html (Winter trip to Spiti in a Fortuner & Thar) ), my friend Rishad and I were keen to do a camping trip in the Himalaya once again before the passes closed for winter. We began to plan in Aug to do a circuit which would allow us to drive from Chandigarh to Srinagar and then up the Zojila into Zanskar, camp out in the Zanskar valley for a couple of days and then return via Sinthan pass over the Chaap rasta, cross the Sach pass and drive back to Chandigarh. As with the last trip, our friends from Himachal Kartik and Anu agreed to accompany us in their Thar. We had an Audi Q5 for this trip arranged for us in Chandigarh. With all the basic prep done, leaves taken, flights booked we were all set for the trip in Mid Sep when news and horror stories of the Srinagar floods hit the headlines towards end Aug. As the dates approached it was evident that our original itinerary wasn’t going to fly so we started looking at multiple Plan Bs. We finally zeroed in exploring the Pangi valley camping and cooking out in the open as often as the weather would permit. So here’s how our trip finally rolled..

Day 1: Fly into Chandigarh and drive to Dalhousie
Day 2: Dalhousie to Bairagarh
Day 3: Bairagarrh to Dharwas over the Sach Pass
Day 4: Dharwas - Chaap Rasta to Cheri
Day 5: Cheri to Urgos
Day 6: Urgos to Manali
Day 7: Manali to Chandigarh

Special thanks to
1. Teddy Singh (of Teddy’s Lodge, Dalhousie) for the overnight stay at his lovely lodge in Dalhousie.
2. Karandip Sandhu for lending us his camping gear including tents, sleeping bags and folding furniture.
3. Anu and Kartik for coming along with us and carrying the majority of the cooking gear. We enjoyed your company, folks..

All pictures and videos courtesy Rishad Saam Mehta


A video that summarizes the trip

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Old 12th January 2015, 11:38   #2
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Default Re: Himalayan escape Sep 2014 - Driving + Camping - Pangi Valley, Sach Pass & Chaap Rast

Day 1: Make Dalhousie by Dusk
After flying into Chandigarh we met up with Kartik and Anu, picked up the Q5 and immediately headed to Dalhousie where Teddy uncle was awaiting our arrival with skewers heating over the barbeque. Enroute to Dalhousie the Thar’s power steering started to get very heavy and we soon found ourselves facing the first (and thankfully last) vehicular issue of the trip - a split line between the power steering pump and the canister holding the power steering fluid. Luckily for us this happened while we had stopped for refueling and there was a repair shop close by that had welding capabilities. So after a break of an hour we were back on track racing towards Dalhousie with Teddy uncle getting more and more impatient with every passing hour.

We finally rolled into Dalhousie by 10pm and after dinner with Teddy Uncle, called it a day.

Just 2 pics that day as we were in a real hurry to make Dalhousie
Attached Images
  

Last edited by Aditya : 12th January 2015 at 17:43.
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Old 12th January 2015, 11:43   #3
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Default Re: Himalayan escape Sep 2014 - Driving + Camping - Pangi Valley, Sach Pass & Chaap Rast

Day 2: Explore Pangi Valley and Chamba
We woke up to the smell of sausages and eggs being cooked by Rinkoo, Teddy uncle’s man Friday. Came down and were treated to a hearty breakfast of eggs, sausages, mutton liver, cheese, various jams and banofie pie. After stuffing ourselves we loaded up the cars, bid goodbye to Teddy uncle and left for Bairagarh. Enroute to chamba Kartik was stung on his head by a bee so we found some weed (which is abundant in that area) and rubbed the leaves on the bite. When we stopped for tanking up at Chamba, we were in for a surprise when the fuel nozzles at the gas station were too wide to fit into the Audi’s diesel tank for filling up. We then improvised by cutting out a bottle and using it as a funnel to fill in diesel. We reached Bairagarh by 5pm. The Govt guesthouse there is one of the most luxurious ones I’ve stayed at with very well appointed and furnished rooms. Post checking in Anu and Rishad took over the kitchen to make some masala chai which we had sitting out in the well maintained lawn. Then out of the blue we had this elderly foreigner lady walk up to us asking us for permission to park their Toyota Landcruiser based motorhome in the parking next to our vehicles. While Kartik and Rishad were explaining that it wasn’t our property to start with, I ran out to check out the magnificent motorhome that the couple were driving in. The Dutch couple Rini and Ronald have been on the road for the past few years in their LHD 105 series Land Cruiser.

Some highlights on the motorhome. For those that aren’t aware, the 105 is the camper’s vehicle of choice after the 70 series Toyota in Australia today. It has a non-turbo charged 1HZ engine which makes a modest 125 hp through a 5 speed manual. Severely underpowered by today’s SUV standards but this relaxed nature of the engine also ensures unimaginable engine reliability and its not uncommon for these engines to clock 750k kms w/o needing an overhaul. Infact that was the reason this couple opted for this model in the first place. Another plus of the 105 model is the fact that it has springs at all 4 corners which lends itself to some very easy suspension lifts and modifications. This truck was modded primarily using TJM gear – lifted springs, matching shocks, Steering damper, high lift jack, bull bar, winch, steel wheels, sand ladders, roof racks, etc . The vehicle was sent to Germany for kitting our the motor home where they cut the body into 2 leaving a cab for the driver and passenger and building a near automated motorhome at the rear, with most items openable by pressing levers or buttons including the pop-up tent and drawers. The motorhome also featured a mini kitchen, a commode, kitchen sink and an external shower if you felt like having one . The Landcruiser had covered 400,000+ kms and had been on the road since the past 4 years. The Cruiser was shod with BFG Mud Terrains and they carried 2 extra tyres + rims on the roof.
The caretaker of the guest house was happy to allow them to park in the compound for the night and so we invited them over dinner that night and discussed their adventures over dinner. He mentioned not having a single breakdown in the last 3 years besides a flat.

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Last edited by Aditya : 12th January 2015 at 17:49. Reason: Pics violating rules removed
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Old 12th January 2015, 11:48   #4
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Default Re: Himalayan escape Sep 2014 - Driving + Camping - Pangi Valley, Sach Pass & Chaap Rast

Day 3: Explore Sach Pass
Today was the drive over Sach pass and the plan was to camp at the PWD guest house in Killar. We left by 8am post breakfast and within an hour of hitting the road found ourselves stuck in a small queue of vehicles as they were blasting the mountain for road widening ahead. After a couple of false starts we finally captured the blasting on video and finally proceeded to Satrundi where we had to line up for the traditional video session by the army folk. While waiting in line we get to chat up 2 guys in a Fortuner that approached us from the opposite side. Its funny how small the world is. In the middle of nowhere we start chatting and they mention to us that they’ve seen this awesome video of a Fortuner doing Spiti in the winter made by one Rishad Saam Mehta. With a sense of Déjà vu we point towards Rishad and then to Kartik’s Thar and ask them if they recognize it from the video and the guy got really excited about meeting the 4 of us in person and starts hammering away questions at us. Checkpost formalities done we proceed towards Saach Pass which is as rugged and beautiful as always with its perennial glaciers or should I say glacier fields and the track that (not road) that cut out for light vehicular traffic.

At the pass it was very foggy and cold, so after quickly visiting the temple we begin a slow descent soaking in the beauty and solitude that this pass offers. Barely any traffic encountered, we descend and stop for a quick snack at the base of the mountain. Its 4.30pm by the time we roll into the guest house at Killar and it’s a hat trick of sorts for me when, for the third time in a row they turn us down for accommodation. Every time I’ve shown up there there’s this one caretaker I meet who has a sorry “no” plastered to his face..
Decision time as its was getting dark so we had to choose between the guest houses in either direction, Cheri Bungalow towards Udaipur or Dharwas towards Kishtwar. We decide to head to Dharwas as it was enroute to the Chaap rasta where we were scheduled to head out next morning. We did not have much in luck as the Guest house at Dharwas was packed too. There was however one super basic room available with 2 beds and an ultra-ancient rest room, with just a tap that was reminiscent of a bath area and a half broken Indian style toilet. We however found that the lawn of the guest house would be an ideal place to set up tents and camp. So we decided to hire the room as a place to keep our bags and use the loo and set up tents and camp outside on the lawn. We decided to skip cooking that night as hot meals were available at the guesthouse and instead opened up a couple of meat cans to add some relish to the already tasty rice, dal and vegetables the Guesthouse served.

Some pics from that day

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Last edited by Aditya : 12th January 2015 at 17:52. Reason: Inserting images
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Old 12th January 2015, 11:51   #5
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Default Re: Himalayan escape Sep 2014 - Driving + Camping - Pangi Valley, Sach Pass & Chaap Rast

Some more pics from Day 3

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Last edited by Aditya : 12th January 2015 at 17:56.
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Old 12th January 2015, 12:05   #6
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Default Re: Himalayan escape Sep 2014 - Driving + Camping - Pangi Valley, Sach Pass & Chaap Rast

Day 4: Drive the Chaap Rasta
The sun was up by 6.30am and after a good night’s sleep out in the open we were raring to go. Today’s plan was to spend the morning in the area, drive towards Kishtwar along the Chaap raasta and turn back after a bit and then stay for the night at Cheri Bungalow. We stopped enroute to prepare breakfast along the roadside which we washed down with some great Masala chai that Rishad prepared. We passed a military barricade where we were asked the purpose of our visit what we were doing there etc. What was un-nerving was that the guard even while talking to us and taking notes had his left hand on his rifle lying on the table and his finger on the trigger. Apparently that area is still a hot bed for infiltrators and while we were driving we could sense many eyes watching us from the forests above the road. They were in all likelihood harmless shepherds walking their livestock but there was this uneasy peace n quiet in those woods that did not give off positive vibes. Once we cleared the woods we got our first glimpse of the Chaap rasta which from afar appeared to be single line scratched up on the vertical rock slab with zig zag lines at each end. As we got closer and closer to the rock slab passing through multiple waterfalls on the road, it was clear why it was known as chaap raasta or narrow road. We paused for a bit mounted the Go Pros and set off. Did not pass any vehicles enroute and after driving for around an hour we turned around and headed back.
We drove past Killar and proceeded to stop at Cheri Bungalow which according to me is one of the prettiest Govt Guesthouses in Himachal, be it the location overlooking the gushing river, the immaculately maintained lawn or the freshly painted cottages. We met the grumpy caretaker who I’ve Christened Janaab, who grudgingly opened up 3 rooms for us. We then took over his kitchen after which Rishad and Anu set off to make spicy Pork Sausage curry and steamed rice for dinner. The aroma of the curry made the poor chap enquire multiple times what animal we were cooking in his kitchen. After a really hearty meal we called it a night after agreeing to a late start the next morning.

Some pics and a video of the Chaap rasta from that day

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Last edited by Aditya : 12th January 2015 at 17:59. Reason: Inserting images
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Old 12th January 2015, 12:08   #7
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Default Re: Himalayan escape Sep 2014 - Driving + Camping - Pangi Valley, Sach Pass & Chaap Rast

Some more pics from that day

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Last edited by Aditya : 12th January 2015 at 18:01. Reason: Inserting images
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Old 12th January 2015, 12:14   #8
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Default Re: Himalayan escape Sep 2014 - Driving + Camping - Pangi Valley, Sach Pass & Chaap Rast

Day 5: Camp at Urgos
The plan was to camp at Urgos for the night. We’d heard about very pretty meadows along the Mya river that lent themselves very well for tents and camps so we were inclined to sleep under the stars if we could. We left by 9am and finally reached Udaipur by 3pm where we bought 2 kgs of mutton. Kartik was planning on cooking mutton biryani by the campsite today so we had to set up camp atleast before dusk. Urgos is approx. 30kms towards the left from Udaipur when you stand facing Keylong. A lovely winding road finally led us to the sleepy village just after the sun had gone down. Kartik spotted this fantastic camping spot ~400m off the road very close to a flowing river. Since time was of the essence we hurriedly unpacked the cars carrying gear to the campsite, quickly set up the tents and then concentrated on collecting firewood for the campfire while Kartik got busy preparing the Biryani. He had come prepared with the right utensils, the correct quantity of rice and the proportionate mixture of spices. So after sundown under a very basic camp light and campfire this dude cooked up one of the tastiest biryani I’ve ever had, that too on a tiny but powerful gas stove. Meanwhile we were lucky to find a lot of dry grass and cow dung around the campsite that we used to set a fire going. Unpacked the folding chairs and tables that Karu had lent us and sat beneath an unbelievably starry sky summarizing the trip. Post dinner we washed up (being close to the river was an absolute boon) and burnt off all our garbage that we’d been carrying for the past 5 days. I was surprised how quickly and cleanly the Himalaya water bottles melted and burned off without leaving any real solid residue.
There was still half the handi filled with Biryani which we covered with foil paper and left on the table. Bad idea in hindsight but luckily for us there are no bears or other wildlife in that area.

Some pics from that day..

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Last edited by Aditya : 12th January 2015 at 18:12. Reason: Inserting images
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Old 12th January 2015, 12:16   #9
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Default Re: Himalayan escape Sep 2014 - Driving + Camping - Pangi Valley, Sach Pass & Chaap Rast

Some more pics from that day

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Last edited by Aditya : 12th January 2015 at 14:53. Reason: Inserting images
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Old 12th January 2015, 12:21   #10
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Default Re: Himalayan escape Sep 2014 - Driving + Camping - Pangi Valley, Sach Pass & Chaap Rast

Day 6: Day of reckoning when we head back to civilization i.e. Manali
I hate the last day of all trips just like I hate all Sunday evenings. Everyone’s energy levels were low that morning as we knew we were heading back to civilization with our stint in the Pangi valley drawing to an end. There was the biryani from the previous night that I has no intention of throwing away, so we placed the lid on the handi and then packed it with cling wrap and dumped it into the back of the Audi. After packing up the tents and loading up the cars we left Urgos with a heavy heart and a silent promise to return soon. Once we hit Udaipur it was a quick drive to Keylong and the next pit stop was Tandi where we refueled and proceeded onto Sissu where we stopped at the Golddrop tents. We managed to convince Thappa (their supervisor) to heat up the biryani for us and subsequently polished off the remainder after sharing some with him. This was my 4th trip to Sissu (consecutively since 2011) and the characteristic heart shaped water fall there is one of my favorite spots in Himachal. Our next stop was at Khoksar where we spent nearly 3 hours waiting for the BRO to replace the metal plates of the bridge there. Finally once done we raced up to Rohtang which had really bad roads leading up from the Gramphoo side. But, once we reached the top a real surprise awaited us. The tarmac was super smooth all the way to Manali so we floored the vehicles and with no upcoming traffic we hit Manali within the next 45 mins (many a corner taken by the Thar on two wheels ). Checked in at the Casa Bella in Manali and after a nice hot shower went down to Manali town to replenish Cooking Gas Bottles for next trips camping. Had a hearty meal at the Johnsons Café chatting with the owner Piya who also happens to be a very good friend of Teddy Uncle.

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Old 12th January 2015, 12:33   #11
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Default Re: Himalayan escape Sep 2014 - Driving + Camping - Pangi Valley, Sach Pass & Chaap Rast

Day 7: Manall to IXC
We left really early from Manali to make Chandigarh by 5pm. Anu and Kartik took the sharp left exit after the Aut tunnel towards Narkanda over the Jalori while we hit full throttle to Chandigarh via mandi and Bilaspur. The mountainous section between Mandi and Bilaspur, infact all the way upto Kiratpur sahib is in very bad shape with broken tarmac that does not allow you to go hard. After an uneventful and boring drive back to Chandigarh we boarded the Indigo flight back to Bombay where work, pollution and a fast body clock awaited us.

Thanks for reading!!

Neville
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Old 12th January 2015, 17:06   #12
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Default Re: Driving & Camping: Himalayan Escape in an Audi Q5 & Mahindra Thar

Excellent.

Last year camp and driving trip missed Urgos though we camped out by side of Chenab just before Udaipur.

Added Chaap rasta and Urgos for places to visit.
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Old 12th January 2015, 17:53   #13
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Default Re: Driving & Camping: Himalayan Escape in an Audi Q5 & Mahindra Thar

Quote:
Originally Posted by sudev View Post
Excellent.

Last year camp and driving trip missed Urgos though we camped out by side of Chenab just before Udaipur.
Thanks Sudev. I think I know the spot you are referring to. We saw a great spot to the right while approaching Udaipur and has a lot of tree cover by the road. We nearly decided to stop there and double back after purchasing the mutton from Udaipur but then at Rishad's insistence pushed to Urgos which was a good decision in hindsight.

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Added Chaap rasta and Urgos for places to visit.
You wont be disappointed..
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Old 12th January 2015, 18:39   #14
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Default Re: Driving & Camping: Himalayan Escape in an Audi Q5 & Mahindra Thar

Lovely captures, narration and an inspiring clip. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 12th January 2015, 20:28   #15
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Default Re: Driving & Camping: Himalayan Escape in an Audi Q5 & Mahindra Thar

Quote:
Originally Posted by sudev View Post
Excellent.

Last year camp and driving trip missed Urgos though we camped out by side of Chenab just before Udaipur.

Added Chaap rasta and Urgos for places to visit.
Sudev, I will join you. I have added Chaap Rasta, Urgos and Cheri Bungalow to my list.

I could not get any information on Cheri Bugalow, would request if you or others can share info. Thanks.
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