Since this is a family magazine, we can’t tell you about the bet that set the wheels rolling on this road trip. Long story short: our two protagonists, Ouseph and Rohan, had a bet and Ouseph lost. So, Rohan got to choose the mode of transport for this trip and Ouseph got to pick the route. There’s more to this.
See, Rohan has lived all his life in Mumbai, dresses stylishly even when he goes to the loo and pays serious attention to his appearance. He isn’t very familiar with the outdoors, thinks camping is for gypsies and cannot imagine answering nature’s call in the great wide open. Ouseph knows this and decides that it is high time Rohan got some grime under his fingernails.
Cut to a tiny Himalayan town call Bairagarh in Himachal Pradesh. Ouseph caught the bus to get here and Rohan arrived late at night in his chosen vehicle – the new Renault Captur. The plan is to drive 30km up to the top of the 14,000ft Sach Pass, continue down into Pangi valley and find a nice place to camp. Ouseph’s been to Pangi valley before and knows a couple beautiful spots they can go set up camp. The only problem is that he knows that the roads ahead are difficult and narrow. You see, Pangi valley is still rather off the tourist map, so the roads aren’t as well-maintained as the roads around Manali and Shimla. The dangers that they face ahead include (but are not limited to) freak landslides, tyre-slicing rocks, boulder fields, possible snow storms and drops big enough to give an eagle serious vertigo.
This is four-wheel-drive country but the Renault Captur was right up to the task.
Ouseph is a bit sceptical when he sees the front-wheel-drive Captur in the morning. The past few times he’s been here, he’s come this way in a four-wheel-drive vehicle and he’s not sure if the Captur will make the road. Rohan, on the other hand, is fully confident of the Captur’s abilities. Ouseph rolls his eyes but decides that this can be an interesting challenge. In the boot is a two-man tent, two folding chairs and the road ahead promises treacherous terrain and real adventure. What better way to find out if both Rohan and the Captur are made of strong stuff.
The road up to Sach Pass is narrow at places, has deep sand in others and, runs quite steep, up to the top. If all goes well, they expect to be at another remote village called Killar, deep inside Pangi valley. Ouseph knows a good spot above Killar that has running water nearby and flat ground to pitch a tent on.
In spite of long hours behind the wheel over rough, bumpy terrain, the Captur proved to be extremely comfortable.
They cross the Satrundi checkpost on the way up to Sach and are immediately thrown into the deep end. The road is narrow and climbs through dense pine forest and somewhere along the way is when they run into a hoard of taxis bringing tourists back from the ‘snow point’ just below Sach Pass. Ouseph has to reverse a fair bit to where the road is wider and he loves the Captur’s reverse camera. For two cars to pass each other on this road, you need to use every inch of available space and the reverse camera helps Ouseph do just that. The taxis get through and the boys continue the climb to Sach.
Want to get away from the maddening crowds?
Rohan gloats a little as Ouseph comments on the strong on-boost torque of the Captur. He can see Ouseph slowly falling for the Captur’s many charms. They climb steadily past 10,000ft and Ouseph knows that all cars lose power up here, so he is careful to not lose momentum and keep the turbo spinning away happily. On a couple of occasions, they are forced to stop and assess the ground they have to traverse and it is here that the Captur’s hill-start assist makes starting off on steep inclines easy. Ouseph comments about how the Captur makes this difficult terrain look rather simple.
Want to leave civilisation behind and live in harmony with the elements?
Rohan marvels at the landscape as they climb above the treeline while Ouseph can’t believe how the Captur sails over big rocks that have fallen on the road. See, on most other roads, the road is wide enough to drive around obstacles. Not up here. Up here, there simply isn’t enough space between the mountain side and a free fall is guaranteed if a wheel is placed wrong.
Also, good ground clearance is essential and the Captur’s 210mm means Ouseph can confidently sail over rocks and deep ruts left by trucks without the fear of gouging out vital bits of the Captur.
The Captur will take you there.
They go through a couple of streams fed by glacial melt, swing a left through the ice tunnel that remains from last winter and get to a small temple at the top, with an even smaller sign board that says Sach Pass. Ouseph is in wonder of the ease with which the Captur made it up here but he knows the road down the pass is even more treacherous. A couple of celebratory selfies later, Ouseph starts to get nervous.
The weather up on a pass is very unpredictable and can change in minutes. A dark grey cloud is rolling in and the temperature drops as wind rushes through the pass. They retreat into the comfort of the Captur’s warm climate-controlled cabin and head to lower altitudes.
A tight turning radius and ABS makes the descent through this road’s slippery hairpins a cinch. Killar is just 40km away but the boulder fields on the way forces them to slow down. Rohan has gone into a trance, mesmerised by the desolate beauty of Pangi valley. It is his first time here.
The Captur easily makes its way down the pass, a small white speck in an immense moonscape. Sharp rocks that can easily make mince meat out of the tyres have to be driven over carefully but otherwise, the Captur takes everything the road throws up in its stride.
Rohan says he feels like they are driving through a set of The Lord of the Rings and he’s been clicking away on his phone. They drive through a couple of waterfalls that fall onto the road, get pelted by a few pebbles falling downthe mountainside (no damage, luckily) and descend below the treeline.
They reach Killar just in time to pick up a few supplies, make their way to the helipad and set up camp with visual aid provided by the Captur’s powerful headlights.
Hot chai is brewed and they sit back and take in the peace and quiet that you get only in areas where there is no cell phone network.
Ouseph tells Rohan that he is impressed with the Captur. It has taken a beating and come out unscathed. He also gushes about how comfortably the Captur brought them here. He says that he is usually very tired by the time he gets to Killar because of how tough the road is but this time he’s absolutely fine.
Rohan goes on to say how unbelievably beautiful Pangi valley is. He says that they should have more bets like
Sach Pass, on the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas is the 12th-highest pass in the country at an altitude of 14,500ft. Located in Himachal Pradesh’s Chamba district, it connects Chamba Valley with Pangi Valley and is open only from June to mid-October. So Pangi valley effectively remains cut-off from the rest of the country for the rest of the year. The road conditions at the pass are extreme. It’s narrow and unmetalled, with treacherous drops scaling hundreds of feet. Avalanches and heavy snowfalls can sometimes block some sections of the road and can be extremely dangerous due to frequent patches of ice. This is not a road for a novice driver.this simply because he knows that everybody won. Ouseph agrees wholeheartedly. End of story.