As usual, I had no plan to write about this. But then, I had no plan last year too. But Sach Pass is always eventful, and always makes something happen. When I visited the first time in 2012, I had no clue what it was and it practically changed my life, giving me a glimpse of what lies beyond the touristy towns of Himachal. Last year, as a much more experienced visitor in these areas, I still got a jolt as I got stuck up there as the bus broke down at 4000 metres.
So, what about this time?
To begin with, it was still June. We’d entered Pangi from Lahaul without any trouble but Sach Pass still had too much snow and the bus service was not going to start anytime soon although the road had been opened. So, we got into a shared car going towards Chamba (INR 600 per head). It was too expensive for my liking but we’d spent very little on the previous few days so it tolerable.
We were supposed to start as early as possible but they kept waiting for more passengers and finally moved at around 10 AM after packing almost a dozen people inside the car. The initial part was as expected, slow but without any incidents. We started gaining altitude and started enjoying the views. After a while, the road started getting steeper and narrower but that was all on the expected lines.
It was past noon and we were looking forward to a break and some food at Bagotu, a small, seasonal settlement with a few dhabas. However, the car came to a screeching halt because another car was waiting in front of us. We got out and saw what I call the ice tunnel. I had seen photographs of it by some early bikers on this route. It was surely going to melt away by July but at that moment, it was on the road leaving a small hole to pass through. This is exactly why the buses were not running till then because the tunnel was only big enough for small cars.
More importantly, there was a lot of snow in front of it, even blocking the narrow path. These must have fallen from the top in the morning. After a few minutes of confusion, what we understood was that an excavator stationed at Bagotu will come and clear this part. Till then one could wait there or walk through that stretch, and try to reach Bagotu because it was surely going to take a while. We obviously choose the second option. We left most of our luggage in the car, trusting the driver to bring them later on, and started moving with the camera.
Now, it was not all ice and snow. Water was seeping through the crevices too, creating a small waterfall. We decided to shoot a video while walking through it. It was a short walk, but the mind always kept wondering about various morbid possibilities that a small jolt could have led to.
On the other side, we found a few more cars waiting. They could do nothing but wait. So, we left them and started walking towards Bagotu but very soon, we came across another waterfall piercing through the road. The water was a foot deep and the force was strong enough to sow seeds of doubt. Others crossed quickly I took around two minutes to cross those two meters. There is a video of this too but I don’t feel like publishing it.
After this point, there were no serious obstacles. We came across a few people working on the road, under the shadow of thick, vertical walls of ice. They had to make this stretch ready for bus service in a couple of weeks but a moment of insanity on part of the weather may force them to start all over again. But they were still cheerful, imagining Sisyphus happy and waiting for the summer that comes late and doesn’t last long in these parts.
We finally reached Bagotu after an hour or so, found a nice shack, and ordered Rajma Chawal and tea (what else?). Thankfully it was a sunny day and those elementary facilities felt like heaven. The excavator finally left the station when we reached, and it took two hours more to clear everything and resume the journey, which resulted in more epic videos. However, the videos are still being processed. Hopefully, we can come up with something conherent using all those random footages.
Sach Pass Travel Guide
What on earth is Saach Pass?
For those who are hearing about it for the first time, Sach Pass (also spelt “Saach” with an extra “a” by some people) is a high altitude mountain pass in Chamba District of Himachal Pradesh, on the Pir Panjal Range. It is a motorable pass, but only in the summer, and it leads you to Pangi Valley, one of the most offbeat areas of Himachal. You can just make a day trip to the pass in the summers if you don’t have time for the whole circuit.
What is the altitude of Sach Pass?
The elevation of Sach Pass is around 4400 meters or 14400 feet, which makes it much higher than Rohtang La (3900 meters) and slightly lower than Kunzom La (4600 meters).
How to reach Sach Pass?
Chamba to Sach Pass
Sach Pass can be reached through early morning HRTC buses or shared cars from Chamba, which is the nearest major town at a distance of 127 KMs. It is around 175 KMs from tourist hub of Dalhousie in case you need to start from there. If you are reaching from the plains, you will most probably have to spend a night at Chamba to catch the morning bus. You can take a bus, train, or flight to Pathankot and then catch a bus to Chamba for that.
Killar to Sach Pass
On the other side, you can take a trip from Manali via Keylong and Killar (Pangi Valley) but it will take you at least three days and only makes sense if you are making a round trip visiting Lahaul and Pangi Valleys. Killar to Sach Pass is slightly more than 40 KMs or so but you need to reach Killar first via Manali, Keylong, and Udaipur or via Kishtwar in J&K.
Sach Pass Route Map
Here is a rough map of the route. As usual, it is not up to scale and not completely accurate. I have just made it to give a sense of directions.
Sach Pass Distance Chart
Here are the approximate distances on this route.
Chamba to Sach Pass 130 KMs
Chamba to Bairagarh 90 KMs
Bairagarh to Sach Pass 40 KMs
Satrundi to Sach Pass 22 Kms
Sach Pass to Bagotu 10 Kms
Killar to Sach Pass 40 Kms
Killar to Udaipur 75 Kms
Killar to Keylong 130 Kms
Sach Pass Road Conditions
Do note that the road conditions are mostly challenging in the entire stretch. Only the road from Chamba to Bairagarh is smooth now. After that, don’t expect to cover more than 15-20 KMs in an hour.
Best Season for visiting Sach Pass
The best season for visiting Sach Pass is between July to October. It gets buried in snow in the winter, which does not melt till end June. It remains open from late June or early July to early November. The snow always remains at the top while in July and August the lower areas around Satrundi turn green and gets covered with wildflowers. However, the autumn also has its own charm as the landscape turns orange-brown, in stark contrast with the clear blue sky.
Chamba to Sach Pass to Killar Bus Timings
The Bus timing from Chamba to Killar via Sach Pass should be early morning around 5-6 AM. Similarly, if you are coming out of Pangi Valley to Chamba, you will have to catch early bus at around 7 AM in the morning. Don’t expect anything after that. It is a difficult and time-consuming route and so the buses need to start early. Also, do note that the HRTC bus service through Sach Pass remains operational only between July to October when it is possible to drive through the pass for large vehicles. Smaller vehicles can move for a few weeks more before it gets completely closed for the winter.
You can hire cabs from Chamba to Killar in Pangi Valley. You have to ask around and find the right people but it is a small town and that should not be a problem. I have seen people travelling shared car by paying INR 600 per head. The downside of this option is that you do not have the freedom enjoy the views and you will be at the mercy of your driver and co passengers. If you just want to visit the pass and come back in one day, you will have to hire the whole car fro yourself and it will cost around INR 4-5K depending on the mood of the driver.
Driving to Sach Pass
I am not an expert on driving but rest a lot of adventure bikers and drivers try this route to test their mettle. Of co,urse having your own vehicle has its advantages but try these roads only if you already have enough experience on high altitudes and difficult roads. Take proper supplies and precautions as there will be no petrol pumps anywhere near the pass. (check the next section)
Petrol pumps on the Sach Pass Route
The nearest petrol pump I known of is somewhere in Bhanjraru/Tissa (adjacent places with different names for some reasons). It is around 65 KMs ahead of Chamba town en route to the pass. But to be on the safer side, get everything you need from Chamba itself.
On the other side, it is even more difficult. The last petrol pump in Lahaul will be in Tandi, near Keylong, which is around 130 KMs from Killar.
Accommodation and food along the Sach Pass
If you need a place to stay near the pass (or in case you get stuck, which is always a possibility), the best option is Bairagarh while there are a couple of other seasonal stops nearby and then eventually reach Killar. Let us have a look at them one by one.
This is a reasonably big village located right on the highway, around 90 KM from Chamba. It has a nice homestay called Mannat Homestay where I have stayed a couple of times for INR 500 or something like that. They also have a restaurant to go with the homestay and the homemade food is pretty good. Bairagarh also has a PWD resthouse but I am not comfortable with bureaucratic formalities and so never asked them. The views are nice here too and you should get some decent frames. There is also a check post near the village where your IDs are checked (anyone who crosses the pass must produce IDs, so never travel without one).
Satrundi is the advanced base camp, around 20 KMs ahead of Bairagarh with a helipad nearby. It is a temporary settlement with a few dhabas offering food for travellers and a police check point. However, the best part here is a series of waterfalls all around the area and at some points your vehicles may even pass through them. You can even spend a night at those dhabas in case you need to, but it will be bitterly cold at night.
It comes to life only during the open season between late June to October. After that it gets too cold for comfort and the makeshift huts disappear without a trace (I once went early November and there was absolutely nothing out there).
Bagotu is the equivalent of Satrundi, on the other side of the pass. It is around 8-9 KMs from the top and here also, there are a couple of small makeshift dhabas where you can get warm food and tea, which is a welcome respite in the freezing atnmosphere. This is another place where you can find shelter in case you get stuck but it is again not a very enviable proposition.
Finally, you reach Killar, the headquarter of Pangi Valley, and the only place that resembles a town in the 130 Km radius. There is a homestay and a hotel here, along with some restaurants and a small market. This is the base for exploring the entire valley.
You can read my blogpost on Killar from last year.
Moreover, do know that the Pangi Valley has much more to offer. You can check the following posts for that reason.
Phone and Data Connectivity in Sach Pass
Phone and data connectivity is fine only till Bairagarh where most networks work. After that don’t expect anything around the pass. On the Pangi side only BSNL may work for calls. Don’t expect internet inside the valley.
ATMs near Sach Pass
The nearest working ATMs will be in Bhanjraru on Chamba side and Udaipur in Lahaul. There is an ATM installed in Killar but I have never seen it working.