“It’s time to let the brakes off, but hold onto them tightly,” instructed my local guide as we neared the top of the 3,200 metre Jalori Pass. I was confused by the paradoxical instruction. It sounded as if I was about to perform a Mission Impossible-esque stunt. His words echoed in my ears as I peddled down, the wind rushing against me with all its might. The wheels of my cycle seemed to be on a blitz. I smiled at the plummeting road as I did exactly what I was instructed. My sense of pride in that moment made me forget all the struggle and pain that had kept me going up to the Jalori Pass in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.
I thought back to how my physiotherapist had given up on my aching bone. Though it had broken five years ago, it was still a nuisance in my adventurous life. For the sake of fulfilling my mountain biking dreams I devotedly attended my physiotherapy sessions, in vain. However, somehow I managed to get the medical certificate I needed to go mountain biking in the Himalayas, though I knew my aching bone wouldn’t leave me alone so easily.
Finally, the day of the adventure arrived and I reached the base camp at Banala in Aut. The tents were set up right on the banks of the gushing River Beas. The journey through the tipsy roads was tiring, but the fatigue faded as I watched the foggy clouds form over the river. My aching bone was still on my mind as I went for an acclimatization ride in the hills. It hurt, but my will to reach the stunning pass overpowered the pain.
The next day we started off across the Beas River to reach the Tirthan Valley in Banjar. The buoyant river here flows right beside the rocky roads. The fresh air, azure sky and the music of the roaring river was a perfect start to the venture. Soon we were in the lanes of a tiny hamlet of Tirthan Valley. Almost every house here has a verandah embellished with red and pink rose plants, and the green meadows spread wide.
The Tirthan Valley isn’t very well known among tourists but it is a perfect destination for cyclists and bikers. Even the cottages here are not very commercialized. The area provides a traditional Himachali experience at a reasonable cost.
Moving beyond this beautiful landscape, we now had to reach a higher altitude and cycle up steep roads that passed through gleaming cedar forest. Unfortunately, it rained heavily just when we were about to reach the camp at Jibhi, another secluded hamlet hidden in the valley. We arrived shivering and completely drenched, but received a lovely welcome from the smiling people at our camp.
We camped at an apple orchard, along with the locals. The pretty cottages here are a delightful place to spend a relaxing vacation. That evening was unforgettable as we talked with the locals, who had historically served the British through the Jalori Pass on their way to Shimla. “I still remember my father serving a group of British officers,” recounted one local guide. “While some of them were very generous and humble, the others were quite the opposite.” The locals here are very friendly and are keen to talk about their culture and customs. That night we enjoyed traditional dishes like siddu and momos, along with some steaming hot tomato soup.
The next day we were all set to cycle through the tough patch to Shoja, the last camp before the Jalori Pass. Almost all huts here serve surreal views of the sprawling Himalayan Range.
Reaching the Jalori Pass via an unfrequented trail was another adventure. A temple dedicated to a locally venerated goddess called Naina Mata is located at the top. We were lucky to witness a rare traditional celebration. The people at the small temple worshipped the goddess by playing musical instruments, sacrificing a goat and then serving the meat as an offering.
Such soothing experiences didn’t give me any time to think of my pain. The constant flow of happy hormones totally healed my fear and pain. Willpower combined with the magical healing power of the Himalayas can make you achieve even the most difficult of tasks.
- You can continue over the Jalori Pass to Shimla, known as the Queen of Hill Stations in India.
- Servicing and other help for your mountain bike is available en route in villages.
- The roads are risky as truck and bus drivers are not used to cyclists. Be careful on blind turns.
- If you do not wish to cycle, you can also catch bus at the Kullu Bus Depot, which will drop you at any of the mentioned locations.
How to Reach
The nearest international airport to Himachal Pradesh is at Delhi, many hours’ drive away. The connecting Metro from the airport takes you to the Inter State Bus Transport Depot behind the Kashmere Gate Metro Station, from where you can catch a bus to Manali. Banala is located just a few kilometers before Manali. You can also get a private bus.
Where to Stay
Lodges, cottages and homestays are available all over the route. Homestays are best for enjoying the trip from a more local perspective.
Join the Cycling Event
If you are a part of Hostelling International or a Youth Hostel in any country then you can participate in the National Cycling Program, organized by the Youth Hostel Association of India, as I did.
Article by Purvi Kamaliya.