The Jalori Pass is an infamous pass in Himachal Pradesh, in north-west India, between the Beas and Sutlej river valleys. It seemed like a good idea to attempt it with my fully laden touring bike, Reggie, while I was cycling my circuitous route from Amritsar to Kathmandu.
I set out from a lovely, little town called Mandi. Situated at the confluence of the Beas River and one of the tributaries to the Sutlej it contains a fantastic overabundance of Hindu temples of all shapes, sizes and colours. I was summoned into a shop for a cup of tea and some second breakfast by a retired couple, as running a shop in India “is not work”, which set me up for the morning’s cycling.
The road up the Beas River valley makes for a scenic, flowing and smooth ride along shady, forested hillsides, undulating as you cross sides of the river. My destination for the day was somewhere along the Tirthan Valley, a detour away from the Beas River where it turned north and I headed southeast, navigating through a construction zone (a soon to be familiar task) to the junction at Larji. More undulations took me to Balichowk and the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Department-run Tirthan Valley Holiday Home. After some shouting and banging on various doors I found the manager and settled in for the night. This was where I had one of my many cultural enlightenment moments where miming using a knife and fork for wanting something to eat makes for an indecipherable gesture.
I managed a mere 26km the following day to a place called Shoja, where, I’d read, the road steepened. How the previous 10+% gradient sections of road didn’t count as steep was beyond me. I’d never had to push my bike so much before, which in itself was pretty strenuous! Having already climbed around 1700m that day, I knew the following day I still had 600m of vertical ascent over only 5km to go. Not only was it steep, but it was narrow, dusty, gravelly, rutted, bumpy, with no sign of tarmac since my roti lunch break near Banjar around 12km back.
The Raja Guest House was perched in a beautiful spot on the mountainside overlooking the more arid Tirthan Valley, where I had come from and, apart from being kept awake by mice scratching at the leftover corn cobs from the previous occupant, served my needs well. Even Reggie had been given a complimentary hose-down ready for the final push.
The following day it took me two hours to cover the 5km to the top of the pass, at 3120m, which was made up for in stunning views of snow-capped mountains stretching into the distance and friendly welcomes from other vehicles. At least now it was all downhill. Wasn’t it? And surely I’d fine some tarmac again soon. Wouldn’t I?