October 6, 2013: It was a full house, with raring enthusiasm, inÂ Shimla, with motorsport enthusiasts from all parts of the country ready to set off for the highest rally of the world – the Raid De Himalaya. The Raid, as referred to by most enthusiasts, is counted among the top ten toughest motorsport rallies globally and is witness to unparalleled vigor.
It wonâ€™t be a euphemism â€“ â€œFor the diehard rally driver, itâ€™s the mecca of rallying in Asiaâ€. The highest rally in the world; only 25% starters finish; an extreme endurance event of marathon proportions; it will be cold, very very cold; there will be almost no oxygen to breathe; the roads will be like river beds, well, icy river beds, and the knowledge that one may not return from this adventure as the same person that waved goodbye cheerily to his family and friends a week before, in fact one may not return at allâ€¦.
And as a reward one will have the countryâ€™s most enviedÂ bragging rights â€“ That itself, if finished, Â , will be an unbelievable victory, as rallying at 6000 meters above sea level is unheard of by most.
The vehicle selected was 1.3 litre diesel powered SAIL Hatchback. The preparation of the vehicle was executed under the supervision of General Motors Technical Centre India, Bangalore. The vehicle was engineered andÂ fitted with safety equipment like, roll cage, safety seats and belts, under body plate to successfully traverse the most difficult and unforgiving terrains. And, of course, we had our helmets to protect us while we drove!
The route to â€œRaidâ€ traversed the difficult stretches of Kaza, Tabo, Keylong, Khardung La and Wari La and finally to close at Leh. With the backdrop of the Himalayas and real dangers threatening every participant, the task of mere completion was terrifying. Achieving the end of each day was a real victory. This was a real adventure â€“ as a single wrong step meant having a free fall from highest altitudes.
The Raid testedÂ qualities of endurance, physical and mental toughness on one side, and on the other,Â tested the choice of vehicle and planning for the unexpected.
We drove past the Â highest motorable altitudes, the mightiest mountains where nothing much survives and learnt that one needs to be physically fit and mentally strong, that the unexpected lies around the next bend and it need not always be pleasant! -A well-prepared car and physical fitness to face the rigors that the high altitude route has to offer, both need to be in place.
The day normally started just after sunrise, and terminated just before dusk. However there were delays and, on a few occasions, we drove with lights on, without knowing how much depth one is running, with just about 2 meters of road on the either side of the vehicle.
Our SAIL Hatchback kept us moving, even while we saw many others withdrawing in between because of various breakdowns by their machines. The vehicle performed to expectations, with the ground clearance the only major concern, given the terrain we had to battle with, while competing with a lineup dominated by SUVs.Â It was indeed testing, for every moving or stationary part of vehicle which underwent the treacherous, unforgiving terrain, as each day for a grueling 12 â€“ 14 hours, stones hit every corner of our vehicle like bullets. The suspension, the engine, the transmission, along with the driver, each needed perfect harmony â€“ and finally when the man and the machine, after 6 days of rallying across 1800km, arrived safe, all the pain was relieved and a true sense of achievement prevailed.
The overall experience was enriching and gave a sense of pride for the machine. We learned how to survive in extreme conditions, and keep the target in mind irrespective of all the harsh elements.
Winning or losing comes second â€“ what matters most is man and machine working in tandem yet finishing safe.
-By Deepak Mutreja and Pradeep Chauhan