Since we had been waking up quite early throughout the trip, I was up the next morning by 7am. After taking a stroll in and around the hotel, I was beginning to wonder what we will be doing today. Soon after hogging on the breakfast at around 10am, a group from our convoy decided to visit the famous Hadimba Temple. Feeling blessed, we got back to the hotel by 12.30pm and by then everyone was gunning to head for lunch.
The afternoon meal was served at a place called Martin’s Cafe. It is best known for its grilled chicken preparation and is run by an Austrian chef. Another reason to choose this place was the availability of a small playing area for ball games. Break out the football! Weirdly, everyone gathered to play football after having lunch. The game was fun and so was the atrocious rule-making from our drunk referee. We lost 2-1.
After an easy evening, we all regrouped at a place called Cafe Casa Belavista, which wasn’t far from the hotel. The pizzas made in a wood-fired oven were to die for. The team spent about three hours enjoying great food and live music before heading back to the hotel. Weather-wise, Manali was comfortable for us. Even though the mercury level barely touched 20 degrees Celsius throughout the day, we were all well acclimatised by now.
A day that everyone was sulking for. No one wanted this trip to end but sadly we had to get going at the stroke of 8.45am in the morning. Our breakfast halt for the day was organised at a place called ‘The Alternate Terrain’, which is a 15km drive from Manali. Not part of the original plan, this stopover was included for the tasty breakfast that they serve and the availability of off-roading tracks for those who want to drive a quad bike and can pay for themselves.
Breakfast done, we headed towards our next scheduled stop in Mandi. It was during this phase that I could really sum up the Scorpio. Built on a ladder-on-frame platform, it is suited to be the best of both worlds - off-road and on-road. My firm belief was reassured when I asked the Thar’s brand manager which of the three - Scorpio, Thar and XUV500 - will be his choice as the best all-rounder. Without any delay, he said it would be Scorpio. He further added that the Thar is a product for purists and can’t be the only car in a family. The XUV500, on the hand, is too heavy and since it doesn’t have a low-range gearbox, it can’t match the Scorpio or the Thar when the going gets direful.
In essence, the Scorpio is the best of both worlds. It is comfortable and practical enough to be a family car. At the same time, the 4x4 capability is tough enough to do 90 per cent of the things that the Thar can. To top it all, it is more powerful than the Thar, better equipped, more fuel efficient, and its suspension is way more forgiving. The Scorpio had left a big impression on me and I think that’s the whole point of such drive-focused expeditions.
We topped ourselves with food and our cars with fuel in Mandi, where pomegranates are grown in abundance. The delicious lunch was arranged at a place called Visco Resorts (pure vegetarian). Although the temperature app read 22 degrees only, it felt more like 35 degrees. ‘The Spiti Valley has spoilt me. Not sure how quickly I’ll melt once I reach Mumbai tomorrow!’
Soon after we resumed our drive, we hit traffic. Mostly comprising of heavy duty trucks, our average speed dropped way down. To get a breather from the endless honking from trucks and the oncoming traffic, we stopped for some tea and pakode. Thankfully, the tea was decent and so were the accompanying fried snacks.
Thankfully, the entire convoy reached the hotel in Chandigarh by 9pm and all the cars were still in one piece. A closing ceremony was organised for the entire convoy, during which we were treated with photographs which were clicked by the pros at the Kunzum Pass. We were also given participation certificates before ‘3 Peg’ was queued for everyone to rejoice.
Final words. I came back from the trip not just a better driver, but also a better judge of cars. The trip is potentially life-altering for many as you get to see how different life is in towns hidden deep within the Himalayan range, and you start appreciating the simplicity of life there. For those who have any kind of liking for driving, traveling, adventure, hills or exploring new places, the Himalayan Spiti Escape is highly recommended. You not only will be under the watchful eyes of the experts, but also have everything taken care for you.
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