Mahindra Thar RWD | Different Flavour, Still Delightful!
- Jan 9, 2023
- Views : 4891
Snow is fascinating. While it looks pure and beautiful, you get to experience its true nature in the harshest of environments. Hence, most of your holidays will never be curated around this captivating solid. But, once you get a taste of its beauty, you will go through fire and water to experience it again. Having had my fair share of snow in more acceptable and tourist-friendly environments, I was now ready to take it on in a more raw and natural habitat -- Kaza. And not just experience it, but drive through it.
Mahindra Adventure invited us for its “Snow Escape” 2023 expedition which started in Chandigarh, took us to Kaza and back in seven days. This convoy of Scorpio N and Thars was being led by the legendary Hari Singh, the five times INRC champion and someone we could blindly trust to drive us into, and out of, icy situations.
Fifty people arrive at a conference hall in Chandigarh. The mood is light, some of them know each other from past expeditions and everyone seems to be in for a jolly good time and excited to drive 1,200km on unfamiliar roads, snow and off-road patches. Most of them are married couples, some are there with family while a few are alone, taking some time off from the blues of daily chores to be one with themselves. Soon the presentation starts and Hari Singh lays out the ground rules. Every adventure car is assigned a number and people are to drive in the same order, which is rotated every day. A detailed route and lodging plan are shared and the evening takes off with introductions for everyone to know each other better.
Meeting the Machines
On the morning of day one, everyone was excited to get accustomed to the machines. Some are allotted a Scorpio N, while others are driving a Thar. Support vehicles are the previous generation Scorpios and the Sweep is an XUV700 AWD and all of them are diesel AT 4x4, apart from two Thars which are manuals.
Us from ZigWheels were supposed to be in a Scorpio N, but some final minute changes meant it's going to be a shiny black manual transmission Thar with a big M for Media as the fleet denotation. While I am packed light with a carry-on suitcase, Gaurav, the DOP, has a large suitcase and a large camera bag for which we have to fold one of the two rear seats. Other supplies like snacks, water, cleaning cloth and a jacket too are kept in the car by Mahindra as a very thoughtful gesture.
I am fairly familiar with the Thar. While it is a capable SUV off the road, bad roads and highways are not its strong areas. Hence, with uncertain terrains ahead of me, I was a little worried about the ergonomics of this trip. All packed and set, with our radio sets on, we were now ready to go.
Keeping in mind that not everyone on this trip is used to driving long distances on mountain roads, reaching Kaza (550km) will take three days. Our stop for the first day is Narkanda which is just 160km away. The convoy leaves a five-star hotel lobby early in the morning, 22 cars being driven patiently on city roads till we reach the highway.
Once on open roads, everyone is itching to stretch the SUVs’ legs a bit, but Hari has a good command of the convoy and we are sticking to our respective positions. But here is where the fun starts for us. Being the Media car in the convoy, we don’t have a number and hence, are free to move around and align ourselves for the best shot possible. And we start doing that immediately.
Soon, as we entered Himachal Pradesh, the roads started to get narrower and twisty. And here I began to get used to the Thar’s handling better. It likes rolling about a fair bit but then settles at that angle quickly in long corners. Gaurav with the camera also understood this trait and we began our work around it smoothly. The manual was a pain to drive in Shimla traffic but otherwise felt natural and easy. We reached Narkanda -- our stop for day one with the sun still up and the view from the valley during sunset was mesmerising. Sadly for us, it did not snow in that area and hence our experience had to wait a little longer.
On day two, as we started heading towards Kalpa, we started to get a glimpse of snow on the mountain peaks. By lunch, we were at Sarahan, and the shadow-endowed side of the mountains now had snow. Even our lunch stop is at a beautiful helipad with views of the snow-draped mountains all-around. Kudos to the team for finding locations like these where one could relax and immerse in the beauty of the mountains. Also, stray animals like dogs and donkeys had thick coats of fur and were a joy to pet.
Day three takes us from Narkanda to Kalpa. This is a fairly long drive covering about 250km on mountain roads. But no one is complaining and everyone is excited because we are now officially in snow land. Be it just the roadsides or the mountain tops, everyone can see snow and feel the temperature drop to below zero degrees Celsius.
The radio messages start and people are now going off the road for fun just to get the tyres on snow. Soon, we get a radio message that there is a prediction of snowfall in Kaza the night we will be there. Also, there is a second announcement. Because the temperature is sub-zero, there will be no running water in Kaza. This means, no WC, no washbasin tap, no drainage, nothing. While the first message lifts everyone’s spirits, the second one has a lot of us concerned.
We reach Kaza when the Sun is already set. We can make out that there is snow all around us as the beam from the headlamps is bouncing off the mountains. People rush to the hotel rooms and bathrooms as the temperature is close to -10 degrees Celsius but find everything in there is sealed off.
You do your business via a bucket of water and that too in a chemical toilet which stores the waste in a bucket below it. While it was a first for me as well, the shock and reactions of the others were worth watching. We ask for hot water, shower and head for dinner. And finally, the Gods show us some mercy. The flakes start to fall from the sky and everyone forgets about the temperature. We all rushed out to experience snowfall which for many, was a first. I decided to take the Thar out for a drive and it was one to remember.
We Found Snow!
The next morning, the cars are covered in snow. It's possibly the most beautiful sight I have of the convoy. Also, this is the first time I experienced a cold start. The Thar diesel starts up on just two cylinders and it takes a while for it to fire on all four. Soon, the support people have chains in their hands and start to put them on the cars. We are told that we will be driving on/in the snow and coincidentally, there was a large field just behind our hotel which was now covered in fresh snow.
Snow chains on, we were now ready to go. The lead ploughed a path that all of us followed. The car, now in four-wheel high gear, did slip around a bit, but carried on. Because the snow was soft, the drivers who did not carry momentum started to get stuck. Luckily, we had a very experienced support team from Drive Tech India with winches that got to work. The rest of the convoy was asked to move ahead.
Out of the first snow field, we entered a second one. This time, we needed to cross rivers to get into the field. After crossing two shallow ones, the real challenge arrived. This time, the water was bonnet deep and because the car was crossing in a convoy, the waves would come and hit the windscreen. I decided to hang at the back of the convoy to give a shot to the camera person. But now, I had only an idea of the path to take as I did not have a reference vehicle ahead of me. In four-wheel low this time, I gunned it. Halfway through the water, I noticed that the floorboard had water and the bottom of the doors was now underwater. Making sure I don’t stop, and listening to the directions from Hari on the radio, I kept the Thar going and finally made it to the other side. Lucky to have been wearing waterproof shoes, otherwise would have had to deal with wet socks all day.
With the convoy now intact, we progress further. Having special access, I placed my Thar ahead of the convoy. The lead Thar progressed about one km before getting jammed in snow. The snow here was soft and the ground under it was slush, and it was properly beached. The Thar behind it tried to pull it out, but it started to sink as well. For this outing, we had left the XUV700 parked and the Sweep team was in a Thar that had to come ahead to get these two cars unstuck.
Now, the lead left to find the alternate route across the snow-clad field but again, just a few 100 metres ahead, the land gave away and the car got stuck, again. The sweep Thar that went ahead to extract the lead also got stuck. Finally, the Scorpio with a winch was called from the back of the convoy and managed to recover the two stuck cars. However, it was not long before the Scorpio too got stuck while driving back. All of this, getting cars stuck and unstuck, took us about two hours.
The rest of the convoy had gotten out of their cars during that time and were running around and playing in the snow. Surely a few snowballs were thrown around our way as well, but we managed to dodge them well. When we decided to throw some ourselves , without gloves, hands started to turn red with cold and again, the Thar came to the rescue as we used the engine heat to warm them up.
All cars back, we now headed for lunch and then headed towards the Kandraur bridge, which is a bridge on the Sutlej river and one of the highest bridges in Asia. Then, it was time to head back to the hotel.
That night, everyone was a little tired. We had now reached the furthest point of the journey and it was time to head back. But, by now, everyone knows each other much better and new friendships are being brewed. Despite people having come from different parts of the country and even other countries, the bond of road trips, SUVs and off-roading has glued them together.
We start from Kaza and head to Tabo on day five. While this is just a 50km journey, there was an interesting itinerary planned for us. First up, was the highest post office in the world. The India Post Office in Hikkim remains open throughout the year and is located at 14,567 Ft. There, Mahindra was kind enough to provide us with postcards and stamps that we could write and send to our loved ones. This activity took some time and luckily for tea aficionados like me, there was a tea stall right across. Hot tea, in -10 degrees, with a view, now that's how you spend a vacation.
Post this, we headed to another helipad for an official tea break and pictures, drove through a quarry to a school where they had organised lunch and a cultural program, before finally heading out to Tabo, where the hotel was again next to a helipad. The clear night sky meant that post dinner, our team and a new friend decided to come back to the helipad, in -15 degrees and wind chill, to take some pictures of the marvel surrounding us.
Tabo to Rampur on day six was a drive on perfect Border Roads Organisation roads. And this story cannot be complete without thanking them for the fantastic and pristine tarmac they had maintained throughout. Not just that, they have people at common landslide areas to clear the roads and keep the traffic safe. Hands down the best roads I have seen in India in the most difficult terrain I have seen in India. In Rampur, we were back to positive temperatures. And this night, people were dancing, partying and having a gala time. Not just because we did not need a jacket anymore, but also because we know this was the second last night this convoy will be together. Now friends, we had started to cherish our time together.
On the final day, we reached Chandigarh. Cars that were shiny and clean at the beginning, are now covered in the shade of memories. It has been a long drive and saying goodbye to the mountains was difficult. The large machined highways were not a welcome sight and the cars are back to running air conditioning. Something we hadn't used for a week. That night, in the hotel, photos are shared, reels are made, people are dancing and overall, there is a mood of satisfaction. Everyone is at rest and at ease, just like they should be after a vacation. In the end, everyone is handed a physical photo of themselves with their cars. The night continues and slowly fades away as people who have early flights the next morning, begin to leave.
Knocking on Heaven’s door
That's it then. Our journey, our seven-day expedition, had come to an end. People who were strangers a week ago are now dancing hand-in-hand, sharing life stories like they were meant to know each other.
Would the Scorpio N have been more comfortable than the Thar for this journey? Yes. Did it matter? No. Was it freezing cold? Yes. Did it matter? No. Did we get stuck in the snow? Yes. Was it fun? Absolutely. The car, company and county came together to make this week one to remember and tell stories about. Did I enjoy getting tortured by the cold? Well, maybe. Will I do it again? Yes.
Mahindra Thar RWD | Different Flavour, Still Delightful!
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