The Himalayan Challenge

21 September - 11 October 2018


SEPTEMBER 23, 2018

McLeod Ganj to Manali

Bridges over troubled Water

As we left the comfortable surroundings of McLeod Ganj, almost dry after yesterday’s deluge, few of us imagined what lay ahead.

Today the rules of endurance rallying were re-written and the topography of Himachal Pradesh was forever changed. Thanks to the incessant heavy rain, today’s route saw bridges and roads washed away, tracks and forests swallowed by landslides and rivers turned into black boiling torrents.

The day began innocently enough however. From the hotel we took the road down into Dharamshala and then through some tea plantations to Kangra, where the management of the Taragarh Hotel, the elegant setting for the morning coffee halt and Time Control, had kindly given permission for us to park our vehicles on their polo field whilst we enjoyed a short break. But, as was the way of things today this turned out be a water polo field and nobody seemed willing to change into a bathing suit.

While the crews took on tea and biscuits, further down the road a fallen tree had John Spiller and Gill Cotton scrabbling for their redirection arrows, something which rather set the pattern for the rest of the day.

Their objective was to deliver the crews safely to the second Time Control in the Green Himalayan Cafe & WC and subsequently to the start of the Regularity along the locally named Manjeev’s Ridge. This was by any stretch an epic section rocking through forests, climbing over loose switchbacks and rolling past ancient farm buildings. When the clouds lifted the views were stunning and although by now everything was soaking wet it did seem as if the rain would finally stop.

From the Ridge, the road then turned initially downhill before the steep climb up to a Passage Control at Kandi Pass where a chilly Guy Woodcock and Sarah Ormerod stood, simultaneously fending off scores of semi domesticated cows and goats, and serving hot coffee to anyone who wanted one from the back of their vehicle. Bistro 315, under new management, was back.

According to the route book we should then have then enjoyed a run into Manali troubled only by some roadworks along the valley floor before pulling into town and settling in for the first rest day. In the event however this last section, a mere 72km, became one of the most epic ever enjoyed by the Endurance Rally Association since the legendary Nyalam (Choksam) section of the original 1997 Peking to Paris event on September 19 of that year, almost exactly 21 years ago.

Major flooding, serious landslides and two collapsed bridges called for some quick thinking and a spur of the moment re route and diversion from John Spiller. The Beas River which ran alongside the road for many kilometres was in full spate and in many places the thundering current looked close to claiming some waterside property as well as sections of road on the opposite bank.

When we eventually reached Manali the drama didn’t end as the road to the hotel itself was cut off by a minor landslip. A temporary car park was secured in the grounds of a school and the crews, carrying minimal baggage, had to walk and then be ferried by jeep up to the sanctuary of the Manu Allaya resort where they sat glued to the TV weather channels until dinner time.

With all that Mother Nature had been throwing at us today it was easy to forget that there were also some mechanical issues to overcome and sadly Keith and Norah Ashworth will be looking for someone to fix their manifold tomorrow. It blew a hole in itself shortly after the end of the Regularity and while the car still drives, it makes enough noise to wake the dead.

Roy Stephenson and Peter Robinson damaged a rear shock absorber during the afternoon and will likely use the rest day to give it a good checking over.

Roland Singer and Hans Malus also had a frustrating day, initially their Saab struggled with overheating but later a fuel pump seemed to have developed an intermittent fault.

Tomorrow is a rest day in Manali, so we’ll have some time to kill and Matt Bryson was been busy this evening looking for volunteers to fill a couple of whitewater rafts he’s hired.

Syd Stelvio



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