The Himalayan Challenge
21 September - 11 October 2018
Day One: Delhi – Chandigarh
Having luxuriated in the colonial delights of the Imperial New Delhi, we head north for the “hills”. The route out of Delhi flows well and soon we are on the highway, bound for Chandigarh, the modern, post independence built capital of Punjab. (Note for UK competitors – this is, effectively, “Milton Keynes on Chilli”). Our hotel for this first rally night is modern with an airy atmosphere.
Day Two: Chandigarh – McLeod Ganj
We head north-west through rural countryside as the foothills of the Himalayas gradually reveal themselves with promise of some great driving to come. Turning off the main road, the terrain and driving becomes increasingly more engaging as we gradually climb to Dharamsala, the home “in exile” of the Dalai Lama, to reach our hotel overlooking McLeod Ganj, a hill station of colonial times.
Day Three: McLeod Ganj - Manali
We turn towards the east and experience the bustle of the Indian towns and traffic; following a break at the Taragarh Palace, we get into some stunning country roads, traversing “Manjeev’s Ridge” which is a wakeup call for things to come in terms of altitude and road surface.
Day Four: Manali - Rest Day
One of the most visited tourist destinations in India, Manali could almost be a Swiss Alpine resort: it’s bustling and teeming with tourism but at the same time, it has great charm and some delightful bars and restaurants. There will be lots for you to see and do!
Day Five: Manali to Kaza and the Spiti Valley
Just north of the town, we start the climb to the Rohtang and Kunzum passes. The hairpins are endless and the road surface varying. At 200 kms, the day would not appear to be too demanding, but speeds can be down to walking pace and patient, survival driving is called for. The experience is simply breathtaking and words cannot do it justice.
Day Six: The “Kaza Loop”
We spend two nights in Kaza and the accommodation will be basic but… the staff and the local people are absolutely delightful and the route takes us to the highest driveable village in the world. The scenery is breath-taking.
Day Seven: Kaza to Sangla
Heading east, the route follows the valley and goes very close to the Tibet/China border, hence the requirement for special passes and a degree of decorum in the vicinity of any military establishments encountered. It is a long day, capped by a sharp climb up to Sangla.
Day Eight: Sangla to Shimla
Returning to the main valley, we rejoin the trunk road to Shimla; another hill station and home, in colonial days, to the summer seat of parliament. Our hotel for the night is the highest (both in altitude and quality!) luxury hotel in the Himalayas.
Day Nine: Shimla - Rest Day
The Wildflower Hall Hotel is delightful and will well serve a day of rest and recuperation.
Shimla is the birthplace of AA (Winnie the Pooh) Milne and Guy (Dambuster) Gibson, so you have the opportunity to take the historic narrow gauge railway and/or a touristic look around the town with its mix of colonial and British architecture.
Day Ten: Shimla to Mussoorie
Apart from a few possible holdups for ever ongoing roadworks to repair road subsidence, the drive is lovely, with several climbs and descents with light traffic but the inevitable buses which should have been designed half a metre narrower and whose frequency is mind numbing. On our approach to Mussoorie during the recce, a landslide barred our way which resulted in retrace and re-route but, hopefully, this will have been rectified by the time we get there together!
Day Eleven: Mussoorie to Rishikesh
We run eastward along a ridge to the town of Chamba and take a loop to the north which is off the beaten track, affording some good driving and great views before turning back and running along a lakeside to complete the excursion before a series of climbs. Then it’s down to the plain, the banks of the Ganges and the origin of Hinduism: Rishikesh. There is undoubtedly a certain aura to the city and our hotel is on the riverbank, affording a tranquil setting for any meditational needs.
Day Twelve: Rishikesh to Rudraprayag
We leave the city and cross the river before turning upstream along the banks of the Ganges to our somewhat rural overnight at Rudraprayag, en route to Nainital.
Day Thirteen: Rudraprayag to Nainital
The route serves up a mixture of terrain, roads and life with some remote locations and some teeming townships; be prepared for a very varied day before a final climb to Nainital and the Manu Maharani Hotel which hosted the original Endurance Rally Association Peking to Paris in 1997. During the recce, the hotel staff welcomed us with open arms and an evening going through their albums of photos of the event; they look forward to meeting you all!
Day Fourteen: Nainital to Nepal and Bardia National Park
We drop down to the plains and head east for the border post which is somewhat sparsely equipped and will demand a degree of patience as every stage of the procedure has to be manually entered (yes, by hand) in enormous, curled page ledgers. Leaving that behind us, we head onward into Nepal. The road is straight, flat and undemanding until we turn off into the National Park and a mix of gravel, tar and rural villages, to reach our accommodation for tonight.
Day Fifteen: Bardia to Pokhara
This is a long day, with the first half to Butwal being fast and flat until we turn back into the mountains and a variety of driving and navigation, before descending to the garrison town of Pokhara on the bank of Phewa lake, where we enjoyed our first steak for over two weeks!
Day Sixteen: Pokhara to Kathmandu
Wake early to catch the views of the rising sun lighting up the snow-capped mountains of the Annapurna range. Today we head for the mystical city of Kathmandu. The road takes us east and along a very scenic gorge to a lunch halt which affords a cable car ride to a mountain top temple, from which a spectacular view of the mountain panorama awaits. Then, finally, a twisty climb to a col reveals the mystical city.
Day Seventeen & Eighteen: Kathmandu - Rest Days
With two whole days to explore Kathmandu, crews are advised to plan wisely to ensure the most is made of this fabulous and enthralling city. There is plenty to see, do and buy in the quaint back streets of the old city. Early flights are available to Everest base camp (5,300m) then to Syangboche Hotel (3800m) where you can enjoy breakfast with a 360-view of the mountains.
Day Nineteen: Kathmandu to Chitwan National Park
A degree of compassion is required while negotiating our way out of the city, in light of the dreadful damage that it suffered in the recent earthquake; once clear, we leap into the hills for a delightful mountain drive, full of spaghetti hairpins before we finally dive down to the plains. The overnight halt is at the Barahi Jungle Lodge which is a wonderful experience with potential (but by no means guaranteed!) sightings of tiger, rhino and crocodile. The elephants in the car park can, however, be depended on!
Day Twenty: Chitwan to Lucknow
Our final few kilometres in Nepal lead us to the border at Sunauli – which beggar description: with the best of will, this will be a trial, but patience will prevail! Then we have a rural drive to the very welcome highway which leads to Lucknow, the very civilised and historically (Indian Mutiny) associated capital of Uttar Pradesh. Our hotel here is a delight for body and soul.
Day Twenty-One: Lucknow to Agra
On our final rally day, an extremely civilised drive out of the city passes through a variety of military cantonments and stately government buildings to the highway and a relatively stress free drive to our final destination. Leaving the highway, we experience the last rural drive to the Oberoi Amarvilas, our hotel in Agra, overlooking the breath-taking Taj Mahal.
Enjoy the view, sit, gaze, wonder and reflect before and after our Gala dinner and prize-giving ceremony.