Raid de Himalaya 2008 - Narrative

Raid de Himalaya 2008 - Narrative

Posted by Aditya on Sun, 2008-11-02 21:30 in

(This is an excellent and a very detailed account of the 2008 Raid de Himalaya Xtreme event given out by experienced rallyist Ashish Gupta. It was originally posted at Please visit this link for pictures and the follow up discussion. The content here has been reproduced with Ashish's permission.)

Am back behind my desk after completing my 3rd Raid Xtreme and thought I will put down a detailed account of the event with some pictures from my camera. Contrary to what the weather seemed to be indicating before the event and apart from some controversies which you have all read about, it was a great Raid and ran its full course over some amazing terrain. The account below will hopefully reveal that no amount of vehicle preparation can assure you of a problem free run and the camaraderie among competitors irrespective of the competitive atmosphere is what makes rallying and the Raid so special.

Preparation and Recce
I registered for the Raid as an Early entry – but got “upgraded” to a Standard entry due to the regular challenge I face in finding a Co-driver. Parminder Thakur from Shoghi came to my rescue and we just about managed to complete all formalities before another upgrade to Late entry. It was however not to be – he broke his leg in a bike accident in early September, just before we did the recce and missed the raid as well as the Shimla Motorcycle challenge. Chandan Bhatia, my Co-driver from the last 2 Desert Storms kindly agreed to step-in – but his bout with mountain sickness in the 2006 Sjoba was a big cause for concern. My early entry fee of Rs 27,000 had already gone up to Rs 33,000 for the upgrade and substitution of Co-driver.

The recce was a lot of fun. We got bogged down in the slush at Farog on CS1 from Guma to Tikar. Moved on to drive through what was supposed to be CS2 and CS3 and left for Manali as the fourth competitive stage to Khanag was still shut. We met Suresh Rana in Manali and he accompanied us for the recce to Kaza. It is amazing how Rana remembers the 78 km CS from Gramphoo to Losar like the back of his hand. Kunzum Pass had some snow – we stopped and stuck a coin at the temple and moved on to Kaza. The CS above Kaza seemed dangerous – with large rocks falling in the Komic-Demul stage (we cleared the rocks from the track with more falling all around us) and narrow tracks in the Lingti-Schilling stage as the mud track had caved in many places. Chandan was holding up fine with some homeopathic medicine. We drove 800 kms from Kaza to Delhi at one-go only to join office the next day – this was not to be our longest drive yet.

The gypsy preparation was expensive as well. We changed the engine to a stock engine (we were going in T2 and our original engine no longer qualified as the head was faced even after overheating in the Desert Storm) and also put back the original manifold and exhausts, both with catalytic convertor housings leaving no additional power at all. I am posting a separate thread on the forum to discuss how people interpret T2 regulations differently with a hope that someone will bell the cat.

We did manage to find a sponsor as well – Aircel came forth to defray a part of our expenses. More than the money, their encouragement was exceptional – with a ceremonial flag off from their Shimla office attended by all their employees and senior management.

Scrutiny and (no) flag-off
Pre event scrutiny meant more money for service team registrations, road-books etc. Thanks to Vijay (as well as many competitors for not showing up at their scheduled times –for which the organisers made some more money) we managed to get our scrutiny done one day earlier than scheduled. This gave us almost 2 days in Shimla before the event to fulfill some sponsor obligations. We drove around town with them distributing T-shirts and caps and also got a ceremonial flag-off from their office. There was also a dinner organized at Baldian by the organizers for participants and officials on the 30th.

It was the 10th anniversary of the Raid and called for a special flag-off by the Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh. But this also meant that only a privileged few got a flag-off. We understand these privileges come if you are part of the Indian Army team or Team Thunderbolt. For the rest of us, there was no ceremonial flag-off. Speaking for myself, it does not matter who holds the flag but this is the one moment of glory one looks forward to when you venture out for en event like the Raid – and are not sure if you will cross the finish line. It also gives us a small photo opportunity for taking to our sponsors. So we took a stroll on the mall and went to bed for the early start on the 2nd.

Leg1: 2nd Oct 2008
The parc ferme on the 2nd morning was at Guma – 56 Kms away from Shimla to open from 0600 to 0645 hrs. We left the hotel at 0430 hrs since the roads were bad. Chandan (my Co-driver) started throwing up soon after and we were both wondering how the next 7 days would pass. The homeopathy was abandoned promptly and an Avomin came to the rescue – this became a daily habit till the end of the event and also meant that Chandan would sleep through most transports and evenings.

Even before parc ferme opened, 2 vehicles had dropped out. Raju Verma in his Swift (the rumour was that he left for Delhi after the scrutiny and had no intention to start in the first place) and Khushwant Randhawa in his gypsy (again one heard that his Co-driver put the vehicle in the wrong parc ferme at Hotel Peterhoff in Shimla which was for the Adventure Trial and by the time they realized the mistake, the drive to Guma was impossible). Rajesh Pawar from the Army team was also not in the parc ferme till it closed at 0645 hrs and also till the first few bikers had been flagged-off after 0700 hrs (understand that he went to Narkanda from Shimla instead of turning off to Guma). The first decision of the officials was of exclusion but some calls later, he was allowed to start with no penalties – wonder if Randhawa would have been so privileged as well if he had landed up at Guma.

CS1 from Guma to Umladwar was extremely rough – the first gypsy we passed was of Mandeep Singh. He was crawling along due to an overheating problem. We then saw Sandeep Sharma and his turbo-charger retrofitted gypsy on the side – understand it was moving like a rocket until his oil sump leaked. We spotted Randeep Miglani next – what a thrill to catch up with a T1 gypsy. But the slush was no match for our gypsy and we soon lost sight of him. On completing the stage we saw Sunny Sidhu parked up – we later learnt that his auxiliary fan shut down in the middle of the stage and the head gasket blew on the retrofitted Baleno engine in his gypsy – he had to drop out of the Raid as a result. Other drop-outs in CS1 included Atikur Rahman in his Skoda Octavia - what a cool job he had done to prepare it for the Raid – understand his clutch did not last beyond the first 3 kms, and Col Vaid from the Indian Army – his gypsy took a jump and landed on a grassy patch only to lose traction and go over the side of the mountain. They fell some distance before being caught up by a tree and upside down. We met him the next morning at Shimla and thankfully the crew were fine and the gypsy was running as well.

The next transport was a long 85 Kms one to Khaneoli as the initially planned CS2 was closed. The next CS from Khaneoli to Chattri was beautiful and fast. Another drop-out here was Along Aier who seemed to have lost a rear wheel and had crashed into the mountain. A very long transport of 172 km to Manali followed. Night halt was at the comfortable Holiday Inn – of course the dinner buffet and packed breakfast left us poorer by Rs 500 per head.

Leg 2: 3rd Oct 2008
Parc ferme on the 3rd was at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute at Manali. The first transport was tight – from Manali to Gramphoo through Rohtang Pass - 68kms in 2hrs 15 mins and really bad roads. The first victim was Dhruv Bahl with his gypsy refusing to start near Rohtang Pass. He later found out that his fuel pump wiring had been damaged while the gypsy was being prepared for the Raid and ultimately gave way on the rough transport. We just about managed to make it to Gramphoo within the time allocated pushing our gypsy on the bad roads – only to find out in the evening that all penalties had been waived in this transport as some competitors got delayed due to a traffic jam enroute. Harkaran was the luckiest – he took a (big) bio break at Marhi and had checked in 6 minutes late at Gramphoo but got the same relief as everyone else.

The CS from Gramphoo to Losar was incredible – with 3-4 feet of snow on either side of the track in most places. The entire Spiti valley was covered in snow and the landscape was more beautiful than I had ever seen in my earlier 2 Raids or recce. We deviated from the rally route to do the customary loop around Kunzum La Pass (legend has it that no journey can be completed without doing this loop) and went on to complete the CS and the next transport to Kaza for some rest. Navdeep Thareja handed out some sought after hotel and meal vouchers - Dinners and breakfast in Kaza are courtesy the organisers.

Leg 3: 4th Oct 2008
Parc ferme on the 4th was at the Hotel Spiti in Kaza. The bulletin said that CS1 from Kaza to Komic and Demul was postponed due to heavy snow enroute and we would do CS2 twice before returning in the afternoon to do half of CS1 from Kaza to Komic monastery for a regroup and return to Kaza later. Two more victims on the CS2 from Lingti to Dhankar monastery and Schilling – both Mandeep Singh and Shuchi Thakur blew the engine blocks of their gypsies and somewhat at the same place on CS. The gypsies were screaming for air due to the high altitude and rarified atmosphere and crawling up the hair-pins. We did the Lingti-Schilling CS twice with almost the same timings (only some 20 secs faster). Our service crew noticed a leaking oil seal in our rear wheel but not wanting to alarm us, waved us on for the next CS. The CS from Kaza to Komic monastery was scenic as usual with some snow as well this time. Randeep Miglani broke the fork in his gear box and completed the stage in the same gear (he later cannabilised Mandeep’s gearbox to go on and complete the Raid). We took advantage of the regroup at Komic to explore the monastery. The transport from Komic to Kaza was not uneventful – Nitin Batra’s Co-driver was trying his hand at the gypsy and rolled it on its side as he was blinded by the sun on a turn. He hurt his hand as well but they managed to complete the leg to Kaza. We found a broken wheel bearing behind the leaking oil seal on our return to Kaza – which could have potentially resulted in our rear wheel coming off during the stage.

Leg4: 5th Oct 2008
Parc ferme on the 5th was again at the Hotel Spiti in Kaza. Some error in the results and start order as a result of which Anil Wadia was being flagged-off behind us. Transport was from Kaza to Losar before the second leg CS ran in reverse direction from Losar to Gramphoo. We checked in at the exact minute – only to be told by the official that she was imposing a one minute penalty on all competitors in the transport to prevent bunching up of the start of the CS. Some strange logic as that could be achieved using dead time as well. She claimed that she would inform the organizers and this would be rectified in the results at the end of the day. As far as we could see, no such correction was carried out in the results - and the first four vehicles to be flagged off ended up getting an additional minute lead as this penalty was not imposed on them.

We again deviated from the rally route on the CS from Losar to Gramphoo to do the customary loop around Kunzum La Pass and Anil Wadia caught up with us soon after on the hair-pins descending from Kunzum. We laid up to let him pass and then ran on his tail further down the descent. Halfway down, we both came upon an army gypsy blocking the narrow track and applied brakes not realizing that there was black ice on the track. Wadia almost went over the side trying to stop his gypsy and we stopped just short of him. It was then that we saw that Col Chhibber’s gypsy had skidded on the black ice and rolled off the mountain side with just one wheel on the track and three over the side. And Col Tomar who was following Col Chhibber stopped to try and pull his gypsy back on the track. They eventually managed using a tow rope – while Wadia and we were waited for approx 4 minutes. We started again as soon as the route cleared with all 4 gypsies running in line. We managed to get ahead of the pack and what a run it was from there to Chhatru – our best stage in the Raid with 2 army gypsies as well as Wadia’s gypsy behind us - the officials and bystanders at Batal must have seen quite a sight. We led till Chattru bridge and beyond until the hair pins and climb started to Gramphoo where our gypsy was no match for the others. All the 4 gypsies checked in at the TC in the same minute. We also found out that we had broken our front leaf spring in the stage as well.

A long transport to Darcha (near Jispa) of 78 kms followed where the last CS for the day started. It was an 18 km uphill run to the Patseo army camp which used to be all tarmac in earlier years but had turned into fast gravel with the rains this year. We ran the stage with a broken leaf spring and arrived at Patseo in the afternoon and settled into our bunk beds in the barracks awaiting the arrival of our service crew. Parc ferme ended at 2100 hrs on the same night so getting the vehicles patched up in time was a priority. Dinner was provided in the canteen. to all competitors and service crew courtesy the Indian Army.

We had submitted a request for dead time of 4 minutes for being held up in the stage near Kunzum which was also counter-signed by the army teams. The organizers allowed us a dead time of 2 minutes instead – presumably because they did not believe that we could have done the CS faster than what the net time reflected. All we know is that we had stopped for about 4 mins, it was a good and fast run for us and my last years timing on the same stage is evidence enough that I can and had done the stage faster than what I got credit for. And Col Tomar lost 8 minutes trying to help his teammate which pushed him back in the rankings – but hats off to him for what he choose to do. We also heard that Sanket Shanbag had stopped in the Losar-Gramphoo CS to help a biker (Bhaksar) who had a bad fall going through a ditch but got no relief for doing so.

Leg5: 6th Oct 2008
The first CS of the day started straight from the Patseo army camp – a marathon 103 km stage passing through Baralacha La Pass (16042 ft) and Lachung La Pass (16613 ft) and ending at Nakee La Pass. An uneventful stage for us but we heard that Nitin Batra rolled his gypsy on a hair-pin trying out 4H on his gypsy. We also heard that Suresh Rana had a problem with his gear lever and climbed the notorious Gatta Loops – 21 hair-pins uphill – in 4th gear. Sanket Shanbag also broke the fork in his gear box and had to complete the stage in the same gear.

A long transport to Debring in the More Plains brought us to the next CS from Debring to Rumtse – 46 kms and passing through Tanglang La Pass (17582 ft). The stage was undulating and very rough at times and the gypsy took many jumps with some landings close to the edge. We broke our rear leaf spring as well as the other front leaf spring in the stage and our shock absorbers jammed as well. We managed to complete the stage and the next transport into Leh. Accommodation was at the Caravan Centre Hotel - a nice and cosy hotel with a great garden as well. Lunch and dinner was to our account but reasonably priced. Service arrived in the evening and was kept busy changing the leaf springs and shockers. Thanks to Panditji (Anil Sharma) for giving us one leaf spring without which we could not have carried on.

Leg6: 7th Oct 2008
The parc ferme on the 7th was at the J&K Tourism reception centre at Leh with Sudev Brar in-charge. A cold early morning start to the transport to Khaltse, almost 100 kms away and a customary stop for darshan and hot prasad and tea at the Pathar Sahib Gurudwara that lies about 30 kms from Leh.

The CS from Khaltse to Wakha was 86 kms long and passed through the Fotu La Pass (13479 ft) which is the highest point on the Srinagar-Leh road. The descent from Fotu La was fun – wide and winding gravel with the gypsy drifting down. This was followed by a short transport into Kargil. Check-in was at the parade ground. Navdeep Thareja had driven 36 hours in his old gypsy from Kaza to Kargil to be present when the competitors arrive and hand out hotel vouchers – our compliments to his dedication. The hotel in Kargil was quite a let down. The Army teams turned and headed straight for the Army mess as soon as they stepped inside the Kargil Continental. We really did not notice the quality of the food (which was again to our account) after being hungry all day.

Leg7: 8th Oct 2008
The parc ferme on the 8th was at the Kargil parade ground. We reached there at 0530 hours to learn that it had been delayed to 0600 hrs. We left for a 66 km transport run to Panikher that passed through some scenic countryside in the Kashmir Valley. Our service teams had already arrived at Panikher and gave our gypsy one final check before we lined up for the last CS of the Raid from Panikher to Panzi La pass.

The CS from Panikher to Panzi La was 86 kms long as well. Our sole objective was survival as we did not want to drop out of the event after having managed to come so far. The first 5 kms of the stage was tarmac and fast. And we lost our brakes after the first 1 km of the stage. The rear metal brake pipe mounted on the differential developed a leak and we lost all brake fluid. We completed 85 kms of the stage with no brakes. It was a very rough stage as well with a number of ditches and jumps. Miraculously our differential tubes managed to hold without bending. We also passed Col Tomar changing a flat tyre halfway through the stage. Panzi La top was quite a sight. There is a beautiful lake there as well. While regrouping at Panzi La, we were allowed by Manjeev Bhalla to attend to our brakes. Many thanks to Rana and Bawa as well as Lima Jamir from Nagaland, who isolated our rear brake circuit from the master cylinder and we could bring our gypsy down from Panzi La through the transport to Kargil.

Leg8: 8th Oct 2008 & Return to Delhi
The last transport run of the Raid was from Kargil to Leh. Parc ferme was at 0330 hrs and all vehicles were let off at 0400 hrs with a target to make it to Leh by 1100. It was quite a sight – the Kargil Srinagar road early in the morning lit up by a convoy of bikes and vehicles. There was fresh snow on the mountains and black ice at Fotu La. We heard some of the Adventure Trial cars slipped on the black ice and hit the mountain side. One of them hit a oncoming truck as well and ended up not finishing the Raid.

We arrived at Leh to check-in at the J&K Tourism Reception Centre. What a feeling it was – to have survived against all odds and completed the Raid. The euphoria did not last too long – we were asked to back off from the gate and go to our hotel. There was to be no flag-in or welcome for us – as we had finished only 9th overall out of 17 finishers and 5th in GroupT2. The PD in the evening was at the Grand Dragon. Suresh Rana was the winner for the 5th time in a row. Lots of upsets in the results with Sanket moving down to 5th place from 2nd and all supposedly because of a computer error. No regrets from us however – moving up a few places would still not have earned us a place on the podium. We were just happy to have finished our 3rd Raid and in all in the top 10.

P.S. We left Leh at 0600 hrs on the 10th and drove over 1100 kms in 32 hours straight to Delhi. It was a normal office day on Monday.

Normal day

What an interesting tale of a treacherous rally, which takes the great edifices of modern engineering ('cars') and turns them instantly into haphazardly connected pieces of scrap metal. And they still somehow manage to finish the rally after 8 such days.

And I can totally understand that after all that, it might be quiet normal to say "drove over 1100 kms in 32 hours straight to Delhi. It was a normal office day on Monday"

I would love to do this rally someday.

Posted by Rajan (not verified) on Thu, 2008-11-13 01:12
after reading this i felt

after reading this i felt tht i was witnessing all that you have written. Its a grt piece of writing and i just enjoyed reading it so much.
Im participating in raid this year and your article has just given me a boost. Cheers to you.

Posted by Sudhanshu Jain (not verified) on Fri, 2010-06-04 21:45