Raid de Himalaya - A winner's account

Raid de Himalaya - A winner's account

Posted by Aditya on Sun, 2008-06-08 00:05 in

(This is a wonderful account of Raid de Himalaya by Farhan Vohra, winner of reliability category of this rally in 2006. It was originally posted at . Please visit this link for the amazing pictures and the interesting follow up discussion. The content here has been reproduced with permission from Farhan and

2400 Kms of bone jarring / suspension breaking terrain, dizzy heights of over 18,000 feet above Sea level, heart stopping drops of over 6000 feet, Temperatures ???? - the lesser said the better - Welcome to the Raid-de-Himalaya 2006.

The 8th edition of the Raid-de-Himalaya was held between the 30th Of September and the 6th Of October 2006. A record number of entries - 100 participants - 26 in the Extreme "Cars" category, 34 in the Reliability (cars and SUV's) and 40 Insane Bikers. In all, out of the three categories only 50 finished. The event redefines the term "Endurance" and will test you and your machine beyond your wildest of imaginations. You get to see Mother Nature in her Best and wildest Avatar. Disrespect her and you are not asking but begging for TROUBLE.

My team took part in a Scorpio (leaf spring model). Every time you hit a crest the jeep bounces at least for the next 50 odd meters. It's like like a moving trampoline.

The category my team and I took part in (Reliability Trial) saw only 21 out of the 34 finishing.The reliability Trial is run on the TSD (Time , Speed , Distance) Format. That said, this isnt your average TSD rally which ends up in a beach / farm house, followed by a swim, beer, biryani and games. We follow the same route as the Extreme category, - the entire route for us is competitive (Route is split into competitive and Transport sections for the Extreme Category), and we are not allowed service teams / backup and strictly no modifications on the vehicle, except for a few safety features which are again optional. If you think it's a cake Walk - Think Again. If you break some thing in the middle of no where, then God help you, cause he is going to be the only one around. The rally is run on non cumulative format. This essentially means that time lost cannot be made up. Therefore if you lose time somewhere, the only chance of making it up is before the Time control on that stage. Your check in time at the Time Control will be taken as your check out time for the next stage.

Waking up at 3.30, 4.00 every morning, driving anywhere between 8 to 14 hours a day, no breaks for breakfast or lunch or even to go the loo. If you stop it will be at the risk of you losing time and accumulating penalties at the next time control. And if you think you can stop and then make up time, you are in for a surprise. Two cars in our category went off the mountain - one went down 200 feet and the other about 80 and odd feet. Luckily no one was severely hurt.

Day One - Shimla to Manali

We had to report at 4.30am in the Morning at Hotel Peterhoff Shimla from where the rally would be flagged off. We were flagged off 7th just behind my good friend and INRC driver Sanjay "Tiger" Agarwal who was driving his Rally Esteem. The route was all dirt except for the last few Kms to Manali. Most of the turns were very sharp in nature, and it was mostly all uphill. I remember at one a particular stage (Jalori Jot, If I can remember right) I drove for about 45 minutes to 1 hour only on Second gear, maxxing out on the rev counter. Every time I thought I could shift into the next gear another hair pin bend would come up and I would have to down shift again. We lost one car on this day - a red Swift, driven by Bijoy of BS motoring, who went down about 200 feet. they were lucky to be in a fully loaded Swift with Airbags. Apparently a huge rock stopped their downward journey to hell.

We checked into Manali at about 5.30 in the evening and proceeded to our hotel where a much needed bath, rest and food awaited our arrival. We were at position 4 overall and 2nd in the SUV class at the end of the day.

Day Two - Manali to Tabo - Via Kaza

Reported at 5.00 am at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute which was the flag off point for Day Two. Our route took us through Rohtang, Gramphoo, Chattru, Batal, Kunzum La, losar, Kaza and finally onto Tabo. The surface was all dirt and Rocky. The drops uto Chattru are huge and i seriously suggest you dont look out of the window. Continuously winding roads (Did I say roads ????). From Batal you climb up to Kunzum Pass through a series of hairpin bends and then descend to Takcha. The downhill stretch has some very sharp bends a few of which are very deceptive. They tighten and are narrow and can catch the best drivers out. You have to concentrate and there is no room for even one mistake. The road gets increasingly dusty and the mud here is like talcum powder. The air filter in your car and your lungs are clooged by the end of the day. We had a fuel stop at Kaza and then proceeded onto Tabo which is another 60 odd kms. Checked in at about 5.00 in the evening. Park Firme was at the Helipad, about a kilometers walk form our lodging for the night. Over all position remained unchanged.

Day Three - Tabo - Tabo via Komik and Pin Valley

All in all a fantastic day. Very competitive. Roads were all dirt except for some parts where the tarmac was ruined. Mostly uphill again, very narrow, with huge drops and sharp turns. We did pretty well on this day. Unfortunately another good friend and teacher - Moosa Sheriff (also a member on this forum) and his partner and driver ravi Agarwal had a problem with their Gypsy's fuel pump. They lost about 35 minutes trying to repair the car and get it going again. We gained two places on this day and stood 2nd overall and first in the SUV category. Checked into Tabo at about 4.30 in the evening. Borrowed buckets from the local people there and washed the jeep which was covered in mud. There was mud everywhere. Refueled at the Helipad where there was a fuel truck organized by the people at Himalayan Motorsports. Since we do not have backup, we need to book fuel in advance. After Kaza the next petrol pump is in Tandi which is about 400 and odd kms away. This year the organizers had a software on their website to help participants plan their fueling requirements.

Day Four - Tabo to Patseo - Via Losar, Batal, Chattru, Tandi and Jispa

The day saw us backtrack the route we came on, on day Two. Back through Kunzum la. The roads on this day were a little better than the first three days. The reason being that, we were going towards Patseo where the Indian army has a camp. 70 % of the roads were really bad and the balance 30%, Bad. Sanjay, who had started ahead of us lost time due to a blown brake hose. We also lost about 5 minutes before Batal because an Army truck was stuck on one of the hairpins and the rescue truck had conveniently parked himself on the available portion of the road. In the meanwhile the cars behind us had caught up and there was a traffic jam. After a whole lot of yelling and screaming the rescue truck driver finally made some place. We still needed to squeeze thru a very awkward gap where there were some huge rocks. It took all the 110 horses and a couple of men to get the scorpio thru. My vehicle is a two wheel drive and in a situation like this it is a little bit of a dis advantage. Also beacuse of it's size the only way was to put 2 wheels on the boulders because of which there was no traction. Everyone lost time and the run upto the next TC was a free for all. We drove like mad $$%%##@#$%^&*&^% up and and then down Kunzum La, but were able to make up only 6 of the 11 minutes we lost. I am grateful to the competitors who pitched in and helped us push the jeep. Thank you.

Proceeded to Tandi where we were given dead time for a fuel stop. Proceeded towards Jispa which was the last time control for the day. From Jispa to Patseo we were given one hour to report. You could check in early but a late check in would attract penalties. We had no idea where we stood i terms of position, because of all the confusion. We were put up in the army barracks, made of Tin, which get seriously cold in the night. i enjoyed a hot bowl of Maggi noodles at the army canteen, where I met Arush (Autopsyche) for the first time. A quick check of the car and we found that the bolts that hold the body shell to the chassis had all come off and the only thing holding them in place was the Pin on the end of the bolt. By now the temperature had started to drop and the wind was howling. A quick check and some repairs to the car were made. Proceeded for some dinner and hit the sack for some much needed sleep.

Day Five - Patseo To Leh - Via Zing Zing Bar, Baralacha La, Gatta Loops, Pang, Morey Plains, Debring and Taglang La.

Non Zero Wax Diesel freezes at -7 degrees centigrade. Before leaving for the raid I searched all over for anti freeze but unfortunately couldn't source any. I was told that a quick fix way was to mix 1 liter of petrol to about 50 liters of diesel, but was warned that this could and most probably would lead to engine damage. I didn't want to take a chance. The only other was to leave our engine running through the night. Because of last minute confusion, I forgot to carry the spare key for the jeep, and I didn't want to risk leaving the only key we had in the car for the whole night. Since we had a long day ahead of us, my navigator told me that he would get up at 2.30 in the morning and start the jeep. I went to sleep but wasnt able to sleep very well. The barracks were very cold and most slept with four layers of clothing including our shoes. The mattress was like a sheets of cardboard and the beds were made of metal. Hats off to the Jawans who are posted in place like this.

Anyways i got up with a start at 4.30 and found my navigator fast asleep. I cursed under my breadth, but knew that he was as tried as I was. I woke him up and took the keys form him and stepped out of the barracks. The wind was howling and the temperature was icy cold. I cursed again. Found a fellow competitor standing outside who told me that the temperature was -4 degrees. I walked up to the Park Firme. There was a layer of Ice on all the cars. "Well Done Farhan" I told myself and cursed - Yet again. I requested permission from the official posted there to go and start the car. Technically speaking this isn't allowed. Competitors are not allowed to enter Park Firme until it is officially open. The official obviously refused but, I requested him again. He radioed his senior who told him to ask me to wait. I said a little prayer and hoped for the best. The official was there in 5 minutes. He asked me why I hadn't left the jeep on through the night like the rest of the competitors. I told him, how we had come from Madras etc.etc.etc.Now this guy had the results of the previous day but did not have any scotch tape to put them up. And so the deal was made. I would give me scotch tape and he would let me start the jeep.

It was about quarter to five, still dark and very cold. I knew we had some tape in the car but didn't know where it was. I had ski gloves on to keep my hands warm and it's a pain in the @$$ trying to find something as small as scotch tape with those gloves on. After some frantic searching I opened up the tool box and found some 3M masking tape and offered the same to the official. I was given permission to go ahead and start the car. Said a little prayer again and cranked the Jeep. The engine turned over but wouldn't start. Waited for a few seconds and tried again, and voila the engine started. Thanked God a few hundred times and then proceeded to the dining hall where the results were being put up - We were placed first !!!! Had some nice hot chai to celebrate. Proceeded back to the barracks where most of the competitors were up. My team mates were also up and busy getting our bags into the jeep. I informed them of our position and suddenly saw all the fatigue vanish form their eyes. Quickly got the car all ready and waited for flag off.

The road out from Patseo is very decent, good tarmac, until Zing Zing Bar - No it ain't a bar where you can stop for a drink - It's the name of a village. From there we proceeded towards Baralacha. The climb was crazy. Air was really thin, roads fantastically steep and at the top of the pass at 10.30 in the morning it was -11 degrees centigrade. We were at a height of about 16,000 feet above sea level. Proceeded towards Pang and then onto Morey Plains where we had the fuel truck waiting for us. Finished refueling and were given a fresh restart time. Morey plains is Phenomenal. It's ruler straight (ok i am exaggerating) although very bumpy and muddy for for the first 5 odd Kms. After that it is mostly tarmac, some broken, some ok but very bumpy. The average speed wasnt very high here and we had time to enjoy the much needed nutrition. The army was kind enough to pack lunch for all the competitors. Puris and Aaloo was the special on todays menu.

Finished with Morey Plains and proceeded towards Taglang La. Second highest motorable road in the world at an elevation of nearly 18,000 feet above Sea level. Crazy average speeds which were really difficult to maintain. Every time we hit a rut I could see my navigators face change color. Anyway finally made it to Leh and checked into our hotel for the night. Finished with least penalties for the day and still in first place overall.

Day Six - Leh - Lukung - Leh

Reported at the start at 5.30 in the morning. 300 odd Kms was the run for the day. Had another pass - Chang la to deal with. It had snowed the earlier night and we were cautioned before flag off. Roads surface was mostly Tarmac, but very bad before and after the Pass. Also long straights led into very sharp turns and we had to be very careful with our braking points. There were these crazy dips on the road which came out of no where. Also there were patches of ice at the bottom of the pass. I clipped one of these with the front tyre and before I knew it the front of the car had turned 60 degrees to the left. that was a little scary. Proceeded towards Lukung and onto Pangong lake where we had our fuel stop for the day. It's the worlds highest salt water - yes Salt water - in the world at an elevation of 15,000 feet. The water is crystal clear and reflects the color of the sky. It's so beautiful. I have no words to describe it. Apparently when the Sun sets and the sky turns red the entire Lake turns from Blue to Red. Quarter of the Lake is in India and the rest is in China.

All in all a short day. High average speeds and some beautiful scenery. Checked into Leh at about 5 in the evening still in first place.

Day Seven - Leh to Manali - 475 freakin painful kms

Reported at 5 in the morning. Due to a typo error our penalties showed up on the chart as 3 and odd hours instead of 21 minutes !!! (Used my quota of all three smilies here). Cursed, Cursed and cursed more. Anyway we didn't have a choice and had to start as per the published start order. By now we had only 21 participants in our category. A Corsa had rolled off on Day 4 and Ravi's Gypsy had caught fire due to a short circuit enroute to Patseo from Tabo. Sanjay had retired with a broken gearbox somewhere on the Sarchu Plains en route to Leh from Patseo on Day 5.

We followed the same route from Leh and went through the same route from Patseo to Leh as on Day 5. After passing Taglang La, we proceeded to Morey plains where we had a fuel stop for the day. Proceeded ahead to Pang and then upto Baralacha La. Passed Patseo and went down to Darcha. We had a little mechanical issue ourselves which gave us a little heart attack just before our climb onto one of the passes. Thankfully we were able to sort it out and could make up for the time we lost. From Darcha to Manali was a 150 Km run and we were given 4 hours to complete it. If you think it's easy - NO IT ISN'T. We had to negotiate Rohtang by night which wasnt easy. And the roads (??????) were all non existent. Only the first 3 cars made it within the the given time. They had the advantage of daylight. The rest of us were all late. We were late by 30 minutes. But we were too tired by now to think about it. Finished the rally at 9.30 in the night. Proceeded to check in to the hotel. Had a much needed hot shower and some good food and retired for the night.

Day Eight - Final Scrutiny and announcement of the results

We reported with the jeep for final scrutiny and were informed by the organizers that the four hour run would not be taken into consideration with respect to calculation of results. They had intentionally told us to complete the last 150kms in that much of time because they did not want any of the competitors to stop en route for a drink. They had some bad experiences in the past and did not want any this year. We breathed a sigh of relief and knew that with the 30 minutes canceled we would still be first overall. We finished with a total of 26 minutes and 46 Seconds in penalties. The person in 21st place finished with 11 hours(yes hours) 24 minutes and 11 seconds. FINSIHING THE RAID IS AN ACHIEVEMENT IN ITSELF.

However it was a little crazy because a all of us drove like idiots and that too in darkness and took unnecessary chances. We could have easily broken our already creaking and groaning vehicles, which we had conserved for 7 hard days. My navigator forgot to give me a correct call and we nearly went off at one of the turns on Rohtang. It's pitch dark and you cant see Jack $HIT and the non existent roads makes it even more crazy. Plus you need to cope with commercial traffic (Trucks) which all use Rohtang only after 6 in the evening when there are very few cars on the road.

Anyway alls well that ends well. we are back in one piece. Cant say the same about the Jeep, but that is being sorted as we speak.

All in all it was a wonderful experience. Would i do it again ? You bet your last buck I would. The organizers did a fantastic job. 1200 people work together as a team to organize an event of this magnitude and they work days and nights for months to see that it goes off without a hitch. Hats off to you Gentlemen.

This is a team sport. We couldn't have pulled this off if we didnt work together. We all had a job to do. Krupesh Patel was my navigator and Kunal Sood was the brains behind all the calculations and strategy. Thank you gentlemen. I salute you. We had immense support from all our friends and family back home who would call when ever they could get through to us. Thanx guys.

And thank you all in the forum, for the kind words of encouragement and for keenly following the rally everyday.

Until Next Year.