Independence Quattro Drive 2014 - Overdrive

Independence Quattro Drive 2014

29 Sep 2014  /  0
Principal correspondent

Live Life in OVERDRIVE began a year ago with the first Independence Quattro Drive. Eight OVERDRIVE readers signed up to share the experience of being driven around deep inside Ladakh in the finest luxury SUVs. This year we offered our readers the same experience – fantastic cars, surreal landscapes and a thoroughly physical onslaught from the environment. But we added a cherry to the cake – the readers get to do the majority of the driving. This time, we wanted to give our readers such a thorough perspective of what it’s like to live life in OVERDRIVE that a fair part of this story is from their point of view. Here’s what it’s like to live our life for nine days.

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Leave one man behind

The first part of the journey to Manali must have been fun. I say that because I wasn’t part of it. We were missing some equipment which was to come from Delhi before we could leave at 7am. So I stayed behind with the petrol Q5 so that after the stuff arrived, I could leave with it. Of course plans never go according to plan so by the time my car was packed and ready to leave it was 6pm. After a brisk, near nonstop drive I hit Manali at2am and passed out. The next morning Bert was kind enough to let me sleep in for an extra hour after the rest of the convoy left. After a late breakfast, the two of us began the climb up Rohtang pass to catch up with the rest of the group. Rohtang was bizarrely empty. We discovered why as soon as we reached the top. It was all brown. The snow had all melted. No snow equals no messy tourists. The joys of photo- and filmography meant that despite our late start we quickly caught up with the rest of the convoy just on the other side of the pass.

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This treacherous climb begins at the Nubra valley where you will find the confluence of the Shyok and Nubra rivers

Convoy complete for the first time, we began the long and slow descent for Khoksar at the base of the pass. Our drive for the day wasn’t a long one and we just had to reach Jispa that was about 60km away. A few klicks short of Jispa is a sole Indian Oil petrol pump at Tandi whose board ominously warns that there’s no fuel ahead for a good 365km. Trigun, our guide and guru for the trip made sure our back up Bolero Camper had both its 200-litre fuel cans brimmed with petrol and diesel to make sure we make the distance. Aside from helping us make sure the trip went smoothly Trigun is also an ornithologist, trained medic and one of the most amazing human beings you will ever meet. Trigun’s beard is also very famous – it has its own resume. Trigun came fully prepared for the trip with an automatic hydraulic jack, F1 style electronic wheel spanners and a host of medical equipment like oxygen cylinders and a bariatric chamber in case anyone got a bad case of mountain sickness.

Bonding with big machines

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A supermoon rising in Jispa

Crossing Rohtang isn’t an event. But the first time you look up once you are past it, you’ll see the world with new eyes. It’s like a layer of grime has been removed from before your eyes. You’ve been in the Himalayas for a day or more but it is like you’re seeing their might, their majesty and their sheer, searing beauty for the very first time. I’ve done it a few times now but you will never forget the first time you see it. And as blase as we OVERDRIVErs would like to believe we are about it, everyone, of us went silent. There were no words to describe the scene. This is why we head back to the mountains year after year. To be shocked and awed into silence.

Ladakh was surprisingly dry and hot this year and we didn't see too much snow for most of the way except for these spectacular glaciers before Zoji La pass on the way to Srinagar

Ladakh was surprisingly dry and hot this year and we didn’t see too much snow for most of the way except for these spectacular glaciers before Zoji La pass on the way to Srinagar

Jispa arrived with a fair nip in the air but it was supermoon night. We forgot the weather as we saw it reflected in the Bhaga river that flows close to our hotel. Maybe itwas the moon’s madness but spirits were high at dinner even though a 3am wake up call and a challenging day lay ahead of us. We were not worried about the challenging day to be honest. We weren’t even driving! Our readers were. Duane Woodman, a Q3 owner and an airline pilot had the Q7 to drive. He said “I was impressed with the way the Q7 shrunk in size around the driver, whether navigating traffic or effortlessly overtaking on the twisty highways it behaved like a small car – quick, nimble and powerful.” “The diesel Q5 offered me all the space and comfort that at times I think my Q3 could do with. But my pick of the lot was the Q5 petrol. Sportscar-quick off the blocks along with great handling. The Q3 petrol with its compact size and big petrol engine to match was, in my opinion, the quickest at these high altitudes, easy around the narrow ghats and passes. What really surprised me is how good the cars felt off-road. And how they handled the rocks and dirt roads. I own a Q3 but never saw it as this kind of capable.”

The effects of altitude

Simple Maggi noodles can be a surprisingly good source of sustenance

Simple Maggi noodles can be a surprisingly good source of sustenance at high altitudes

Having hit the road at half past four in the morning we had a long drive to Leh ahead of us. It was going to be difficult, not just because of the distance but because we’d be subject to the harshness of high altitudes the whole day for the first time. Baralach La is infamous for being the first shock to the system. But Lady Ladakh was feeling kind and we got to Bharatpur on the other side with only a couple of mild headaches and a few cases of slight breathlessness. Nothing some hot Maggi, lemon tea and omelettes couldn’t fix. Soon we were at the start of the famous Gata Loops, 21 hairpin bends where we encountered one of the largest army convoys I have ever seen. We parked on the side and everyone waved at and saluted the brave men we owe our peace to as a hundred trucks rumbled past.

One cannot be told what the More Plain is. One really has to see it for themselves. And unless you're part of the OD family, your images of More Plain will not have these lovely Audis in it.

One cannot be told what the More Plain is. One really has to see it for oneself. And unless you’re part of the OD family, your images of More Plain will not have these lovely Audis in it

After a slow climb up the twin passes of Nakee La and Lachulung La we descended upon the army base of Pang. Lunch time! Hot tea, thukpa and chowmein. As we set about refuelling the cars, we noticed that high altitude can do strange and wonderful things. To wit, the petrol Q3 and Q5 were consuming less fuel than the diesels! Speaking of the strange and wonderful, we then ascended to the More plains. An inexplicable 40km long plateau sandwiched between mountains at an average altitude above 13,000 feet. After three days of narrow roads and mountainsides, it’s almost as if you can breathe again. Except for the fact that there isn’t much oxygen here.

The readers then gingerly parked the cars to Suresh’s and Varun’s satisfaction on the edge of a big cliff (Live Life in OVERDRIVE, remember). They got their first taste of just how extreme, beautiful and diverse this environment really is. And how slow shoots can feel when you’re just standing around unable to breathe. Then I saw VD Umashanker, 62, a retired engineer smiling away. “In spite of carrying all the essential medications I realised one can never be fully prepared – expect the unexpected. I wanted to drive through this exotic location. And I wanted to test my own strength and physical capacity. People said, what? Leh? At this age? Why? This is not meant for people like you… Well I feel just fine.” In fact, he would take a total of two Disprins on the whole trip. His family, however, saw him in a new light, “The most unexpected and shocking thing for me was the sun exposure. I came back with a dark patch on my crown and my whole face was tanned beyond recognition. Always use plenty of sun block!”

Carving up the mountains

Cyclists are brave and aplenty in Ladakh

Cyclists are brave and aplenty in Ladakh

At the end of the More plains is the start of the climb towards Tanglang La, the second highest motorable pass. After an easy, breathless ascent we were treated to a masterpiece of smooth, winding and fast tarmac. The good roads lasted all the way to Leh and made for a memorable drive. At the wheel of the diesel Q5 was Bangalore’s Saurav Mahanta who drives a tuned Laura vRS and likes his cars fast. He said, “When I signed up for IQD 2014, there were quite a few doubts in my mind. The thought of actually getting to drive Audi SUVs in Ladakh seemed a bit far-fetched at first glance. But after having completed the trip, I can definitely say that driving the luxurious Audi SUVs across varied terrain and breathtaking landscape was a surreal experience. I was living the dream by trying out a different Audi everyday, over roads that offered the best views in the world around every corner. Even the off-road experience across water crossings, dirt roads and slush in these SUVs is something that I am going to cherish for a really long time”.

VM Samir on the other hand is used to the cut and thrust of Mumbai traffic and found it a thrilling experience driving in such a different environment. “This was by far the most mind blowing drive I have personally experienced. Coming from Mumbai, I enjoyed the clean air, lack of traffic. I’m afraid I’ve forgetten how to use the horn.”

Rejuvenating rest

We stayed at the Desert Himalaya luxury campsite at Diskit

We stayed at the Desert Himalaya luxury campsite at Diskit

Leh is perfect to take a day’s rest. It’s not too high up, has network and is very tourist friendly. Deep breath. Then we headed to the world’s highest motorable road, Khardung La before descending into the famous Nubra Valley with its sand dunes and double-humped camels. Did someone say Ladakh was a wonderfully weird place? We spent the night at a camp in Diskit where we got our first taste of camp life. Richard Theknath, a Mumbai businessman liked the spartan experience, “Once past Rohtang, the number of cars reduces. Civilisation falls away and slowly the bars on my phone too. But then I started to forget about my phone and got lost in the mountains and the scenic beauty at every bend. I have travelled almost all over the world but I can safely say that the IQD showed me the most beautiful masterpieces of raw nature and how it surpasses all kinds of man-made creations”.

Be wary of Wari La

The Wari La pass felt different. It was completely isolated. It started as a narrow winding road with sprawling meadows scattered with grazing yaks and adorable marmots running free. Then the grass gave way to a vast stony wasteland. About an hour of climbing later, as we reached the top we were greeted by two elderly German botanists scouting for local plants. They walked up. We were starting to feel quite breathless just sitting within our supremely comfy luxury machines – Wari La is nearly as high as Khardung La. We could have easily gone back to Leh via Khardung La on our way to Pangong Tso. But we don’t do easy. Srinivas Chaganti, a Chennai-based senior banker realised that this is how Life in OVERDRIVE was, “It was one of my best road trips. Living Life in OVERDRIVE is the icing on the cake. The logistics had been planned to perfection from the start, one missing car notwithstanding! The spectacular scenery and the diverse landscape will never fade from my memory.”

Patriotism at Pangong

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We didn’t just wake up, go downstairs and hoist a flag. We celebrated Independence Day with all the sense of occasion it deserves

Pangong Tso is truly remarkable for a number of reasons, Bollywood and idiots notwithstanding. This time it held a much more special place in our hearts. On the 15th of August, we raised our national flag on the shores of this mighty Himalayan lake barely a handful of kilometres from the Chinese border. We sang our national anthem in the most defiant and proud voices we could. The flag fluttered incessantly in the salty breeze and passersby stopped to salute it and take pictures. Nitin Guleria from Delhi sang the National Anthem five times (TV shoots are like that only) and said, “Pangong was the backdrop when patriotism peaked as we saw the flag unfurl amidst equally high mountains just 40km from the border. We all felt the pride while singing [many times] and celebrating the 68th Independence Day. It was a truly memorable moment.”

Three of our readers were adventurous enough to take a dip in the frigid waters of Pangong. As they say in F1, it was quite the splash and dash!

Three of our readers were adventurous enough to take a dip in the frigid waters of Pangong. As they say in F1, it was quite the splash and dash!

Home on wheels

On our final day’s long drive to Srinagar J-Man our guest radio jock from Red FM pointed out how the cars had become our homes. He was emotional and philosophical, “Humans and machines have a long relation, humans get tired but machines don’t. But on this road trip things were different. The journey not only allowed us to experience the beasts, but the bond among 17 people grew so strong! Team OVERDRIVE taught us that no matter how big the task is you always face it with a smile on your face.”

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Park Plaza Zirakpur

Chandigarh is the launchpad for most of our Himalayan adventures and it’s also the site for one of the busiest days on the trip for Team OD. We spend long days and late nights making sure everything is according to plan before we set off. It’s at times like this that you appreciate a comfortable, and luxurious hotel with great service. And that’s why the Park Plaza at Zirakpur is always our hotel of choice. The rooms are luxurious and spacious enough to hold the vast amounts of gear we carry on these trips. The restaurants serve excellent food, the staff is very helpful and the hotel is very conveniently located. It’s a no brainer, really.


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It can get really cold in the Himalayas but when the sun comes out you’ll be surprised at how sharp and searing the heat can be. It’s vital to keep your eyes shielded from the glare, especially when driving along vast snowy passes that reflect all that light straight into your eyes. Oakley is one of the biggest and most respected names in the world, especially when it comes to eyewear. Some of the glasses even came with extra lenses for the right amount of protection. Every time the sun peaked out from behind the clouds we were fortunate to have our eyes behind these awesome and stylish sunglasses.


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Red FM

Red FM was our unfailing connection to the world. After the internet failed to cross the passes with us, RJ J-Man worked hard to send broadcasts out to Red FM’s huge listener base. He also ensured that our walkies constantly crackled with the great humour that Red FM is famous for. We’re just glad that Red FM cannot broadcast the endless J-Man selfies which use an astonishingly large amount of dedicated photography equipment. On the other hand, like the radio channel itself, we’re envious of the sheer reserves of energy J-Man seemed to have. What are you feeding your RJs, Red FM?


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The unanimous feedback we received from our readers on this trip was that we should have told them not to bring their own jackets. That’s because the jackets Gant provided us all were so good that nobody ended up using their own jackets. The Gant jackets kept us cozy in the cold nights when we were out camping in the Nubra valley or at the shores of lake Pangong. We also got some stylish t-shirts that fit well and looked great. Special mention must be made of the Gant stores in High Street Phoenix and Phoenix Market City malls in Mumbai as well as the Elante mall in Chandigarh which have courteous and helpful staff.


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