The Himalayan Challenge 2018
21 Sept - 11 Oct 2018
The Himalayan Challenge 2018
Friday 21 September – Thursday 11 October 2018
The Endurance Rally Association welcomes you to a brand new adventure on its calendar of events – The Himalayan Challenge. An exclusive event for experienced crews who have completed endurance rallies.
The Himalayas are renowned as a magnet to many different types of adventurers from Everest or K2-scalers to those seeking more of a spiritual journey. This four-wheel adventure combines a bit of both and is perfect for experienced explorer-competitors seeking to pit their wits and skills against a route bursting with challenge, drama, culture and excitement. The event starts in Delhi on Friday 21 September 2018 and finishes in Agra on Thursday 11 October.
Route Designer and Clerk of the Course, John Spiller has, along with the help of local guides and experts, created a route with unmapped roads, winding mountain passes, hair-raising highways and unrivalled scenery. Along the way, crews will stop for a night a stone’s throw from the seat in exile of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, visit the Yoga Capital of the World and finish up a mere five-minute walk from of one of the wonders of the world, the ancient and iconic Taj Mahal.
Open to pre-1976 cars, the 21-day Himalayan Challenge is a true once-in-a-lifetime event.
Tell Me More
To find out more please take a look at the Questions & Answers page then call Annette, Eleonora or any of the Rally Office team or email us for your copy of the event brochure and entry form. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and offer any guidance you may need.
Phone: +44 (0)1235 831221
Email: [email protected]
The Himalayan Challenge – Participants
|1||Bill Cleyndert(GB) / Jacqui Norman(GB)||1925 – Bentley 3-4½||5300|
|3||Lars Rolner(DK) / Annette Rolner(DK)||1928 – Bentley 4½ Le Mans||4398|
|4||Andy Mudra(A) / Gernot Woerle(A)||1928 – Bentley 4½ Le Mans||4398|
|5||Jonathan Turner(GB) / Freddie Turner(GB)||1929 – Bentley 4½||4500|
|6||Philip Lunnon(GB) / Michael Draper(GB)||1929 – Bentley 4½ Le Mans||4398|
|7||Graham Goodwin(GB) / Marina Goodwin(GB)||1929 – Bentley 4½ Le Mans||4496|
|8||Artur Lukasiewicz(PL) / Adam Tuszynski(PL)||1931 – Chrysler CM 6||3569|
|9||Robert Chmielewski(PL) / Sebastian Slazynski(PL)||1931 – Chrysler V70 / 11||4398|
|10||Manuel Dubs(CH) / Robi Huber(CH)||1932 – Rockne Six 75||3365|
|11||Tony Strelzow(CAN) / Lee Strelzow(CAN)||1936 – Bentley Derby 4¼||4129|
|12||Nigel Lee(GB) / Richard Turner(GB)||1938 – Ford 62||3900|
|15||Monte Gingery(USA) / Phil Putnam(USA)||1955 – Chevrolet Business Coupe||4646|
|16||Adrian Hodgson(GB) / Matt Bryson(AUS)||1955 – Austin A90 Westminster||2912|
|17||Steve Partridge(NZ) / Corgi La Grouw(NZ)||1958 – Morris Oxford||1800|
|18||Christof Ley(D) / Len Treeter(CAN)||1959 – Mercedes-Benz 220S||2195|
|19||Bjorn Schage(N) / Trond Brathen(N)||1960 – Morgan Plus 4||1991|
|21||Keith Ashworth(GB) / Norah Ashworth(GB)||1965 – Mercedes Benz 230SL||2306|
|22||Stan Gold(USA) / Brant Parsons(USA)||1965 – Porsche 911||1991|
|23||Marc-Philip Zimmermann(D) / Ulrich Zimmerman(D)||1965 – Volvo Amazon 122S||1780|
|24||Brian Shields(USA) / Al Colwell(USA)||1965 – Ford Mustang||4727|
|25||Alan Beardshaw(GB) / Tina Beardshaw(GB)||1965 – Sunbeam Tiger||4200|
|26||Roland Singer(A) / Hans Malus(A)||1966 – Saab 96 V4||1498|
|27||David Roberts(GB) / Jo Roberts(GB)||1968 – Triumph TR250||2498|
|28||Ludovic Bois(F) / Julia Colman(GB)||1969 – Volvo Amazon||1986|
|29||Roy Stephenson(GB) / Peter Robinson(GB)||1971 – Datsun 240Z||2400|
|30||Stephen Hardwick(GB) / Ashley Bennett(GB)||1971 – Datsun 240Z||2393|
|31||Mike Velasco(GB) / Peter St George(AUS)||1971 – Mercedes Benz 280S||2746|
|32||Filip Engelen(B) / Ann Gillis(B)||1971 – Datsun 240Z||2393|
|33||Andrew Laing(GB) / Ian Milne(GB)||1972 – Peugeot 504||1971|
|34||George Coelho(GB) / Margo O’Brien-Coelho(GB)||1963 – Volvo 122S||1986|
|35||Eric Claeys(B) / Rene Declercq(B)||1972 – Datsun 240Z||2400|
|36||Daniel Spadini(CH) / Ravi Venkatachalam(IN)||1973 – Citroen DS20||3560|
|37||Peter Lovett(GB) / Zoe Lovett(GB)||1973 – Porsche 911T||2400|
|38||Bob Harrod(GB) / Dana Hradecka(CZ)||1974 – Porsche 911||2653|
|39||Phil Garratt(GB) / Kieron Brown(GB)||1975 – Mercedes Benz 280 Coupe||2746|
|40||Matthias Bittner(D) / Denis Billon(F)||1968 – Volvo 122S||1775|
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.
Day 00- Scrutineering Day – An Indian summer
We’re in Delhi today, waiting for the start of the first Himalayan Challenge, inspired partly by the exploits of Philip Young who, along with the Rev Rupert Jones, took a Morris Minor to 15th overall in the 1980, Air India, Himalayan Rally.
This, the final event of the ERA calendar for 2018, sees 36 cars take on a three week adventure to the roof of the world – and back again. Over twenty one days and 9,366km, we will climb to a lung busting 5076m with an incredible total ascent of 54,458m. Everything will be tested to the limits, the cooling system, the transmission, the brakes – and the crews.
Temperatures have fallen a little since the summer high, but today dawned hot and sticky again for the morning transfer to the warehouse where Melvyn Palmer of CARS had been labouring for several days already. Wrestling with padlocks, ratchet straps and a clipboard, he strove to release the cars both physically and officially onto the roads of the subcontinent. The grateful crews simply had to arrive, sign on the dotted line, turn the key and then they were off.
For some, the drive through the dense Delhi traffic to the hotel, was perhaps a baptism of fire complete with roadside shrines to look at and countless honking and squawking taxis, scooters and auto rickshaws to avoid. Nowhere else does crowded quite like Delhi but however choked the roads become everyone remains polite and calm.
The car park of the magnificent Imperial Hotel was the destination and once there the sweep crews set to checking each vehicle for safety and compliance. This was hot work for sure but it was carried out, as usual, with the characteristic good humour and efficiency of Andy Inskip, Tony Jones, Jamie Turner and Russ Smith.
There were naturally a few niggling issues which needed ironing out. Jonathan Turner’s Bentley, which has returned to the Himalayas for the first time since the 1997 Peking to Paris required some welding to a front suspension mount.
Andy Mudra and Gernot Woerle, also in a Bentley, needed help with a timing issue. Last seen in a tiny Citroen Rosalie during the 2010 Peking to Paris, Gernot’s backfiring engine gave the birds and squirrels of the beautifully tended formal gardens something to think about.
Indeed there are six WO Bentleys lined up in the carpark making them by far the biggest works team here.
Steven Partridge and Corgi Le Grouw are here in their venerable Morris Oxford which has so far conquered the Gobi Desert and the Andes. Decked out with her own floral garland “Denise” was loving all of the attention. She’s sure to get plenty of admiring looks along the road as well given that she’s closely related to the once all conquering Hindustan Ambassador which still ply the streets of India as a taxi cab.
At the other end of the climate spectrum, Eleonora Piccolo and Gill Cotton meanwhile, ran the pop up Rally Office from the comparatively glacial Royal Ballroom. Thanks to a typically over zealous air conditioning system, paperwork and documents were issued, checked, signed and returned with an icy coolness.
An insulated bottle was also supplied to the crews which doubtless will prove useful in both the heat, and the inevitable cold, of the mountains which are coming.
Once the navigators had received their route books and the map book, then the serious business of sorting out life on the road began. And, as the sun dipped below the horizon, and the cars were put away for the night it was then left to John Spiller, the route designer and Clerk of the Course, to formally welcome everyone to the event and give a short briefing on what to expect.
This is a Regularity Rally, where the landscape and the roads will likely prove to be as much competition as the stopwatch will be so as such, it’s going to be the drive of a lifetime.
Dinner followed and a civilised start time tomorrow then allowed the crews to enjoy some of India’s legendary hospitality.
Day 1 – Delhi to Chandigarh
Given the late start today, there was plenty of time for the crews to enjoy a good breakfast and to mill around the carpark soaking up the admiration of the crowd and answering questions from the many curious onlookers who’d gathered around the ‘paddock’.
Kitchen staff, waiters and hotel domestics also stole a few minutes away from their duties to take a sneaky selfie next to whatever car or crew took their fancy.
At 9.45 am though, with just fifteen minutes to go before the cars were flagged away, John Spiller called proceedings to order. A short blast on his cavalry bugle got the crews into a loose circle after which a pair of Hindu priests arrived to bless each competitor, wish them safe passage through the mountains and dotted their foreheads with red paste during a moving Tilaka ceremony. A bracelet was then affixed to each wrist as a mark of honour and respect.
With the Gods now right behind them it was Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman who were the first away. Given the green flag treatment by the magnificently attired, ‘rajput’ inspired, Imperial Hotel doorman complete with his signature beard, moustache, turban and tunic.
The run through Delhi was an entertaining one but it was also inevitably hot and typically chaotic however, armed with a precise roadbook and a few well chosen waypoints, the cars soon reached the northbound dual carriageway and set a course for the Passage Control in Karnal.
Even on such a busy road, where everyone is supposed to be heading in the same direction, the unique and unpredictable nature of Indian traffic meant that both crew members had to keep an eye out for potential hazards be they bovine, vehicular or pedestrian.
After pulling into the service station / rest area / shopping mall, which was an oasis of cool and tranquility, the crews had a chance to reflect upon ,and share their experiences of the first 140km of the rally. Monte Gingery declared that it was “just like the Mille Miglia. You see a tuk tuk you go round it, see a truck go round it. No big deal”.
Manuel Dubs agreed saying that “it’s all good fun, all part of the adventure” which he’s also thoroughly enjoying having celebrated his birthday yesterday.
Meanwhile, the Subway sandwich franchise did a roaring trade as did the Costa Coffee concession. We all knew that this was to be the last vestige of the Western way of life for the next three weeks and we acted accordingly.
Leaving this sanctuary behind us was difficult enough but, aside from the culinary delights we’d enjoyed, an outside temperature of 36°c jarred with the air conditioning we’d began to take for granted. Nevertheless the rally steeled itself and rejoined the three lanes of trucks, rickshaws and cows on their journey to Chandigarh.
The next section was a mere 120km long and, within a couple of hours most of the cars had made it safely into the grounds of the Taj Chandigarh. Along the way though two crews were seen sat by the roadside with what appeared to be fuel vaporisation issues. Roland Singer and Hans Malus reckoned that their Saab had a “hot fuel problem” whilst Keith and Norah Ashworth were left scratching their heads after coming to a halt some 800m from the hotel.
Some cooling drinks were called for once Pete Stone had stamped the time cards and then the spanner work in the carpark began in earnest. For most crews there wasn’t anything which would keep them up too late but Keith Ashworth quickly realised that he would be doing a night shift this evening. He’d discovered that he’d blown the clutch on the Mercedes, but luckily, he had the necessary parts with him and along with all four sweeps and Bob “holiday maker” Harrod he set to installing it.
Andy Mudra and Gernot Woerle unfortunately had an even more trying day. Their 1928 Bentley which was misbehaving yesterday on the way from the warehouse, was still not right this morning, so the crew made the decision to head back to the Imperial and take a good long look at the situation. With a bit of luck they’ll rejoin us tomorrow evening and we wish them the best of luck.
Adam Tuszynski had some more unusual problems away from the car though, he’s still waiting for his luggage which was lost on the way from Frankfurt. It’s scheduled to be with him either late tonight or very early tomorrow morning. Until then it’s either a borrowed T shirt or some local costume.
After the gentle start we enjoyed today, tomorrow should be a little more challenging as we climb to a cooler 2000m and catch our first glimpses of the Himalayas.
Day 2 – Chandigarh to McLeod Ganj – Onwards and Upwards
In a bizarre climatic twist, the rally woke this morning to rain of monsoon proportions with the accompanying low cloud and a grey sky.
The downside was that the open car crews would finish the day much wetter than yesterday. The upside was that it was also much cooler which made the closed car crews a lot less and bothered.
So, with just a little splashing around the roundabouts, the Corbusier creation that is the Chandigarh grid system swept us out of town onto wet, wide and fast roads and into the countryside of the Punjab. It was Saturday morning so we almost had the roads to ourselves.
The first passage Control in the Royal Tourist Dhaba in Bharatgarh served an excellent, if typically Indian, selection of chai and instant coffee along with savoury and sweet delicacies. The washrooms were clean and functional and after sampling either the catering or the sanitation the crews remounted and headed on up the soaking tarmac towards the second Passage Control at Basoli where Jim Smith and Pete Stone stood by the side of a very minor road, sheltered beneath their tailgate.
The hills were getting bigger now, just as the roads were getting smaller and village after village passed us by wherein hundreds of curious locals came out to cheer and wave us through despite the wet weather. By way of thanks Jonathon and Freddie Turner had thoughtfully brought boxes of pencils to hand out to the excited children.
By this point the rally had turned well and truly off the beaten path and in a day of firsts for the event not only did we see our first troop of monkeys but we also took in the first hairpin. We’re assured that over the next three weeks we’ll be seeing plenty more of both.
More of this broken tarmac was the route to the lunch halt at the Kings restaurant in Thanakalan where an excellent buffet was offered to the very wet crews. The rain might still have been pouring down but it didn’t seem to dampen the spirit of the rally.
After lunch, the first Regularity of the event soon appeared in the route book just outside of the village of Charada and with John Spiller and Rikki Proffit on the start line the crews launched themselves through the trees towards Gill and John Cotton lying in wait some 11km away. This was a narrow road and empty road but it was a challenging one and by the end of the day it had given us our first leader.
Another quick passage Control in Pirasaluhi, manned by Dr Delle Grimsmo and Dr Bushan Lal, ensured that everyone who went into the woods came out of them and they were then free to make their way to the night halt a further 80km and 1,300 vertical meters away.
Philip Lunnon and Michael Draper spent longer in the trees than the rest of the rally though. One wrong slot led them down a blind alley which quickly turned to an almost impassable track. Some considerable pushing and pulling was required from both the crew and the rally organisation, before they and their Bentley were able to turn themselves around and head for home.
McLeod Ganj is a suburb of Dharamshala and also is known as “Little Lhasa” because the Tibetan government-in-exile is headquartered here. Getting to it is no mean feat and needless to say it involves a lot of climbing with many steep hairpins, narrow streets and rickety bridges.
Everyone made into the Fortune Park Moksha in time for dinner though and after such an unexpectedly epic day, there was plenty to talk about in the bar and over dinner.
Tony and Lee Strelzow, Peking to Paris veterans, suffered no punctures today but swapped the misery of flat tyres for that of a leaky roof. They recalled that they just about managed to set the canvas covering of their Derby Bentley to an angle so that the water at least pooled into one place and then hopefully drained out of the floor.
Sadly, we heard that Margo O’Brien Coelho and George Coelho are looking for a hire car this evening. Their Volvo has lost its clutch and there’s no way of repairing it anytime soon.
Andy Mudra and Gernot Woerle are still absent. They’re with their Bentley in Delhi looking for a solution to the misfiring issue. The plan now is for them to shortcut straight to Manali and join us after the rest day.
As for the results; Manuel Dubs & Robi Huber – Rockne Six 75, Adrian Hodgson & Matt Bryson – Austin A90, and Alan & Tina Beardshaw – Sunbeam Tiger are equally placed on top spot, each of these crews having zero penalties so far.
The weather forecast for tomorrow isn’t too promising with more rain set to come so there are more than a few amongst us looking at our wardrobes and deciding what will best suit the conditions.
Day 3 – 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.
Day 4 – Manali – Rest Day
News of the torrential rains and flooding in Himachal Pradesh is probably well known to all those following the Himalayan Challenge.
As reported in the Hindustan Times, Hundreds of roads including several national highways have been blocked due to landslides across the state. The tourist town of Manali has been cut off from district headquarters Kullu and rest of the state after an overflowing Beas river submerged roads on either side of the river after torrential rain during the last 24 hours.
This news is confirmed by the few text messages received from Rally HQ in Manali. The ERA Organising team are working with the local agents to assess the situation and formulate plans for a safe onward journey for all the rally competitors and officials. They do confirm that all the roads in and out of Manali are currently impassable and likely to remain so for 36 to 48 hours. The original rally route to the north over the Rohtang Pass is currently blocked by unprecedented snow falls and looks very unlikely to be cleared in the near future as the army and local authorities concentrate on the major routes to the south.
There are plans being made to survey the options more thoroughly on Tuesday. Once those plans are in place for a safe onward journey we’re assured they will let us know so that we can publish further updates here.
We’ll publish more news as soon as it becomes available.
Day 4.5 – Manali – Update – Hostages to Fortune
Yesterday was a strange rest day to say the least. We knew that we were in the middle of a minor natural disaster and there was nothing to do but sit it out.
The rally was almost marooned and over the course of the day the rain kept coming, the roads kept collapsing and the TV news channels kept us informed. Manali was pretty much cut off from the rest of the world.
Throughout our ‘ordeal’ however the hotel Manu Allaya did us proud. Hot buffets miraculously appeared for lunch and dinner along with tea and coffee and when the electricity supply failed they switched on the generator and assured us that they had enough fuel for five days of careful usage which meant midday blackouts and no lights after the bar closed. Surely five days would be enough?
Clerk of the Course and route designer John Spiller enjoyed no rest at all. He spent almost every waking hour either on the telephone to his network of local contacts or shuttling between the two rally hotels on opposite sides of the raging Beas River to deliver news and keep the crews abreast of developments the ground.
Because the main rally HQ hotel is only accessible by a long scramble over the chasm that was once the access road much of today will be spent relocating to bring the rally back together on the same side of town.
Circumstances have dictated the options available and with input from the authorities and local guides it is clear the rally will spend a minimum of one or two extra nights in Manali. Today the 48 hour advance car of Dick Appleton and Chris Mills will once again go ahead to scout out possible problems and pitfalls.
Guy Woodcock along with Sarah Ormerod and John and Gill Cotton will also get on down the road to more fully map out a route to take us to Shimla where the rally will probably spend an extra night before picking up on the original day schedule.
The forecast is improving and we’ve all got our fingers crossed.
Day 5- Manali
The weather eased this morning so the ERA team swiftly put plan A into action. Under a blue sky with fluffy white clouds, the evacuation of the Manu Allaya hotel began.
Those crews who had been billeted in this, the original rally HQ hotel on the Old Leh Manali Road, were ferried down the mountain in a fleet of open backed pickup trucks to the impasse, a yawning chasm some 10 metres across, where the road used to be. Luckily, a narrow strip of tarmac remained, strewn with rocks and rubble, along one side of the void, and it was just wide enough to carefully walk along. With John Spiller on the lookout for any more falling boulders, and Rikki Proffit acting as a baggage carrier, everyone made it safely across.
The road to Manali
On the way over, there was barely any time to take in the magnificent views, but those who did manage to steal a glance upwards saw the most impressive snow-capped peaks on all sides of the valley. This is what we’ve been missing for the last three days and sadly what we’ll probably miss tomorrow now that very same snow has blocked the Rohtang Pass to the north.
Another bumpy ride in another open backed pickup took the crews to the only bridge left standing in Manali and thence across into the town centre where we’d left the cars on that very wet night.
In the, by now, steaming school carpark, the sweeps were hard at it already. They’d found themselves on the right side of the landslide when we first arrived so they had a head start on matters and they were very busy.
Ludovic Bois and Julia Coleman’s Volvo was only firing on three cylinders on the way into Manali and today was the first opportunity they’d had to look under the bonnet. Fuel problems, electrical gremlins and even a blown head gasket all fell under suspicion.
Graham and Marina Goodwin’s Bentley – Horace to its friends – badly needed his electrical equipment drying out. Those wet nights parked in the open had taken their toll and Graham had every wire and plug out of the engine and into the sun.
Similarly Jonathon and Freddie Turner were looking at rectifying some minor electrical issues, as were Philip Lunnon and Michael Draper – again with a Bentley.
Jamie Turner was deep into Roland Singer and Hans Maus’s Saab which had suffered what they thought was a recurring fuel pump problem on the way into Manali but, on closer examination, the trouble was more likely to have been caused by some dirt which had worked its way into the carburettor.
Away from the school yard, Keith and Norah Ashworth had used their rest day wisely and had managed to get their cracked Mercedes manifold welded. They’ll have a much quieter ride from now on.
David and Jo Roberts unfortunately are now back in Delhi. They lost their transmission before they got to Manjeev’s Ridge and have had to truck their Triumph to the capital for either repairs or repatriation. With the hold ups we’ve had and the likelihood of a re-route there’s a chance that they’ll be able to affect a repair and catch up.
We’re pretty much now gruppo compatto, settled in the White Mist Hotel, south of Manali, on the east bank of the Beas River which, thankfully has calmed down a lot. It has however left quite a trail of destruction and, John and Gill Cotton, along with Guy Woodcock and Sarah Ormerod who had been sent out to look at route options had to return to base, because another road had vanished.
The 48 hour crew, comprising Dick Appleton and Chris Mills, fared a little better though. On reaching another failed bridge, they strapped their packs to their backs, clambered across a suspension bridge and hiked to a village to rendezvous with another hire car so as to carry on down to Shimla.
The mood in camp is very good and the crews are doing their best to live up to that famous rally maxim “when the going gets tough, the tough go to the bar”.
Day 6 – Manali to Shimla – Hanging by a Thread
At 5.00am this morning, with the mercury sat at a chilly 10°c, a convoy of some 33 rally cars rolled out of the Manali White Mist Hotel, heading south.
John Spiller had worked out a way to get his men and machinery out of the Kullu Valley and back into the game. The details of this plan had been announced over dinner the previous evening. All who heard it seemed to agree that it was a bold move indeed and one which was likely to break the current deadlock, and would hopefully, get us on the road again.
As the convoy stole through the unlit streets, (as quietly as such a collection could) the only other living souls that stirred were the stray dogs, picked out variously by the cool blue moonlight and the flickering headlamps of the cars.
Key ERA team personnel had already gone ahead, with some having left as early as 4.00am, in order to put this audacious escape plan into effect. They carried orders, ‘secure the last bridge in the valley at all costs and to Hold until relieved’. This was no ordinary bridge though, and this would be no ordinary crossing. Our early morning passage over the very narrow Raison suspension bridge will most definitely go down as an extraordinary feat.
With only the moon to guide them, and a set of well-prepared route notes, this mechanised column, stretching for almost a kilometre, was led by Ed Rutherford, who was charged with delivering everyone safely to one vital hairpin bend which led to the crossing point. This sharp right turn, onto a semi-metalled track was the point of no return. Too narrow to turn around on and too long and steep to reverse back to the road. As such the cars had been rigorously assessed and their dimensions carefully compared with that of the bridge.
The 25 km journey to the bridge passed slowly and, as the white peaks of the high Himalaya disappeared from view, the dire state of the roads we’d be leaving behind became clearer by the minute and our thoughts turned to those not so fortunate who would have to stay, pick up the pieces and live with the consequences of the past few days.
The Raison Bridge – Manali Exit Route
Tony Jones and Jamie Turner were the marshals chosen to line the vehicles up correctly for their crossing and were also on hand to give the crews a quick pep talk, before they set their wheels on the unsteady platform spanning the Beas River. Local vehicles had been using the crossing regularly, so no one doubted the integrity of the structure, but it took a certain amount of resolve to release the handbrake and press the gas pedal.
After a single but seemingly long hour everyone made it safely across to the west bank. The sun rose and began to warm us, and our rally world was suddenly a better place to be in.
Paradoxically, it was pretty much downhill for the rest of the morning as we rolled into the lower foothills through towns such as Kullu, Bhunter, Mandi and Sundernager before checking into a Passage Control in the busy town of Ghaghas where there was also plenty of choice for a midday snack.
The temperature now sat at 30°c and some of the cars suffered on the inevitable climbs out of the valleys and onwards to the night halt in Shimla which sits at 2,000m.
Matthias Bittner and Denis Billon’s Volvo limped for a while with a heat related fuel issue whilst
Bjorn Schage and Trond Brathen’s Morgan blew a water hose and discovered a leaking radiator cap but, these two Peking to Paris veterans decided to sort it out themselves calling on the sweeps only for moral support. Tomorrow they plan on fashioning a permanent repair and will look at their rear shocks which they fear might well be about to fail.
Tonight we’re staying in the Oberoi Cecil and the mood is victorious. It’s likely that we’ll be in Shimla for three days at least before we pick up the original rally schedule on day ten but there’s plenty to do and see in this busy town which was once the summer capital of the British Raj.
Day 7 – Shimla – Rest Day One – Monkey Business
The old saying goes that ‘there’s no rest for the wicked’, so today the competitors enjoyed a well earned day off. We’re in an excellent hotel, in a lovely town with all the cafes, shops and amenities that anyone could wish for.
Shimla’s famous Mall and Ridge shopping areas were a popular destination which also offered superb views over the valley and surrounding hills with views of the snowy Himalayan peaks on the horizon. The sun was out, the sky was blue and we were all drying out nicely.
John Spiller and Guy Woodcock on the other hand were hard at work. They were driving through the hill country, scouting out an extra loop to keep us entertained tomorrow. Their report is eagerly anticipated.
Dick Appleton and Chris Mills were also busy and after taking on one last cheese omelette, they resumed their 48 hour advanced car duties and made for Mussoorie. Their report is also eagerly anticipated.
Shimla is a resort town, make no mistake about that, and as today was World Tourism Day there was definitely a holiday feel about town. The historic railway station was doing good business taking tourists on day trips further into the hills and bringing yet more of them up from Chandigarh and “the burning plains below”.
The sweeps were given the day off as well. They’ve had a tough few days, so a bit of high altitude downtime was prescribed by the rally medics. So the rally crews were left to their own devices down in the carpark but, as far as we could see, there was no major work going on.
Lars Rolner had a peculiar problem to deal with however. Whilst attending to his Bentley he took his eye off the tool bag for five minutes and when he returned it had gone. Swiped by one of the hundreds of monkeys which live in and around the hotel grounds. Despite Lars’ most enthusiastic attempts to coax it down, the offending primate sat in a tree overlooking the carpark and went through the contents looking for something to eat. As the bag only contained a battery charger though, the monkey lost interest and threw it to the ground – some 20 metres below.
As the day drew to a close and darkness fell, the bar of the Oberoi Cecil, filled once again and the speculation about the next instalment of this already epic rally began again.
Day 8 – Shimla to Shimla – Loop – Pulling a Rabbit From the Hat
While the rest of us had shopped till we dropped yesterday, and taken in all that Shimla had to offer, the Clerk of the Course and his deputy, had obviously spent their rest day doing something much more productive and today we were all beneficiaries.
The floods, landslips and bridge closures had thrown the rally schedule into disarray but today the tide turned and the next time we open our route books, we’ll be on the correct page. John Spiller was obviously a tailor in a previous life because he, along with Guy Woodcock, managed to stitch together a superb day of driving, complete with a pair of Regularities and a buffet lunch. Set within a 110km circuit this took us from the Oberoi Cecil in downtown Shimla to the Oberoi Wildflower Hall on the outskirts of the town.
The direct distance between the two hotels was only 15km, but our route was much more entertaining and within a shade under 14 km from leaving the hotel we arrived at the first Regularity on the road to Dhalli.
John and Gill Cotton set the clock running and 8.65 km later Jamie Turner and Tony Jones who’d swapped their spanners for a stopwatch, recorded the time. In between was a little used stretch of road with some excellent views across the valley.
The next part of the day involved a short section of a typically busy Indian highway and then a much longer section of almost deserted tarmac, which climbed steeply through a forest to the village of Chail. Here we enjoyed a buffet lunch in the eponymous Palace, which was built by the Maharaja of Patiala, Bhupinder Singh, after he was expelled from Shimla by Lord Kitchener for some unspecified, but no doubt serious ‘indiscretion’. At around 2,300m high, the Maharaja was just about able to look down upon the Viceroy, as well as enjoying some expansive views of the Himalayas.
After lunch, the second Regularity was quickly upon us but, as the cars rolled along the Kufri Road, which led almost directly to the night halt, the heavens opened once again, with rain and hail lashing down as enthusiastically as it had done so earlier in the week. Fortunately though, this storm only lasted for a few hours and the weathermen say that tomorrow it will be dry once again.
Tonight, in the splendour of the Wildflower Hotel, we can finally say that we’re now back on the original rally schedule. We’ve got a rest day tomorrow, Saturday, and then we leave for Mussoorie before pressing onwards to Nepal.
This then will be our last rest day for a week and there are some crews with a few jobs still on their ‘to do list’. Bjorn Schage and Trond Brathen for example whose Morgan Plus 4 was giving them even more trouble this morning and, on the way out of the Regularity, they were again by the side of the road with Andy Inskip and Russ Smith, looking at an engine which was still unable to keep itself cool. The crew sensibly skipped the afternoon’s session and headed back to Shimla to start work on the repairs.
Roland Singer and Hans Malus’s Saab has also been a frequent visitor to the side of the road and today it pulled over on the way into the first Regularity with what Roland described as “problems with the fuel pump, the carburettor and the windscreen wipers”. They too decided to head straight back to Shimla to begin repairs and given the way that the weather turned during the afternoon they definitely made the right decision.
For those lucky enough to have some time to kill though there are still many things to do and see in and around Shimla with a train ride into the hills being a popular choice although there would be worse ways to spend a day than lolling around the Wildflower hotel and its grounds in the manner of, Shimla born, Guy “Dambuster” Gibson.
This evening, Andy Mudra and Gernot Woerle finally rejoined us, albeit in a hire car. They’ve had a wild ride like the rest of us, battling floods and road closures along the way after dropping their broken Bentley in Delhi, almost one week ago.
Day 9 – Shimla – Rest Day Two – Rest Day Two – Calm Before the Storm
From tomorrow, we’ve got seven full days of rallying ahead of us before the next rest day, so the crews today were making the most of the facilities of Wildflower Hall and making their last minute preparations to themselves and their cars.
Whatever the laundry situation was there was also a great deal of car washing going on. The fleet that rolls out tomorrow morning, will bear little resemblance to that which rolled in through the hailstones and mud on Friday night.
As far as repairs and servicing are concerned there were some who got away lightly and some who had to spend the whole day looking at the problem and working out a way round it.
Nigel Lee and Richard Turner were one of the lucky ones and were found under their Ford 62 which merely needed a radiator bolt replacing.
Similarly, Lars Rolner was busy around his Bentley simply making sure that everything was working fully for the days ahead. He thought his clutch had suffered a little on the final short climb to the hotel, but now he doesn’t think it’ll be a problem moving into the next week.
Ludovic Bois and Julia Coleman’s Volvo has been running a lot better since the day to Manali where the plugs and points were all cleaned. Ludovic now thinks maybe the car just doesn’t like the altitude. A quick wash and brush up was all that was needed for this well travelled Amazon
Roland Singer and Hans Malus had a slightly bigger job on their hands though, their Saab has been playing up since the first day to Chandigarh. Initially it was thought to have been by caused by a problem with the carburettor but today the crew figured out that it was the old and rusty fuel tank which was causing the blockages. A quick re rig of the fuel system should mean that they have none of these issues going forward.
David and Jo Roberts are, we hear, racing back to the rally after replacing their differential in Delhi. They hope to arrive later this evening and be fresh enough to take the restart tomorrow morning.
Away from the carpark, Phil Garratt and Kieran Brown enjoyed a day on the train into the hills along with several other crews and Phil described the trip as being “a very Indian experience which initially seemed like chaos but which gradually transformed into a well organised and enjoyable trip”.
The clock starts again at 7.00am tomorrow and we’ve got a long pull to Mussoorie to look forward to.
Day 10 – Shimla to Mussoorie – Playing it by the Book
An early start was scheduled for today as, whichever route we took, it was going to be a long day. The Himalayas are big, and they’re very twisty. In the 300km we cover today there was barely one metre of straight road and from our breakfast at 2,400m we fell to lunch at 300m before rolling into bed at about 1,700m.
After the events of the last week, we were all champing at the bit to get back on the road and despite the fact we were starting Day 10 and hoped do it all as per the route book, the torrential rain of Friday evening however had kicked up a whole load of new problems, including a rockfall so large that it would take twelve more days to clear it.
The 48 hour car therefore had been busy once again and as a result, John Spiller and Guy Woodcock had once again missed their rest day planning an alternative to get us into Mussoorie and to keep us all entertained along the way.
During the 6.00am breakfast then, a comprehensive set of amendments was subsequently handed out to all of the crews and at 7.01am Bill Cleyndert and Jacqui Norman’s Bentley led the pack down the hotel drive and turned onto the ridge towards the villages of Chail and Kandaghat, which we first visited on the hastily devised Shimla loop two days earlier.
Our first visit was a wet one though, with little chance to enjoy the views, but this morning, with the sun peeping over the heavily wooded hills, we were properly able to enjoy the scenery along with the ‘three dimensional’ traffic free road.
As we made our way down the valley the temperature climbed to 31°c and, in places, the traffic grew more dense where the debris of dozens of landslides was being cleared and the roads around them were being repaired but overall the morning’s drive was a thoroughly enjoyable one surrounded by some incredible local culture.
The day was run with a series of Passage Controls and at about lunchtime the crews pulled into a rest area and restaurant on the banks of the Yamuna River, at Paonta Sahib. Here, Guy Woodcock and Sarah Ormerod, along with our fantastic fixer, Lokesh Bagga, had laid on an al fresco lunch for the rally comprising a hearty mushroom soup along with plates of vegetable sandwiches.
Following this busy lunch halt, the next section proved to be the most dramatic of the day. The long climb to Mussooorie, made famous by the Air India, Himalayan Rallies of the 1980’s crisis crossed the very same Yamuna River that we’d also seen in Delhi and would see again at the finish in Agra. In places the road was less than a cars width, yet this narrow strip had to be shared simultaneously with cattle, buses and taxis as they made their way up, or down, the side of the mountain.
Despite the altitude and the difficult geography, the villages such as Kandhikal and Kempty through which we passed, appeared as thriving communities only too happy to wave and cheer the rally on their way up to the inevitable next hairpin and the mists beyond.
After such an epic day, the sight of the Jaypee Resort carpark was a welcome one for all of the crews but particularly for the likes of Jonathan and Freddie Turner, who were delighted that they’d enjoyed their first trouble free run of the rally so far, thanks to a distributor donated by Stephen Partridge.
David and Joe Roberts are finally back with us now, along with their Trans America winning Triumph, which was lined up neatly in the car park. Indian Customs formalities delayed them slightly longer than they would have liked but they’ve never not finished a rally and this comeback goes a long way to help them keep a clean sheet.
The evening’s dinner at the Jaypee was by common consent one of the best we’ve enjoyed so far on the Himalayan Challenge and it was all vegetarian. Other than some grilled fish of course.
Tomorrow we’re told that there won’t be any route amendments.
Day 11 – Mussoorie to Rishikesh – Flowing into the Ganges
Today we enjoyed the first day without significant amendments since we left McLeod Ganj on day three of the rally and the routemeister that is Anthony Preston, back in the maps and planning room at base, enjoyed his first day off in a over a week. We’re all hoping that this state of affairs continues.
After an excellent breakfast we then enjoyed a great route out of town with next to no traffic. Along these deserted byways we quickly climbed to 2,250m under a brilliant blue sky and a burning sun. Colourful villages and impressive views over terraced rice fields made for a picture perfect scene.
The first Time Control was in the busy town of Chamba, in the quirkily modern Friends Club which served cups of steaming chai or coffee. And, as we sat and sipped them, a pair of Indian army trucks lumbered on past hauling a couple of big howitzers behind them. Perhaps these were to signal the start of the next section?
Soon after this refreshment break the first Regularity began, rolling along a 22km section of a stunning mountain road with views over the huge ‘lake’ where the Bhilangna River widens. There were plenty of changes of gradient, some loose surfaces and a couple of speed changes for the crews to contend with. But the fun continued even once Gill Cotton had stopped the clocks because this road, looped around the lake thereby giving us some more excellent views and more superb driving.
A second Passage Control in the grandly titled “Hotel” Shyam Sawera made sure that everyone who’d gone into the loop was accounted for before they were sent on their way to the lunch Time Control in the Evergreen Restaurant in Pursol Gaon high above the water.
Once they’d eaten their fill and taken in some more of the views and extensive local ambiance, the home run began. Unfortunately though, the road from Chamba to the night halt in Rishikesh was under extensive repair for most of its 60km, which did make for slow going at times. There were even places along the route when Eric Claeys who, with Rene Declercq won last year’s Baltic Challenge, and also a veteran of the ERA’s epic 2012 London to Cape Town event with Ben Deleye, was convinced he was back on North Kenya’s notorious Marsabit Road.
By the time the crews reached the night halt in the Aloha Hotel on the banks of the famous River Ganges, they were more than ready for a rest and perhaps a jot of meditation, but for many there was work to be done in the carpark to ensure their cars were ready to face another day.
Roland Singer and Hans Malus had to retire their Saab however. After all their travails with the fuel system, it was the clutch that finally let them down today and their iconic Swedish car, is now on a truck, heading for Delhi and onwards to Austria. The crew are in good spirits though and are looking at their options as far as continuing with the event.
Today’s long and technical Regularity shook up the leaderboard somewhat and shot Manuel Dubs and Robi Huber back up into first place followed by Artur Lukasiewicz and Adam Tuszynski in second, with Mike Velasco and Peter St George tying with Rene Declercq and Eric Claeys in third. See the results page for the details.
Adrian Hodgson and Matt Bryson had a relatively bad day. Their day’s penalty of a mere 24 seconds dropped them from first to seventh place overall.
It’s been another epic day in the Himalayas and there were some tired crews this evening but tomorrow’s another day and we’ve even been allowed a late 10am start.
Day 12 – Rishikesh to Rudraprayag – River Running
We were promised an adventure and, so far, the Himalayan Challenge has not let us down. Although this was a short day, it was no less challenging than any of the others which we’ve faced.
Indian road menders are kept very busy by the constantly shifting landscapes and Indian suspension manufacturers must make a good living from this as well.
It’s not everyday that you get to take breakfast on the banks of the Ganges though, the most sacred of rivers to millions of Hindus and as we drank down the chai and tucked into the vegetarian buffet, it was good to think that the Goddess Ganga would be looking after us today.
Our Rally day began at a very civilised 10.00am with a fascinating run through Rishikesh, a vibrant and thriving town with scores of western backpackers rubbing alongside Sadhus and ascetics on the teeming streets. This is a town where religion and whitewater rafting meet head on.
Soon after pulling out of the hotel, we made our first crossing of the Ganges and we entered a Regularity at Pundrasu, where the crews had to negotiate a thickly wooded road with many small water crossings in the Rajaji National Park. When the navigators got the chance to look up from their books, they were rewarded with some excellent views over the water to Rishikesh, and the hotel we’d just left.
Not everyone enjoyed this first section though, Andrew Laing and Ian Milne broke a McPherson strut at about the halfway point and, despite their best efforts there was nothing that they could do. Eventually though it was fixed at the roadside by the sweep team of Andy Inskip and Russel Smith and the crew rejoined and made it into lunch though they have dropped down the leaderboard.
Once out of the National Park it was then onto the main road (the only road) for the run to a mid morning Time Control in Dansara where we shared a small roadside eatery with dozens of hungry pilgrims keen to learn about us, the cars and our journey. The river though was our constant companion for most of the morning and as we bumped through the various roadworks and watched the white water rafting we weren’t sure who was having the wilder ride. It was in one of these sections that saw Brian Shields and Al Colwell tightening a few loose bolts under the hood of their Mustang.
The MTC for the day was also the lunch halt, in the Samrat Resort in Paparasu and the road which led to it was as impressive as the one that took us to the end of the day and our night halt in the remote Monal resort in Rudraprayag. Here we enjoyed a very boisterous evening in another vegetarian, and alcohol free, hotel. The crews appeared to be full of the rally spirit despite this prohibition and while we’ve no idea where they got it from we think that a few of the cars will be riding a little higher tomorrow. Monte Gingery was chief among the instigators of this revelry and proved beyond doubt that he can indeed sing as well as he can drive.
Epic they may have been but the roads have taken their toll on some of the cars and tonight, the carpark was a scene of great industry. Filip Engelen and Ann Gillis’s very sporty Datsun 240Z has now had its ride height raised and has had some air filters fitted. Jamie Turner reckons that these two simple fixes will make all the difference to the way the car handles.
Tony Jones meanwhile was grinding away at the sump guard from Artur Lukasiewicz and Adam Tuszynski’s Chrysler CM 6. His aim was to provide better airflow and improved cooling without sacrificing the protection offered.
Our other Polish crew, Robert Chmielewski and Sebastian Slazynskiin in the next bay, were fitting a new tube into one of their Chrysler’s tyres.
Russ Smith, along with Marc-Philip and Ulrich Zimmerman had set to and re-wired the electric fans on the Volvo Amazon so that it too was better able to cool the engine.
Unfortunately, Philip Lunnon and Michael Draper lost the clutch from their Bentley 4½ Le Mans and are now following the rally in a rental car.
David and Jo Roberts, who battled back to us in Mussoorie after a differential failure, have been delayed yet again. This time, the word is that they’ve broken a trailing arm and are once again looking at their options.
Sadly, Lars and Annette Rolner had to leave the rally yesterday. They were involved in a minor road accident during which, Lars sustained a slight leg injury and now he’s flown home for treatment.
Typically cheerful though, as he climbed into Dr Delle Grimsmo’s vehicle to be taken for his check up he insisted that his fellow Bentley drivers help themselves to his spare tyres. And, in true Bentley Boy style they did.
Day 13 – Rudraprayag to Nainital – De Ja Vu
The second Peking to Paris visited Nainital in 1997 so, for Jonathan Turner at least, today’s drive was a trip down memory lane, to a time when his son and navigator Freddie, was but a twinkle in his eye.
Back in 1997 Jonathan’s Bentley was with him then, as it is now, which means that he’s managed to achieve one of his three ambitions for this event. The next ambition is to get the car and crew to Kathmandu and the final one is to reach the rally finish in Agra.
The Indian road building industry redeemed itself today and we enjoyed pretty much a full day of roadwork free, dustless and smooth motoring. There was one minor hold up though, which we were willing to forgive. A school sports day was running races up and down the road near the village of Aagarchatti and as a result one or two cars were delayed by the boys 200m dash and the girls relay. We’re not sure who won but, given the heat and the gradient we thought that they all deserved a medal.
Despite the high jinks of last night, everyone was up bright and early this morning, keen to get themselves down the road to Nainital.
Bjorn Schage and Trond Brathen were busier than most. Before breakfast they had removed the rocker cover from their Morgan, and were deep into the situation with a set of feeler gauges – claiming that it was ‘just a simple matter of adjusting the tappets”.
The bottle that they taped to the wing in Shimla is also still doing a great job as a temperature gauge. When the bottle fills, the engine is getting hot and they know that they need to do something about it.
Although the roads were good and pretty much traffic free, today was a day of impressive driving. Sometimes it seemed that even the bends had a change of direction within them and, when this was added to the rate of ascent or descent, the drivers were given as good a work out as the cars were getting. We’re in a big landscape here, make no mistake, and every kilometre travelled is hard won but the views and the sense of achievement are well worth the effort.
When the cars arrived at the Maharani Inn, in Malla Tajpur and were lined up along the road, the simple buffet lunch which was provided, was quickly devoured by the crews who’d been working so hard all morning. Sarah Ormerod and Guy Woodcock provided the coffee from their improvised Bistro that has now been suitably nicknamed as “Carbucks”.
The afternoon section was, if anything even better than the morning. During the Regularity at Pinoli we climbed through a forest to Ranikhet, a neat and tidy garrison town, where even the monkeys by the side of the road seemed to stand to attention.
One more Passage Control at the Kenchi Temple was all that stood between us and the run to the night halt and, for most of us first time visitors, Nainital proved to be a delight complete with a lake filled with pedalos and rowing boats.
We’re not staying at the same hotel as the 1997 Peking to Paris did due to an ongoing refurbishment but, as Peter Lovett said, the Naini Retreat is “a lovely place and tomorrow morning it’ll be a bit more difficult to leave”.
Manuel Dubs and Robi Huber sadly lost a load of time today because of a failed wheel bearing, although they, along with Jamie Turner and Tony Jones managed to get the Rockne back into running order and it arrived at the night halt only slightly behind schedule.
Andrew Laing and Ian Milne got their Peugeot all the way to the finish only to find that after they’d unloaded their luggage it wouldn’t start again. A blown fuse in the ignition system was diagnosed and duly replaced whereupon the 504 was then able to make it up to the car park.
David and Jo Roberts are back once again after five hours of welding in Rishikesh with the “very helpful Sunjay, surrounded by his cows”. After the problem with the differential and now this suspension failure, Jo’s hoping that misfortune doesn’t come in threes.
Mike Velasco meanwhile, is tonight a happy man. He’s still leading the rally and is hoping that he doesn’t see a repeat of the Sahara Challenge, where he and Peter were in such a strong position only to lose it all on the road to Erfoud.
Tomorrow we take our leave of India for a while and head to Nepal.
Day 14 – Nainital to Bardia, Nepal – Safari Rally
Border days can be busy so an early start was called for and as we ran out along the boating lake in the town centre some us couldn’t help think back to last month when we were rallying around Annecy on the Alpine Trial.
This was a lovely, cool and traffic free morning and on our way down the hill to the border, not only did we bid farewell to India for a few days but, according to the routebook, we also took leave of the hairpin bends, for 550km at least. Sure we’ll miss them both, but we’re consoling ourselves with the fact that this separation is not forever and anyway, the absence will surely make the heart grow fonder.
This was a day where our objective was getting through the border as efficiently as possible and as such there was no rally competition. A series of Passage Controls ensured that we all were on the right track. The busiest of these, was in the town of Khatima where John and Gill Cotton struggled to hear themselves think over the noise from a million blaring horns and chugging engines. Down here on the plains, India can be pretty visceral.
The Mahakili forms part of the border between India and Nepal and it was alongside a toll booth, on the banks of this river, where the days MTC was situated. In the 33°c heat and nigh on 100% humidity John Spiller and Rikki Proffit shuttled between the cars with time cards and toll tickets before sending them on their way to begin the border procedures.
These procedures seemed to involve a long and very precise set of operations indeed. Immigration was the first obstacle to overcome and thick ledgers going back many many years were filled out longhand with the name, the passport number and the visa number of each of the departing crews. Twice. Once in a well ventilated office with a ceiling fan and then again by the side of the road in an open shack with a metal roof.
Then we had to deal with customs. The very well rallied Matt Bryson, tried to shortcut some of this bureaucracy with an old ERA trick, showing them the letters, pointing to the numbers on the doors and telling them that he was on a rally but, this is India and procedures had be followed.
Out of curiosity, while we waited we asked to see some of the ledgers from 1997 when the Peking to Paris came through town but it appeared that the archivist was taking a lunch break and in any case we needed to press on.
Once we reached Nepal we found quite a contrast. Not only were the immigration and customs procedures much simpler and more streamlined, but the roads were a little less frantic and were partly populated with ox carts and pack horses.
The run to the night halt along these roads was an easy one through many villages and towns and over dozens of bridges but, the highlight of the journey for many was a river crossing some 12km from Tiger Tops Lodge.
Echoes of the Classic Safari were now everywhere, as we bumped along through a very rural landscape on unmade roads lined with mud brick dwellings and farm buildings. The rice harvest was well underway here and as the sun dipped and the shadows lengthened we found ourselves sharing the narrow roads with farm workers bearing impossibly large bundles of vegetation destined for the threshing shed on their heads.
Tonight the sounds of horns and engines had been replaced by those of the jungle but tomorrow we start climbing again. The Himalayan Challenge is about to start a new chapter.
Day 15 – Bardia to Pokhara – Press on
The Terai can be a noisy place and the permanent inhabitants of the low lying jungle parts of Nepal seem to like an early start. So it was this morning, most crews didn’t need an alarm clock to get them out of bed.
The monkeys on the roof provided a much more authentic reveille. No one actually saw any of the big cats that shared the forest with us but, given the commotion in the shrubbery around our huts, the ever watchful langurs on the roof surely did.
Today’s departure MTC wasn’t in the hotel itself, it was just outside of the Bardia National Park, on the main road. As a result, the crews were able to enjoy a slow run through dozens of small farming communities just as the inhabitants were waking and going about their morning routines.
Driving through this almost pre modern world was incredible and Ann Gillis was only one of the crews who commented on the many wonderful photo opportunities which presented themselves to us through our windscreens.
At 452km, today was slated to be a long haul, the longest of the rally in fact, but we were promised both a good lunch in the middle and perhaps even a steak at the end. Before we got to enjoy these rewards though we had a few hours of tight timing and difficult roads to negotiate.
Covering ground in this part of Nepal can be pretty simple and the road to the first Time Control at Satbariya in the Bagar Baba cafe was mostly arrow straight, pancake flat and made of good quality tarmac, which we shared with all manner of other vehicles. Long stretches of this were also set deep in the trees, which kept the edge off the 27°c heat.
Despite this easy start to the day, Bagar Baba was a welcome rest stop and although the crews took on some extra fuel in the form of chai and sweet biscuits, their cars weren’t so lucky, as on the way to it some of the gas stations had run dry. As a result, Matthias Bittner and Denis Billon’s Volvo ground to a halt soon afterwards. Luckily they had a 5 litre reserve with them which was just enough to take them to the next service station and then on to the second Time Control and lunch in the Baabari Restaurant in Rupandehi.
Following a most satisfactory lunch of veg’ curry with dhal, the road to the Regularity at Chappani was typically Himalayan. Steep, loose in places and occasionally busy but, nevertheless just as in India everything and everyone got through safely.
Our Classics category leaders, Mike Velasco and Peter St George however had a bumpier ride than most. They’d lost some pages from their route book en route to the Regularity which fortunately were collected and returned to their rightful owners by Tony and Lee Strelzow. Following this close shave however they had a coil spring break but a new one was quickly installed by Andy Inskip and Russell Smith. These delays meant that they arrived at the start of the section with only one minute to spare which could have put a lesser crew on the back foot. In the event however they managed to keep their heads and kept a clean sheet.
On the way down the hill and out of the Regularity, we then saw the Polish crew of Artur Lukasiewicz and Adam Tuszynski stopped by the roadside, tightening a spare wheel which had shaken itself loose.
At the following Passage Control Karendanda, in the most excellent Roadside Cafe, we enjoyed the best coffee since we landed in Delhi – period. And, they had western chocolate and Internet access!
From here we only had 45km to go until the night halt in the Atithi Resort and Spa, in Pokhara. As the last car pulled away the sky darkened and the heavens opened.
Tomorrow we turn for Kathmandu where we’ll enjoy a couple of well earned rest days.
Day 16 – Pokhara to Kathmandu – Bienvenue a Kathmandu
As dawn broke and the sun rose over the horizon this morning, and the full grandeur of our surroundings became plain, today’s dawn chorus comprised a series of expletives followed by the question ”….is that Everest”?
In fact, it was not Everest, but nevertheless what we awoke to was an amazing sight. Four of the world’s tallest mountains, Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, Manaslu and Machapuchare, the fishtail mountain, loom large over Pokhara, and provided quite the send off for our trip to Kathmandu.
With this inspiring view, most of us began channeling our inner Sherpa, but Andy Mudra, a native Austrian, went above and beyond the call of duty and turned up for breakfast in his lederhosen. You can take the boy out of the Tyrol but obviously you can’t take the Tyrol out of the boy.
Today was a transit day, we had to use the main highway plain and simple and, if the road out of Manali had shades of a Bridge Too Far, then today we were thrown straight into the set of Where Eagles Dare. A time control was set at the bottom of a valley which then led to a passage control some 2.8km away, on a hilltop high above the Trisuli River.
There was a twist to this seemingly easy task however. This was a John Spiller special – a ‘sans vehicule’ PC – which required the crews to check in with Guy Woodcock down in Kurintar at an altitude of 258m and then take the cable car to Gill Cotton in Manakamana sitting pretty at a heady 1,302m.
Once they’d got their time card stamped at the top, there was also the Temple complex to visit before the descent back to the valley where another buffet lunch was waiting.
It is believed that the Hindu Goddess Manakamana to whom the Temple is dedicated, grants the wishes of all those who make the pilgrimage to her shrine to worship her and we couldn’t help overhearing some fervent requests for help from a couple of our crews. Improved suspension was top of the list followed by a more BHP.
With lunch out the way, the final obstacle for the day was the 112km into the hotel, which included an ascent of the so called staircase. A road which leads up the valley to Kathmandu. This particular section is 12km of steep, lorry choked hairpins, over which Marina Goodwin claimed to have passed 162 lorries before reaching the top.
From the top of the hill it was just a case of surfing the waves of Nepalese traffic into the green oasis of calm that is the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
Waiting for us in the lobby, it was good to see some old rally friends who’d turned up to cheer on the crews. Joost van Cauwenberge, winner of the 2016 Rally of the Incas along with his wife Christine had flown in from Belgium whilst Hok Kiang Sia, had hopped across from Malaysia to meet some of his old sparring partners.
We’ll be here for two full days, during which time, all manner of activities have been arranged, from breakfast at Everest base camp to a fixed wing flight over the very same mountain. There’ll also be the obligatory laundry service and doubtless a bit of car repair as well.
Day 17 – Kathmandu – Rest Day One – Flying High
Most of us enjoyed a well earned lie in this morning – and a lazy breakfast. Those booked on the first round of Everest flights however had to present themselves at reception at 5.30am for the transfer to the airport and thence to Sagarmatha.
Following their roof of the world odyssey, they were back in plenty of time to begin the spanner checks and running repairs on their cars. Matt Bryson, was first on the tools, he “loves” the Austin A90 Westminster he’s navigating and, along with Adrian Hodgson the driver, reckons that there is “ absolutely nothing wrong with it” but nevertheless Matt is all too aware of the need for regular nut tightening and lubing, jobs he clearly relishes.
Marc-Philip and Ulrich Zimmerman’s Volvo Amazon had lost its anti roll bar links so along with Russell Smith they set to replacing them.
Lee Strelzow spent most of her day in and around the customs office of Tribhuvan Airport, trying to retrieve the tyres for their Bentley. Ultimately she was successful, but tomorrow she plans to see the sights and hit the shops.
Once these few basic chores had been completed then, for most of the rally, it was time for some fun.
Nature abhors a vacuum though, and nowhere is this illustrated more clearly than on the streets of Kathmandu. Every available inch of space is taken up, by either a person, a taxi, a tuk tuk or a motorcycle. The streets of the Thamel District of Kathmandu, make Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi look decidedly spacious.
Those crews who did venture out into the melee did so largely on foot or by taxi. Their rally cars deserved a rest as much as they did.
The historic heart of this ancient city had been hit hard by the 2015 earthquake and sadly, parts of the famous Durbar Square are now either piles of rubble or are out of bounds to tourists, awaiting repair.
There was still plenty to see though and Matthias Bittner and Dennis Billon ventured up to the famous Swayambhunath Stupa with its expansive views over the city. This visit involved a steep climb and a gauntlet of monkeys but, as one of the most sacred sites in Tibetan Buddhism it was well worth the effort.
Other crews were happy to sit and relax with a drink on the terrace by the pool.
Interestingly, it was noticed by one sharp eyed rallyist that today’s Himalayan Times reported two pieces of news pertinent to us. Firstly was that the locals held a protest last week complaining about the government’s failure to fix the roads after the earthquake. If only we could have joined them.
Secondly they reckoned that the monsoon had finally finished which was a little odd given that this afternoon the sky darkened and the streets ran like rivers once again.
Tomorrow is another rest day and we’re all looking forward it very much.
Day 18 – Kathmandu – Rest Day Two – The Roof of the World
For those crews who hadn’t managed to take the Everest flight yesterday, then today was the day. There’s no traffic at 5.30am so we arrived at the airport within minutes. We were whisked through security and on board, comfortably settled in our seats, within an hour of leaving the hotel.
Everyone has a window seat, and the flight itself is like skimming through the pages of a North Face catalogue. The views are breathtaking and the champagne very welcome. And, we can also confirm, the roof of the world is painted a shade of deep blue.
Away from the lofty heights though, there was still a bit of spannering going on, Roy Stephenson and Peter Robinson for example managed to get a new alternator fitted to their Datsun and almost everyone used today as an opportunity to do little spring cleaning in and around the footwells and dashboards. It’s been a dusty few days.
After lunch, a couple of crews were lucky enough to secure permission to take their Bentleys into Basantapur a UNESCO World Heritage site, for a spot of sightseeing. Jonathan Turner’s 1997 Peking to Paris car was joined by Bill Cleyndert’s Super Sports and, both cars were quickly swallowed up by the hordes of tourists and souvenir sellers all keen to get in on the action.
Other than that we can also report that the pool was busy, it didn’t rain and the word from the 48 hour car is that getting out of the valley is a lot easier than getting in.
Tomorrow we set a course for Chitwan on the final leg of the Himalayan Challenge.
Day 19 – Kathmandu to Chitwan – Back to the Jungle
Sadly, today we said tatasidelek to Kathmandu, left the Himalayas behind us, and set a course for home. On the way though we enjoyed a spectacular last hurrah and finished up in another safari park surrounded by rhino and elephants.
Mindu, a Sherpa friend of Dr Delle Grimsmo, had made the journey to the capital to bestow a Buddhist scarf on each of us before we left, and to wish us well for our onward travel.
From the tranquility of the hotel the journey out of Kathmandu was much less fraught than the journey in had been and pretty soon we were all safely round the infamous ring road and down ‘the staircase’ that led us pretty quickly to the first Time Control in the small town of Naubise where the sweep crew of Jamie Turner and Tony Jones had made themselves comfortable next to a roadside chai stall.
Naturally, the big red ERA Toyota Hilux and the unfamiliar cars that were passing by attracted a crowd but it was very good natured and all the crews were more than happy to pose for selfies and answer whatever questions were asked.
The clock was ticking though and at minute intervals each car was sent in its way to the start of the Regularity at Sopyang. This was the last one of the rally and was therefore the last chance for anyone else to break Mike Velasco’s stranglehold on this event.
It was a testing Regularity as well, with multiple speed changes and multiple timing points adding to the difficult terrain. There are few straight and level roads in the Himalayas and maintaining any speed / distance equilibrium requires a rare skill. Upon finishing their run, Ludovic Bois and Julia Coleman we’re obviously delighted – punching the air and whooping with delight, “we got a zero”.
Once the crews reached the end of this section they were free to enjoy the views. And, there were plenty of them, including some tantalising glimpses of jagged snow covered mountains before they disappeared again behind the clouds.
The road itself was almost traffic free but it was rough, and the drivers had to carefully pick their line to keep themselves on schedule and to preserve their car for the final two days.
Keith Ashworth lost his exhaust through this section and along with David and Jo Roberts and the sweeps he was busily tying it all back together with wire.
On reaching the Time Control at Simbhjyang, at an altitude of 2,448m, the rally was rewarded with a cup of hot soup courtesy of Sarah Ormerod and Guy Woodcock’s impromptu roadside Bistro.
Roy Stephenson had more rear suspension issues to sort out on his Datsun however, before he could enjoy his lunch.
The Passage Control at Bhaise was another SV (sans vehicule) affair, where the navigators were required to exit their cars and then run across a cable stayed suspension bridge towards John Spiller and Rikki Proffit, to get their time card stamped.
The day’s final section into the night halt was straightforward, and within a few hours we were all safely ensconced in the Barahi Jungle Lodge Resort in the Chitwan National Park.
Tomorrow we cross the border back into India and there’s another early start to negotiate.
Day 20 – Chitwan to Lucknow – Plains sailing
Another early start, another border day and another incredible drive through rural India. We left the hills behind once and for all and we also got to savour the final hairpin of the Himalayan Challenge.
Despite the hot and dusty reputation of the Indian Plains it was heavy fog that greeted us as we opened the curtains this morning and by mid morning the dampness had turned into another downpour but at least the rain kept dust down.
The first Passage Control was at at Bardaghat after 100km and saw Tony Jones and Jamie Turner stationed outside the Tara Hotel, a very agreeable chai house which was also dishing out that popular breakfast staple of masala dosas to the hungry local drivers. As we arrived boxes of live chickens were being traded and as we left, boxes of dead chickens were being strapped to the back of the buyers motorcycles.
The road surface was quite rough in places and once or twice we imagined ourselves back on the road to Rishikesh but with the right line and some careful use of the throttle good progress was made.
Just before the border, John Spiller sat with his check sheet and kettle prepping the crews for what to expect in the border area.
The Sonauli frontier is the main crossing point between Nepal and India and with the former being a landlocked country that relies heavily on road transport the area is often very congested and so it was today.
So, exactly as the Clerk of the Course had promised, the border experience was typically ‘authentic’. Busy, noisy and dusty although this time the challenge was actually getting out of Nepal. Passports were checked, and double checked, and the carnets scrutinised to the ’nth degree. Given this therefore, there was plenty of time for the crews to fully take in the unique ambiance of our surroundings.
Sadly, Jonathan and Freddie Turner’s Bentley arrived in the midst of this madness on the end of a row rope courtesy of Drs Delle Grimsmo and Bushan Lal. The likely problem was a blown clutch so the crew settled in to wait for some mechanical assistance.
The ‘India in’ part of the border actually flowed quite easily, despite our worst fears, and once we were out of the border area, the character of the road changed completely. For mile after mile, through town after town, the amazing sights of small town India revealed itself to us in a succession of noisy, colourful and enthusiastic scenes.
Today, Hindus are celebrating the festival of Chandra Darshan when statues of the Goddess Durga are driven around the locality in open trailers, and devotees follow behind chanting and singing her praises.
The final passage control in Basti then sent the rally on its way down the fast and smooth expressway for the final 200km into the very cosmopolitan Lucknow and the night halt at the ever so luxurious Vivanta by Taj, hotel.
Waiting for us when we arrived, were members of the Lucknow based Oudh Heritage Car Club and they generously presented each of the crews with a commemorative gift.
With no timing today, Mike Velasco and Peter St George might just have started dreaming that this could be the moment for their long awaited maiden win, but other crews have lost it all on the last day before, so it’s possible that they’ll be sleeping with their fingers well and truly crossed.
Tomorrow we have the triumphant arrival into Agra where the Times of India is waiting for interviews and photographs. We’re sure they’ll get quite a story.
Day 21 – Lucknow to Agra – Finish – Taj Mahal
Upon pulling under the finish arch, within touching distance of the Taj Mahal, Mike Velasco and Peter St George were one very happy rally crew. This, their maiden victory in fact, follows in a long line of first time wins this year.
Back in March Graham and Marina Goodwin along with Marco Halter and Claudia Englehardt took the overall honours on The Road to Saigon. In June it was the turn of David and Jo Roberts who reigned supreme on the Trans America Challenge. And, in September, Jim Gately and Tony Brooks finally got their just deserts with victory on the Alpine Trial having also won the Vintage category on the Trans America Challenge.
The Himalayan Challenge has been one of the toughest rallies that the ERA has ever run and, getting to the finish was quite an achievement in itself.
For Mike and Peter, and the rest of the rally therefore, today was only ever going to be about getting into Agra and celebrating the end of this incredible adventure. With this in mind, a late start was planned followed by an easy 300km down the brand new expressway, without so much as a single hairpin bend, unguarded drop or stray cow.
From the hotel, the route took an easy run out of central Lucknow, where we enjoyed modern three lane highways. Here everyone kept to their own side of the road and waited, or at least paused, for red traffic lights. This reintroduction to the rules of the road though was short lived and once we’d cleared the ring road the Indian version Highway Code was reapplied, with gusto.
The expressway itself was a revelation. Traffic free, billiard board smooth and straight as an arrow. “Surreal” was how one of the crews summed it up, “after all we’ve been through it was like a runway”. Indeed there was one section which appeared to be exactly that.
There was one Passage Control for the day, situated in a rest area after a mere 220km shortly before we crossed our old friend, the Yamuna River which we’d last seen at Paonta Sahib on day 10. And, getting into Agra was easy. The local police, along with the ERA marshals had a section of road cordoned off just before the entrance to the Taj Mahal, along which the cars could triumphantly process.
It took the builders of the Taj Mahal 22 years to finish their job, but luckily Jim Smith and his team of finish line arch inflators fared a little better and once it was full of air, the cars had the honour of being flagged over the finish line by Mohd Mohsin Khan, the chief of the Taj Police force.
There were plenty of family and friends who’d flown in to Agra for the finish and after parking the cars, there was then just time for a quick refreshing drink and a wash and brush up before they were able to nip next door and take a leisurely wander around the Taj Mahal itself, surely one the wonders of the world.
The gala prize giving dinner in the Oberoi Amarvilas was, as usual, a glittering affair, most of the crews arrived dressed in turbans and various types of local dress. A full Indian buffet was on offer after which the speeches were made and the prizes were handed out. A full list can be found over on the results page.
As well as the overall and class awards there were, as usual, some discretionary awards. The Spirit of the Rally went to Bob Harrod and Dana Hradecka. Jan, Dana’s husband, died almost a year ago in Namibia and this was a fitting tribute to a well liked and much missed competitor. The Against All Odds trophy then went to Jo and David Roberts who returned to the rally twice after two serious mechanical issues.
Summing the event up, the Clerk of the Course John Spiller, a man now very much in need of a short holiday, sighed with relief and said that “this was always planned as a challenging event, we knew that the landscape and terrain would be the things to beat but, as we saw in Manali we were thrown a curve ball with the most testing set of circumstances on an ERA event since 1997. I’ve been impressed with the way the crews have risen to this challenge and taken everything in their stride with unfailing good humour and common sense”.
In a final tongue in cheek aside John also announced that this event would almost certainly be running again ….. “in twenty years time”. Competition Director, and assistant potager, Guy Woodcock, here on his first ERA long distance event, echoed this and added that “ it’s the people who make a great event and, we’ve got some great people here”, he also went on to thank the entire ERA team here on the ground for their hard work and fortitude.
For Mike Velasco, ending up as top banana, was a plum result. After years of trying and many rallies “this almost makes up for not winning in Morocco” said Mike, referencing his loss on the Sahara Challenge in 2015. “This has been a great event, despite the appalling weather early on and all of the subsequent problems. Not getting to the high mountains was naturally a disappointment but we made the best of it and the Organisers rose to the challenge with some clever re routing”. He signed off by saying “Just driving these roads is a challenge, never mind competing on them”.
Artur Lukasiewicz and Adam Tuszynski, winners of the Vintage category and second place overall were also delighted. This is their first ERA event and they’re using it as a shakedown for Peking to Paris. “We like a challenge so we’ve really enjoyed pitting ourselves against the rest of the rally. We also like a hard drive and we’re not afraid to say so. This was a preparation for next year’s Peking to Paris and, now that we’ve seen this, we’ve learned a lot. We’ve beaten a lot more modern cars so second overall isn’t such a bad place to be.”
The party then went on late into the night and may have even slipped into the next morning.