Rallying on the Roof of the World
THE CHALLENGE of tackling the unknown is always one of the great excitements of going rallying. Practice breeds familiarity and pace noton provide a pr.ision which can never be possible at first sight, but even to there is always the possibility of corning face to face with the unexpected, and he who allows contempt to replace respect and readin.s is likely to come a very sorry cropper indeed.
The world has many rallies which, although they have been held annually for decades, provide renewed interest, another challenge and the prospect of an equally vigorous cont.t each year — and of course there is always the chancc of something totally unexpected around every corner or over every crest.
But the most exciting prospect of all is that of a completely new rally in a country which has never before been explored by those who travel around the best international events of the world, and this is precisely what is offered by a new rally which will take place in India in October, the Himalayan Rally. The idea of sending a rally right up into the lofty Himalayas, the roof of the world, could not, and did not, fail to capture imaginations everywhere, and within a short titan of its announcement there were enquiries from competitors, newsmen, film makers and many others pouring into the organisers’ office in
Bombay. We were indeed fortunate to have advance knowledge of the project, for we had been asked to conduct the final route surveys and to prepare a roadbook on the linot of that which we introduced to the Safari Rally in 1973. Already on have made two survey runs, the first in February and the second in April. Unfortunately, the planning was such that we covered the coldest part of the route in winter and the hottest in the middle of a sununer heatwave, and on both occasions we endured privations we have never before experienced either in Lapland or in Equatorial Africa. Fortunately, October’s temperate weather will provide competitors with less heat on the plains and 1.s cold in the mountains.
The rally itself will run for some 9,000 kilometres, starting at Bombay on October 18th and finishing at Delhi about a week later. The three night stops, dividing the event into four legs, will be at Aurangabad, Agra and Chandigarh. The two first legs will be largely in Iota country which is almost desert until the monsoon produces vegetation, and the third and fourth high in the Himalayan Range, winding and twisting to as high as 13,000 feet above sea level. Our survey began with the third leg, and after the comfort of one of Air India’s 747s we found ourselves in the spartan confutes of a Standard 20 Microbus, a Madras-built vehicle with leaf springs all-round and a diesel version of the old Standard Vanguard engine. The ride was peculiar and it was by no means quick, but it was perfectly adequate for the job and certainly roomy enough to accommodate four people, luggage, spares, tools, provisions and extra fuel. Even with that lot on board, wc found on more than one occasion that the rear bench seats could easily serve as beds.
From Delhi we picked up the rally route at Moradabad and headed into the network of loose but smooth roads in the Jim Corbett National Park. We saw no tigers but armies of monkeys coda flock of huge vultures beginning to strip the carcass of a dead ox.
That night we reached Naini Tat, one of the old British Hill Stations where the large central square still has the distinct appearance of a military parade ground. As soon as the sun went down the temperature dropped alarmingly and we had to muffle up with sweaters and jackets. In the morning, the staff of the unheated hotel produced a roaring log fire around which we devoured our fricd eggs and coffee before heading 001 1010 the sleet of a dawn as uncomfortably cold as anything we had endured in Lapland. The vehicle had no heater, to until the sun came up we staY,’d muffled, for there was precious little warmth from the engine even though it was mounted between the front seats.
From Naini Tal we climbed even further along roads surfaced by rock chips about half as big 35 a fist. There is no shortage of this durable road making material, for gangs of men and ?vomen can be seen everywhere laboriously breaking Cl’ the rocks brought down by asalanchnsdottggtht monsoons, then smashing them to size with hammers. The stones arc spread, laid and even pounded manually, and this must be the full-time, year-round occupation of thousands up there in the mountains. The tortuous nature of the roads has to h0500″ In be believed. Hairpin follows hairPin, and guardrails or any form of protective barrier a,
lust unheard of. On one side of the road there will bc a jagged rock face, and on the other an open, sheer drop into a very deep ravine. It is by no means country to be trifled with. and competitors in the Himalayan Rally will have to trcat every inch of the routc with considerable respect, and Ito prepared to meet thc aftermath of avalanches. All rho time or had incredible views of the highest peaks of rho snow-covered Himalayas, although Everest itself was about a thousand kilometres away to the cast. The peaks, faces and glaciers could easily be picked out, and as it is possible to follow rho progress 01 8)00 around the hairpin climbs for about an hour Irons onc place, the whole lot would provide superb material for one of the most gripping and picturesque rally films ever made.
At Almora wc stayed at what is called a Circuit House, maintained to provide accommodation for visiting officials, rho next night at Ranikhet, another Hill Station. at the West Park Hood. Despite blistering paint, chipped plaster 2nd a somewhat rundown appearance. the hotel provided service which a multi-starred European establishment would be hard pressed to equal. Minutes after arrival we were enioYmg the warmth of blazing log fires. hot baths and, not long after. a superb meal. Tradition dies hard in India, and we have nothing hut praise for the hospitality we were shown everywhere we went. Our stay in Ranikhet was extended firstly by rho cold night temperature which caused our diesel (rotor wax up in the fines, and secondly by a couple of chipped teeth in rho gearbox. Dharam Pal Singh, our resourceful riding mechanic, cleaned out the fuel lines. filters and injectors. and raised the fuel temperature simply by lighting 2 fire under the tank, much to the consternation of the hotel staff who felt that the whole lot might explode at any momcnt The gearbox could be neither replaced nor repaired, but it was stripped .d flushed out so that no bits of metal were lot) floating around inside to cause further damage.
We left Ranikhct at 4 a.m., the manager and staff insisting on getting up to provide breakfut and to hid US to sate tourney. From here the route went through Gopeshwar even higher into the mountains and it was then that we encountered our first snow. It gradually got deeper and, with no chains or means of clearance. we lost traction c.-ompletely on the steep climb and had to turn back. The weather in October will be milder and competitors should not he troubled by snow-covered roads.
After to night in to forest bungalow, what. 00 cooked our supper on to log fire, the final part of rho journey W2S to Mussoorie, orr amazing town perched on the side of a steep hillside. where the Savoy Hotel will serve as a bunching control during the rally itself. Oak Nnelling. bototbor chairs, an omate dining noom and to fully equipped billiard room were just some of the many features remaining from the illustrious pastand the whole lot could easily have come straight out of some elegant Pall Mall club. Even the row of tum-tums, carriages of the rickshaw typ°. wctt in very good order. Our next visit to India was in late April. when rho hoot was rho most oppresswe we has., experienced. Even tho Indians considered that thcrc was an abnormal he:away, and the drought had caused both food and water to become scarce
out in the country. The ground was scorched, vegetation very patchy and totally absent in places, and there was no cooling breeze at all, just a burning wind.
We had no warm jackets on this trip, just shorts and singlets, although we found that the Indian lungi, a loose loincloth-type garment similar to the Kenyan kikoi, was the most comfortable apparel. Even the nights were stiflingly hot and humid, and it was often impossible to sleep through a whole night without waking several times soaked with a mixture of sweat and condensation. Much time on our journey was spent scouring villages and towns for supplies of orange and kmonadc, and the occasional luxury of ice in a bigger town. Our so-called supplies officer proved as inept at this as he was in provisioning the vehicle at the outset — he considered that a dozen bottles of coke would be enough for four people for the whole of the first day! Fortunately Dharam Pal was resourceful in many ways, not just with things mechanical and he usually managcd to find enough to keep us going. He frequently found fresh supplies of delicious sugar cane juice, straight from the handpress, and on one occasion he even unearthed three bottles of Punjab beer at the back of a mud and wattle edifice which served as a village cycle repair shop! We spent one night on the stone floor of a cell in a pilgrims’ hostel run by Brahmins, another in the open in a village where the drumming of a marriage celebration went on into the small hours, another the verandah of a forest bungalow with a huge, hairy spider, bigger than the finger span of a hand, for company, and another in a bungalow at Baldeogarh with the ancient palace towering above us. The lake at Baldeogarh ensured that swarms of mosquitoes came up to feast upon us at night, but thc families of lizards „uttling around the walls of our room made sure
that rnost of them never got near their targets. Apart from two nights spent in air conditioned luxury at the Rama in Aurangabad and the Mughal at Agra we usually slept wherever we could find a rest house, or wherever we could find somewhere suitable to put down our little fold-away matresses. For food and drink we bought what we could along thc way, and usually managed to find someone to cook an evening meal for us. Dharam Pal was quite smart at spotting wholesome vegetables for sale, not to mention a live chicken on one occasion.
Drinks were another problem, and we were constantly on the lookout for frcsh supplies. In temperatures of 120.F and higher, we became dehydrated very quickly and were sweating away so much body fluid that there was hardly any left at all to be lost by the other method. Eventually we got to the stage where we really had to take in more liquid or collapse, and when a clear river came into view we just drank our fill without any thought of boiling thc water first. Had we filled our containers in that river the situation would have become serious very quickly — but it did have rather drastic effects on our stomachs, as one can imagine!
From all this you may have concluded that the route of the Himalayan Rally will pats through such inhospitable country that the event will be a physical ordeal rather than an enjoyable motoring competition. It is truc that stamina and physical endurance will be required, but these are invariably nccded for the best endurance rallies of the world. India is not the New Forest after all, and part of thc challenge of any rally is a contest against the forces of nature as well as the other competitors. Those who tackle this rally in October will face an arduous event, but if they likc their rallying spiced with adventure, they will talk about it for the rest of their lives.
For those who would like more information, the address is Himalayan Rally, Liberty Building, 41-42 Marine Lines, Bombay 400 020, India (wl: 293899, telex: 011-24271. —OP.