“Have you ever gone to Leh?” This is hardly the question you’d expect from your boss on a Monday morning. Of course, I had no context of why I was being asked this, so I was a little embarrassed. Most of my friends and family had been and I always read the mandatory status update saying “I got Leh’d”. Annoying as those moments were, I always wanted to visit the region, given its reputation as a biker’s paradise.
However, this wasn’t going to be a ride. Kartik asked me about my Lehginity because Mahindra had just invited us for the 9th edition of the Monastery Escape. The scenic adventure takes you from the nation’s capital to Leh, through some of the highest motorable roads on earth, treating you to some of the best views nature has to offer through regions that are inhospitable for most of the year.
Time flew by in anticipation and in just over a week, I found myself in Delhi at the pre-drive briefing, surrounded by a gaggle of excited strangers and families. Day 1 was just about getting the medical checkups in place, followed by an explanation of the route map, along with the dos and don’ts.
The best part, though, was the round of introductions, where I learned about the backgrounds of the participants. To my surprise, these weren’t young blooded bachelors looking for a thrill fix. The participant pool included businessmen, accountants, doctors, neurosurgeons and even an ex-airforce pilot with experience at the helm of a WW2 aircraft. Some even got their kids along with a little 5-year-old girl being the youngest member of the group. It didn’t take much time for people to start warming up and talking to each other but then came the bombshell. Our 556km drive to Manali would start at 4am, which meant a 2:30am wake up call.
Indians are far from synonymous with punctuality but this lot was an exception. Gallons of tea and coffee gulped down, everyone was ready with their cars on time and we had our first roll call of the drive (one of many). A small superstition was revealed when Vikram Kapur (lead car driver) yelled “adventure 11? adventure 12? adventure 14?.” I looked through the fleet only to realize that there was no car 13.
Packed breakfasts chucked into the cars, we lined up outside the Maidens Heritage hotel and for the first time, I witnessed the scale of this convoy. 26 cars comprising primarily of the Scorpio with 1 Thar, 2 Getaways and 2 XUV500s waited anxiously for the go ahead from the lead car. Needless to say, it was quite a sight to see this mini-traffic jam make its way out of the wide lanes of Delhi and onto the highway. The drive was smooth for the most part and even with a big convoy, we still managed to hover between 60-80kmph.
The journey was thankfully incident free, save for one moment where car 15 nearly got T-boned by a blind-driving Alto crossing through a median in the middle of the highway. The close shave slit out any trace of sleep left in me, compounded by the ever-present rattling of my Mahindra Thar running A/T tyres. Don’t get me wrong, driving the Thar has a charm of its own and what made it sweeter was that it was the only one in the convoy. But an ideal SUV for road trips this is not or at least, that’s what I thought.
Soon after, the sheer straightness of the drive got us bored but then fortunately came the breakfast stopover. 20mins at Divine Star Dhaba and we were quickly back on our way with the sun now showing us its love. The first fuel stop was a bit amusing. As the convoy marched into the fuel station, one attendant looked a bit taken aback, as though we were about to rob the place.
Shortly after, we stopped over for lunch and the board outside the dhaba read “No outside eatables or weapons allowed” making me understand the attendant’s reaction. This wasn’t a road you’d want to make road rage induced threats on.
The smooth roads were a tad boring but that thought costed us dearly as evening approached. Once the ghat section began, we had our fun but the road’s condition worsened with each metre. This is where the Thar started to make sense, well, sort of.
Each pothole and crack in the road was felt in the cabin and while I had no sound system, there was plenty of crashing and booming in the cabin to keep my ears entertained. But I’d be damned if I didn’t enjoy each moment of it. The Thar lives for punishment and at every crater, chasm and cavern in the road, it was almost as if this surprisingly expensive beast was bellowing “More!”
The steering is completely devoid of feedback and taking on the bends was a bit unnerving at first. But once you get the hang of it, the Thar is like a pitbull you’re trying to discipline and make follow your orders. You don’t ask; you tell it what to do. By the end of it, I formed my own chemistry with the car and as we approached the hotel for the night, the intercom was filled with banter of the India-Pakistan match and more importantly, a wager was placed on who would win. One person won but she certainly wasn’t happy about it.
Recommended Read: Mahindra Thar Review