2017 Maruti Suzuki Raid de Himalaya: The Road Less Taken

Rahul Richard Updated: October 24, 2017, 11:50 PM IST

I don't think I could have gotten a better introduction to the mountains than when I covered the Maruti Suzuki Raid de Himalaya in 2015. It was hell, covering the rally with just three hours of sleep every night, long drives the rest of the day through treacherous terrain and the biting cold. But I loved it. I loved every bit of it, and I even made myself a promise that every chance I got to go back to the mountains, I would take it. The highlight that year, of course, was one of the final legs which took us to Rangdum in the beautiful Zanskar valley. So, when I saw that the Raid was returning there after two years, no one was happier than me.

Dhram Pal Jangra and Abhishek Sultan in the Vitara Brezza, Team Maruti Suzuki Motorsport

But getting there meant making it through four of the six treacherous days in the Maruti Suzuki Raid de Himalaya. It started off at Manali, with around 106 vehicles being flagged off, before making its way to Kaza in Spiti Valley for Leg 1.

Dhram Pal Jangra and Abhishek Sultan in the Vitara Brezza, Team Maruti Suzuki Motorsport

It was the same 200km route as last year via Gramphoo and Losar, with a 76km competitive section. It was the worst road I'd ever driven on, and if one got distracted, it could break man and machine. And of course, the event simply had to run through exactly this route, because clearly, the organisers of the Raid don't believe in the concept of warming up to things â€" they'd rather just throw you in the fire. At the end of Day 1, only 42 competitors remained in the Xtreme category.

Team Maruti Suzuki Motorsport's Gypsy makes its way across a stage of the Raid with the majestic Himalayas in the background

Leg 2, which brought them back down the same route towards Pang, saw another 10 competitors fall from the competition. Clearly, the first two days were just about survival. But 10-time Raid winner, Suresh Rana, and his co-driver PVS Murthy, who are part of the newly formed Team Maruti Suzuki Motorsport, were already building up a lead. They managed to put a 20-minute gap between them and Sanjay Razdan and his co-driver Karan Aukta, who were second. TVS Racing's R Nataraj meanwhile, was about 1min 30sec ahead of his team-mate, Abdul Wahid Tanveer, in the Xtreme Moto class.

TVS Racing's Abdul Wahid Tanveer on the TVS RTR 450

By the time the teams reached Pang, it was dark, and it was cold. But that didn't stop a lot of the competitors from staying out with their service crews, fixing their vehicles for the next day. Leg 3 was split into two sections. One of which took competitors from Debring to Daat, and the second one which brought them back the same way.

The Army team makes it a point to compete in the Maruti Suzuki Raid de Himalaya every year. This year, they came with three fluorescent orange Gypsys

Compared to the first two legs, this one seemed to be more of a breather for the competitors with comparatively smoother terrain. But making sure that the competitors didn't get too comfortable, were the sub-zero temperatures, and vast open terrain with several trails going in different directions. However, Rana and Murthy seemed almost untouchable as they increased their lead over Razdan to around 33 minutes. In the Moto class, Tanveer brought his A-game and took the lead from Nataraj, putting a 4-minute gap between them.

TVS Racing's R Natraj crosses Yar La in Leg 3 of the Maruti Suzuki Raid de Himalaya

The next day was quite an early one, with the entire rally having to move around 240km to Kargil for two competitive sections from a village called Sankoo to Drass and then back. For the most part, the stage wasn't too rough, but the roads were narrow and it was a steep climb up and descent down mountains with very high drops. One mistake here would almost certainly prove to be fatal. Thankfully, none were made here. Rana and Murthy were only pulling further ahead in the four-wheel category, but what took everyone by surprise is that Team Maruti Suzuki Motorsport's Vitara Brezza, driven by Dhram Pal Jangra and Abhishek Sultan, was in third place! It was the first time a Brezza is competing in the Raid, and it really took everyone by surprise. Tanveer and Nataraj, meanwhile, were neck-and-neck with just a couple of minutes between them.

Sanjay Agarwal and Smitha in a Grand Vitara

At last, it was time for Leg 5 â€" Rangdum. While it was just around 150km away from Kargil, I was sure that it would be long day thanks to the roads, or rather the lack of them. The competitors had to drive around 65km to Panikhar for the start of the competitive section which would take them 85km to Penzi La via Rangdum. I left from Kargil at around two in the morning, and while the first 50km of the transport stage was smooth tarmac, the rest of the journey was very, very rough. It brought back memories from two years ago, when I was driving on those horrendous roads to reach our campsite sometime past midnight, wondering if the tricky journey was worth it.

The vantage point from Yar La was spectacular. Here one of the competitors can be seen catching up with person ahead of them

The answer to that came the next morning as I opened the tent to one of the most beautiful valleys I'd seen. This year, I at least knew that the long, trying journey would be worth it, and that kept my spirits up. I wasn't too sure about the competitors' spirits though. The rough stage was sure to take a toll on them and their machines, with just one day of the Maruti Suzuki Raid de Himalaya left. But everyone managed to complete the stage going up to Penzi La. The return stage however, was cancelled due to a huge build-up of traffic at the end of the stage â€" this, despite all the necessary permissions being acquired. This gave everyone, me included, a chance to enjoy the drive through the beautiful valley back towards Kargil.

Dhram Pal Jangra and Abhishek Sultan in the Vitara Brezza, Team Maruti Suzuki Motorsport

The final day of the Raid was a repeat of Leg 3, with a 37km competitive section from Drass to Sankoo. At this point, all Rana had to do was complete the stage without any incidents to take his 11th win at the Maruti Suzuki Raid de Himalaya. With a 50-minute lead over Razdan after Leg 5, Rana was able to do so comfortably. Tanveer however, had his work cut out for him with Nataraj just 2 minutes behind him after the previous leg. By the end though, Tanveer managed to find another minute in the stage, to take the Moto-class win.

Dhram Pal Jangra and Abhishek Sultan in the Vitara Brezza, Team Maruti Suzuki Motorsport

What I've realised this year, is that like the road to Rangdum, the Maruti Suzuki Raid de Himalaya is treacherous â€" the journey makes you wonder why you got yourself into it in the first place, and whether it's all worth it. But like Rangdum is in the morning, breathtakingly beautiful, completing the Raid has got to be a special feeling. I didn't even compete and I felt amazing. I suppose it's the longer, tougher and less taken paths that lead you to the most stunning places.

2017 Maruti Suzuki Raid de Himalaya Adventure Trial

The Adventure Trial category of the Maruti Suzuki Raid de Himalaya is held alongside the Xtreme category. However, the format it's run in and the routes are very different. The Adventure Trial is held as a TSD (Time, Speed, Distance) rally, and serves as a stepping stone to the tougher Xtreme category. The routes and challenges aren't as difficult, but they are challenging nonetheless. This year, it started at Manali and went to Keylong for the first leg. From there, competitors headed to Leh, for the second leg, while the next one was held around Leh. Leg 4 saw competitors travel to Kargil while Leg 5 took them to Panikhar and back. The final leg took them from Kargil to Leh on smooth tarmac. The Adventure Trial is split into two categories â€" SUVs and Cars. Winning the SUV category were Subir Roy and co-driver Nirav Mehta while Rajesh Chalana and Satish Gopalkrishnan won in the Car category.

Team spirit!

One of the highlights for Maruti Suzuki this year, was the introduction of their new team, Maruti Suzuki Motorsport. While Maruti Suzuki did always compete at the Raid, this year, the team received a full revamp with a new logo and new, blue-and-silver livery that set them apart from all the other vehicles at the Raid. Another important move for the team was the introduction of three of their newest cars to the Xtreme category â€" the Vitara Brezza, the S-Cross and the Ignis. Apart from these, the team also ran a Grand Vitara and a Gypsy.

Team Maruti Suzuki Motorsport's S-Cross was driven by Sandeep Sharma and co-driven my Karan Arya. Here, they make their way back to Gramphoo after Leg 2

But why the new vehicles you might ask. Well, what better proving ground for a vehicle than the Maruti Suzuki Raid de Himalaya. And prove themselves they did! The Vitara Brezza, driven by Dhram Pal Jangra and Abhishek Sultan were in the top three for a significant portion of the rally, while the S-Cross, driven by Sandeep Sharma and Karan Arya, managed to finish in sixth place, when even modified Gypsys broke down. Apart from fitting the required safety equipment to pass scrutiny, the cars also feature certain performance upgrades to tackle the difficult situations!

Team Maruti Suzuki Motorsport's Suresh Rana and PVS Murthy in their Grand Vitara

All of the drivers in the team had also made a special mention of the top-notch service provided at the end of each stage, ensuring that the cars were running at their best all through the rally. If this is how well the team has performed in one of the toughest cross-country rallies in India, we can't wait to see how they'll perform at other rallies like the Maruti Suzuki Dakshin Dare and the Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm!


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