The Himalayan Rally

Bob Rupani Updated: November 26, 2021, 12:04 PM IST

Organized by Nazir Hoosein, the first edition of this rally was held in1980 and the last in 1990. For these eleven years the Himalayan Rally was possibly the most interesting and fascinating rally in the world. The inaugural one attracted world famous drivers like Shekhar Mehta, Achim Warmbold and also many works teams including Opel, Toyota, etc. It started in Bombay and finished in Delhi after a long run across the Himalayas. The second Himalayan also started from Bombay, but the third one, like all the others that followed, started and finished in Delhi.

The Himalayan RallyNazir Hoosein (centre) with Shekhar Mehta (right) and Lofty Drews winners of the first Himalayan Rally in 1980

Foreign drivers and teams kept coming and a large contingent from Kenya was also always seen on this event. In fact the Kenyan of Indian descent Jayant Shah, won several times as did Japanese ace and Paris Dakar winner Kenjiro Shinozuka. The other big names who participated in the Himalayan Rally include Ross Dunkerton, Flory Rootheart, Rod Millen, Guy Colsoul, Philip Young, Ramesh Khoda, Rudolf Stohl, Stig Andervang, etc. Even top WRC driver Per Eklund, took part in the Himalayan Rally.

The Himalayan RallyJayant Shah, the Kenyan of Indian descent won the Himalayan several times. Here he is with his Datsun 160 J. Note the trademark Safari Rally type animal alert lights mounted ahead of the A-pillars. Also the snow, chunky tyres, and Lada parked behind

All these drivers and factory teams were attracted by the challenge of driving on the twisty and narrow roads in the Himalayas. And as most of the roads were dirt or gravel, the test of both man and machine was even more extreme. And when you add to this the sheer drops and roads with no Armcos or safety barriers, courage and daring played a very important role in participating and doing well in the Himalayan Rally.

The Himalayan RallyA Premier 118 NE coming into a time control (TC) on a typical Himalayan Rally gravel stage

The cars that competed in the Himalayan were quite distinct and varied from the Jonga to Dolphin and Nissan 240 RS to Morris Minor! Some cars that were proven performers on the World Rally Championship (WRC) circuit also made it to India and amongst those that thrilled enthusiasts with their performance were the Opel Ascona, Toyota Celica, Mitsubishi Galant VR-4, Ford RS200, Fiat 131, Ford Escort, Lancia Delta and Audi Quattro –to name just a few.

The Himalayan RallyThe variety of cars that participated was mind boggling. And please note the number of extra lights on this Herald

The Himalayan RallyThe Himalayan Rally participants were often put up at the Savoy in Mussoorie

The Himalayan RallyJust look at the array of cars at the Savoy- Nissan 240 RS, Ambassador's, Premier Padmini's, Jonga's, Mahindra Jeep's, Maruti Gypsy's and even a Team Unipart Land Rover

The event drew over 100 participants each year- something rally's in India today can only dream about. It even attracted teams from the Indian defense forces and champions like Nikhil Taneja and Hari Singh also cut their teeth on the Himalayan. It was a serious contender to become part of the WRC (World Rally Championship) and thousands turned up to view the cars and in certain areas  schools were shut to allow children to view the rally and cheer for the participants.

The Himalayan RallyTeams from our armed forces were regulars on the Himalayan and their Jonga's were a force to reckon with

The Himalayan RallyIn 1985, Tutu Dhawan put in a very impressive drive and was 4th overall in his Lada

The Himalayan RallyKiran Modi won the national category at the Himalayan in 1983, and was also a winner in his Dolphin in 1984

Tragically this great event also got caught up in political battles. First it was George Fernandes who opposed it and later the hill people of Uttar Pradesh who were agitating in those years for the separate hill state Uttarkhand, also attacked the rally cars and tried to disrupt the rally on a few occasions.   The Himalayan Rally also had to be curtailed when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated and riots broke out. In fact the army had to be called in to protect the participants. Sadly, the Himalayan Rally never became part of the WRC and after the last one was held in1990, it simply faded away.

The Himalayan RallyA Contessa Classic charging through a gravel stage on the Himalayan

In November 2021, a Nazir Hoosein Memorial Drive was organised by Team Firefox as a tribute to the late and legendary organizer of the Himalayan Rally, and the Memorial Drive went over parts of the 1981 Himalayan Rally route.

The Himalayan RallyPremier Padmini of Team Firefox

Photos courtesy Team Firefox and The Savoy Mussoorie

Also see:

Nazir Hoosein Memorial Drive