Eight hundred kilometres on the first day, 700 on the second and 600 on the third. Mumbai to Manali.
I was pretty sure my pretty passenger would push the Thar off some Himalayan peak at the end of it with me strapped in. But no, she found it surprisingly comfortable and continued to do so for the next 15 days and the remaining 4400km. We roamed the Himalayas on our 3-week road trip – Turtuk in Nubra valley (9km from line of control and the northern-most point in India civilians can go), back to Leh via the deserted and absolutely breathtaking Wari-La, Pangong Tso (the highest saline water lake on the planet), with deep-blue skies during the day and a carpet of stars at night. The Thar was at home up there – the slush of Rohtang, the landslides of Baralacha La, the stream crossings and the 18,380ft of Khardung La – it just ploughed on, mostly unfazed by the lack of oxygen.
I could have taken a more ‘comfortable’ car, but I had planned off-road excursions with the Gerrari off-road club of Chandigarh and the Terrain Tigers of Delhi on the way back from the Himalayas. No other car in the longterm fleet had the same breadth of abilities for this kind of trip. And taking the Thar meant I could confidently drive through the unpredictability of a Himalayan road.
I took a few precautions before setting off – I got my friends at Planet Himalaya to organise my stay there (camping and tents), got a jerry can holder and a 20-litre jerry can installed in Mumbai and got an extra spare wheel bolted onto the floor at the back. The rear seats were taken out too (they are held in place by around 18 bolts and the rattling would have killed the trip). I carried a spare clutch hose – it’s in an exposed position and if cut, the clutch would have packed up. I also disconnected the already malfunctioning air-mass sensor – low-rev responses improved instantly, the downside being a bit of black smoke and a lit emissions light on the instrument cluster. Oh, I also installed a 12-volt socket for the GPS unit I was carrying – I don’t know why Mahindra skimps on this most basic of necessities.
Some of the places we were going to are desolate, I had no backup and if we broke down or even ran out of fuel, it would be disaster. The thing with driving in the Himalayas is, if you take the less travelled routes, chances are there won’t be proper fuel. There’s just that heavily adulterated black-market diesel, the other option being to beg the army for some good fuel. I wasn’t inclined to ask for either. This is where the Race Dynamics DieselTronic tuning box came in handy. It’s got four fuelling modes – economy, standard, medium and max attack – switchable on the go via a remote key fob. So, when I wasn’t sure of the fuel situation up ahead, I would switch to Economy mode and with a little light-footing, we would cross longer distances with plenty to spare at the end of it. And on the long highway stretches, the max attack mode would help it run away from startled Innovas and Scorpios.
I am happy to report that the Thar was faultless. It ran all the way there and back to Mumbai without a single mechanical issue. All it needed was a bit of warming up in the morning after a cold night at 14,000 feet. There was one problem though – the canopy zipper. It stopped working, and thanks to the vacuum created by the speeding Thar’s square backside, all the dust and diesel smoke from the exhaust would get pulled into the cabin. We bought industrial grade dust masks in Leh as a counter measure. Oh, and the AC packed up in Chandigarh. An AC pipe was chafing against a turbo hose clip and all the gas had leaked out. I got it fixed at the dealership there for a not inconsiderable Rs 3000.
I made it back to Mumbai in time for the off-road season. I go every Sunday with either the Mudcats, the OTR Rebels or with a few friends I made simply because I have a Thar at my disposal. That’s also what I loved about the Thar – when you have a special vehicle, you automatically meet like-minded enthusiasts and do crazy stuff with them.
Mahindra is making noises about taking it back, but I like it so much I’m thinking of buying it. Should I? I’m more than tempted.
Price Rs. 8.51 lakh (on-road, Mumbai)
Test economy 10.6kpl (overall)
Maintenance costs Nil
Faults Faulty canopy zipper