Sunday Drive with Hormazd Sorabjee: Throwback drives
Driving in the fast lane or any lane is just not possible during the lockdown and even after restrictions are lifted, it will take a while for borders to completely open up before adventurous drivers can gallop into the horizon in their SUVs. For now, the only lane you can cruise down is memory lane, reminiscing about your best moments behind the wheel. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing sitting at home.
Rummaging through my hard disk and a mountain of film, I’ve unearthed my most epic drives and picked those that were truly unforgettable.
Silk Route in Central Asia (1994)
The independent Central Asian countries that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 were still steeped in the Soviet era and hadn’t quite opened up to the outside world when we drove through them in 1994. Uzbekistan’s fabled towns Bukhara and Samarkand, with donkey carts as staple transport, felt stuck in time and the dazzling blue-tiled architecture showed off this region’s glorious past. I had wangled a seat on this expedition led by Major H.P.S Ahluwalia, a military hero who climbed Mt Everest before being shot in the spine during the 1965 Indo-Pak war. His bullet injury left him paralysed waist down and confined to a wheelchair, but that didn’t stop the gritty Ahluwalia from leading this 14,000 km expedition. It had taken Ahluwalia six years to get permission from China to allow us to cross into the sensitive Xinjiang region and our caravan of Mahindra Armadas were the first Indian cars to have set a wheel in this remote part of the world.
Driving eastwards through the dreaded Taklamakan desert and returning to India across Tibet and via a detour to the base camp of Mt Everest at a time when few foreigners were allowed in this part of China, made this a truly pioneering expedition that will be hard to top.
Kargil to Kanyakumari (2001)
The concept was simple; drive to the two extremes of India in a pair of cars that sit at the two extremes of the Indian market. And so the K2K drive was flagged off from Kargil in a Maruti 800 and the uber-expensive Mercedes E240. Fourteen days and 4,300 km later both cars stood at the tip of the sub-continent in front of Kanyakumari’s Vivekananda temple, none the worse for wear. The legacy of this drive lives on in the ‘K2K’ name we originally coined. It’s now commonly used by others doing a similar drive from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
SAARC Rally (2007)
There will never be another road trip like the 2007 SAARC Rally across the SAARC countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the highlight of which was crossing into Pakistan at the Wagah border in a convoy of 30 Tata Safaris.
To see our homegrown Safaris thundering down Pakistani highways was a proud moment as this was possibly the first and only time a convoy of Indian cars was allowed into Pakistan. This rally had the blessings of the respective governments and took place at a time when the perpetually fragile Indo-Pak relations were possibly at their best. A year later we had 26/11 and relations fell south. To drive across the Wagah border all the way to Islamabad in an Indian registered car is unthinkable today.
Lamborghini in icy Inner Mongolia (2012)
Inner Mongolia. Lamborghini. A frozen lake. Each exotic enough on its own, so when you combine all three, they promise to serve up a truly bucket list experience. Inner Mongolia is actually a remote corner of China where I once flew to drive a Lamborghini Gallardo on a frozen lake. Driving a modern day supercar on ice in this Dr Zhivago-like wilderness where elk look at you quizzically was simply an out-of-this-world surreal experience. On slippery ice, I was happily sliding and pirouetting the Gallardo at pedestrian speeds, without a care in the world. The only thing I had to worry about was the -20 degree cold.
Hormazd Sorabjee is one of the most senior and much loved auto journalists in India, and is editor of Autocar India
Sunday Drive appears every fortnight
From HT Brunch, May 17, 2020
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