Sunday Drive by Hormazd Sorabjee: Five days of déjà vu
There has never been a rally like the Himalayan Rally, and there never will be another. Thirty-one years since the last edition, it remains unmatched in its scale and stature. The Himalayan Rally, which ran from 1980 to 1990, was the pinnacle of Indian motorsport and one that put India on the world stage. This annual mega event, which ran over a week in the foothills of the Himalayan ranges, was way, way ahead of its time.
It’s hard to fathom how the rally could regularly attract over a hundred entries and several World Rally Championship drivers when the auto industry, as we know it today, didn’t exist.
When the Himalayan Rally was conceived, Premier Padminis and Ambassadors were the only cars you could buy in India and Maruti Udyog (the harbinger of the modern Indian car industry) wouldn’t be born until three years later! Rally-prepped and brightly liveried cars like the Mercedes-Benz 450 SLC, Toyota Celica, Opel Manta, Nissan 240Z and the legendary Audi Quattro looked like extra-terrestrial machines amidst a sea of Padminis and Ambassadors. These international car brands made their way into India only 10-20 years later—that’s how far ahead of its time the Himalayan Rally was!
The Himayalan Rally was the vision of one man—Nazir Hoosein—who, sadly, passed away in May 2019. Hoosein was a pioneering force in Indian motorsport and saw the potential India had for a world-class rally. In fact, India is rally country, with its breathtaking mountainous roads, enchanting forests and gruelling stages set in beautiful locations.
Last month’s Nazir Hoosein Memorial Drive, organised by former rally veteran Rajan Syal, was a chance to relive those glory days. This 40th anniversary celebration drive, which paid homage to the rally founder, retraced the original route of 40 years ago. For us, it was a chance to meet old friends and relive the iconic Himalayan Rally four decades on.
I was in my twenties when I was involved in the Himalayan Rally, first as a photographer (1985), then as a participant (1986), next as an organiser (from 1985-1990), and, of course, as a journalist, right till the last event.
Seems like old times
It’s been 31 years since the last Himalayan, but memories of this mother of all rallies are still fresh. Hence, the Nazir Hoosein Memorial Drive retracing the original rally route was five déjà vu-filled days.
Back then, Maruti had just been born and the vehicle of choice on this tough mountainous terrain was the indomitable Gypsy. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be driving the same route in a 600hp Audi RS Q8!
This potent SUV is essentially a sportscar on stilts and on these sinuous mountain tracks, it felt phenomenally quick and agile. The drive to Mussoorie via Tehri dam and then to Kufri via Nahan, Sarahan and Chail brought back a flood of memories. These roads were dirt tracks then, and today they are all tarmac. What hasn’t changed are the contours of the road and the rapid succession of bends and corners that bring out the rally driver in you. The drive finally ended in Manali, but I peeled off a day earlier from Kufri.
The RS Q8 was a great companion, no doubt, but the real friends were those I met after 30 years, though it felt like it was just yesterday. That was the beauty of the Himalayan Rally. It was a unifying force for all motorsport lovers across the country. Nazir Hoosein must be smiling from up above.
From HT Brunch, December 12, 2021
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