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Old 2nd November 2017, 16:24   #1
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Default Marshal's Travel Stories: The 2017 Raid De Himalaya

Raid-de-Himalaya 19th edition finished last month. Browse the net and check out www.xraid.in for information on the event. The tag lines of the event are:

Worlds Highest Motorsports Arena

&

Established 1999
Making Grown men cry ever since

And from anecdotal and personal experience all I can say the second is no idle boast.

Consider that there were 78 starters for 2017 edition in the extreme edition and only 26 finished the entire duration. Bikes fared better than cars. Drops along the route give vertigo and do not bode well - not at all - for any one unfortunate to loose control and plunge off the road. Personally in past I had been involved with one such - futile - search and rescue. Last year a fatality occurred when a rider from Kolkata dashed against a boulder by road side at high speed.

And if you do finish and finish with a win, all you get is a paltry prize cheque and a trophy.

Considering all this, you've got to be a certified lunatic to participate in the extreme version of the event - though adventure is not far behind - to drive at insane speeds on mostly non-existent roads and gravel surfaces. Yet the participants come back year after year to try their hand at winning coveted trophies.

Can anyone be madder than them?

You bet. Read on in the next post.

Last edited by Rehaan : 3rd November 2017 at 10:07. Reason: Adding some missed words :)
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Old 2nd November 2017, 16:46   #2
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It is 0500hrs and we are parked on side of very narrow road that goes up and down the Umba La pass 15500 feet higher than sea level. The car display is showing outside temperature at -6 degree Celsius. We have kept the engine of our car on and are trying desperately to get inside warm enough to thaw our feet. It dark and windy outside. False dawn is showing itself on the eastern sky but sunlight is still hours away.

Four layers of cloths each and then we have a open sleeping bag on top to help us get comfortable. We try to snooze but cackle of radio set keeps us awake. We are placed at critical communication point of the stage that will start later in the day. So we have to be alert for messages meant for us or meant to be passed along the radio chain. We are but one of the radio hops that man the stage - road section where competition takes place - and before the stage can run all of us - this particular stage there were sixteen hops - have to be in place. The start and ends - deep down in the valley's either side of us are already in place stopping any non-rally traffic.

To guard against altitude sickness we have been advised to drink water by gallons - okay by litres - and we are following this advice like a religion. Between the two we have finished one bottle of water already and keep reminding each other to take further sips at regular intervals. More water also means regular trips outside the car to relive output pressure. An oath is sworn at the other whenever the door is opened to get out bringing in chilling drop in temperature inside.

A panaroma picture of sun light peering through finally at 0645 hrs
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Old 2nd November 2017, 17:25   #3
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To be at top of Umba La at 0500hr we had to leave as a convoy from Kargil at 0100hrs. Going alone it would be probably a two and half hour journey but to assemble the convoy, account for every one and then move at pace of the slowest member in the convoy - Force Ambulance from Fortis - is a task that is given to placers. And the pace is further hampered by placement activity itself. At each pre-determined location one of the team drops off and any last minute instructions are given. Also their radio comm is checked. All this while furtive action happens from other vehicles where people unable to hold pressure jump out and quickly go about doing what they had to just do. And quickly jump back in because it is damn cold outside with wind swirling dust and piercing through cloth layers.

Then the convoy slowly moves to the next hop point. Mind you its dusty and its night so the vehicles spread out to maintain sane visibility. As the convoy wakes up some chatter on radio kicks. When we came back down on the same road during the day we were felt our stomach sink in to deep abyss seeing the narrow roads where cars barely were able to do hairpins and deep drops. If you are usually used to driving then this sinking feeling is further enhanced and you get APM's by the minute.

Umba La is strategic pass that was developed as a road connection between Drass and Kargil. The national highway between Drass and Kargil comes under direct enemy fire and during Kargil war it was desired that a safer route away from enemy line of fire is developed. So some where between Zozi La and Drass the road climb up the range till Umba La and then drop down to Sankhoo situated on the Kargil Zanskar Road.

This day the last stage of the competition for 2017 was being run. After crossing Umba La a long transport was left for the competitors to reach Leh about 270 kilometres away. Soon radio started crackling and we got update that there were 26 cars and bikes attempting the start.

The first competition vehicle to start the climb from Drass side was scheduled at 0730 and it was nearly time. Sun started peeping up and we welcomed the first rays of sunshine on our face by discarding one layer of our clothes. The sleeping bag had already been packed and stowed away.

Nibbling quickly on some sandwich and a banana - courtesy the packed breakfast handed out by hotel in middle of night - we started going through the radio check procedures.

This basically means that after all hops have been placed you check how much and how much and how far you are able to communicate. Two purposes are solved. One you are able to identify the hop names and voices so that you know which is your zone of control / action. Second you are able to determine which hops should remain silent and which to communicate. This is done to reduce airtime as all radio communication is in SIMPLEX mode - on person can be heard at a time. To transmit you press the PTT - Press To Talk - button and release it to listen. When a nearby transmission is occurring the other are cut off. SO you have to be careful in use of radio time.

Typically all hops mark two hops on either side for listening and one hop either side to transmit to. SO why then have silent hops? Well most of the time it is not only radio communication but other safety considerations that play in determining the hop placement. Like a road junction to avoid any other traffic intrusion. Or terrain based safety consideration. Etc. etc.

Our location was important because we were at the top most point. Which meant that we would be bombarded with transmissions from both sides. A hop on Drass side would not hear communications on Sankhoo side and so could carry out their individual communications. We on top would hear both sides and were liable to be having lots of NOTHING. Yes the two transmissions usually result in gibberish or static.

To get back to story. Clock was moving steadily to first vehicle start off and we had finished our communication check.....with start line communicating final numbers of starters expected down the radio hop line.....we get a static attack!!!
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Old 2nd November 2017, 17:44   #4
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On day two of 2016 Raid the stage was Kaza - Komic - Demul stage. We were at Komic. The stage start was at valley bottom almost vertically below us but due to terrain we were able to communicate to the second hop after start. Then we had three more marshals before us. The second run of the same stage in the afternoon was in progress with 50% of the field already past the high point beyond Komic - up to where we could communicate. Beyond that - the valley side - we could not hear anything.

There were three competitors who had crossed us but had not crossed over to the valley side. From some transmission we could make out that one biker has failed to cross. SO we transmitted to that marshal to stop the next vehicle and check on the missing biker status. Again a transmission from marshal after us that one of the cars had crossed him but not yet the next marshal despite more than normal time delay. SO we asked the marshal to also stop the next vehicle and request them to keep lookout for the delayed vehicle.

On the other side the start is going on smoothly with one car / bike being sent in every one minute. I recall that at that point of time there were many vehicles ahead of us - three within our communication range - and about twelve between start and us. The start communicated that there were four or five vehicles left to complete the start rooster.

Some transmission started from the marshal who was to report on missing / delayed biker. STATIC attack stuck.

All important communications got blanked out!!!
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Old 2nd November 2017, 18:25   #5
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Why? Who? What to do?

Tense moments and some gibberish about a biker!!!

Why? Simple some one had pressed the PTT unintentionally and constant transmission was disrupting the entire communication. Some faint voices of two marshals talking to each other - discussing finer points of effect of altitude on bowel movements - was being heard when all we wanted to hear was safe status of all competitors. Fortunately tow marshals before us were placed at Langza road junctions and were very near to each other. One was the culprit and the other recognise the mumblings. He rushed to the other spot and got them to switch off the PTT. Fortunately no adverse event happened during this blank out period of ten odd minutes.

One thing was certain that the marshal concerned was not likely to come back to the event next year. The core organisers receive more requests for appointment as marshals than needed so they choose the best and experienced marshal's. More on this later.

Coming back to this year and with last stage about to begin we had static pouring out of all our radios!

One obvious action by the placer nearest to start was to try and communicate delay to flag off. Fortunately he was within BSNL range and so was start. SO one issue was taken care of.

Then we started a roll call of all marshals. Using spots that were not getting static some how we were able to account for 80% but two three spots still remained. So the marshal's nearest to them were asked to move and ascertain that they were not the culprit.

In the meanwhile it was decided to switch channels so that the constant transmission was taken out of equation. Again this was communicated up and down the stage and every one switched channels. The untouched marshals were also reached by others and asked to switch channels. All looked well and for a thirty odd kilometre long stage all this was achieved in fifteen minutes and first vehicle was in to the stage with only corresponding delay. For a cross country rally delay in one stage can lead to major disruptions and even unscheduled halts or curtailing of stages.

So some marshals drove up and down within short time to other hop location and ensured that safety communication bridge was up and working. All I will say they did not drive slowly.

In the meanwhile a message from start had us cursing. The PTT was accidentally pressed under the foot of a sleeping driver in one of the non-marshal (politically speaking) vehicles.

The stage ran without hitch with only one biker dropping out on the Drass Umba La climb due to cracked chamber. Recovery crane was radioed vehicle location to pick up the bike. The rider picked up by one the marshal's to be dropped off at Kargil. After the stage we all headed to Leh.

Last edited by Rehaan : 3rd November 2017 at 10:10. Reason: Fixing some typos
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Old 2nd November 2017, 18:31   #6
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Some pictures from this day courtesy Facebook page of Ganesh Ramalingam https://www.facebook.com/ganesh.ramalingam

Suresh Rana the winner in 2017. He has held the title for 11 times now!!Marshal's Travel Stories: The 2017 Raid De Himalaya-22538654_10214788427610550_5835443140711623900_o.jpg

Looking towards the Indo Pak line of control from the high pass.
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Marshal vehicles parked together a rare sight during the day when stage is running. This is at end of last stage so every one was at ease.
Marshal's Travel Stories: The 2017 Raid De Himalaya-22406493_1346181138826327_6086403024982640391_n.jpg
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Old 2nd November 2017, 19:07   #7
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For marshal’s reaching the night halt city does not mean quick check in and into the bed. First thing is to ensure you fuel up. The typical distance covered may be less than half a tankful but one has to prepare for extra travel and also to keep the cold out keeping the engine running at idle.

Surprisingly it was not that cold in Pang this time around with temperatures dipping only to low of -3 degree and hardly any wind. I remember during one of the first Raid I did as an marshal it was beyond -10 degree with howling winds. You had to drag your sorry self (cannot use better expression for obvious reasons) out into open every half an hour to start the car for five ten minutes. Being newbie I did it only once and found engine starting perfectly and did not bother to repeat the procedure.

Only next day I learnt and remembered the lesson ever since. I had a frozen tank of diesel which ensured that I could only start the engine much after eleven in the morning after fire and hot water borrowed from army workshop. I missed my duty that day. Fortunately it was a loop day with rally turning back towards Manali so I was able to rejoin after making sure on second night not to be sloppy.

At Pang many marshal’s including me learned why Vodka is essential. No not for consumption but for adding to windshield wash. Else water - not frozen due to engine heat - would become instant ice the moment it is sprayed to clear the glass.

At Pang we had choice of “beds” in the dhaba tents or nothing. The former offered soft cushiony beds that were could well to be laced with lice. The former also offered some sort of central heating with ten twenty people farting and sleeping inside. Also they offered quick access to chai and noodles till reasonably late in night.

SO we chose nothing...
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Old 2nd November 2017, 20:15   #8
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One member I know personally questioned me if this is about motorsports or traveling. I am going to cover travel in this by covering marshal's duties and travel times and styles.

Continuing.

So we decided to sleep in the car. One reason was that it was already almost eleven before we finished dinner and filling up fuel. Second the beds in dhabas were not to our linking. Lastly we only had couple of hours to rest before we were going to be off again.

On the Manali Leh stretch the two places where you can get some places - dhabas or tents - are Sarchu or Pang. Both are at about fifteen thousand feet above sea level. Low oxygen levels coupled with low temperatures create uncomfortable situation. For most travelers it is advised not to undertake strenuous activity but do things slowly with enough breathing. Drink lots of water. Despite the pressure's it causes.

While sleeping at night it is always better to cover your head with cap or something insulating. Head is one larger surface for loosing body heat. Oftentimes it is better to breath through blanket or cover to retain moisture lost due to breathing. You lose eight times more moisture at high altitude through breathing.

AMS can be very dangerous and disorienting. Don't panic. Get medical help at earliest.

Later dinner, not enough warmth and uneasy resting meant acidity and slightly upset stomach. Fortunately nothing bad that an antacid tablet could not take care. Result was that we were up and standing behind the convoy leader fifteen minutes before the schedule. We were not the only ones who opted to sleep in the car even convoy leader slept in his car.

Last edited by sudev : 2nd November 2017 at 20:31.
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Old 3rd November 2017, 07:21   #9
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The day two of the Raid, which ended at Pang with us trying to sleep in the car, started at at Kaza with our convoy rolling out at 0200. We were lucky as we got one full hour extra of rest. The first convoy had left at 0100. That convoy was to cover the second half of stage including blocking the end point to stop traffic. With us was the start marshal's who also had job to seal start for all other traffic.

The stage for the day was Losar - Gramphoo. Which was being run in reverse direction from competition of day one. It is a sixty five odd kilometre is covered by best of local taxi drivers in three to four hours. Trucks take more than a day to drive through. Our placement for the day was at Batal -sort of midway point- that had luxury of a working dhaba serving hot meals and chai through the day.

However first to get to Batal we had to cover fifty five kilometre. Placer, Manjeev Bhalla, was in the lead and we were at the tail of the convoy. The first thirty we had luxury of travelling on freshly laid and smooth tarmac. Soon this deteriorated to tarmac with broken patches and segments with no tarmac at all. Again due to dust the convoy spread out over couple of kilometres. Coming at rear we were treated to some lovely sights of dark mountainside dotted with glowing red tail lamps. Only if I had a proper camera to capture that picture.

It was getting later than we should have been so the start team was asked over the wireless to move to the end and take up position with the ambulance. Rest of convoy moved ahead. Crossing Losar the climb to Kunzum La begins and it is a dusty affair with broken patches of tarmac to recall that once there was a road.

Temperature at bottom was mild 1 degree. Both of us were wondering what it would be at top. As we climbed the digital display of outside temperature fell and roughly for each five hundred feet it came down by a degree. At the top it was not too bad -4 degree.

The road at the pass is on one side but there is a small mandir across the other edge of the pass. It is a ritual with almost all to drive to the mandir side and take a clockwise turn to come back and rejoin the road. Sort of a good luck charm.

Here are couple of picture from Google image search. The mandir festooned with buddhist prayer flags.
Marshal's Travel Stories: The 2017 Raid De Himalaya-screen-shot-20171103-7.14.24-am.png

View of mandir from the road. Despite competition being timed, to be won or lost in seconds, almost all go this extra distance to do ritual circumambulation.
Marshal's Travel Stories: The 2017 Raid De Himalaya-screen-shot-20171103-7.14.53-am.png
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Old 3rd November 2017, 07:55   #10
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Picture of stage.
Marshal's Travel Stories: The 2017 Raid De Himalaya-22713573_10214818783169420_4978473950732356961_o.jpg

After Kunzum top the road drops down to the valley floor. In series of hairpins it descends very rapidly down the same hill face. Apart from being kutcha it is also pot holed and extremely dusty and windy. Almost all the corners have extreme wavy surface due to combination of heavy truck's going though and water logging. This is very tough for competitors and become even more so when water freezes and you have icy patches on the road. Especially for the leaders who start first. By the time stragglers pass the icy patches have broken or melted down.

We took one of the hairpins only to have to come to a halt as we were totally surrounded by dust from our own wheels. Slowly we covered some distance before the next bend and wind direction changed.

The "road" down also has one junction where a side "road" goes to beautiful Chandertaal lake. This is popular spot for many visiting tourists to camp over night. And it is a headache for marshal's as all the vehicles then want to leave and travel to Manali or Kaza. To block this two marshal vehicles are deployed. When we reached one truck had already started climbing towards Kunzum top. To ask him to go back was well nigh impossible as there was not enough width for him to turn till may be top of Kunzum La. That would have taken a lot more time than we had before the first vehicle entered the stage. So he was asked to park - tucked away - by the hill side and one marshal car was re-posted to be with him. Also communication was hopped through wireless to start marshals to inform all participants to expect narrow passage where truck was parked.

So question is why should it matter? If we could pass by they could also. No?

Just to give you a perspective of competition speeds a fast local Taxi driver takes three to four hours to cover 75 kilometres between Losar - Gramphoo. The Raid leaderboard did the same distance in 80 odd minutes!! The stragglers take up to two and half hours. Any one who takes more time than allowed is eliminated under MPL - Maximum Permitted Lateness. Between day one, with 75 odd starters, and day two quite a lot had dropped out due to breakdowns or MPL. We only were expecting 50 or 52 competitors.

Picture off the route of Chandertal courtesy Raid-de-Himalaya facebook page
Marshal's Travel Stories: The 2017 Raid De Himalaya-22555623_1958185010864736_7371444563194930894_o.jpg

And some pictures from the Losar Gramphoo stage again thanks to facebook page of Ganesh Ramalingam.

Stage looks picture perfect with colour hues to die for
Marshal's Travel Stories: The 2017 Raid De Himalaya-22713512_10214788429930608_8100246811188519343_o.jpg

Is the stage rough? Judge yourself. The worst areas are between Batal - Chota Dara - Chattru
Marshal's Travel Stories: The 2017 Raid De Himalaya-22791856_10214818783089418_2515420800298395170_o.jpg

Marshal's car parked precariously off the road to keep a watch on the happenings. Cold windy and dusty. This is what the photographers own caption is:
Quote:
The officials start very early...we roll on road say at 11.30pm for the next day's start and they get the best spots to park their SUV's...pity the guys who park their SUV's only in their garage/malls. Hats off to the marshals / officials who equally rock the Raid.
Marshal's Travel Stories: The 2017 Raid De Himalaya-22712479_10214790951473645_8250295996218398428_o.jpg

Last edited by sudev : 3rd November 2017 at 07:59.
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Old 3rd November 2017, 08:52   #11
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Thanks sudev for the wonderful Marshall perspective. Thoroughly enjoyed reading through this.

One noob question
Quote:
Only if I had a proper camera to capture that picture.
Is it because you are not allowed to carry one as a marshal or you don't generally carry?
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Old 3rd November 2017, 09:08   #12
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Hemanth.... It's just that I am lazy photographer even with mobile. Need to get over this. On the other hand there were zillions - okay that's a wee bit exaggeration - if pictures posted by others (and better photographers) that I decided to write and use their pictures with appropriate credits.

That said the opening panaroma was taken from my mobile.
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Old 3rd November 2017, 09:54   #13
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Sudev Manjeev
Ji
Total 52 starters
Five Two

Kabir Sudev
Go
Total starters 52
Click click

KP Kabir
.....
KP Kabir
.....
KP Kabir
Sorry we were outside. Go for KP
52 starters
Ok

Tarvinder KP
Copied that KP

Neeraj Tarvinder
static static
There are 52 vehicles
static static

This is how the wireless hop communication works. In ideal world the words are repeated flawlessly but in real world it is much like game of Chinese whisper. Slight distortion at each jump of message. Styles vary and attention of all hops vary. So as rally progresses you get used to styles and working of hops before and after you. Simple?

Slightly problems occur if two hops on either side of you transmit messages simultaneously. All you get is static. Say Manjeev transmits some thin to me while KP is trying to get his message across to Tarvinder. SO you ask Manjeev to repeat hoping that next transmission would not be crossed.

Bigger problem is effect of weather and sun. As day progresses communications get effected. Coms which were perfect suddenly loose connection and coms which were not heard before suddenly start interfering. Sometimes it is easy job of shifting cars by a few meters to get better com. But it can also mean loosing com totally while you scurry back to your original position and figure out what to do next.

Small and crisp transmissions by all help. But then all are not created equal. Some naturally take longer to communicate same message. Some press PTT and then start composing message in their head sending static up and down the line blocking others. Some are pedantic in their approach others are adaptive. Some talk more some listen keenly.

You adopt and pray that nothing happens in your sector and no communication problems occur.

And you do this day after day after day with very restful and luxurious night halts in between. Hopefully you would have spotted the irony.

A picture of a brave girl. Aishwarya completed the entire rally. Picture credit to Ramalingam.
Marshal's Travel Stories: The 2017 Raid De Himalaya-22712377_10214818782369400_8994108700709231358_o.jpg
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Old 3rd November 2017, 10:23   #14
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Creating safety net using this method in madness is what marshal's are there for in the first place. We are static but have additional marshal's and medic vehicles spread through the stage. For instance at Batal on Day 1 and Day 2 we had one government ambulance, one other marshal vehicle, two police men to help control the traffic.

From our location we are monitoring the passage of all vehicles and comm would be something akin to this.

Start Manjeev
Go for Manjeev
101 start at 0810
Roger

Start Manjeev
Go
102 at 0812
Noted

Start Manjeev
Go for Manjeev
103 at 0814
Click click.

The double click on PTT is also used as acknowledgement signal. But this is typical for start that every one or two minutes they are flagging of one vehicle and all vehicle numbers are in order for Day1.

Day 2 the starts are based on standings on Day 1 so the numbers are jumbled up. Car and bike start separately on Day1 but its mixed start on Day2 on. SO you have to careful to note the vehicle number.

Time is also noted to get fair idea of how much time the vehicles are taking between two marshals. If a vehicle has taken much longer than expected first alarm bell is sounded and marshal's wait for maximum two vehicles to stop and check with next competitor. Usually the competitors themselves stop / slow down and inform if there is any medical issues. You also observe from time calls if a competitor is generally moving slowly and is being overtaken. No need to create unnecessary panic for yourself and others.

However at this point marshal does not know if it is medical or mechanical or any other issue. So he stops the next car and asks. Thankfully most of the time either it's breakdown or vehicle coming slowly due to puncture or similar. Once in while hearts flutter faster when competitor reports accident or did not even see.

Sudev Prabhat
Go
Competitor reports bike down by road side one hairpin before me
Number
XYZ
Need medical
Reverting

Prabhat was marshal before us manning the Chandertaal road. So with baited breath we wait. Cannot do anything at this point of time but warn marshal before the incident site.

Manjeev Sudev
Heard it. Waiting

Now Prabhat cannot simply drive back. You cannot endanger another competitor who may be coming from opposing traffic. Fortunately this was within running distance so his partner went and waved to him that all is okay.

Sudev Prabhat
Ji
Biker okay and now moving
Shukr ji

And things are back to madhouse of keeping track of vehicles moving between the twenty odd hop points between start and end of Losar Gramphoo stage.

Last Sarah Kashyap from Chandigarh gave us a scare when she slid off the road just before Batal. Fortunately she was recovered by one of the Chandertaal point marshal's and brought to Batal within five seven minutes. We had ambulance with us and doctors were able to split her twisted ankle. She insisted that we help her recover her Enfield Himalayan so that she can continue to end of stage!!!

This year she's clicked here by Ramalingam on the same stage.
Marshal's Travel Stories: The 2017 Raid De Himalaya-22769879_10214818780729359_9089369128128531790_o.jpg

Was it due to fear of last year that she rode slow and got MPL's on Day1? Or....
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Old 3rd November 2017, 11:09   #15
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To man the Raid apart from marshal's and eight medic cars we also have an air evac helicopter on standby at the stage itself with doctor on board and supported by two marshal cars for landing and refuelling. One pickup is deployed through out the Raid for carrying high octane fuel for the helicopter. Picture courtesy Raid-de-Himalaya Facebook page.
Marshal's Travel Stories: The 2017 Raid De Himalaya-1075578_10152342852026967_715861882_o.jpg

Here is picture of Vijay Parmar, one of the three men behind organising Raid-de-Himalaya, in front of helicopter parked next to the stage. In the background is his Fortuner nicely spiced up with special bumper, winch, extra fuel tanks and suspension. Picture courtesy Facebook album of Ramalingam.
Marshal's Travel Stories: The 2017 Raid De Himalaya-22713539_10214790949913606_1748679878528237279_o.jpg

Last year's fatality happened just kilometres from where helicopter was parked but from reports it was a case of DOA when doctors reached the site though immediate airlift to Kullu was organised. The balance legs for extreme were cancelled and competitor asked to return to Manali next day from Sarchu night halt.

To be continued...

Last edited by sudev : 3rd November 2017 at 11:11.
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