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Old 22nd October 2011, 11:23   #1
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Default Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55

Foreword

One week earlier

GTO calls- "Dude, got something for you, want to go to Ladakh and drive some Mercs - mid October?"

"Ouch, got some important meetings coming up, let me know schedule?"

"Dude, I need to get to a computer and confirm by 12 noon tomorrow!"

A few hours later - "Dude - it gets better, you get to drive the GL's and .....hold tight, the G55"

Eh? 507 PS in the mountains?

"Count me in!"



Day "0"

Met up in the hotel with two other folks on the trip, they were not related to the automotive world, more from the travel world. (great! more wheel time). We had breakfast together and made our way to the boarding gate. Delhi airport is huge!!!

At the gate in the front end of the queue, I see an old familiar face, Hanmust.

The flight was awesome - clear skies, brilliant views.

Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55-dsc_2018.jpg

Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55-dsc_2021.jpg

We could not take pics at Leh, being a defence airport.

Most passengers scambled for their woolies but alas, it was 23 degrees. Leh airport reminded me of good old HAL airport a few years ago. I met up with Hanmust. All of us regrouped and walked out.

Ta da - An M Class and an R class were waiting. All the other passengers were wondering who the hell we were. We were staying at the Grand Dragon,
The most expensive hotel in Leh, clean, decent rooms but the heating makes odd noises. Wireless is an expensive affair, Rs 600 per hour, tea and pakoda's for 3 cost the same!!

On entry, our licences were collected and copied and various non disclosure forms were signed. Things looks pretty stiff. We had a quick breakfast then Hani, the travel writer's and myself sat out in the sun and got to know each other and we established a great rapport.

Being an asthmatic, I had been apprehensive about altitide sickness. Was on homeopathy, but I felt okay. Meanwhile, my wife is panicking about my health, the ex-military in-laws were panicking about the roads and my "excessive" love of driving. They've been stationed even further up in Ladakh and seen a lot!

But where were the cars? there was only an R class lurking around, the ML class was shuttling between hotels running errands. The cars were on the road with the first batch who had driven down from Srinagar to Kargil to Leh. Today, they were being driven to Pangong Tso via Chang La Pass.

Our route was explained to us.

Day 0 - rest - we were taken to the market in Leh.

Day 1: an easy day, the previous batch needed to be sent to the airport. Our flag off was at 11.00 to Nimu ,where the Zanskar and Indus rivers met and flowed to Pakistan. Since we arrived by air, it was best we took it easy and chilled out on the banks and do some off roading.

Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55-lehnimu.png


Day 2 - This would be an intense day, a 450 km round trip drive to Pangong Tso via Chang La Pass. The roads could be bad but we were told, nothing could stop these cars.

Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55-screencapture1.png

Day 3 - Return home

Last edited by ajmat : 31st October 2011 at 09:36.
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Old 22nd October 2011, 13:19   #2
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Default Day 0

Day 0 continued

We had lunch, Some Mercedes staff joined us and we were talking sales. They were of the opinion that BMW are outselling MB on account of the X1. The 5 and E are neck and neck. I need to see figures but the ML is selling extremely well according to them. We had a good discussion on runflats. Mercedes admitted that they had a gap in the X1/X3/Q5 segment until 2015.

We were then driven in the ML and R to the market area. R had amazing space but I love the growl from the ML diesels.

Some pictures around Leh. Most of the shops were overpriced. We found better bargains in the hotel. Some pictures

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Returned around 5.30 and relaxed till 7.30 when we had dinner with the first batch of journalists. we also got to meet Manas Dewan, the GM, Strategic Planning who was leading the event. They seem to have had a wild time. Some pics were beamed on the projector. There were plenty of stories and anecdotes to go round.

From what I gathered, each car was allocated to two journalists and a driver also was present. These guys are the Mercedes pool drivers and were pulled out of normal duty. So if you see any lost frustrated executives in looking lost in Chakan, you know why!

Healthwise- It looked like the journalists seemed to have survived the altitude better than the drivers!

We were treated to a gala dinner and it was off to bed! As we walked past the front drive, the beauties were parked, the drivers had prepared them for tomorrow

Wanna play!!Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55-imag0149.jpg

Last edited by ajmat : 26th October 2011 at 12:59.
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Old 22nd October 2011, 18:18   #3
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Default Day 1 - Early Morning - The Mountains beckon

I am normally an early riser. Although we only had a 11 oclock start, I was up at 7 and raring to go. Opposite my room was a lounge with a spectacular view. I grabbed my camera!


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Last edited by ajmat : 26th October 2011 at 13:00.
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Old 22nd October 2011, 18:25   #4
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Default Day 1 - Breakfast with the Stars

Went down for breakfast and caught up with Manas and the other journalists who were to depart.

I then went for a walk outside and decided to examine the cars under preparation. Inevitably, I made a beeline for the G55. It was the only car left open with the key inside

Xenon headlights - but that grill could spoil the spread
Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55-dsc_0023.jpg

That badge says it all


Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55-dsc_0025.jpg

AMG wheels - same size tyre as GL but VR rated

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Side exhausts on either side - terrifies neighbours,

Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55-dsc_0054.jpg

Original Door Handles + infrared sensor


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Good old w126 seat controls - very logical, discontinued due to cost of wiring etc in modern cars which are built in modules



Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55-dsc_0059.jpg

4 stalks on the wheel -indicator, wipers, cruise control, steering adjust

Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55-dsc_0060.jpg

Centre Console with COMMAND integrated, note manual differential switches. Good old fashioned handbrake!


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Busy roof console

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You need two hands to open the rear


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Mahindra would have put two seats in here


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I started it up and all the non merc drivers came to see!!

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Panch Sow Ghoda he!!!

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Personally built for you


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I would hate to change the plugs on this


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Modern Merc touches


Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55-dsc_0084.jpg

Last edited by ajmat : 26th October 2011 at 13:00.
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Old 22nd October 2011, 19:39   #5
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Default re: Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55

While you are gasping for breath
  • The G55 - costs about Rs 1.35Crs upwards. Each car is handbuilt and customised
  • 507 PS, 700 NM of torque
  • 5 speed gear box
  • 36 sold in India by those in the know and do not show off
  • Handbuilt in Austria
  • No height adjust, normal models are high enough, this was lowered and stiffer
  • 50 lbs of wax injected - to protect against corrosion
  • The longest production series in Mercedes history - since 1979. Created as a project to supply the german army. Even the US marines use G wagons in cases where Hummers are too biy. Badge engineered versions are marketed as Steyr and even Peugeot. (World War 2 hangover - political reasons since nobody wanted echo's of german branding in the army )

Sat and prodded around in it. You feel as if you sit on it and command the road. Hani was telling me anecdotes about how the G is the most potent symbol of power in the UAE. The ruler has a fleet of them. Drive a white one there and the road parts!

Everything was stiff, the doors felt like a railway carriage, panel lines are wide (old fashioned build) but you felt you were in a safe. The rear door needs two hands to open. As I mentioned, the key was inside. I started it, let the oil pressure build up and floored it. It was like spraying an AK47 at a party,with a dinosaur screaming in accompaniment. V8 + compressor whirr. Awesome.

All the other hotel drivers rushed over and started examining it

"Kithna rupaya" (how much?)

"Kya engine" (what engine?)

I rattle off the " Ek crore, and panch sow" i(one crore, and 500 horsepower) in my faltering hindi and they shut up.

It was not me, it was the numbers!! (I think!)

Last edited by ajmat : 31st October 2011 at 09:38.
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Old 23rd October 2011, 15:16   #6
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Default The GL - underrated but overstated!!

The GL looks very slabby compared to the ML. Appeals more to US tastes. It is big!!!!!!

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Beige interiors - minimalistic except for phone buttons. Somehow beige does not project the german quality image. Note seat switch on seat. This is the result of seats becoming an individual module, fully built by supplier instead of being handbuilt in factory - controls almost similar to the VW's.


Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55-dsc_0040.jpg

Better view of central console. Dual zone climatronic. The lower dials are for the off road settings. Location - bit of a pain when tweaking in a situation. One dial is for height adjustment. The other for differential locks. Two buttons for hill descent and the low range box respectively. The middle row are for suspension settings, ESP, gearbox mode (lousy location) , park sensors

Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55-dsc_0042.jpg

I prefer the anthracite interiors - sombre but classy

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Killer rear space - Paris Hilton sat here...I understand!

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Additional rear seats where an adult can sit, but one must be healthy enough to get there! Cool electric operation. We never saw these seats since we were carrying full size spares. One of the cars ripped a tyre so I took my chance. A deflated space saver sits below



Rearmost passengers can get some air via electrically operated pop out windows


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Half the power of the G - a mere 224 PS, there was a GL500 around with 285PS but acceleration figures are similar. The difference would be felt on a fast highway or at higher altitudes. I did nto get my hands on the GL500.

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Shielded undercarriage - this is after 5 days of unsympathetic, exploitative journalist exposure!


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Last edited by ajmat : 26th October 2011 at 18:36.
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Old 23rd October 2011, 16:00   #7
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Default Day 1 - Predrive Briefing

At 10.30, we were given a product briefing. We were shown video's on what the G, GL's and ML's were capable of. It looked too easy - i.e. Raise height, switch diff locks to auto, apply, engage if hill descent if required and go. It looked too easy - bit like setting your SLR camera to auto. I could see our die hard OTR wallas going into a frenzy - Jaggu smashing his apple phone, Khan putting scooter wheels on spidey and Samurai smiling in disgust

While the G is in a niche of its own, the GL is firmly pitched at the Audi Q7,

Mercedes claims it has the following not offered by Audi,
  • Better offroading capability and ground clearance (300mm)
  • Can wade through 600mm of water
  • Proper third row of seats
  • Intelligent light system (never got to try this out)
  • Bigger alloys
  • additionally, the sunroof and memory seats are extra.

Frankly, the Audi is more for the glamour set. The GL should be pitched at the Range Rover, Land Cruiser market.

We were briefed about the drive protocol

There would be two tracking cars - one Merc ML in front - do not overtake it as it carries all the required permits and would stop in advance. Bringing up the rear was an R class with all the service equipment inside. This car will always be at the rear and will never not leave until the last car. Each car carried oxygen, enough food and in most cases, a full sized spare.

Briefing over, we were assigned the cars. The TV crews were given priority (read G55). We were told, we could drive it only to Pangong Tso during the next day. We would hopefully get to offroad it during the day through.

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Old 25th October 2011, 14:38   #8
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Default Off-roading around Sangam

After the briefing, we were flagged off by Manas and Debashish

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It was quite easy getting used to the GL. Getting the driving position was spot on except you have so many permutations that you want to try all of them. Bit like that ancient book!

Visibility is excellent, the car is easy to place, a lot easier than my swift. The gear selector takes a bit of time to get used to as you need to contend with the hill holder etc. Got used to it after a while.

Doors shut with a thunk and we were off. Due to photographers, film crews, nervousness etc, everyone drove in convoy. 5 KM out of Leh, I put my foot down, the beast growled and then the midrange kicked in. Acceleration was not rapid as my RS but it was decent.

The highway to Srinagar was scenic. Wide, visible if a bit undulating. The GL was stable but ride a bit knobbly on sport mode. I kept it on normal but there was some float at 120km/h. One of the tracking ML's with the photographer zipped past at a higher speed, my guess wwas that it's steel springing made it less floaty.

It is surreal, being in a desert up in the mountains, I bet Top Gear will make the most of the scenery!
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We then came to Magnetic Hill. Your car is supposed to defy gravity but the Merc seemed to be too heavy for this

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The road started climbing, the curves were wide and visible and I started exploring the cornering ability of the GL. there was very little oncoming traffic so I could use "racing lines" and it responded relatively despite some bulk to contend with. The steering is typical Merc, you dont feel anything but you know it is doing its job. ESP means, you don't know whether the car or you is the better driver. It holds corners well but lets you know that it is top heavy, for the sake of my family, the passenger's family, Mercedes Benz India and gravity, I dared not push things too much. There was also a full size wheel strapped in the boot. The tensile strenth of the strap is only so much!!

We reached Nimu. The confluence of the Zanskar and Indus

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The tourists over there were a bit miffed at the invasion of Mercs. Remember this is purely Maruti, Hyundai, Mahindra, Innova land

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I had raised the suspension of the GL to descend down. You can see the difference
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Last edited by ajmat : 26th October 2011 at 13:10.
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Old 25th October 2011, 15:17   #9
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Default re: Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55

It looked a bit bleak and crowded, Manas disappeared down the road for a couple of KM with the TV crew and reappeared in a puff of dust having identified a decent spot to try out the cars,

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I rounded up the passengers, only to find my driver missing, poor guy was vomiting, I thought it was my driving but it was the altitude sickness! Another driver joined us and we drove to the spot. There we found Hanmust donutting with glee!!

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We want a piece of the action!!!

Abid, the driver merely told me to put the diff lock on auto and "jaao!" I traversed a small hillock, then drove on the inclined banks. The car has sensors with beep when you are at critical angles beyond 35 degrees, unlike the Land Cruiser which has an array of instruments. Came to a small incline, activated hill decent and the car did its job.

The low range box requires car to be in neutral. The COMMAND guides you. Ride height has three settings. A compressor pumps air and this takes a minute to get to max height. It is not instantaneous like as shown in car TV programmes. The pump works hard to maintain ride height and you occassionaly get messages that pump has shut down to avoid overheating. The car is not supposed to be driven more than 20km/h on the highest ride setting.

I'll let the pictures talk. I must add, my co-driver had not driven an automatic at all yet alone a big 4wd. He took to it like fish is to water!


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Last edited by ajmat : 26th October 2011 at 13:07.
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Old 25th October 2011, 15:47   #10
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Default re: Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55

Having explored the capabilities, it was time for a spot of lunch. Once finished, I decided, life is short, lets go for bigger and better things, so I started attacking bigger hills and inclines. Everyone got my drift and we got bolder and boulders!!!

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Oh boy, it was fun, but the silver GL ripped a sidewall, and guess who had the spare....me!!! So I was recalled so that it could be retrieved.

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Old 25th October 2011, 15:56   #11
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Default re: Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55

Something was missing, The G55 - the non driving TV crew were filming it on the other side of the river. It was now Hanmust's team to film and it roared into view. It was fun to watch, the roar echoing in the valley, the whirring of the supercharger, made it sound like an angry beast.

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That was downhill. Time for an uphill climb

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Alas the road tyres and too much power vanquished the beast. It merely dug holes. I prefer cremation but if I was buried, I love for this to dig my grave! Unfortunatley, I had to leave in my GL as they wanted to get the tyres repaired before sunset. I later heard that the product manager demonstrated that the G can climb in skilled hands.

That was Day 1 over. The off-roading capabilities were demonstrated. I must mentioned that although the ML 's did not have the offroad package, they did what ever the GL did but one needs to plan and keep the limitations in mind!

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Old 25th October 2011, 22:11   #12
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Default Day 2 - Pangong calling

We have been lucky, skies are clear, weather not too extreme so far. To mitigate risk, it is important that we target our return by 7.00pm.

We had a 200+km trip today to Pangong Tso (a lake at 15000 feet above sea level), passing by the Chang La pass (17586 feet). We would be experiencing temperatures ranging from -5 to 20 degrees. There could be landslides, convoys etc.

That meant an early start, breakfast was at 6.30 for a 7.00 am start. We were 15 min late but we made quite a bit of progress to Thiksey. After Shey, the climb began and the scenery and views was unbelievable. On one hand, I wanted to see the views, on the other hand, I wanted to drive. The drops were precarious, the other cars were out in front and making good progress. It was surreal watching 5 Mercs climbing as a convoy and the G55 echoing was a bonus. I preferred to hang back since a lot of the corners were blind. There was also a tyre alert. Two tyres were damaged and I was asked to take it easy since the tyres and cars needed to last for two more batches.

I then swapped seats and enjoyed the views. I'll let the pics do the talking

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Last edited by ajmat : 26th October 2011 at 13:12.
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Old 25th October 2011, 22:30   #13
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Default re: Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55

The roads then were getting tougher. The terrain was varied and a lot of oncoming trucks meant one needed to be alert. The current driver drove over some boulders but luckily nothing seem to have happened. One needed to keep holding the wheel as opposed to merely maintain hand contact on the spoke to react quickly, also braking too late in the corners was a little nerve wracking. Snow was appearing and I was also getting apprehensive about black ice.

Deteriorating patches


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Oncoming traffic


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Most trucks are pretty co-operative and pull to one side. Only thing is, do not harass them on an uphill climb, they are struggling to maintain momentum on an incline. I sampled the thin air when dashing out to inspect the undercarriage for bouplder damage. Boy! the car is tough. I dashed back in and nearly fainted due to the effort and thin air!


We reached Chang La. The military have set up a post offering free tea and welcome people to stop in and say hello!

Brrr, its cold. Note the car was raised to the second height level


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From there, it was downhill, more blind corners, Rajendra took over, we drove for 30 km and met up with Manas for a roadside cuppa of tea.

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We then reached Darbuk where all the cars had stopped in order to regroup.
It was tea time, or rather G time

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After a 15 min break, it was time to get comfortable.

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Jay, the fleet manager who never let the G55 out of his sight climbed aboard. I started the G and we drove off. It is totally different in that the steering is heavier, it understeers, you need to think hard about what you are doing. It challenges you. The first 5 km was frustrating since we had to drive slowly so that the TV crew take panning shots. I then put my foot down. Jay then tells me to brake - too late. The road has drainage nullahs at every kilometre. The G55 has limited suspension travel and stiff springs and jolts everybody. This meant I could only maintain a speed of 60km/h. Now I understood why previous batch found the ML setting a faster pace than the G55. One of the passengers got a bad back due to the G's unyielding ride

Whatever you say, the G has character, you need a certain kind of road for this.

We drove along a dried up river bed and through ravines.
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and then got the first glimpse of Pangong Tso, 4 km away

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It was a rough descent

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I must add, beyond Darbuk, we saw no other type of vehicle except for Scorpio's and Gypsies

Last edited by ajmat : 26th October 2011 at 21:03.
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Old 25th October 2011, 22:53   #14
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Default re: Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55

Pangong was serene. Located at 14000 square feet and almost 83 miles long. It is impressive. 60% of the lake is in Tibet. We stopped for lunch and a bit of birdwatching. It was amazing how the shadows and sunlight played tricks with the terrain

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Everybody decided to go for a drive and explore the area around the lake. I missed out asI was told to turn back in case the tyres got ruined. I did however, take the GL for a spectacular climb and got a fabulous view

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Last edited by ajmat : 26th October 2011 at 13:18.
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Old 25th October 2011, 23:09   #15
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Default re: Fascination Mercedes Leh, Ladakh with a Merc GL350 and an AMG G55

After that spectacular view, we decended back down. One of the GL's needed new brake pads, so the service R class had to go ahead to phone Pune to ship a set over so that it came in time for the next batch. All the cars regrouped. Another of the crew joined us, he was not too well, the past 5 days had been hard on him. We were the last to leave. A scorpio took the place of the escort car. We overtook a couple of GL's still shooting TV shots. All that time for a few minutes of footage.

As we were moving ahead, I see an ML coming towards us

I then noticed, it is an older version, it had a Delhi reg. He stops me

"Test ho gaya? GL kaisa he" (finished testing, hows the GL?)

He was astounded at seeing so many Mercs as we were at the probability of finding an ML in Ladakh outside the fleet.

After chatting, I drive on and could see him stopping the other GL's to ask about them.

The high alttitude and climb up to Changla began challenging the GL. The turbo lag was more apparent and it was bellowing more smoke due to less oxygen. I found it easier to use the paddle shift to coax power and keep it in lower gears. Another observation was the turning circle on tight narrow hairpin bends, it shot through without any problems. A couple of hours later, we reached Chang La. The fatigue and altitude got to me, it was time to hand over to Rajendra

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Tata from the mountains

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The Mercedes pool drivers are one of their best kept secrets. These guys get to sit along a lot of different Mercedes test drivers and see what they do. Rajendra is known to turn back the clock to get you to Mumbai from Pune to catch your flight. He had been itching to grab the wheel and am I glad I did.

He knew the limits of the car and showed what the car could do going downhill. The secret was to build momentum and let it carry through the curves. We soon found that we were sailing past most of the traffic and even overtoolk the GL 500. He let it fly. We left last and reached first.


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Terrain at Chang La


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Terrain at the descent

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That was it, the drive was over! It was time for dinner and then we fly back home tomorrow


Er, not exactly!

Last edited by ajmat : 31st October 2011 at 09:39.
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