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Old 8th August 2013, 23:44   #1
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Default The Mahindra Monastery Escape 2013: Delhi - Leh - Srinagar

This was my first experience with an expedition travelling as an organized convoy of 30 odd vehicles. I’ve done this route twice in the past in my own vehicle so I was a bit skeptical about driving as part of a 30 vehicle convoy, that would be passing thru some of the more difficult and unforgiving terrain this side of the world. But sitting back and recollecting the moments after the 10 day trip, I guess it all worked out very well and it made a lot more sense than the 18day trip I was originally planning. Also came away enlightened with what it takes to organize an event of this magnitude and scale.

My impressions/ opinions/ takeaways and these are just my views which may obviously not appeal to all

What to expect
• Expect the unexpected
• Be ready for long hours behind the wheel, sometimes back to back for days, especially if you are the only driver in your car - Driving passion is a must have
• Organized convoy driving with well planned and executed logistics – Just show up prepared with a lot of enthusiasm and energy
• Strict adherence to schedules and times – If you are not an early bird this trip will change that; if you cannot change your habits that then you will be heading the other way back home very soon 
• Interact with lots of interesting people with different back grounds and mental makeup
• Be ready to soak in the local culture, food, mannerisms, etc.
• Finally while the vehicle may not be yours, be ready to handle and treat it like your own. This includes but isn’t limited to careful driving, performing the daily morning checks, tanking up each day before hitting the sack or even replacing a flat tyre should you be unlucky to get one – I was

What not to expect
• This is not a personal road trip in your car, it’s an expedition in a convoy – don’t expect to drive at your own pace or conversely stop when you feel like, to click snaps, stretch or take bio breaks. Every day trip is scheduled with sufficient number of halts for bio breaks and refreshments but convoy rules supersede individual preferences.

Who should sign up
• Adventurous open minded people who want to have fun
• Those who love driving through new terrain without the hassles of prepping their vehicles, planning logistics and organizing permits
• Those who cannot spare a lot of time driving their own vehicles from their home towns all over India to Ladakh - My case this year
• Those that do not mind roughing it out on a few occasions, when needed, especially women

Who should refrain from signing up
• People with a set agenda and pre-conceived notions about the trip and the destination
• Compulsive late risers
• People who dislike following instructions and adhering to protocol

Overview
• The early bird bookings (first 3) got to drive Rextrons; 4WD Scorpios were made available for all other participants. Most were brand new and a few refurbished
• The event is free for kids below 12 years of age which was quite amazing
• The expedition was managed by Raj Kapoor of XSO (Extreme Sports Organization) and the Mahindra Adventure Initiative Head, Bijoy, accompanied us along with other Mahindra personnel from Communications, service and backup
• Each vehicle was kitted out with a Ham radio so that the vehicles can keep in touch with each other and the organizers
• Vehicles were numbered and the convoy had to maintain the sequence while rolling.
• A lead car at the front of the convoy was followed by a dozen odd cars then a Float vehicle followed by the remaining vehicles and finally a sweep car to ensure all vehicles were part of the convoy and no one strayed away. Support vehicles comprised of a Thar, a Getaway and a Scorpio.


Day 0: Bunch up in Delhi
We were picked up at the Delhi Airport and taken to the Hilton. There we registered ourselves and were handed a back pack containing 2 T-shirts and a jacket manufactured by Woodland. We also received an itinerary cum calendar that outlined the plan for the next 10 days including departure times, places for halts and bio breaks and destination ETAs. Other participants started walking in and very soon the hall was buzzing with participants introducing themselves and exchanging similar prior experiences. The participant group had some very interesting dynamics with people for various walks of life and aged between 6 - 70 years. Participants included a lawyer, couple of doctors, film makers, a banker, businessmen, services personnel and their respective families. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of repeat participants and their referrals.

Keys to our respective vehicles were handed over by 5:00 pm that day and there was a customary flag off ceremony within the compound of the hotel. Once done, we reported for a briefing in the ball room where participants introduced themselves and Bijoy and Raj took turns in laying out the ground rules for the next 10 odd days specific to road conduct, convoy rules, timeliness, fueling up, participant etiquette, emergency responses, contingency planning etc. We were explained the formation of the convoy which would include a Lead car (one of the best modified Thars driven by Raj), a float car in the middle (Mahindra Getaway driven by Gurkhi and Sukh) and at the fag end of the convoy a Sweep car (Scorpio driven by Vikram with the onsite doctor).
This was followed by a lavish dinner spread and soon participants called it a night bearing in mind the 3:00 am wakeup call and the 4:30am convoy roll.

The Flagoff
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Last edited by satan : 9th August 2013 at 00:02.
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Old 8th August 2013, 23:58   #2
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Default Re: The Mahindra Monastery Escape 2013 - Delhi - Leh - Srinagar

Day 1: Delhi – Manali (560 kms)
Tring tring tring went the hotel phone for its wakeup call @ 3:00 am, a full 15 precious minutes before my scheduled alarm in my phone. I thought to myself these organizers do take timeliness very seriously. The cars were in the basement and we had to go down and fetch them to load them with our luggage. Once done we joined the briefing for the day which was followed by a small prayer before we set off bang on schedule at 4.30am. The convoy proceeded without much of a fuss until one of the participants realized he had forgotten his cell phone at the hotel. The convoy pressed on and the individual had to request the hotel to send the phone through a chaser vehicle that eventually caught up with the convoy during the breakfast halt at Karnal . We stopped at the Haveli for a pre-ordered breakfast of parathas, curd and hot tea. Once done the whistle started blowing and signaling everyone to fire up their vehicles and start driving. After a couple of hours and a few bio breaks later we stopped at The Kikar Lodge for an authentic Punjabi lunch. Post that the convoy hit the road and started snaking up the mountain roads towards Bilaspur. Heavy oncoming truck traffic coupled with the poor state of the road meant that the convoy’s progress slowed down considerably as overtaking opportunities were minimal. Eventually we regrouped outside Bilaspur and decided to break up the convoy into two equal groups which would make it more agile and also ensure the lead and sweep had a better view on the number of cars in their respective convoys.

At Mandi it began to pour and by then the sun had long set which once again slowed down the convoy’s progress. We finally reached Manali around midnight paid the Rs. 300 entry tax and rolled into The Quality Inn grabbed a quick bite and called it a night.
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Old 9th August 2013, 00:18   #3
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Day 2: Manali – Jispa (140 kms)
We started off at 8:00 am post a 10 min briefing by Raj and Bijoy. Manali town was quiet at that hour and we were soon across the bridge and climbing towards Rohtang. Road conditions worsened after Marhi and we were soon crawling up to Rohtang top thru slush and stones. Stopped at the top briefly for a break before descending. We crossed Gramphoo and took the traditional picture of the fork that takes off towards the Lahaul -Spiti valley. Post that we drove on until Sissu where we halted for a lunch break below my favorite waterfall in all of the J&K and HP region – The bleeding heart as I like to call it 
Post lunch we hit the road and started towards Tandi, fuelled up at the pump, took the picture of the sign and set off towards Jispa. Passed a very sleepy Keylong town and made a few calls to family informing them of the network blackout for the next 3 days until we reached Karu.

We stayed at the Padma Lodge in Jispa. They’ve upgraded their tents since the last time I stayed there 2 years ago. The tents now feature a hard bathroom with a running hot shower and more importantly a nice volleyball court. That night was a Bar-night by a bonfire which proved to be a great icebreaker for entire group. Vikram’s scorp belted out the music and Lockey’s Thar provided the lighting effects thanks to the half dozen Lightforces
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Old 9th August 2013, 00:37   #4
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Day 3 : Jispa
Today was acclimatization day. The plan was to do a bit of off-roading and have fun. Raj and Nitin did a recce in the morning and around noon the convoy set out to get its feet and cars wet. The off-roading site was opposite the IBEX and included a drive through a couple of water bodies before finally doing a circuitous track in the Bhaga river. For quite a few participants this was their first time and they were briefed on 4x4 basics by Raj and Bijoy. Wasn't able to click many pics as we were too busy having fun. After nearly 2 hours of playing around and exercising the vehicles Raj decided it was time to exercise the participants. So we were asked to take off our shoes and sprint no actually walk fast across the river and back. There were 2 catches to this, the ice cold water and the slippery river bed. We had a blast just attempting the race and it was finally time to grab lunch which was laid out onsite under the shade of some trees. The lamb curry that day was unforgettable.

We returned to the Lodge that afternoon and decided to play volleyball for some time. What started with two players a side, ended up 4 hours later with 7 personnel a side until the ball was visible. The cheering from the senior citizens was very encouraging and it was almost as if they wanted to play themselves. It was evident that most of us had not really enjoyed playing a real game for many years now. In a repeat of the previous night the bonfire was lit up, music played and drinks poured out. Everyone called it a night by 11:00 pm in anticipation of the early morning start for Sarchu the next morning. Here is a video and some pics of the river crossing that day

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Old 9th August 2013, 00:51   #5
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Day 4: Jispa – Sarchu (84km)
Horror stories were circulating amongst the participants about the halt at Sarchu. Highest point where we would sleep during the 10 day expedition, cold high speed winds, lack of oxygen, people getting hit by AMS and hallucinating, getting breathless, etc. With these rumors doing the rounds no one was in a hurry to reach Sarchu. So after a good breakfast and the morning briefing the convoy finally started rolling for Sarchu. We crossed Baralach La and stopped for lunch enroute at a dhabha at Bharatpur for Rajma rice and egg n cheese Maggie. Sarchu came up by 4.30 pm and you could sense that not many people were very happy about being there. We were put up at the Golddrop camp. Pretty soon a bat and a tennis ball surfaced which were enough to get people excited and start to play cricket. A few of us headed out to explore the surrounding mountain and click Marmots that were running around the campsite. These chubby creatures are not as bold as their brethren found along the Wari La route and we had a tough time trying to get them to stop and pose for us. We managed to climb fairly high and got a great view of the surrounding landscape and also the famous rock formations parallel to the road. Returned to the camp after a good hours climb feeling a bit breathless to find most people chilling out outside their tents understandably too afraid to exert . Had dinner and crashed for the night by 10:00 pm that day. The sky that night was bewitching with the milky way and all constellations of stars clearly visible.
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Old 9th August 2013, 01:05   #6
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Default re: The Mahindra Monastery Escape 2013: Delhi - Leh - Srinagar

A few more pics of Sarchu
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Old 9th August 2013, 09:28   #7
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Day 5: Sarchu – Leh (255 kms)
Everyone was up and ready and super eager to get out of Sarchu for what it’s worth. We packed up our vehicle and started off only to realize that we had a puncture within the first minute of hitting tarmac. Pulled over and signaled to the Service vehicle who helped us with a Hydraulic jack to replace the flat. We were rolling within 10 mins and had to catch up with the convoy that had moved on. We caught up with them at the Gata Loops which were infested with heavy downhill truck traffic and negotiating Naki La uphill slowed down the progress of the convoy. Descending we stopped briefly at Pang and came across the numerous wind cut rocks just before we hit the More Plains where we regrouped for everyone’s benefit and clicking pics. Post that it was a quick run to Rumse where lunch was served at a sensational location next to a flowing stream. After the dusty drive through the more plains the burbling stream was way too tempting and most participants had a dip/ wash there. Post lunch we headed out to Leh, passed Upshi, paid the vehicular tax and stopped at the Karu fuel pump to refuel. Most Scorps were on the last bar of fuel with a number of reserve fuel warning coming on before Upshi and all the way to Karu. Post the tank up it was a quick drive into Leh Town where we headed straight for Hotel Shambala. Showered changed and feeling fresh the Bar was thrown open and people huddled together to exchange their experiences of the day. We had 2 rest days in Leh and the organizers had procured passes for Nubra valley and Pangong Tso to whoever was interested in doing these. Both these trips were optional for participants and those who simply wanted to unwind in Leh could do just that. As suspected almost everyone signed up for Pangong Tso and the plan was to roll at 6am the next morning. Given that the cars had to be serviced in Leh, the participants were requested to pool cars to ensure that at least half the population of vehicles was serviced the next day. This arrangement worked well and each car had 4 people travelling in it the next day.
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Old 9th August 2013, 09:41   #8
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Day 6: Leh – Pangong Tso – Leh (270 kms)
The convoy left at 6 sharp and soon we were climbing the mighty Chang La en route to the lake. We did not stop at the Chang La top as we wanted to focus on making it back prior to nightfall with the objective of spending the max time by the lake. We reached the Lake by 12:15 pm and much to our disappointment the sky was completely overcast causing the lake to appear a dull grey in colour for most part. While a few of us had been here before and had experienced the brilliant blue and green hues the lake has to offer, most participants failed to acknowledge the natural beauty of the lake given its dull appearance. The 3 idiots point was the center of attraction and after spending nearly two hours there we headed to the Army Canteen for lunch. Post lunch it was a quick drive back to Leh. The ascent to Chang La from the Pangong Tso side was difficult given the steep incline, high altitude and further compounded by the poor road condition. Stopped at Chang La top for pics and then headed back to Leh. A few others had hired bikes that day and made a trip to KhardungLa top.
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Last edited by satan : 9th August 2013 at 09:44.
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Old 9th August 2013, 10:00   #9
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Default re: The Mahindra Monastery Escape 2013: Delhi - Leh - Srinagar

Some more snaps of the trip to Pangong Tso
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Old 9th August 2013, 10:13   #10
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Day 7: Leh
Today was a rest day in Leh so the plan was to hit the German bakery for breakfast and then visit the Thiksey Monastery and then return to Leh for Lunch. As expected most of us awoke late and then ambled into German Bakery for some really awesome breakfast and delicious muffins sponsored by Bijoy. That cheese cake was out of this world.

Set off for Thiksey by mid-day and it was almost akin to home coming. Sat through a prayer session in the main hall and paid respects to the big boss seated on the opposite side. This is my favorite statue of the Buddha, the next in line being the one at Deskit. Returned to Leh by 5pm and headed straight to the German Bakery. The chicken n cheese steak there is to die for and a must have on any non-vegetarian’s to do list when in Leh. Loafed around the market for a while and then headed back to the hotel. Most people had already packed up and were loading their bags into their cars in anticipation for the early morning departure to Srinagar scheduled for the next day.
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Old 9th August 2013, 10:26   #11
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Default re: The Mahindra Monastery Escape 2013: Delhi - Leh - Srinagar

First of all Congratulations!
Very crisp narration and beautiful pictures.

Quote:
Originally Posted by satan View Post
Who should sign up
• Adventurous open minded people who want to have fun
• Those who love driving through new terrain without the hassles of prepping their vehicles, planning logistics and organizing permits
• Those who cannot spare a lot of time driving their own vehicles from their home towns all over India to Ladakh - My case this year
• Those that do not mind roughing it out on a few occasions, when needed, especially women

Who should refrain from signing up
• People with a set agenda and pre-conceived notions about the trip and the destination
• Compulsive late risers
• People who dislike following instructions and adhering to protocol
Very neatly put. with each and every point especially the late risers part.

Last year, we did not stay inn sarchu because of all those horror stories; but we prepared our own lunch there in the same camp that you stayed.

The picture of the Thar and the Scorpio speeding towards each other in Sarchu with the mountains in the background is a wonderful capture.
The Pangong sure looks dull in these pictures
Organizing such a big convoy is an expedition in itself. an applause to everyone who made it happen

Thanks for sharing.
Yet to see the first monastery in the "monastery escape" expedition.
(Edit: By the time I could compose this message and post it, I realize that the first monastery has made its entry)

Hooked on and looking forward...

Last edited by hemanth.anand : 9th August 2013 at 10:35.
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Old 9th August 2013, 10:31   #12
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Day 8: Leh – Srinagar (416kms)
This day was always going to be challenging. Covering 400+kms in a day through mountainous terrain is no easy task. So we were set an early target departure time of 3am. Which meant a wake-up call at 1:45am and briefing @ 2:45am!! In fact I did see a number of confused participants confirm with Raj personally the previous night whether he was indeed serious about the start time . The wakeup call came in at 1.45am by way of one of the attendants hammering away at everyones door. Breakfast was packed and ready in the restaurant and we had to pick up our respective boxes. So we made it in time and were all assembled outside Druk Auto ready to roll when one of the participants announced on the radio that he had forgotten to tank up the prior night. Being 3am it was certain that all pumps would be closed across Leh and Karu so we decided to make a move and solve the problem when the car was about to run dry. There was hardly any traffic at that hour and the convoy made good time and was at Mulbek by day break. Bijoy and Shormistha kept the participants awake by quizzing participants on the radio about various topics like Mahindra vehicles and characters from the erstwhile Indrajal Comics like Mandrake, Bahadur, The Phantom and Flash Gordon. We stopped briefly at Khaltse where we had the packed breakfast (comprising of a banana, aloo paratha, bananas and juice) and proceeded towards Kargil which we hit by 12:30pm. Tanked up the vehicles and then left for the Drass war memorial - Just a couple of hours later we heard of a cloud burst at Kargil. Reached the war memorial by 2:30pm and after the briefing by an army officer we had lunch at the army canteen. My heart cries out each time I visit the memorial and revisit the heroic acts of our martyred soldiers. We passed the sleepy Drass town and were soon on our way towards the mighty Zoji La pass. This pass commands extra respect despite being all of 10k ft tall. The unpaved white sandy roads, crumbly mountain edges and super narrow track in some places makes it extremely challenging when negotiating oncoming heavy vehicles. We had to wait for an entire convoy of 40+ army trucks on their way to Drass. Ironically the shortcut was being used by trucks climbing from the Sonmarg side so we were advised by Military personnel manning the fork to avoid going down that route as it was jammed with upcoming traffic that would not slow down for us.

So we pressed on and by 5:00 pm we were in Sonmarg heading towards Srinagar. While the scenery was breathtaking with the river flowing alongside the road what did freak us out was the near invisible military presence every 50 meters, camouflaged within the forests and woods almost as if anticipating an ambush. Drove through Srinagar to Negin Lake club where beautiful houseboats awaited us. Dinner was set up at the clubhouse next door but everyone was too tired after the long day, to socialize so they just had their dinner and crashed for the night.
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Old 9th August 2013, 13:02   #13
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Default re: The Mahindra Monastery Escape 2013: Delhi - Leh - Srinagar

grt _ good updates on teh whole , my friend hitesh thakker is also in the same convoy
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Old 9th August 2013, 13:21   #14
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Default re: The Mahindra Monastery Escape 2013: Delhi - Leh - Srinagar

Awesome coverage. Looks like a very hectic trip for the uninitiated. Where were the last set of snaps shot?
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Old 9th August 2013, 14:17   #15
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Default re: The Mahindra Monastery Escape 2013: Delhi - Leh - Srinagar

wonderful details and pics Satan.

BTW no XUV in the group, why?
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