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Old 3rd March 2014, 22:56   #1
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Default Winter trip to Spiti in a Fortuner & Thar

The plan was simple – To begin 2014 with a trip to the Himalaya. After considering alternatives like Arunachal, Uttarakhand and Leh childhood friend (and now famous scribe) Rishad Mehta finally zeroed in on the Kinnaur and Spiti valley.The Lahul Spiti Kinnaur valley has a very special place in my heart. I’ve been repeatedly drawn to this valley over the past 4 years but that was always during the Apr – Oct timeframe. This time it was different, very different. Different season, different preparation and different travel companions in different vehicles. Considering that the passes Kumzum La and Manali would be shut for winter we decided to try and make it to Kaza/ Kibber from Shimla and then return the same route. Joining us from Thanedar were good friends and fellow TBHPian Kartik (HillyThar) with his better half Anu in their expedition ready and souped up Thar. We had our trusty TFort, the same one that had ferried us to spiti in the summer of 2012 -


Route Plan

Delhi – Shimla
Shimla – Pooh
Pooh – Tabo
Tabo – Kibber
Kibber
Kibber – Tabo
Tabo – Thanedaar
Thanedaar - Delhi

What I learnt from my first extended snow journey
  • When travelling in a diesel vehicle to a snowed out destination where temperatures will be at -15 degrees for most of the day, add antifreeze to diesel
  • The above is true even if you are driving a Toyota 
  • Snow chains are optional but great insurance should you run into really heavy snowed out conditions
  • Snow on the road and brakes don’t make good bed fellows, especially around bends – You have to discipline yourself not to touch brakes even if that means making very slow progress
  • Front wheel drive and light weight compacts with reasonable ground clearance, like the Alto and the Wagon R rule the roads during winter
  • 2nd gear starts on packed snow (black ice) are ideal esp when there’s little room to accommodate slippage
  • Super important to drop speeds well in advance when approaching an oncoming vehicle. Last minute braking can prove disastrous as we found out enroute to Shimla when a dumper truck that suddenly braked came sliding straight at us missing us by a foot at max.
In hindsight and should anyone want to make a similar trip
  • To visit such an isolated place in winter mental prep is key
  • You have to bake in the fact that you could be stranded in a place for upwards of 3 weeks and accordingly plan for that
  • With max temperatures never higher than -2 degrees C once in the valley, life can be uncomfortable but the beauty and desolation of the valley are guaranteed to dispel any physical discomfort you would face
  • Getting hit by AMS is a very real possibility and this sickness picks its victims very randomly. One Diamox at night + 4ltrs of water per day do the trick for me every time. Be ready to piss like hell every hour though
  • The roads going up to Nako, Dhankar Gompa, Kie Gompa and Kibber are not for the faint hearted – narrow width accentuated by foot deep snow and further compounded by steep gradient along hairpins require full concentration especially during descents
  • Carry a powerful kerosene stove, pressure cooker and gas pipe nevertheless – multiple uses besides cooking hot food and making beverages

The below video complied by Rishad (using 3 GoPros, a Nikon, a sony and a Note 3) gives a great overview of the trip within 6 odd mins. Watch it with the volume cranked up..



Some pics across the trip
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Old 3rd March 2014, 23:15   #2
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Default Re: Winter trip to Spiti in a Fortuner & Thar

Day 1 & 2: Delhi - Pooh

The first two days were quite uneventful and we hardly stopped for any pictures as the drive was very ordinary and mundane. We drove from Delhi to Shimla on Day 1 stopping enroute at Chandigarh to load up supplies and then at Vijay Parmar’s garage in Shimla to pick up snow chains that we had him make for the fortuner. We spent 10 minutes to slap on the snow chains to front wheels to check if they were fouling with any suspension components on full lock to lock turns. Once convinced all was in order we retired to a friends place adjacent to the Christ Church at the end of the mall road. We had to leave the car at one of the parking lots and being a Saturday the attendant made a killing charging us INR 500 for the night which we no choice but to pay up. The lift up to the mall had ~200 folks in line so we decided to trek up to the cottage. Post dinner and phone calls, we turned in early as the next day was going to be a long drive to Pooh.

The next day we were up before dawn and on our way through Narkhanda and onto Bittal where we met up with friends Anu and Kartik from Thanedar who were waiting in their Thar. Post the meet n greet we exchanged notes on the weather conditions, road conditions and pitstops for that day. They had carried walkies which were immensely useful for this trip for communicating between cars especially after Pooh when we were out of network for the next 5 days. After that it was pedal to metal as we hot-footed our way driving into the circuit house @ Pooh by dusk.

The gentleman who managed the circuit house reiterated two valuable pieces of info
1. We were foolish to show up that time of the year when chances of getting snowed in for a couple of weeks at Kaza were very very real and that we should turn back immediately
2. Any accommodation we would get for the rest of the trip, be it Govt and PWD guest houses or homestays would have shut down their bathrooms and toilets for winter as the water would freeze and burst the pipes
While neither of the above were news to us and we were mentally prepared for eventualities of the weather and roughing it out, his advice proved to be a straw man of the shape of things to come over the next 5 days.

Few pics from the first 2 days
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Last edited by satan : 3rd March 2014 at 23:37.
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Old 3rd March 2014, 23:47   #3
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Default Re: Winter trip to Spiti in a Fortuner & Thar

Day 3: Pooh to Kaza? no Tabo

This is when the real adventure started.We had planned to be rolling by 7am so after a quick wash and breakfast we started the cars before loading them up to allow them to idle for a while. Both vehicles fired up and we left them to idle for 10 mins while we loaded up the cars. Just when we are about to take off, the Thar’s engine sputters to a halt and the car stalls. Kartik selfs it with no response. Ok working gloves on, bonnet opened we try priming the manual fuel pump which is firmly locked in the down position. After a while we get hot water from the kitchen, pry up the piston of the pump with a screwdriver and manually start pumping in diesel. The Thar fires up, idles for a minute and then dies again. So after numerous identical iterations it was clear that diesel was frozen and unable to get to the engine. Now the circuit house is nearly 2 kms above Pooh town so we decide to start driving the Thar down into town, locate a local tea stall to borrow a kerosene pump to heat up the tank the old fashioned way. Hopefully the diesel would melt and we would be back in business. So we carefully drove down the Thar and parked it outside a tea stall while Anu went in to chat up with the ladies in the kitchen to borrow their kerosene pump. Soon we became became the centre of attraction for the entire Pooh town on a lazy Monday morning. Although we couldn’t understand a word of what they were saying it was apparent we were the reason for their animated discussion. So with the kerosene stove below the skidplate of the Thar’s tank, Kartik pulled out a floor mat and made himself comfortable monitoring the flame of the stove. After about 25 mins the Thar fired up and we were back on the road, after returning the stove and purchasing 2 litres of kerosene from the lady for another rainy day.

We stopped briefly while the “Robert” (local speak for robot aka JCB) cleared the landslide across the road ahead. Soon we were on our way and passed the dual bridges where the valley is at its narrowest and started climbing the Kazigs enroute to Nako. Halfway through the climb we encountered deep snow on the road although it wasn’t snowing and that slowed down our progress. The valley which is multiple shades of brown during summer was mostly white with sprinklings of brown for effect. We engaged 4H to keep tyre slippage around the hairpins at the minimum as we clambered up the road. At the Nako junction we decided to give the village a miss as we were already running late and there were rumors that Maling had a foot of snow on the road. Here we encountered a truly awesome sight of a waterfall frozen in its full fury. We were flagged down by two local women for a lift until Sumdo in exchange for some dried firewood as an insurance to start the vehicles the next morning. However on reaching Maling they promptly asked us to stop the car and hopped off. What freaked them out was the amount of snow on the road coupled with the fact that a few mins ago we had mentioned to them that this was our first trip into the valley in winter. After a good laugh we engaged 4L and started a slow crunchy climb for a next 15 mins after which the amount of snow on the road reduced and we could pick up speed.

We finally reached Tabo towards 6pm that evening and it resembled a ghost town as we drove thru looking for the guest house and not seeing anyone to ask for directions. Finally after two iterations we found the govt guesthouse adjacent to the military helipad. The guest house is huge and situated in a sprawling compound. The caretaker though was flummoxed to see us and put up his long list of disclaimers upfront
• Toilet bandh hai. Aap ko is compound se bahar helipad pe jaana hoga (Toilets are shut so you will have to take a dump on the helipad outside the compound of the guest house)
• Bathroom bhi bandh hai. Kamre mein paani nahi milega toh aaap snan nahi kar sakte (Even the bathroom is shut so please don’t expect to have running water in the taps and you cant have a bath)
• Electricity nahi hai, toh heater nahi chalega (there’s no electricity so the electric heaters in the room wont work)
• Abhi late ho gaya hai to khana bhi nahi milega (its late now so don’t expect any food)
• Kitchen mein gas bhi nahi hain toh khana nahi pak sakta (I don’t have cooking gas so whatever I cook will have to be on the wooden flame)
In a nutshell please leave from here .

We then told him that we were referred to his guesthouse from the office of the district head quarters and immediately he relented on the last two points and we were made some basic Dal and rice. This evening we took care to park the cars as close to the walls as possible and covered up the bonnet and fuel tank with plastic tarp that Kartik had brought along. After that we hit the sack by 8pm given there was no electricity. That night was the coldest we spent in the valley and despite being provided with blankets we pulled out our sleeping bags and slept in them for extra warmth.

Pictures from that day
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Old 4th March 2014, 00:13   #4
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Default Re: Winter trip to Spiti in a Fortuner & Thar

Hi satan,
Most amazing and inspiring video ever seen on Team bhp

Kudos to you.
You guys must have had a blast.

How did you manage without snow chains on the wheels?.
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Old 4th March 2014, 00:35   #5
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Default Re: Winter trip to Spiti in a Fortuner & Thar

Awesome! This came up right when me and wifey were thinking of driving up to Narkanda and further up in Spiti just a couple of days back. It was one of our impulsive road trip ideas, sadly our trip isn't going to materialize just now. Woudl end up spending too many days to reach Shimla from Bangalore and not have days to explore there. But I'm going to follow this log and hopefully make the trip next winter.

Few questions:

- Did you have any trouble other than the diesel freezing?
- What about the snow chains, did you use/need them extensively?
- How big a risk would it be to just go with one vehicle vs two? I don't know many crazy fellows who would want to join us on a trip like this.

BTW, both the 4x4s looked awesome in the snowed out terrains and I happen to own both beauties.
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Old 4th March 2014, 02:55   #6
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Default Re: Winter trip to Spiti in a Fortuner & Thar

Quote:
Originally Posted by ecosport rules View Post
Hi satan,
Most amazing and inspiring video ever seen on Team bhp

Kudos to you.
You guys must have had a blast.

How did you manage without snow chains on the wheels?.
Thanks Amol. Yes we did have an absolute blast. Given both vehicles were 4wds snow driving was very manageable.

Few questions:

-
Quote:
Originally Posted by amolpol View Post
Did you have any trouble other than the diesel freezing?
no other issues for both cars

-
Quote:
Originally Posted by amolpol View Post
What about the snow chains, did you use/need them extensively?
we had them but did not use them

-
Quote:
Originally Posted by amolpol View Post
How big a risk would it be to just go with one vehicle vs two? I don't know many crazy fellows who would want to join us on a trip like this.
The BRO has cut most of the road below the heavy snowline which means the road is open until Kaza throughout the year. So as long you stay on the road and do not venture offtrack you should be ok.

Quote:
Originally Posted by amolpol View Post
BTW, both the 4x4s looked awesome in the snowed out terrains and I happen to own both beauties.
Both are fantastic vehicles
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Old 4th March 2014, 08:38   #7
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Default Re: Winter trip to Spiti in a Fortuner & Thar

Day 4: Tabo to Kibber

There are early risers and then there are compulsive early risers. Rishad falls into the latter category. Up every morning at 5.45am irrespective of when he sleeps, he woke me up screaming “Look we got clear blue skies”!!! As the toilets were shut we had to go out in the open to do our morning business. Taking a dump out in the open in -15 degrees C is an awakening experience to say the least. Post breakfast of parathas and omlettes we started a fire below the thar using the firewood that was borrowed the previous day. Kartik the “Firestarter” sat besides his Thar monitoring the naked flames from the dry twigs, that were blowing menacingly close to the rear tyres. Once the Thar fired up we started towards Kaza, completely blown away by the vistas that lay ahead to greet us. Enroute we took a detour to visit the Dhankar Gompa. The approach road to the Gompa was very tricky as we were the first vehicle going up there post the last snowfall so basically making fresh tracks on that very narrow road. Crawling up in 4H we managed to reach the Gompa after 30 mins of climbing. One of the local Sumo cabbies had a flat in the parking lot of the Gompa and was stranded there since the past week as he did not have a working jack to swap the wheel so we lent him the fortuner’s jack. Post a quick bite of apples, biscuits and dryfruits we headed back. Just below the arch across the road an old gentleman invited us to have tea with his wife, so we stopped and chatted for a while. The locals have a tough life during these months which gets compounded if you aren’t staying with others as part of a village and you and your wife happen to be 85+ years of age..

We stopped enroute by the spiti river to have some fun offroading with the 4wds. We tested the depth of the water and thickness of the icy bank to see what lay beneath and once that was done we got the vehicles in one by one to have some fun driving along the river and the ice bed.

We reached Kaza by 5pm and went straight to the fuel pump to tank up the Thar which had a quarter tank remaining. Unfortunately the attendant was out and we were met there by Shri a local from Kibber who was our spotter, guide and man friday for the next 2 days. He joined us in the fortuner and we began to ascend towards the Ki Gompa and Kibber village. Reached the village after nearly an hour of driving as the road’s narrow – 10 ft at best and filled with snow making it difficult to identify the edges. There was a sumo cab in front of us filled with passengers who would get down at every hairpin bend armed with shovels and push some mud from the mountain onto the road so that the vehicle would get traction. The driver of the Sumo was really happy to see the two 4wds overtake him and make a path for his vehicle to follow. Hats off to these drivers who ply their 2wds multiple times a day on some of the most unforgiving snow filled roads in the world!!!

Once we reached Kibber we had to park the vehicles at the market place and trek up to the Norling homestay which was 150 mtrs away and at a height. This was the first time in the past 4 days that altitude made itself felt and we were panting by the time we reached the homestay tugging up the haversacks. We were shown our rooms which were very well appointed but were ice cold and without heaters as surprise surprise ……..there was no electricity and they used solar panels to power the lighting. The internal temp of our rooms was -10 degrees @ 6.30pm and was expected to plummet to -20 degrees at night. Out came the sleeping bags and additional layers of clothing and gloves as we prepared for the coldest night so far. Well it wasn’t to be as we discovered within the next 5 minutes….. We were invited to have tea in the dining room which was basically a big common room with no furniture and just carpets surrounding a nice bukhari or a local heater that’s fed with firewood and cowdung. This room was so nice and toasty that within a minute it was unanimously decided that all 4 of us were camping here, period . We moved our stuff to this room and set up our beds at different places around the fire. The inmates of the house were also very generous with doling out as many blankets and rajais as we wanted, all in all to ensure we were snug and warm. Our cases of bottled water were useless as they had already turned to ice so we bought bottled water from the guesthouse for drinking. The scene with the loo was another eye-opening experience. So as expected the restrooms were shut for the winter but inlike Tabo where we had to go out in the open there was a very ingenious solution at the guest house in Kibber. On the first level there was a small room with a hole in ground that served as a toilet. Surrounding the hole were mounds of goat poop and a small bamboo broom. So you took a dump into the hole and post that pushed some of the goat dung into the hole. I was told post winter they recycle all the shit accumulated over winter into manure. I must say this system is a lot more efficient and clean as compared to going out in the open.
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Old 4th March 2014, 09:01   #8
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Default Re: Winter trip to Spiti in a Fortuner & Thar

more pics from that day
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Old 4th March 2014, 12:10   #9
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Default Re: Winter trip to Spiti in a Fortuner & Thar

That was an amazing video. Loved the part where you drove completely on the snow road with the road sign coming up. Thanks for sharing. Also compliment the music composer the track was great.

Voted 5*.

RoS
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Old 4th March 2014, 13:08   #10
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Default Re: Winter trip to Spiti in a Fortuner & Thar

Lovely write up...waiting for more.

Wondering why the Thar diesel would ice up even after 10 minutes of idling.
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Old 4th March 2014, 16:38   #11
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Default Re: Winter trip to Spiti in a Fortuner & Thar

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Lovely write up...waiting for more.

Wondering why the Thar diesel would ice up even after 10 minutes of idling.
Thanks Sudev. My best guess is that the fuel in the tank was frozen and that the Thar idled on the fuel in the lines and the pump. Which is also why the Thar would start up temporarily each time we poured hot water over the pump and tried starting priming the pump manually.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rulerofsun View Post
That was an amazing video. Loved the part where you drove completely on the snow road with the road sign coming up. Thanks for sharing. Also compliment the music composer the track was great.

Voted 5*.

RoS
Thanks rulerofsun. The "music composer" Rishad Saam Mehta is also on this forum. So thankyou Rish
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Old 4th March 2014, 16:50   #12
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Default Re: Winter trip to Spiti in a Fortuner & Thar

Day 5: Kibber

We had really clear blue skies that day with the sun shining down sharp, so as planned we left for a trek with Shri to try our luck with spotting the ever elusive snow leopard. So we set off by 9am with Sri and Tenzing (the spotter) for a 6 hour trek across the snow filled valleys beyond Kibber with the hope to spot the very elusive and shy animal. We had come prepared to walk thru deep snow with gaiter and crampons over trekking shoes but that did not stop me from slipping, sliding and taking a tumble thrice. The wind chill factor declined as we went deeper into the valley and at one point I had to knock off 2 layers of clothing as for the first time in 5 days I was sweating at -3 degrees. Unfortunately for us we could not sight the beast so we turned around by 2pm and as always the descent back to Kibber was much quicker than the onward journey.
In the evening we bought 20litres of diesel from a local in Kibber as the Thar was running low and we did not want to risk the fuel pump at Kaza being shut again the next day (as the next pump is only after Pooh). Cell phones refused to fire up that day and contact lens solution in the container balled up (that's the pic of the small iceball in my palm).
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Old 4th March 2014, 17:10   #13
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Default Re: Winter trip to Spiti in a Fortuner & Thar

Day 6: Kibber – Tabo
Early morning we received a call from Shri that we should plan on moving out immediately, as the weather was forecasted to turn bad. So we quickly had breakfast, packed up and reached the cars only to find them frozen stiff. It was now close to 40 hours since we had last started them and neither showed any signs of life when we selfed them. By now the drill for the Thar was clear so we borrowed a kerosene stove from a cab operator who had just fired up his vehicle and placed it below the Thar’s tank. Now we had a new problem statement with the Fortuner. It had a plastic fuel tank and a plastic skid plate so placing the kerosene stove beneath the tank would spell disaster. Time to put on our thinking caps and brainstorm with the locals.

Step 1: We procured 5 litres of diesel and boiled it on the kerosene stove. While it was boiling we pushed the fortuner with the help of a half dozen locals and turned it around so that it was facing nose down on a slope. Pushing this truck was no mean feat with external temps of -17 degrees and the road covered with black ice. We then poured that hot diesel into the tank with the hope that it would melt some of the pre-existing diesel. Then with 4 people a side standing on footrests we rocked the fortuner with the hope that the agitation would help some churn in the tank and help fire up the tank. Post that we tried to self the car again but to no avail.
Step 2: After another 15 mins of ideating with the locals we came up with a bright idea of steaming the tank. So a pressure cooker surfaced from a nearby house as did a long thick plastic pipe. We half filled the pressure cooker with water and put it on the kerosene stove to boil. After sometime the whistle went off indicating the water was boiling. We pulled out the whistle and taped the pipe to the cooker with insulation tape from our supplies. Now we had a constant supply of steam from the water boiling in the cooker on the kerosene stove. Removed a mat from the car, went under the car and plugged the other end of the pipe into the gap between the skid plate and the tank. The plug and pray solution worked and soon there was some more life in the response to the starter. We gave the SPA treatment to the Thar too and soon the Thar fired up. Now there was some good news and some bad news. Good news was that the Thar had fired up and was idling steady bad news was that we had managed to run down Fortuner’s battery with the continual selfing. Without jumper cables handy we started to scout around for wire that we could use to jump the fortuner. Meanwhile we were also informed that there was a solar charging station across the road in Kibber where we could plug in the battery for charging. Without a second thought we unplugged the battery and took it for charging and in the meanwhile Rishad also managed to locate some naked electric aluminium wires lying rolled up in a corner across the street. Divine intervention I am convinced. Out came pliers and the insulation tape and 10 mins later we had 2 cables a meter each a meter ready to double up as jumpers. Now with the battery still charging and the Thar already running we decided to try and start the Fortuner by directly connecting the thars battery to the leads of the fortuner ie without the fortuner’s battery. With Kartik hitting pedal to metal and the wires connected we selfed the fortuner and within 5 seconds of the starter turning she fired up. The locals were as happy as we were to hear the fortuner fire up and from that point on all was good. I am always amazed at how selfless, trusting and helpful the people in these regions are. We got back the battery from charging, re- connected it and we were soon ready to roll.

Descending from Kibber that morning was a revelation of sorts. 4L engaged and toggling between 1st and 2nd gear w/o touching the brakes we descended the 16km road to Kaza. There we tanked up and hit the road back to Tabo. On hairpins bends I noticed the wheels had started to grind against the wheel well. On inspection we found that there severe ice build up inside the wheel wells so we borrowed a tyre spanner from the Thar and de-iced nearly 3 kgs of ice per wheel. The weather was indeed gloomy and the clear blue skies of the previous days were replaced by the menacing clouds white and gray in colour. We reached Tabo a little after 5.30pm and went straight to the guest house. This time around though we were a bit luckier and we had electricity at the PWD guesthouse. Thappa wasn’t exactly pleased to see us again but he knew the drill by now. We switched on the heaters in the room immediately and after a quick dinner in the kitchen itself we called it a day.
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Last edited by satan : 4th March 2014 at 17:12.
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Old 4th March 2014, 17:25   #14
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Default Re: Winter trip to Spiti in a Fortuner & Thar

Absolutely brilliant stuff, and that pressure cooker treatment is really out of the box thinking

Last edited by GTO : 5th March 2014 at 18:46. Reason: Typo
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Old 4th March 2014, 18:19   #15
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Default Re: Winter trip to Spiti in a Fortuner & Thar

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Absolutely brilliant stuff, and that pressure cooker treatment is really out of the box thinking
Thanks Rajiv. Yes that idea saved the day

Last edited by GTO : 5th March 2014 at 18:47. Reason: Quoted post corrected
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