Land Rover Discovery Sport- Exploring India’s Rubicon
As we drive the Land Rover Discovery Sport up to the Sangla Kanda trail, Upender, a local hand is guiding us. A few Decembers ago the snow was neck deep he says. My immediate first reaction is to ask if snow snaps mobile connectivity on the Sangla-Kanda road, else how will they Instagram the ‘White Out’ pictures. But remembering how my passenger, Mr Mountain, proudly announced his disdain for social media over yesterday’s dinner I pocket those thoughts, and the phone. Instead I ask what is it that they do when the place is cut-off from the rest of the world. “We hibernate”, chuckles Upender and we continue with our Land Rover Discovery Sport.
Driving the Land Rover Discovery Sport up the Sangla Kanda trail
Doesn’t sound very funny to me as a cursory glance at the peak reveals the powder has capped its tips. And we are already out of mobile network. And I haven’t web checked-in for our flight back; emergency exit reclining seat, goodbye. Time to focus on our task at hand, and that is piloting our Land Rover Discovery Sport up a trail many have christened, India’s Rubicon. We are at the small village of Sangla, a short drive up from another small village called Batseri on the banks of the Baspa river. It’s around 200km from Shimla, 350km from the nearest airport at Chandigarh and our climb takes us up to Kanda, on a trail that only hard-core 4x4s and off-road specced bikes attempt. That too in September, not November when the weather is as unpredictable as your wife’s moods.
In the Land Rover Discovery Sport with Mr. Mountain
“Let’s be brave but not stupid”, crackles Vijay Parmar over the radio as we cross the BRO iron bridge over the Baspa to begin our climb. “The trail up there will have snow beyond the halfway point. If you get stuck I’ll have to come and fetch you in April, but the good thing is the body doesn’t decay in this weather”, he continues in his manly-man baritone. At least he has a sense of humour. Or wait, I didn’t sense a change of tone. Is he being funny or not?
Anyone with half an adventurous bone in their body will know of Vijay Parmar. He is Mr Mountain. He is the man behind the epic Raid de Himalaya rally raid, India’s toughest, most hardcore motorsport event. Once when the editor went up to complain about something on the Raid he told him that the Raid separates the men from men with hair on the chest. And that was him being nice to a journo. He spends his summers riding adventure motorcycles in the mountains and his winters skiing in the mountains. He is a grizzly Himalayan bear. If he says don’t be stupid, we better not be stupid.
The Discovery Sport is a born tough-roader
Then again I had a Land Rover, and it’s the kind of vehicle that brings out the explorer in you. This might be the baby Land Rover but it is a Land Rover and their babies are tough as they come. Which brand offers their baby SUV with full underbody protection and publishes approach and departure angles in their press release? None. It’s 25/31 degrees by the way. Besides rock crawling low ratios, the Disco has every base covered. There’s even 212mm of ground clearance, 340mm of wheel articulation and the ability to wade through 600mm of water. If you’ve done any of the Land Rover Experience drives, you probably know that by now. In that safe and controlled environment you can get to know and get to the limit of what the Discovery Sport can do (besides dropping the kids to school). It’s knowledge that helps when you’re out in the mountains and I have zero knowledge. Aninda went to LRE school, the Ed sent me here for further studies. Thrown into the deep end and all that.
Land Rover Discovery Sport – tackling the highs
The Sangla-Kanda trail is about five kilometres long, that’s it. In the first 2.5km we gain 500 metres in elevation. To break it down, that’s 100 metres in elevation every 500 metres in distance or 22.62 degrees in gradient. The trail is steeper in some parts, easier in others — obviously. Home work (reading a press release before climbing the trail) told me that the Disco can handle a 45 degree incline. It doesn’t mention the nature of surface though, and a rocky trail will pulp the little confidence you had after any theoretical preparation. A press release also doesn’t mention anything about the fear-of-death aspect of a hill climb that’s as wide as the Disco’s tracks in certain places. At least the drop is on my left and Vijay, sitting shotgun, will be the first to go down.
I click the Terrain Response into Mud/Rut mode and gingerly ease the Disco into the climb taking my time as the team got their shots. Vijay goes for a walk. An hour later he crackles over the radio.“I forgot to pack my shaving kit and I’m growing a beard.” Come on, is he joking or no?
Anyway, you do as Vijay says. Pace picks up. A few five-point-turn hairpins later, we were on a grassy meadow halfway up the mountain. Snow had settled in patches over the grass and the slippery terrain was ideal for some fun exercises. Climbing up a snow-sheeted grassy incline for instance. The snow turns to water when the Disco’s wheels roll over them and with the weight of the SUV, the grass is uprooted to form slush that makes the terrain very tricky. The angle of ascent is important, as is momentum and the right driving mode. Mud/Ruts work perfectly as we climb up and a couple of attempts later, the Disco is up the mound. It’s perfectly fine to make mistakes as the Disco forgives them. The robust underbody protection takes a few hard knocks during the drive yet doesn’t even bat an eye lid. The suspension is set up on the stiffer side, which is great when you are climbing over rocks because the SUV doesn’t bounce around too much and lets you find your line without much drama.
The higher you climb, the thinner the air gets and that affects performance as the engine needs to breathe as much as you do. If you are finding it tough to climb up the mountain, it’s quite likely that the engine is gasping for air too. Higher up, expect 30-40 per cent of the engine’s performance to drop due to thin air. It wasn’t as much here on the Sangla Kanda trail but I was prepared for delayed throttle responses. But I couldn’t find any of the delay. The Disco has enough reserves of torque to climb up the steep inclines on this trail and a couple of hours later we reach the mid way point and encounter deep snow thanks to heavy overnight snowfall. And it’s not December yet! Having not packed show chains we wisely we turn back; don’t want to wait till April for Vijay to come and rescue us.
Back to civilisation in Sangla, we got tyre pressures back to normal from the 24PSI we had dropped it to for the climb and started the long winding drive back to Chandigarh. The adventure now moved into another gear. The weather had worsened and the entire drive was under heavy rain. In the pitch dark of the night, it started snowing heavily but after the Sangla Kanda climb, this was child’s play for us as the trail climb starts at about 2800 metres from the base of the river. The Discovery Sport’s torque vectoring by braking tech works its magic to maintain traction on snow. We were overtaking vehicles and maintaining a smooth average pace all through the snow drive back and it just felt so easy. And what a beautiful drive it was till Kanda. The Disco loves the twisties, doesn’t roll much in corners, puts its power down well to the road and the interiors are so comfortable 16 hours of driving at a stretch doesn’t feel as strenuous as it would otherwise. The Sangla-Kanda trail allowed us to showcase the Discovery Sport’s capability. You don’t have to go off-roading with a Land Rover but when the terrain presents itself, it can go just about anywhere. Even if all you want to do is hibernate.
Words by Anand Mohan