Land Rover Discovery Sport in season’s first snowfall near Nelong valley

Land Rover Discovery Sport in season’s first snowfall near Nelong valley

First snow of the season in the Himalayas

Afternoon rays pierced through four layers of clothing as I stepped out of the shade. The mercury had dropped below zero, the Bhagirathi was almost frozen with the first snowfall of the season, a stream meandering between the mountains behind me fed into this headstream of the Ganges as I gazed at the parked Land Rover Discovery Sport on the tiny bridge over this stream. Fresh snow as fine as powder had blanketed the landscape the night before and the only tracks here were of our Land Rover. In this edition of the Never Stop Discovering series, we were set to attempt the climb to Nelong in the lower Himalayas.

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I wouldn’t call it paradise though. It sure is beautiful but this is no place to relax and get complacent. Just up the road that was now a snow trail, and we had spent an hour rescuing a few tourists who underestimated the treacherous terrain when they drove up in their cars. The Himalayan mountains in summer are tough; in winter they are completely unforgiving. You have to be mindful of not just the drops along the narrow roads but also of a very slippery surface. It’s an absolutely stunning sight when the mountains, pine trees and even the banks of the river down below are covered in snow. Yet most of the time your mind will be focused on just staying on the trail.

Driving the Land Rover Discovery Sport on snow

Driving to this part of the country in January was always going to be a challenge but we had accidentally experienced driving on fresh snow with the Discovery Sport during our drive to Chitkul in Himachal Pradesh a couple of months ago. The road was clear and the earth still had enough warmth in it to melt the snow away back then. We had gotten confident to level up with the Disco. Now though, the Himalayan story had advanced rapidly to the next stage — snow! — except we hadn’t bothered to get the Discovery Sport’s snow traction system as the white stuff wasn’t expected on the dates we were to arrive in Uttarkashi. Weather though can be fickle in the Himalayas at this time of the year. It rained the first evening in Uttarkashi, so we knew what we were in for something serious on the next day as we set our sights on the Nelong valley.

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Heavy snowfall in the Nelong valley

Nelong is an Indian Army post on the China border, a diversion and a little over an hour’s drive away from Gangotri. The landscape is dry and rocky, far from the scenic vistas along the Bhagirathi, with views like the deserts of Ladakh on the other side. This route was opened to the public only three years ago so not many have been here. It’s a tough climb going up to 12,500 feet considering our night halt at Uttarkashi was at just 3,800 feet, and the entire area is notorious for frequent landslides. We obviously wanted to be the first to traverse the Nelong landscape; nature though had something else in store for us. The trail to Nelong received snow much before the roads near Harsil, a small village with the first wave of army presence on this route. It was now buried under five feet of winter and right away, we knew that the route to Nelong had to wait till late April at the earliest.

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Snow brings life to a halt

India is a hot weather country. Ironic isn’t it, considering we have the Himalayas and most of the rivers that feed our nation are basically melted snow and glacial water. We are prepared for the heat and the rain but snow brings life to a standstill. Even the locals in the villages that receive snow just hibernate for 3-4 months of the year. They stock up with food and firewood, stay indoors, do no work and just survive. There just isn’t any infrastructure up here to support a functioning life, so much so that the towns much lower down the Himalayas that don’t receive much snow, like Uttarkashi, retire for the season too.

The MY19 Land Rover Discovery Sport is a capable snow-roader

There is no backup here in the mountains if we get stuck, even the Army trucks are instructed to stay put after 2PM. It was us and anyone on the road who required to be rescued. Land Rover sent us the MY19 Discovery Sport for this drive, straight from the factory. Its tyres were as good as brand new and that was good news on this drive because the deeper the tread, the better it is on snow. We had put the Discovery Sport into its Grass/Gravel/Snow mode and then on it was smooth driving. When you drive on snow, there are a few basic rules to follow – make very little steering input, feather the throttle but maintain momentum, and as much as possible allow enough space for the vehicle to decelerate instead of braking late.

As long as you follow these rules, you will not get stuck. In theory at least. The Discovery Sport also has this clever low traction launch system that comes in very handy when you have to brake on an incline. Torque is delivered smoothly and slowly to prevent the wheels from slipping. You can get away with stopping on an incline with this, something you should otherwise never do on snow. Remember, don’t get carried away by Rally Sweden. You don’t have the skills, the cars or the tyres for it.

Harsh weather outside & cozy and warm inside the Land Rover Discovery Sport

The engine temperature was low with the cold outside, the heater in the cabin kept us at a cosy 22 degrees but just the sight of the white landscape outside was enough to send a chill down our spines every time the road climbed and the extent of the drop to the Bhagirathi increased on our left. There is thankfully plenty of space on the snow trail around this time of the year. You won’t get any oncoming traffic nor will you find a vehicle that wants to overtake you. The only few sets of wheels here are JCBs tirelessly clearing the road and the occasional Army truck.

The way the Land Rover Discovery Sport delivers its torque makes all the difference here. Land Rover’s vast knowledge in calibrating its Terrain Response systems reflects in the composure of the SUV on this terrain. It considers for a novice’s throttle inputs and manages the slip you will get on this surface to keep the Discovery Sport planted and pointing in the right direction. This is a route used by pilgrims visiting Gangotri in summer months and periodically, you will find large parking lots along the road. It’s a playground for the Land Rover Discovery Sport where you can turn all systems off and enjoy long slides.

Driving the Discovery Sport in snow was a memorable experience

The plan was to drive to Nelong valley, climb high up these Himalayan mountains to do justice to the capabilities of the Land Rover Discovery Sport but all we could manage was about 9,000 feet. It isn’t the altitude though that grades you on toughness. One must respect nature and its fury here. In a life full of adventure, the adventure lasts as long as you keep your wits about you. Nelong isn’t going anywhere and the snow sure will melt away. We made it halfway up this time round, which was enough to make it one of my most memorable drives. Rarely do you get to see landscapes like these and it is 4x4s like our Land Rover Discovery Sport that ensure we never stop discovering new and ever more fabulous places in our incredible country. Just make sure you have enough layers of clothing when the Himalayas are on your agenda.

Words by Anand Mohan

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