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Words & Images: Ganesh Murthy
The sixth edition of JK Tyre Himalayan Drive that concluded a couple of days back, saw participants drive to Nepal, back to India and rallying around the Dooars region before entering Bhutan, finally making a home run to the scenic town of Darjeeling. The five-day rally flagged off from the City Centre mall in Siliguri on February 23, with over 40 participants. The tri-nation time, speed, distance (TSD) rally saw participants traverse over 1600km in a period of five days, that involved a mix of all terrains like smooth tarmac, highways, off road, driving through tea estates, forest trails and crossing river beds. The rally saw five national level driver duos along with many other participants in the open category.
The first day of the rally involved a 520km drive to Chitwan in Nepal from the flag off point. Only some 70 odd kilometers fell in the competitive zone and the rest of the drive was transport. Defending champions Musthafa and Ali were hot favorites this time too and the first leg saw them take the lead with 54 points. Behind them in the second place were the driver duo of Subir and Nirav in their rally prepped Maruti Suzuki Gypsy, with 62 points. Capt Vikaykumar Sharma and Chandan Sen in their Renault Duster, were at third position with 132 penalty points. Participants drove through riverbeds outside of Siliguri in the first day, which were time control zones. In the open category, the Gagan and Dhiraj were leading in their Honda Jazz with 545 points.
Days 2 and 3 of the rally were cancelled (which everyone came to know later, during the prize distribution ceremony) as the time control zones were not correctly maintained by the organisers. Before the start of the rally, the competitors were briefed that time zones of the respective nations where the rally started would be maintained for the day. Therefore, if the rally started in Nepal, the timekeepers at the time control zones had to maintain Nepal Standard Time. Instead, they put their confidence in the GPS, which did not reset to the Nepal standard time, resulting in them maintaining IST. The 15 minutes time lag between NST and IST created a lot of confusion and many participants too changed their time to IST during the rally. This forced the authorities not to take into consideration the data logged during the course of legs 2 and 3 of the rally, but this came to attention only on the sixth day before the prize distribution ceremony, not before that. Day 2 involved rallying around the scenic Chitwan national reserve forest with 80km of competitive zone while day 3 was a 610 km drive to Murti in the Dooars region from Chitwan that involved some 100 odd kilometers of competitive zone.
Day 4 saw participants drive to Phuntsholing in Bhutan from the scenic Dooars region. The terrain involved navigating through the sprawling tea estates and villages. The locals were cheering along the rally routes. This leg involved some time control zones placed in a zig-zag manner to confuse the participants and many participants gunned straight ahead, without passing the time zones placed on the side. This increased their penalty points, which reflected in the day’s result and overall results. Musthafa and Ali in their Mitsubishi Cedia Sports still maintained the lead, with Subir and Nirav trailing close behind, just two penalty points away. There was a gap of 50 points between the second placed duo and the third placed Vikaykumar and Chandan Sen in their Renault duster. In the open category, Gagan Sethi and Dhiraj Arrora were leading at 638 points, with a comfortable gap of 1998 penalty points to the second placed driver duo of Govind Dalmia and Anand Agarwala. The fourth leg of the rally ended in the town of Phuntsholing in Bhutan.
Day 5 was the final run from Phuntsholing to the hill station of Darjeeling, a distance of 249km and it was the most exciting stage of the rally, as participants handled a variety of terrain in a single day. From cutting through narrow villages, crossing riverbeds, driving through the very narrow forest trails that lead to Gorubathan, a small town near Kalimpong, where smooth tarmac greeted the drivers. As the participants progressed further, the roads leading to Kalimpong were rough as they were under development. It was a very close battle again, as just a point separated the leading duo of Musthafa and Ali from Subir and Nirav in their Gypsy. In the open category, Gagan and Dhiraj were leading at the top with 310 points while the gap between them and the second placed Govind and Anand in their Honda WR-V was 539 points. The final leg culminated 30km before Darjeeling and the next day, prize distribution took place at the Mall area of Darjeeling, where the winners and runners-up were felicitated.
At the end of the five-day tri-nation rally, Musthafa and Ali won the Biswa Bangla JK Tyre Himalayan Drive – 6 and walked away with cash prize of Rs 1 lakh, with 130 points overall. Subir and Nirav were the runners-up of the TSD rally after giving a tough fight to the defending champions, as just 5 points separated them. The duo won a cash prize of Rs 50,000. Capt Vikaykumar sharma and Chandan Sen were the second runners-up, at 290 points and won a cash award of Rs 25,000. In the open category, it was Gagan and Dhiraj winning the rally comfortably, with 1493 penalty points and took home a cash prize of Rs 20,000. A huge margin of 4356 points separated them from the second placed duo of Govind and Anand, who took the second place in the open category.
Amit Dhanotia and Anuragh Agarwala who drove the Mahindra Scorpio won the SUV category with 9461 penalty points. Kalimpong driver duo Pranai Rai and Nanki Kharki in their Mahindra Scorpio were adjudged winners in the ‘above 1300cc category’ with 11,124 penalty points while Bimal Kumar Poudel and Rajendra Gaire also hailing from Kalimpong, with their Tata Tiago won the ‘under 1300cc category’ with 64,064 penalty points.
Overall, the rally was a mix of all terrains ranging from river beds to smooth tarmac in the background of some scenic locales, giving the participants a good exposure to drive in the wilderness of Nepal, the Dooars region and the picturesque, hilly terrains surrounding Darjeeling back home.