A Himalayan Tryst

 

This Independence Day, Better Photography accompanied OVERDRIVE on a mesmerising and exciting drive into the Himalayas, in the exquisite Audi Q3s and Q7s. Conchita Fernandes recounts the entire trip.

At more than 13,000 feet, the Audis were lined up along the Leh Manali Highway, surrounded by lush greenery on either side of the road, just before we reached Rohtang Pass. Photograph/Conchita Fernandes

At more than 13,000 feet, the Audis were lined up along the Leh Manali Highway, surrounded by lush greenery on either side of the road, just before we reached Rohtang Pass. Photograph/Conchita Fernandes

Growing up, my only exposure to the stunning mountainscapes of the world was through the pages of National Geographic magazine. The rich and vibrant spreads of the snow-capped mountains often left me in a state of awe, and a longing to experience its magnanimity. I was finally able to do so last month, when I accompanied OVERDRIVE in their annual Independence Quattro Drive. Fifteen participants and I made our way through the curved and sometimes treacherous mountainous roads in the sleek and powerful Audi Q3s and Q7s.

As we made our way towards the Rezang La Memorial, and even beyond, we encountered several such signboards, reminding and urging visitors never to forget the bravery of our jawans. This particular one had the insignia of the Gorkha regiment, one of the most celebrated troops in the world. Photograph/Conchita Fernandes

As we made our way towards the Rezang La Memorial, and even beyond, we encountered several such signboards, reminding and urging visitors never to forget the bravery of our jawans. This particular one had the insignia of the Gorkha regiment, one of the most celebrated troops in the world. Photograph/Conchita Fernandes

 Soldiers at attention, right before the wreath-placing ceremony, honouring the 114 soldiers who lost their lives holding their ground to more than 5000 Chinese soldiers at Rezang La. After the ceremony, Hawaldar Sunny Thapa (on the extreme right), narrated the entire course of events that took place on the day of the attack. Photograph/Conchita Fernandes


Soldiers at attention, right before the wreath-placing ceremony, honouring the 114 soldiers who lost their lives holding their ground to more than 5000 Chinese soldiers at Rezang La. After the ceremony, Hawaldar Sunny Thapa (on the extreme right), narrated the entire course of events that took place on the day of the attack. Photograph/Conchita Fernandes

 Young jawans greet us as we arrive at the Rezang La Memorial. In the background, one can notice the mountains separating India and China.Photograph/Conchita Fernandes


Young jawans greet us as we arrive at the Rezang La Memorial. In the background, one can notice the mountains separating India and China.Photograph/Conchita Fernandes

Our journey began at Chandigarh, from where we briskly worked our way upwards through Manali, Jispa, Leh, Chushul and finally, Pangong Lake. As we whizzed past rivers, hilltops and mountains, I found myself at a complete loss, as I couldn’t decide whether to absorb the spectacular scenes, or spend time photographing it. Everything is picturesque in the mountains. One can never tire of looking at the swell and ferocity of the Indus, or the gentleness of the Bhaga River, as it meandered through different terrains. While the contestants and I gawked at the sights that greeted us, we were simultaneously acclimatising to the sharp spikes in altitude, as we passed the various passes at Rohtang, Naki La, Khardung La and Taglang La. In a way, the scenic landscapes compensated for those of us affected by the altitude.

With the Audis lined up on the side, the participants, along with retired Colonel Sukhi Sekhon, pay their respects to the Indian national flag. Photograph/Conchita Fernandes

With the Audis lined up on the side, the participants, along with retired Colonel Sukhi Sekhon, pay their respects to the Indian national flag. Photograph/Conchita Fernandes

The Audis making their way along Pangong Lake... The red Q3 in particular, looks stunning against the shimmering blue water. Photograph/Conchita Fernandes

The Audis making their way along Pangong Lake… The red Q3 in particular, looks stunning against the shimmering blue water. Photograph/Conchita Fernandes

Ladakh Sarai and the J W Marriott in Chandigarh were two of our hospitality partners. Ladakh Sarai, in particular, offered a spectacular view of the mountainscapes, that too, from the comfort of my bed. Photograph/Conchita Fernandes

Ladakh Sarai and the J W Marriott in Chandigarh were two of our hospitality partners. Ladakh Sarai, in particular, offered a spectacular view of the mountainscapes, that too, from the comfort of my bed. Photograph/Conchita Fernandes

Ladakh Sarai and the J W Marriott in Chandigarh were two of our hospitality partners. Ladakh Sarai, in particular, offered a spectacular view of the mountainscapes, that too, from the comfort of my bed. Photograph/Conchita Fernandes

Ladakh Sarai and the J W Marriott in Chandigarh were two of our hospitality partners. Ladakh Sarai, in particular, offered a spectacular view of the mountainscapes, that too, from the comfort of my bed. Photograph/Conchita Fernandes

However, the real star of the trip, barring the mountains, was our visit to the Rezang La Memorial on 15 August. It was constructed in remembrance of the 120 soldiers of the 13 Kumaon, led by Major Shaitan Singh, who put up a brave fight against the 5000-6000 Chinese soldiers, who launched a surprise attack. We spent the day honouring these brave souls. A few members of our team were invited to participate in the wreath-placing ceremony, and this was followed by a hearty narration of the entire chain of events that took place on the fateful day of 14 November, 1962. A gamut of emotions swept across those attending the memorial, which finally culminated in hoisting the Indian flag and singing the national anthem. We were then invited by the battalion protecting Rezang La, at their base camp. Here we were warmly welcomed by the soldiers, who offered us lunch and a chance to interact with them.
We spent the last two days camping at a site in Chushul, and along the pristine blue waters of Pangong Lake. While it was bitter cold at both these places, it gave us the rare opportunity to observe the star-laden sky, with shooting stars making several guest appearances. As I flew back from Leh, I was offered one last opportunity to marvel at the ice capped mountains, as fluffy clouds gently embraced them.

The OVERDRIVE Independence Quattro Drive would not have been possible without the support of its partners—Audi for the excellent Quattro vehicles, Michelin as a tyre partner for the road trip, TOTAL QUARTZ as the engine oil partner, and Red FM 93.5 for providing media support.

Tags: A Himalayan Tryst, Audi, better photography, Conchita Fernandes, Independence Quattro Drive, IQD, Overdrive, September 2017