Khardung La Chronicles – Day 5


Early birds gets the worm, sorry gets cold here in Leh, jokes apart, can you imagine the team ready at 5 all set to go in for a drive and shoot!

All members of RBR team and Team Red Bull India were all ready at the appointed time early in the morning and the production team had already left for the day.

The challenge is not much as we could see through the day in driving the car but in getting them on camera, its not a track where we are used to driving in perfect conditions, right from track temperature to the tyre warmers and all those things are taken care of.

Here we are in a remote location to be frank in the sense that we are in a place so high in altitude and we are trying something very different and when it’s the first time we have our hearts pumping fast.

Murphys law is mostly on work when we plan it almost to perfection.

The car will be driven today with the blessings of the monks, making it the monks who blessed the Red Bull literally.

The first drive of 2.4 litre RS 27 powered RB 7 car in Leh would mark a history in the annals of motorsports in this country of ours where the real action is just weeks away  at the grand inaugural at Noida near New Delhi.

The fact that this has been possible is a testimony to the big inspiration of Red Bull as a brand to be doing things which are extra ordinary and more so to the team in India which put itself to scale the highest motorable road on an F1 car at Khardung-La.

A perfect picture doesn’t mean it was easy all the way, but then when the team works really hard and smart to get its way it’s really the best experience you get and the results are satisfying.

For the first time in my life I could see make shift pit garage across the road and gullys to make the car ready. In hindsight I thought these pit stops were better off than those which were to come.

The car was atop the hill at the Thiksey Monastery a famous place in Leh, a monastery which is a visitor’s delight and there are monks and the wannabe monks in Buddhist red shawls who greet you in a sweet cute smile.

Thiksey monastery was founded by Spon Paldan Sherab, nephew of Sherab Zangpo in 1430 AD. It was earlier built by Sherab Zangpo at Stakmo and later on rebuilt by Spon Paldan Sherab on a hill top, towards north of mighty Indus river. Highlights of Thiksey Monastery is the ramparts of holy shrines inside the monastery. Thiskey Gompa houses an ancient temple, popularly known as Lakhang Nyerma.  (courtesy Wikipedia)

The master and the disciples had come down while the time had been spent fruitfully in setting up the car ready to go. They were bewitched to see a sensous car and they surrounded the car to know and Neel Jani gave them a go on how it works. All very curious onlookers and tried their best to understand even the car setup looking at the computers nearby.

When everything was set, they blessed them the very best to come for the most treacherous road ahead for the team to come. The Monks who blessed the Red Bull moment had come and the car fired up in all its glory set its first drive at the heavenly Leh and the monks they were surprised at the speed the car could go.

Neel Jani was a happy man, this was relatively a short run for him but a mark of history is waiting to be written while in some other part of the world his team mate Sebastian Vettel is planning on a bigger celebration for his life and also for the team.

Serefee (that’s Cheers in Polish!) everyone the first drive has been a success! And it was just the first drive in a journey so long, and its Zen when you say a journey of thousand miles start with a small step or a small drive for this occasion.

Continuing after the first successful run at the Thiksey monastery the car would now test the real gully leading to the road. Brought down the truck to avoid the mud road and to the gully road if I may call it, it was readied and then Neel had the most bumpy ride of his life in an F1 car! He managed to touch 110 kmph and tried getting into the 3rd gear but no the car was bumpy and he was happy at the second gear!

‘Oh man I must be the only guy who has driven an F1 car in such conditions’ Neel  later said of this short straight road trip.

I should tell you that Leh is full of stupas the sacred buildups around the country and this has been happening for centuries and we had the opportunity to see some stupas which are almost some 400 years old.

Along the roadside the team had decided to run the car at this special place where we had done our shooting of the stupas two days earlier.

In Buddhist culture, a stupa is a symbol of enlightened mind and the path to its realisation. The best definition for stupa can be “spiritual monument”. The stupa represents the Buddha’s body, his speech and his mind but most especially his mind, and every part shows the path to Enlightenment.

The faith is that the visual impact of the stupa on the observer brings direct experience of inherent wakefulness and dignity. They continue to be built because of their ability to liberate one simply upon seeing the structure.

Text Courtesy  (http://www.flickr.com/photos/naadodi/2854433253/)

So once again the car was transported and a pit stop in the middle of the road, alongside an army ambassador car passing by and another TATA truck getting along the road, who could forget the army truck too.

Before I continue let me tell you Neel had to steer the car for over a kilometer after his bumpy ride to reach this place before the car could be transported to the present destination.

‘This is fun, imagine being pushed on a road with traffic flowing on the opposite side!’ Neel was having some of his best moments in an F1 car for sure and we were enjoying every bit.

My photography in the meanwhile did not go as planned, I remember the Speed Street experience and so had now three running shots to be precise and when the car was not running made merry of clicking enough of Neel and the car and the crew!

The road chosen was winding and could give you the best of the view of the stupas and also an elevation to ride for with an S bend. Classic chicane stuff!

One of my shots worth remembering happened during this drive and then it was time for lunch and well there were lucky spectators who stopped for a camera moment with Neel and the car!

This is the third drive of the day and the longest drive of the day was yet to come! Magnetic Hills it was and what was in store was still thrilling to imagine.

Red Wine, is cherished as it becomes old, my experiences with team Red Bull on this special occasion was like that every passing moment had something better for me and memories to cherish for as always.

To continue with Magnetic Hills in the next read!

Till then check out some amazing photographs and some amazing video webisodes of our expedition to Khardung-La!

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At the Magnetic Hills range, the road was a long straight of over 3 kilometers and what a magnificent breathtaking view it was. Now the Team RBR had become adept at making pit stops along the road sides and it was no different either here. We crossed the river it had the ruins of the last years cloud burst and how much the Border Roads Organization of the Armed forces have made it is believed to be seen here in reality.

It was lovely to see the very fancy colored trucks trudging along the pit stop! The cameras were ready to roll and I reckon this must be the last of straights Neel will enjoy because this was our last stop in the plains literally.

I was at the other end to see the car do its trial run and the full throttle run. It was a grand spectacle to watch the car emerge behind from a scenic background of the brown hills and the violet blue machine emerging from a mirage laden road was a sight to behold.

Neel meanwhile was making the nest use of the road rather the straight to his full advantage and sped up over 150 kilometers. There was good use of the aero along the straights. The car would vanish in a split of a second and get back the same way it came.

It was a great moment for all those holding a camera, you missed it in a split of a second. The car if had to be captured, you need to be having special extra sensory reflex as to at what speed it will enter your frame and leave your frame and in that moment do the clicking so fast to make a photograph. Well this is for amateurs and those with lesser abled cameras!

The run was pretty great and what a day it had been with three different locales and runs. All distinctly different from each other and challenging the limits in terms tracks one was a blessing in literal sense then there was a gully you could drive a normal car on so bumpy it was it it was like so many thuds, then there was an S bend, it was perfect to maneuver the car around the stupas, and fly it down the elevation, and the last was a straight you could always be on gas but these are not tracks of ay nature, and the suspension of the car was heightened to accommodate this terrain.

A great and long day at office for Neel and Team RBR, and the production team was already having a look at the footage they had painstakingly recorded under trying circumstances of the monastery to the motorable roads and to the Magnetic Hills.

Something I should mention here is that everyone seamlessly fit into roles whatever it meant. Stopping traffic, regulating the traffic and getting people to cooperate, it was getting more and more pleasant with more challenges along the way and every time it was being successful met with the challenges were more inviting along the way!

That was about the long day in the plains, and as we look up it was the hills inviting us with a smile, was that a sign of the greater things to come, keep reading this page to know how the hilly terrain and snow-clad mountains welcomed us to their fold.

R Senthilkumar