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Thar in Tibet – The road-venture of a lifetime

Debabrata Sarkar | Updated on December 18, 2014 Published on December 18, 2014

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How does an Indian off-roader fare in a drive up to the Roof of the World?



It isn’t every weekend that you wake up in a hotel in Kathmandu and pack your bags for sub-zero temperatures and ready your system for an acute shortage of oxygen. In case you are thoroughly confused, well, it isn’t every day that you drive into Tibet and chart a route through the most spectacular plateau, surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the greatest mountain range in the world.

You need something that will live through that sort of terrain and let you have a bit of fun in the gravel traps along the magnificent Friendship Highway that runs through Tibet. More importantly, if you have the stomach for it, a car that will let you turn away from the highway and head across almost 80kms of bone jarring dirt trails to get to the north basecamp of the greatest mountain of them all, the Everest.

Terrain troubles

So, yes, I strapped on a Thar, not just any old one, but a specially kitted Mid-night Edition and headed out across borders for an adventure of a lifetime. With a great many lights bolted on the front of the car, a complicated cage hanging on to the outside, a snorkel, a high-lift jack and a winch it looked serious enough to take on the ‘Roof of the World’.

However, no one had quite prepared me for the bit in the lush green valley of Nepal, where half a mountain side had collapsed and threatened to blot out a tributary of the Kosi river, at least temporarily. The first stream and the slippery muddy trails were dealt with without much fuss by the Thar with the deep treads on the mud tyres working their way through everything. By the time the second stream came up, a truck was already stranded in the middle and another one promptly went and got stuck behind it. No pressure then. Four-wheel-drive engaged with the low-range gearbox in action and the snorkel breathing clean air from a couple of feet above the water, the Thar managed to wade across.

Up to The Everest

Thankfully, the roads improved dramatically in Tibet and all that needed to be dealt with there was the rapid gain in altitude and trying to convince my lungs to keep functioning with extra deep breaths. Walking up the hill side to get a couple of pictures of this high-altitude desert was a task in itself and the fact that the average height of Tibet is roughly 14,000 feet (about half-way up Everest) did not make things any easier. The Thar, surprisingly, remained in better spirits and chugged on. It was impressive enough munching miles on the Friendship Highway, but it was even better off it. The final bit of the road from a town called Tingri, is a pure dirt trail. It used to be a week long trek for earnest climbers who prepared to raid the Everest, but now it’s just a dusty trail which takes a few hours to tackle as you hurtle towards the North basecamp of the mountain.

Standing there, in Rombuk, the Thar in tow, partially frozen over after an incredibly chilly night, looking out at a sombre concrete pillar, which announced that we were indeed standing 5200m above sea level and staring out at the magnificent Mount Qomolangma (Tibetan for Everest) is a feeling that is simply indescribable. And as long as you have a good car that can handle being thrown around, like the Thar, you can make it there. Just one thing though, remember to breathe.

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Published on December 18, 2014
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