Audi Q3 to khardung la
Audi’s little Q3 goes to the top of the world
Ashiny glass face bearing those unmistakable four rings signify my arrival at the Audi dealership in Chandigarh. A 2017 Q3 Premium, the petrol, FWD model in a snazzy shade of Red stood glistening in the afternoon sun. Our chariot awaited, so without further ado, I hopped into the driver’s seat, set the S tronic transmission into Drive, and we were off.
The drive from Chandigarh to Manali was mostly uneventful, except for a spectacular sunset we caught as we neared that day’s destination. The drive into Mandi along the Beas River is always fun too. From Manali is where the real fun began, though: Rohtang pass and the daunting Himalayan landscape. Rohtang is arguably the best looking pass of the lot, with verdant greens draping the towering mountains, where everywhere else they are bare. It is definitely the worst one road-quality wise, though. Frequent landslides render the pass broken, muddy, and rock-ridden. Did that stop the Q3, though? Not a chance. As the sun streamed down on us, we navigated through the rough stuff and made it down to Koksar. A quick stop to register at the check-post later we were moving once again.
Beyond Koksar, we got our first sight of the snow-capped peaks, as Baralacha La, Sarchu, the Gata Loops and more were dispatched one after the other in a flurry of activity as I sat pretty, soaking in the atmosphere from the driver’s seat. The cushy seats and electronic controls ensured that my driving position was finely tailored to suit my individual needs and, in the pilot’s seat, I was one happy camper. The landscape changed with each corner I navigated around, but the views were equally breathtaking. You just don’t tire of seeing those monolithic peaks rising out above and around you, with a few bathed in a blanket of snow, others with a bit of a green fuzz spread across a patch, and still others bare, brown and bleak. Even the face of the cliffs seems to change as you continue driving, where some mountains are made of what looks like fine mud, while some have rock faces, jaggedly cut by the hands of nature and time.
We took a bit of an off-road diversion at More Plains, and kicked up some dust, before continuing onwards and enjoying a tranquil sunset at the crest of Taglang La — the second highest motorable road in the world. From there, Leh was easily reached and we checked into our hotel for the night.
The following morning we sorted out our inner-line permits and headed up to Khardung La, which is, of course, the highest road in the world open to the public at large. Getting halfway up is pretty easy, fresh tarmac allows for a pretty rapid pace. After that, however, the road ends and the real fun begins as rocks, mud, and streams and puddles of water stand between you and the top of the pass. Despite not having Audi’s excellent quattro four-wheel-drive system, the Q3 acquitted itself rather well, and made it to the top with no drama. The weather, though, seemed to be feeling a little dramatic once we got there, as a flurry of snow greeted us at Khardung La top. The whole section was blanketed in white, and the swirling drifts followed us as we began to descend back into Leh.
There’s something ethereal about seeing the falling snow gather at the top of the panoramic sun-roof above your head, the soft little balls of solidified water blurring out the sun’s rays.
From Leh, it was off again after a quick stop for lunch. We were headed back towards Manali, only this time via a slightly different route. There’s no rest for the wicked, after all, and by this time I had already come to the conclusion that the Q3 is one wicked car. Anyway, our stop was to be Tso (lake) Moriri and the little village of Karzok that sits on its bank, a good 220 kilometres away from Leh. The road started off great, but in what was increasingly becoming a pattern in the mountains, it soon disintegrated into an off-road path instead. The Q3 just kept on moving, though, but it did take a good six hours to traverse these nonroads, meaning we arrived in Karzok well into the night. The following morning, we set out to explore this lake I had heard so much about, and as soon as I stepped out of my nondescript cabin, I had to catch my breath, and not from the thin air at close to 15,000 feet. A shimmering blue lake with sunlight dancing across its surface, framed by peaks that were peppered in snow. It looked like something out of a dream, and for a few seconds, until my brain could process the striking exquisiteness in front of me, I stopped breathing and just stood and stared.
Saurabh, our shutterbug, could hardly contain his excitement as we piled into the Q3 and headed for the lakeside. Up close, we could see that the blue of the lake was actually the reflected blue of the sky, because the water was crystal clear, allowing us to see straight to the bottom, and the schools of fish flitting through the liquid expanse. We could have spent all day there, but sadly, that wasn’t really an option, so instead we headed back out and towards Debring on the
Leh-Manali highway. This meant backtracking down the same road we had traversed the previous night. Only, it was cloaked in the shadow of darkness then, and on our way out was instead bathed in a swathe of bright sunlight. The road was terrible as ever, but the view on offer was absolutely mindblowing. This is what driving in the mountains is all about, challenging roads and picturesque locales that are so singular to the Himalayas.
With a heavy heart, we headed back to the highway, and on leaving Tso Moriri and the beauty surrounding it behind, and hitting those stonelitterd, mud-based roads again, the urge to turn around got that much stronger. We had many miles to cover before we reached civilisation again, so I had no choice but to keep heading back.
A part of my heart will always dwell in those mountains, though, and I am glad I got the opportunity to explore them in a car as capable and fun as the Q3. As I alluded to earlier, we had the FWD variant, but even without a tech-laden all-wheel-drive system, the car’s power, handling, suspension and ground clearance all made for a worry-free drive in terrain that is typically treacherous. The baby Q had proved its mettle and shown what it could do when you let it loose in its element. More than anything else, though, it had allowed me the opportunity to see those magical, mesmerising peaks again, and for that, I am glad.
A part of my heart will always dwell in those mountains, though, and I am glad I got the opportunity to explore them in a car as capable and fun as the Q3
( Right) The sun streams down on Rohtang Pass
( Below) Catching the sunset a little outside Manali
( Left) Leaving the mothership at Chandigarh
( Right) More Plains offered up the opportunity for some off-road fun
( Below) Khardung La top was bathed in snow
( Above) The little monastery at Taglang La top offers up some breathtaking vistas
( Right) The view on offer while leaving Tso Moriri was phenomenal
( Above) Fording bridges is a crucial part of the Himalayan road-trip experience