Audi Q3 to khardung la

Audi’s lit­tle Q3 goes to the top of the world

Car India - - CONTENTS - Story: Har­ket Suchde Pho­tog­ra­phy: Sau­rabh Botre

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

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