The end of June saw a record number of tourists flock to Jammu and Kashmir’s stunning lake shores to cheer the 120 rallyists who took to the tarmac for the fourth edition of the Mughal Rally. Hi! Blitz played bystander to the racy action.
In May 2007, the Supreme Court finally gave clearance for the construction of the Mughal Road.
Work began in full earnest to widen the old elephant trail into a road. Two years later, it was still a quagmire of mud and rocks and could be traversed only by powerful 4x4 vehicles. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, an auto buff, knew the track wasn’t ready for normal traffic yet. But with its breathtaking landscapes, it was an ideal route for a rally.
In 2005, the Raid de Himalaya rolled into Kashmir. The Raid, an iconic motorsport event, is the mecca of rallying in Asia. It is organised by Himalayan Motorsport, the premier Shimla-based motorsport club. During its 2009 prize distribution ceremony, Omar Abdullah invited Himalayan Motorsport to open the Mughal Road with a rally. And thus, the Mughal Rally was born—the first one held in June 2010.
Today, the top speed of the rallyists on this track goes up to 170km per hour. The wide, smooth tarmac has changed the nature of the rally. “We realised that the Pir ki Gali on the Mughal Road and Sinthan Pass offer the same challenge to motorsport enthusiasts. This year, we had entries from almost all parts of the country for the hill climb; it has the potential of becoming an international challenge,” said J&K Tourism Minister, Ghulam Ahmad Mir. Pir ki Gali (at an altitude of 11,500 feet approximately) and Sinthan Pass (at approximately 12,450 feet) are two of the highest mountain passes in the country.
Vijay Parmar, President, Himalayan Motorsport, says that in the 2014 Mughal Rally, highly suspended 4x4 will give way to low, wide and fast cars. “It’s not about wading through streams or hurdling fallen trees anymore. It is about keeping to the racing line through the corners and sheer horsepower. Evolution 3 is around the corner.”
The rallyists claimed the Gool-Gulabgarh, Reasi and Ramban route, Daksum, Sinthan Pass and other competitive stretches gave them a new insight into the potential that Kashmir has for adventure tourism. Sanjiv Singh, the Co-Founder of the Terrain Tigers, said, “The rallying experience in Kashmir is fantastic.” Team Terrain Tigers, a Delhi-based motorsport club, fielded five teams in Rally Xtreme (4x4), one in Rally Enduro and one participant in Rally Xtreme (motorcycles) at the event. “Having travelled extensively through the world, I see Kashmir as one of the best destinations internationally in terms of location, weather and challenging terrain,” said Singh, adding, “Early in the morning, in the rain, people and children were out in the streets to cheer the rally. My team members thought the experience was unforgettable.”
Sanjay Razdan, a competitor in Rally Xtreme, hails from the valley. Sanjay revealed that the experience of coming back to the valley where he grew up, to participate in an international-level rally here, was highly moving. “My co- competitors called it a perfect rally in terms of the motorsport challenge and the beautiful locales. I agree.”
Text: Sharmi Ghosh Dastidar Photographs: Rishabh Nagpal