Let me say at the outset that this is not an exhaustive checklist of things to review before you embark on a trip to the Himalayas. What it does try to cover is based on my own experiences over the years on excursions to the mountains. Aptly, since the Himalayas are one of the youngest mountains on earth, they are mercurial, ever changing. Even if you visit the very same places after a gap of a few years you may find very different conditions, not only if you travel during a different month, but also because of the rapid changes that are taking place in the hills. These changes, some of them to improve the infrastructure, say by widening roads, could even result in the de-stabilization of entire hillsides. Climate change is resulting in extreme weather events that now occur with greater frequency and severity. So, how can you be better prepared to be able to overcome any potential problems that you may encounter on your trip?
It goes without saying that you would have checked the local weather conditions at the places you intend to visit. Be sure that the roads are open and in good shape. Try and talk with some locals – perhaps your hosts – to get their perspective on the current situation. So, let us assume you have already been diligent in doing all of this. Also that you are familiar with how rapidly conditions can change in the mountains. And if you are driving up to high altitudes, you understand the need to acclimatize properly. Given all of this, here are five things about your vehicle that you could check before embarking on your journey:
First - tyres and the car suspension
It never ceases to amaze me to see so many vehicles, even sophisticated new cars, heading into the mountains with almost threadbare tyres, or tyres with bulges and cracks. In the city, these faults may cause you merely the inconvenience of a puncture which you can easily get repaired, but it has the potential of ruining a holiday in the mountains. Problems with the car tyres and the suspension will often be caught out in the Himalayas – even with the wider, smoother highways, there are always landslide–prone sections under repair, or in remote areas uneven surfaces, steep descents and climbs. If you think your tyres need replacing, check out CEAT’s CrossDrive and SecuraDrive tyres for SUV’s. If you are going to remote areas, considering carrying two spare tyres with you.
Second - brakes
It goes without saying that having the brakes in the best condition possible is very important. On mountain roads you will also find yourself using the handbrake very often. Think of the number of times you would use the handbrake to stop-start the car on flyovers and ramps during rush-hour traffic, to and from work. Now multiply that by several times, often on far-steeper slopes on Himalayan roads.
Third - lubricants and coolant
Most careful drivers would be checking on the oils and the coolant even while using their vehicles in the cities. I would suggest that you carry a bottle of engine oil and coolant with you. I’m reminded of our trip to the Spiti valley when our vehicle’s engine overheated and all the coolant spilled out. We used our top-up bottle and lots of water until we limped back to Kaza and procured some bottles of coolant after much difficulty.
Fourth - spare fuel
If you are headed to remote parts of the Himalayas, even those which may not be at high-altitudes, you may still find fuel stations difficult to come by. Carry a jerrycan of fuel – you could even prove to be of assistance to a fellow traveler who may be in need of help. On a trip to Ladakh we experienced extremely low temperatures one night. By taking turns in starting the diesel engine at intervals that night we were able to get started next morning. However, another SUV was laid low – the diesel had frozen in the fuel tank and the pipes. Only after great difficulty in thawing out the diesel in the tank with a small fire, and in the pipes by pouring boiling water, were they able to get going after many hours of delay. I remember checking the diesel in our jerrycan that morning – it too was frozen and had the consistency of a gelatinous mass!
Fifth - water, emergency rations and a first aid kit
While these items are not directly related to the upkeep and condition of your vehicle, they have proved to be of use for me personally on many trips. The old adage rings true for a trip to the Himalayas – expect the unexpected. While you may be blessed with a trouble-free trip, some simple precautions that you could take would help you tackle certain situations. Road blockages because of landslides caused by a localized pocket of torrential rain are becoming increasingly common, even in familiar tourist spots. Or a sudden snowstorm that dumps loads of snow quickly and blocks the roads. We’ve been stuck in the car a few times, for hours on end. On one occasion we were able to help a family, with two small children, who found themselves in the same predicament in another car behind us. Check your car’s glove compartment where the first-aid kit nestles - probably unopened for years! It would be a good idea to replenish the medical supplies before you drive up to the Himalayas.
Be safe and have fun!
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