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It's a Himalayan task to keep the pace in India's most extreme motorsport event

One mistake will leave you at the mercy of gravity--certainly not a good idea if you are driving 17,000 feet above mean sea level. One mistake and you will have time to call your loved ones and your two dogs and have a drawn out conversation on the long flight down. This isn't your regular 'treasure hunt' Time-Speed-Distance rally. So, what are we, two city-slickers, doing driving somewhere between Manali in Himachal Pradesh and the desolate beauty of Ladakh in Kashmir? Three simple words. Raid-de-Himalaya. The 8th Maruti Suzuki Raid de Himalaya, organised by the Himalayan Motorsports Association has got categories for everybody from the professional rally driver(X-TREME) to the amateur driver (Reliability trial). The X-treme category, as the name suggests is a flat out blast over narrow, dusty mountain roads and is similar to the now discontinued, but legendary Himalayan rally. The reliability trial is the interesting one. Started as a way to encourage rallying in a cricket crazy country, anyone with a set of wheels can take part. We went in a completely normal Maruti Swift, the only modification being the metal plate under the oil sump and the petrol tank, although in retrospect, we should have carried air freshener too, but more on that later. The trick to winning is to sense how much of a bashing your car can take and stay just below that limit. Not a place for wannabe rally heroes-these guys usually find themselves stuck miles from civilisation with a punctured sump, waiting for official help. Improvise where you can and do everything in your power to get to the service at the end of each day's leg. We broke two sets of rear shock absorbers on two days, so we just bounced our way to the end of the day, hoping not to break the car's springs. The door wouldn't shut on another day, so we tied it with a piece of nylon rope and finished the day. Apart from the mandatory emergency rations to be carried in the car, add air freshner to your list. Packed lunches don't stay in their boxes for long in a madly bouncing rally car. Three days into the rally, we found stiff chapatis and vegetable curry stuck to the carpet under the seats. My co-driver, Joy Chaudhuri refused to get into the car and it finally got it's well deserved wash. When you go, be prepared to brave sub zero temperatures, change tyres at altitudes where germs would have trouble breathing and landscape that will take away whatever breath you have left. It was a completely enjoyable experience, now that i'm back in the city, but had you asked me the same question when it was minus four degrees at the Patseo army camp, I would have certainly told you to go jump off one of the beautiful cliffs surrounding the camp. My sincere advice to you would be to take part in the Raid. The Himalayas, if not the feeling of playing rally champion will blow your mind.OUSEPH CHACKO

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