Today has been an eventful one. It began promptly with a 5.30am get up; not ideal since I only got to bed at 1.30am, frustrated by the internet connection, and still needing to catch up on sleep from the flight to Kathmandu, but there was no way I was about to miss what warranted such an early start: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience an Everest flight. Getting back to the airport that morning proved to be a much easier affair than it had been in the opposite direction on our arrival and we were there in a matter of minutes.
It was a dreary, grey morning with a hint of drizzle. Thankfully, though, the peaks of the Himalayas lie above the cloudline so this wasn’t going to spoil the view. Once above the clouds in the 24-passenger plane from Buddha Air (a no doubt carefully-selected name for an airline that the locals will have faith in), we were able to make out two very distinctive peaks – to the left was Mount Everest (enter number of feet), the highest mountain in the world, and alongside was Mount Lhotse (27,940 ft), the fourth highest.
As is often the way with these kinds of opportunities, the photography never seems to live up to the experience itself, but the views were indeed spectacular despite the inclement (???) weather beneath us.
Then it was back to the hotel and by 8.30am we’d had breakfast and were beginning to gather our belongings together ready for that day’s journey to Pokhara to the west. For a number of us, this was the first time travelling in the Range Rover Hybrid – an uncompromised Range Rover product capable of 0 to 60 mph in 6.7s, although not here in Kathmandu.
I’m in Prototype 1 with David Sneath, boss of Land Rover Experience, Richard, a freelane journalist doing a piece for Autocar, and Chris, Managing Director of a company that supplies motoring content to the Mirror Group of newspapers. As we gradually leave the chaos of Kathmandu, pass Tata Motors’ head office in Nepal, and wind our way up and out of the valley, oncoming traffic hampers our progress a little.
Large, colourful trucks with signs on the front such as ‘Speed Control’ and ‘Slow Drive Long Life’ meet us on the way up. To the rear, ‘Blow Horn’ and ‘See You’ appear to be popular choices.
There’s a touch of irony when we see there’s been an accident further up. I suppose you’re tempting fate if you call yourself ‘Highway King’.
We don’t know what these vehicles are carrying – all manner of things no doubt – but are warned to be wary of them behind and to leave plenty of space in front as they don’t tend to have the best of brakes. A German Range Rover Evoque convoy running a day ahead of us discovered that to their peril only yesterday, and the same thing happened last year apparently.
As we trundle along the Tribhuvan Rajpath, passing a van with a goat tethered to the roof, we see “service stations” precariously supported by a mish-mash of wooden posts so as not to take up any valuable lay-by space, and perhaps also to give ample ventilation.
There’s radio communication between our fleet of vehicles and Hans, our group leader at the front of the convoy warns us of potholes ahead, and a little further on we decide to stop for lunch.
After lunch I took to the wheel of the Range Rover Hybrid Prototype 1. There are three prototypes on the expedition and the journey is, first and foremost, their final development test, not just a PR exercise. The drive is exceptionally comfortable, as you would expect from a vehicle that won’t leave you much change from £100,000. This is not a plug-in hybrid; instead, the battery gets its power through regenerative braking.
The rest of our route takes s past a couple of Nepalese women working in a paddy field, numerous school children walking home and two “walking bushes” (people laden with vegetation that they’ve just harvested, so much so that you can only seen their legs).
We pass through lots of little villages with market stalls. Some stalls are seemingly in random places in the countryside, presumably close to where the crops have been harvested. We see goats and goat herders, the occasional cow, and the odd glimpse of the Himalayas, before dusk falls. We reach Pokhara in darkness, yet it’s still busy, and check in at the Shangri-La Village. It’s clean, simple and comfortable and the buffet dinner feels very much deserved.
The Silk Road Trail 2013 is a 16,000 kilometre expedition across some of the world’s most challenging roads, passes and trails, and the final development drive for the new Range Rover Hybrid from Land Rover.