The unique geography of the Kashmir Valley – less than 200 kilometres from end to end and less than 40 kilometers across at its widest point – means that an early start enables day trips to almost any part of the valley.
Over most weekends my family likes to indulge in our shared passion for travel and birding, facilitated by the synchronicity between three factors:
The first is the amazing network of roads being built across the valley under PMGSY, MNREGA and similar schemes.
The second is the awesomeness of Google Maps – enabling us to point at any spot on the map and venture forth secure in the knowledge that the app will find us a route to that destination.
The third and most-vital factor is that the quality of the road ceases to be a limiting factor because of the extreme capabilities of Jamshed’s newly-acquired off-roader.
More suited to the physical capacity of my generation, overlanding – with off-roading whenever unavoidable – has become our family-friendly travel style (a fact conceded painfully by my body after a few harrowing drives in the Gypsy King). I remember a time when the transition from the Willys Jeep to the original Gypsy felt like unparalleled luxury. How times change!
More than 30 years separate the two Gypsy photographs
We have set ourselves 3 quests:
1. To visit every place of historical or archaeological interest in the valley
2. To visit every river valley of Kashmir
3. To photograph our fast vanishing wildlife – especially every bird species found in Kashmir.
Bonus : Improptu picnics, amazing landscapes, river confluences, and similar interesting sights along the way.
Jamshed had been searching for a true-blue off-roader while waiting for the Suzuki Jimny (which is yet to hit roads in India even though it has been built in the country since 2019. Go figure!) The basic checklist included a full-time four-wheel drive off-roader with low range gearbox, independent supension, relative comfort and easy service.
Soft-roaders did not enter our thought process at all. Think MMA versus WWE. Khabib Nurmagomedov versus The Rock. Soft-roaders are little imitation off-roaders with increased ground clearance, bumped-out wheel arches and bigger tyres but have high gear ratios and a single-speed transfer case. The All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) system is more of a road safety feature than an adventure accessory.
Soft-roaders are just a clever marketing concept as the manufacturers know that these ‘crossovers‘ are more likely to be seen in the company of expensive dog-breeds outside city cafes (like Little Hut or whatever it is called these days) than on rocky mountain tracks.
True 4WD off-roaders can shift the transfer case into a low gear ratio (4-Lo) when the terrain is too tough for four-wheel drive alone. Low transmission and low transfer-case gear ratios multiply engine torque to insane levels. Just put a Gypsy King into 4-Lo and watch it transmogrify from the mild-mannered Dr. Bruce Banner into the Incredible Hulk. Yup – its that dramatic.
I am a petrol-head who has never owned a diesel car but the petrol four-wheel drive options currently available in the country are too expensive to justify purchase for the sake of occasional off-roading. The three-door Mahindra Thar was dismissed as a family-unfriendly wannabe Jeep Wrangler (plus the viral video of a Thar sliding off the mountainside at the Zig killed off any argument in its favor).
Finally, we settled on a pre-owned Mitsubishi Pajero based upon the monster winter performance of Javid Bakshi‘s bulldog Pajero. I was not too happy with the diesel versus petrol (and spares/service) compromise but what to do?
Out of the blue Jamshed was offered an exquisitely well-maintained Suzuki Grand Vitara and jumped at the chance. The petrol-only Grand Vitara is a capable off-roader with legendary Suzuki build quality. It had been imported fully built-up from Japan and ticked all the required boxes plus quite a few more – a timeless design, an excellent driving position, Suzuki reliability and ease-of-service and, most importantly, sedan-like comfort on highways.
Off-road enthusiasts like to christen their vehicles and ‘Husky‘ is the name bestowed upon Jamshed’s new ride complete with a bobble-head mascot.
Over the past year the Husky has traversed diverse terrain ranging from the muddy depths of the Wular floodplains to the highest motororable end-points in Ladakh. These trips will feature in a new section of this blog in the future. Enjoy!