Raid De Himalaya celebrates two decades of adventure motorbiking by opening new high-altitude

In 20th year, Raid De Himalaya to open new high-altitude roads in Kargil, Zanskar and Ladakh for motorsport racing

Chandigarh rallyist Anu Rana with navigator Poonam

Shimla: A Sri Lankan star rallyist all the way in Leh, to fulfil his father’s dream to compete in an international-standard Himalayan rally. A woman biker from Cochin who sold off the Tempo Traveller she partly owned, so that she could participate in the Raid de Himalaya. Two amputees who are racing bikes in the severely challenging Xtreme Moto category on high-altitude roads in Kargil, Zanskar and Ladakh sectors.

These are some of the stories at the 20th Raid de Himalaya, India’s iconic rally which will begin tomorrow, on October 8. The first two days are for intense scrutiny of all vehicles as per most strict international standards. The racing will begin October 10 onwards. The Raid will finish at Leh on October 14.

The Raid de Himalaya is the world’s highest cross-country motorsport challenge. Motorsport titans of India are clashing for top honours at the 20th edition of the Raid this year. This year, the Raid boasts of over 200 competitors in various categories.

(From left) Vishnu, Fazeela and Jose

Categories and competitors

In the Xtreme category, which is all about speed, the Raid has a total of 31 teams for Xtreme cars and trucks, and 37 teams for Xtreme motorcycles and quads. The less severe format of Moto Xtreme is the Alpine category for two-wheelers, with 12 competitors.

The Adventure Trail, the category for hard-core adventurers at the Raid, follows the Time-Speed-Distance (TSD) format. There are 31 teams in this category. The new category of Moto Adventurer, for competitors with heavy, powerful bikes, has 15 competitors.

This year’s Raid will run its first stage on the never-before traversed section from Lamayuru, called the moonland of Ladakh, to Photoksar. Rallyists are going to race on a newly-upgraded road that was earlier a mule track into Zanskar. Crossing the Sirisir La at a height of 4805 meters above sea level, the 20th Raid De Himalaya is going to enter totally unchartered territory.

Raid 2018 is all set for the clash between motorsport titans Phil Mathais and Amitrajit Ghosh of Team Mahindra, Raid winner 2015 Lhakpa Tsering, Raid 2017 Runners Up Sanjay Razdan and Sanjay Agarwal, Raid 2017 third overall.

The choice of vehicles for these motorsport champions is diverse. The grueling Raid de Himalaya 2018 is going to feature Mathais and Ghosh driving the XUV 500, Sanjay Razdan driving the Maruti Gypsy, Sanjay Agarwal driving the Grand Vitara, and Lakhpa Tsering of Arunachal Pradesh challenging them all with the Polaris RZR 1000 Turbo Dynamix.

Sri Lankan rallyist comes to the Raid to fulfill father’s dream

For most competitors at Raid de Himalaya, racing at the Raid is an individual dream. A Sri Lankan rallyist has reached Leh this year to compete at the Raid for fulfilling the long-cherished dream of his father.

Shafraz Junaid and Akhry Ameer, the driver-navigator duo from Sri Lanka, have shipped their favourite rally vehicle, a Nissan pick-up truck, from their home country to India. Then the duo transported the truck all the way to Leh to compete in the 20 edition of Raid de Himalaya.

Sri Lankan rallyists Shafraz Junaid (left) and Akhry Ameer

Shafraz and Ameer are fulfilling the dream of Shafraz’ father Faizal Junaid, who was the navigator for the celebrated rallyist of Sri Lanka, Cassim Wahab. For years, Junaid Senior and Cassim had dreamt of competing at the Himalayan Rally, which ran from 1981 to 1990. Junaid Junior is now out to achieve his Dad’s dream.

Raid 2018 will see competitors racing to Umba La, a high mountain pass at an elevation of 4.496 meters above sea level. This is one of the most spectacular stretches globally, and is listed on dangerousroads.org. The high mountain road features more than 50 hairpin curves and dangerous dropoffs.

Raid vehicle in action

Kerala woman biker defines persistence

A woman biker from Kerala, Fazeela Uppilathodi, passionate about competing at the Raid de Himalaya – the highest motorsport event in the world. A workshop owner at Cochin, Jose Sebastian. His mechanic-cum-partner, Vishnu V Vinyan. And a Tempo Traveller used extensively in the devastating Kerala flood in August for rescue, transportation and food distribution.

These four came together to make possible Fazeela’s Raid adventure this year. The Tempo Traveller was purchased by Fazeela, Jose and Vishnu in May 2018. The transport vehicle is part of the story because in a distress sale in September end, Fazeela and her pals sold it. They needed the money to finance her flight tickets, entry fee and other expenses at the Raid de Himalaya.

Fazeela, called Fazi by friends, has been riding in Ladakh for about ten days now. The 28-year-old is training for competing at the Raid by riding long distance in high altitudes. Fazeela has been in competitive motorsport racing for close to two years now. In this short period, Fazeela was second among women bikers at the Indian National Rally Championship (INRC), 2017.

This year, Fazeela has participated in five rounds of INRC. She is eagerly waiting for the last round of the championship, to be held in October end.

Longest-running woman rallyist Shuchi Thakur with navigator (File pic)

Fazeela’s Raid dream has been made possible by her friends Jose Sebastian and Vishnu. Sebastian is owner of Cog Racing, a workshop in Cochin. He recalls that in November 2016, Fazeela came to his workshop to get some work done on her motorbike. “She was practicing stunts on her bike. She asked us how she could do good stunts. I told her I didn’t know stunts, but could train her for racing,” says Sebastian. His workshop prepares bikes for motorsport racing events.

 ‘Xtreme motorsport racing is not cricket, where teenagers can be champions’

Lhakpa Tsering of Arunachal Pradesh, Raid Winner 2015, said it takes guts to race at the heights and the roads that form part of the Raid de Himalaya. “Rallying is not cricket or tennis where you have 17-18 year olds as champions. Competitive high-altitude racing needs maturity, brains and physical fitness, and tremendous grit,” said Lakhpa, 45, who has been in motorsport for 20 years.

The Raid de Himalaya, the world’s highest cross-country rally raid, is considered among the top ten toughest rallies of the world. The Raid was established in 1999, and those in the motorsport circuit admit that it’s made grown men cry ever since.

In 20 years, the Raid has mapped a total of 13.23 lakh kilometres over the highest motorable roads of the Himalayas, including route reconnaissance and transport stages. Competitors driving four wheelers, two wheelers and scarabs have raced over 41,570 kilometers in two decades.

Raid de Himalaya is the flagship rally of the country’s leading motorsport club, Himalayan Motorsport. Vijay Parmar, President of Himalayan Motorsport, said that it has been the Raid’s tradition to open new areas every year to adventure tourism.

“Raid 2018 offers new winding high-altitude dirt roads as extremely challenging stages on the worlds’ highest cross-country challenge. We have been discovering new routes every year. For the 20th anniversary of our epic rally, there had to be something special. Racing on the new pass of Kaldang-Kildang La at an elevation of 4.092m in the Ladakh region, and the daunting stretches of Photoksar and Sirisir La promises to make Raid 2018 a nail-biting finish,” said Parmar.   

Global first: two amputees to taken on challenge of high-altitude racing

For the first time globally, two amputees have decided to take on the challenge of racing motorcycles in the Xtreme category. The duo are Vinod Rawat of Mumbai and Ashok Munne of Nagpur. They are going to race on motorcycles in the category Raid Xtreme (Moto+Quads), the toughest category in this formidable event. Rawat and Munne said they want to show the world that nothing is impossible if one if determined to achieve the goal.

President Himalayan Motor-sport Vijay Parmar said that their club has always promoted the spirit of excellence in life, of achieving against all odds, by supporting para-athletes like Deepa Malik, Arun Bareja and now Ashok Munne and Vinod Rawat. “At the end of the day, without the possibility of an impossible challenge the human being is nothing at all! We are amazed by their determination, and what they have achieved,” said Parmar.

Every year, the Raid races over 3,000 kilometers on severely challenging in the high stretches of the Himalayas. 

Woman power at Raid de Himalaya

If you thought the Raid de Himalaya draws only tough, rugged men with nerves of steel, think again. Delhi’s Shuchi Thakur and Chandigarh’s Anu Rana and Sarah Kashyap are three ladies who promise to set the Raid, rated among the Top 10 toughest rallies in the world, on fire.

Shuchi Thakur is regarded as one of the world’s leading cross-country high-altitude racers among women and she has competed in the Raid an astounding 12 times. Sarah is an accomplished rider as she was the first Indian woman to finish the Xtreme Moto Category at the Raid de Himalaya in 2015. The only other woman biker to finish Raid Xtreme Moto has been the Austrian, Klaudia Honeder, who achieved the feat in 2008.

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