Driving on the Tibetan plateau was, aside from the altitude, fairly straightforward. Chinese highways are world-class, the terrain relatively flat and the facilities were good.
But crossing the Himalaya, descending 1,000m in one hour through serpentine roads, negotiating a tin-shed immigration post on the Nepal side, and then bumping along the dusty track from Rasuwa to Kathmandu tested the stamina of the drivers and their 60 plus cars. The drivers said the contrast between China and Nepal could not have been more stark.
“It was the worst road I have ever driven in, actually there was no road. But it was an adventure of a lifetime,” said Steph Duckworth, who drove a classic 1979 Range Rover 2-door named Camel.
Via Jilong Pass on the Kerung side, across the border and on to Kathmandu was only 181km, but it took the 15 cars 18 hours along the earthquake-damaged road. Two of the cars lost their headlights and had to negotiate the dark and dusty tracks with handheld torches as the exhausted drivers and cars wheeled into the Yak & Yeti Hotel at midnight on 9 May.
Trans-Himalayan Adventure 2019 was organised by Rally Round, which sets up challenging vintage and classic car events, including the trans-continental Peking to Paris Rally. But even by its gruelling standards across the most challenging terrain on Earth, the non-competitive China-Nepal-India rally was one of the most difficult so far for drivers and cars alike.
Crews were driving a 1925 Rolls-Royces Silver Ghost, and a 25/30 1937 Coupe named Buttercup. A 1925 Bentley Super Sports and a 1927 Nash Roadster were some of the other elderly cars. Senior vehicles included the Mk2 Jaguar, Bentley Super Sports, a 1952 Studebaker Champion, a 1965 Porsche 911 Coupe and a classic 1970 Mercedes 280SL Roadster.
The mud-caked and dust-covered cars all seemed to have taken the arduous journey from the Tibetan Plateau to Kathmandu surprisingly well. This week six of the cars crossed into India and on to Varanasi, after driving through Pokhara.
Many participants were familiar with the challenge, having taken part in the Peking to Paris rally. On Day 3 out of Chengdu, from Batang to Zuogong, the classic 1970 Mercedes 280SL Roadster of ex-Gurkha officer Richard Cunningham suffered from fuel vaporisation 22 times before being fixed by the sweeps. At the end of the day, an unfazed Cunningham wrote in his blog: “That was a hell of a drive. What a great day. Adventure driving at its best!”
Said Cunningham: “The amazing thing about driving through Nepal was that although the roads are rough, the people are great, the kids came offering water, and you drive through some stunning scenery few people get to see.”
Many villagers took selfies in front of the exotic cars, and a couple of enthusiastic villagers in China even cleaned the caked mudguard of a vintage Bentley Super Sports. ‘They would have given the whole car a wash if time had allowed,’ wrote a driver in the rally blog.
Liz Wenman, founder and director of Rally Round, said the Trans Himalayan Adventure took two years to plan and map. “It is not about competition, it is about the journey, about companionship and shared passion,” she expressed. “Many of the participants are above 50 years of age, they kept in perfect health, and enjoyed every moment of it.”