Tag Archives: Leh

Khardung La Chronicles – Day 7

Excellence & winning is never an accident! I saw this in a different vein and this would encapsulate the whole experience for me! I have always seen F1 from a team perspective and it would get into everyone right from the driver to the mechanic to contribute to the team’s success.

This day would be the day of reckoning for the team and forget not this has been a hardwork and a culmination of smart work over the last six months. And as we inch closer to the pinnacle, its becoming more challenging.

The South Pullu experience has taught the team that we need to check the engine as we get closer to the summit. So at every capable distance they stopped the car and check the engine and lo it went to life without any murmur of dissent.

As we were on our way we had a pleasant surprise in Honourable Mr. Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir. He was kind enough to do a symbolic flag off on the way and later would meet us at the Summit – The Khardung La Pass!

A note about the Chief Minister, a very attractive personality and a very enthusiastic individual he was mesmerized by the machine he saw and took all out effort to familiarize about it from Neel Jani.

So As I stood watching Neel explain his all important Steering wheel, Mr. Abdullah was all eyes and ears to what Neel was saying.

‘It’s a kind of your PSP steering wheel, you have controls and shift paddles here, ( he was showing all the knobs and paddles) but the only thing is if you make a mistake in your PSP there wont be any problem but here in you do a mistake it will be costly!’ said Neel.

That made Mr. Abdullah laugh and he was pleasantly surprised with the fact that Red Bull chose his state for its record feat and went on to say it was sort of unbelievable and incredible to see an F1 car on hilly road in the Kashmir valley!

This is what the Honourable chief Minister  had to say ‘Its great fun! it was an incredible experience. I never thought I would get to see an F1 car attempting to make its way through Khardung La! Hats off to Red Bull Racing for doing this.  All the best!’

The Tourism Minister, and the Director of Tourism were also accompanying him, and not miss his young nephews who were also enjoying the car.

You would also want to remember Neel’s friend and the No.1 driver at Red Bull will seal the Title Championship at Japan today. Just one point separated him from being the youngest 2 time World Champion.

Its always nice to be a part of history when being made, you have years on to keep going back and reminiscence those moments.

Yes I forgot to mention something important, it had snowed all night and the way now was all snow and it was looking pretty white everywhere. Akshar even tried playing snow ball, and Tomaz was shelling his snow ball on all the windscreens whenever we had to stop to a convoy or an upcoming traffic.

Our trucks were well on their way to Khardungla after Neel had done some 15000 plus feet on the car and the roads were getting slippery and the tyres were changed for better.

Just as we were getting near the summit there was a huge traffic jam, no it was not Delhi but this happens when there is a truck or a vehicle trapped on the road and you had to travel all the way down to get spares or even repair the puncture.

Somehow after almost an hour we reached the place, it was so colorful with the stupa in there. There were prayer flags fluttering around thought the temperature was really below zero degrees, we could sense that but in the heat of the moment literally we forgot that we were in minus 12 degree out there.

To tell you more before I conclude this marathon blog, there are several places of interest you should visit once you are on this Khardung La. There is this cafeteria nice one dishing out Maggi and tea to everyone. It is awesome feeling to taste their Maggi at such altitude. The tea would also taste sweet and turn cold if you thought about something for a moment.

There was a souvenir shop and you should buy something for the simple reason you were there. It would have the Khardung La name on it. A super special memorable gift to oneself if you want it.

The camera crew was now buzzing around so too were the Team RBR. They had just checked the car just some 2 kms away to start and they had been positive about it and so the were only looking to clear the logistics around the truck and were waiting to clear the traffic which had gathered as a result of us being there.

It took some time to clear the traffic and make some clean road for the F1 car to be driven by Neel. Meanwhile Neel was also enjoying this time chit chatting with engineers and the crew. He would give in to any request for a picture and be on his wonderful smile.

So the traffic cleared but the winds weren’t happy though, it started snowing, and it was getting cold  all the more. We were there and we didn’t want to be outdone by external factors, so we kept working and the whole team waited with bated breath when the car was started up. It got into full drive mode and Neel went on to drive one of the most memorable drives which will lead him to history as the one who drove the first F1 car atop the highest motorable road in the world at 18380 ft to be precise.

It was a moment to cherish for everyone from Team RBR, the Case productions and ofcourse the Team Red Bull India.

As the car came to a halt, it was celebrations galore with team cheering up Neel on this mission and making it successful, there were hugs around and for me it was one of the high points in life, literally and more so emotionally, its been a great run with F1 in indirect terms with watching races and writing blogs and reaching out, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I shall report one of the most challenging F1 project ever undertaken from a team as respected as Red Bull and I shall be so close to the making of history.

Now was the time for photo ops, the cameras were on roll and the shutters didn’t stop. The team was estatic, they had made the best of engineering possible to fire the engine at such altitude and also had a formula for the fuel to make it happen.

The ride height being raised was one of the factor I had already talked about, but on the other hand the fuel was 97 octane petrol and a new engine management software took care to manage the fuel mixture the ratio of fuel to air in order to compensate for less oxygen.

Anthony Ward, Head of Brand for Red Bull Racing said, “It is a testament to the engineering crew of Red Bull Racing that we have been able to get a Formula One car running from 11,000 feet, all the way up to the 18,380 feet mark. Logistically too, this project demonstrates Red Bull Racing’s commitment to continually pushing boundaries.”

For Tony Burrows, The Team Head, they had done exceedingly well in a sense they got the car to start without a hitch at that altitude and it was a great day at office for the whole team.

For 27 year old Neel Jani, veteran of drives like Red Bull Racing’s journey to Table Mountain in South Africa, this was an experience he’s unlikely to forget in a hurry. “Of all the places I’ve driven around the world, Khardung La has got to be the most humbling. The Himalayas are as imposing as anything in the world and to become a part of history here will be a cherished memory,” said Jani.

The Red Bull Speed Street Leh project marks another milestone for Red Bull Racing; it joins the team’s other impressive runs, including the Formula Santo Domingo Beach Run and the Canadian Red Bull Frozen One on ice.

As for me it was a culmination of what was a dream come true, not so often do you get your chances of being at the summit, with an F1 car and a team which literally gives you Wings. The Team Red Bull.

Signing off

R Senthilkumar

Khardung La Chronicles – Day 6

This is an early day today and food packed we would be on the way to the most enviable expedition ever undertaken! F1 car enroute the highest motorable road in the world, build and maintained by the Border Roads Organisation. If you were worried about the muddy roads and potholes across the city imagine after a shower of snow the roads becoming slush and treacherous in literal terms. So we drive the car making a clear road ahead for Neel Jani, there are people looking out for pits and stones and luckily we don’t find any on the road, it was going to be a clean drive.

The team had got used to having pit stops at will and some places where we could really get respite from the grueling session we were on.

Let me start at the start of the hillock, we had to cross three stretches crossing mountains every time. The road would be winding around a range and then we would be on the next one to cross.

The total distance was 34 kms from the town. The distance can be divided into two, one a 20 km road till the South Pullu where there is an army check post and then to the Khardung-La. The first part is easily motorable in the sense that there are roads infact nice roads you would want to drive faster but it’s a hill so you got to take control. It will be a smooth drive though.

From South Pullu to our wanton destination is the most treacherous road, the army truck wear chains over their tyres for more grip to avoid sliding over the slush of muddy roads caused after a snow fall.

That’s where our challenges lie, apart from that the car would need to be stopped whenever we have a problem with the terrain posing ground clearance and suspension issues.

We also had to be careful about the fact that we don’t cause hardship to fellow travelers along the road. Every curve lent itself a platform to view the vastness of the country with its multi colored hues spread over and the autumn just setting in it was a perfect landscape for the canvas.

Once the car was ready to run the crew also had to shoot alongside, and that was really fun for Neel.

I remember he was just following a truck with camera, and he had to really slow himself to the speed of the camera.

Once he got out of the car after the drive, he said, ‘Was very tough to follow the truck, I had no view except the truck in front and it is becoming fun’

Another time when he came to a stop he had some problems with the clutch. He said ‘It was taking a couple of seconds to respond.  We need to just fix that!’

Half way through our drive we were greeted by the officials of Border Roads Organisation. They have been of immense help! Getting us clearance and sending us an escort van to help us with.

As much as pit stops happening on the roads and valleys and plains, the lunch was also happening the same way ofcourse it’s sometime chilly and windy out in the open!

Every drive on the road was getting us clearly up some over 100s of feet up the ground. Sometimes it would be more than 500 feet up in a single go. A long and winding drive for Neel up and I really doubt if anyone would get to do such drive anytime in the future!

We did have a long day with multiple pit stops and driving up the terrain literally scaling up a feet or two with every turn or a corner or going an elevation up hill! Sometimes it felt like a fast track and with no arm cores and tyre barriers.

And by the way we have crossed almost 20 kilometers and the most challenging 14 kms are yet to be made!

In the sidelines, something I watched from here is the fact that lot of people in our armed forces have made these their home so that we live in peace time all year through.

R Senthilkumar

Khardung La Chronicles – Day 5

Early birds gets the worm, sorry gets cold here in Leh, jokes apart, can you imagine the team ready at 5 all set to go in for a drive and shoot!

All members of RBR team and Team Red Bull India were all ready at the appointed time early in the morning and the production team had already left for the day.

The challenge is not much as we could see through the day in driving the car but in getting them on camera, its not a track where we are used to driving in perfect conditions, right from track temperature to the tyre warmers and all those things are taken care of.

Here we are in a remote location to be frank in the sense that we are in a place so high in altitude and we are trying something very different and when it’s the first time we have our hearts pumping fast.

Murphys law is mostly on work when we plan it almost to perfection.

The car will be driven today with the blessings of the monks, making it the monks who blessed the Red Bull literally.

The first drive of 2.4 litre RS 27 powered RB 7 car in Leh would mark a history in the annals of motorsports in this country of ours where the real action is just weeks away  at the grand inaugural at Noida near New Delhi.

The fact that this has been possible is a testimony to the big inspiration of Red Bull as a brand to be doing things which are extra ordinary and more so to the team in India which put itself to scale the highest motorable road on an F1 car at Khardung-La.

A perfect picture doesn’t mean it was easy all the way, but then when the team works really hard and smart to get its way it’s really the best experience you get and the results are satisfying.

For the first time in my life I could see make shift pit garage across the road and gullys to make the car ready. In hindsight I thought these pit stops were better off than those which were to come.

The car was atop the hill at the Thiksey Monastery a famous place in Leh, a monastery which is a visitor’s delight and there are monks and the wannabe monks in Buddhist red shawls who greet you in a sweet cute smile.

Thiksey monastery was founded by Spon Paldan Sherab, nephew of Sherab Zangpo in 1430 AD. It was earlier built by Sherab Zangpo at Stakmo and later on rebuilt by Spon Paldan Sherab on a hill top, towards north of mighty Indus river. Highlights of Thiksey Monastery is the ramparts of holy shrines inside the monastery. Thiskey Gompa houses an ancient temple, popularly known as Lakhang Nyerma.  (courtesy Wikipedia)

The master and the disciples had come down while the time had been spent fruitfully in setting up the car ready to go. They were bewitched to see a sensous car and they surrounded the car to know and Neel Jani gave them a go on how it works. All very curious onlookers and tried their best to understand even the car setup looking at the computers nearby.

When everything was set, they blessed them the very best to come for the most treacherous road ahead for the team to come. The Monks who blessed the Red Bull moment had come and the car fired up in all its glory set its first drive at the heavenly Leh and the monks they were surprised at the speed the car could go.

Neel Jani was a happy man, this was relatively a short run for him but a mark of history is waiting to be written while in some other part of the world his team mate Sebastian Vettel is planning on a bigger celebration for his life and also for the team.

Serefee (that’s Cheers in Polish!) everyone the first drive has been a success! And it was just the first drive in a journey so long, and its Zen when you say a journey of thousand miles start with a small step or a small drive for this occasion.

Continuing after the first successful run at the Thiksey monastery the car would now test the real gully leading to the road. Brought down the truck to avoid the mud road and to the gully road if I may call it, it was readied and then Neel had the most bumpy ride of his life in an F1 car! He managed to touch 110 kmph and tried getting into the 3rd gear but no the car was bumpy and he was happy at the second gear!

‘Oh man I must be the only guy who has driven an F1 car in such conditions’ Neel  later said of this short straight road trip.

I should tell you that Leh is full of stupas the sacred buildups around the country and this has been happening for centuries and we had the opportunity to see some stupas which are almost some 400 years old.

Along the roadside the team had decided to run the car at this special place where we had done our shooting of the stupas two days earlier.

In Buddhist culture, a stupa is a symbol of enlightened mind and the path to its realisation. The best definition for stupa can be “spiritual monument”. The stupa represents the Buddha’s body, his speech and his mind but most especially his mind, and every part shows the path to Enlightenment.

The faith is that the visual impact of the stupa on the observer brings direct experience of inherent wakefulness and dignity. They continue to be built because of their ability to liberate one simply upon seeing the structure.

Text Courtesy  (http://www.flickr.com/photos/naadodi/2854433253/)

So once again the car was transported and a pit stop in the middle of the road, alongside an army ambassador car passing by and another TATA truck getting along the road, who could forget the army truck too.

Before I continue let me tell you Neel had to steer the car for over a kilometer after his bumpy ride to reach this place before the car could be transported to the present destination.

‘This is fun, imagine being pushed on a road with traffic flowing on the opposite side!’ Neel was having some of his best moments in an F1 car for sure and we were enjoying every bit.

My photography in the meanwhile did not go as planned, I remember the Speed Street experience and so had now three running shots to be precise and when the car was not running made merry of clicking enough of Neel and the car and the crew!

The road chosen was winding and could give you the best of the view of the stupas and also an elevation to ride for with an S bend. Classic chicane stuff!

One of my shots worth remembering happened during this drive and then it was time for lunch and well there were lucky spectators who stopped for a camera moment with Neel and the car!

This is the third drive of the day and the longest drive of the day was yet to come! Magnetic Hills it was and what was in store was still thrilling to imagine.

Red Wine, is cherished as it becomes old, my experiences with team Red Bull on this special occasion was like that every passing moment had something better for me and memories to cherish for as always.

To continue with Magnetic Hills in the next read!

Till then check out some amazing photographs and some amazing video webisodes of our expedition to Khardung-La!


At the Magnetic Hills range, the road was a long straight of over 3 kilometers and what a magnificent breathtaking view it was. Now the Team RBR had become adept at making pit stops along the road sides and it was no different either here. We crossed the river it had the ruins of the last years cloud burst and how much the Border Roads Organization of the Armed forces have made it is believed to be seen here in reality.

It was lovely to see the very fancy colored trucks trudging along the pit stop! The cameras were ready to roll and I reckon this must be the last of straights Neel will enjoy because this was our last stop in the plains literally.

I was at the other end to see the car do its trial run and the full throttle run. It was a grand spectacle to watch the car emerge behind from a scenic background of the brown hills and the violet blue machine emerging from a mirage laden road was a sight to behold.

Neel meanwhile was making the nest use of the road rather the straight to his full advantage and sped up over 150 kilometers. There was good use of the aero along the straights. The car would vanish in a split of a second and get back the same way it came.

It was a great moment for all those holding a camera, you missed it in a split of a second. The car if had to be captured, you need to be having special extra sensory reflex as to at what speed it will enter your frame and leave your frame and in that moment do the clicking so fast to make a photograph. Well this is for amateurs and those with lesser abled cameras!

The run was pretty great and what a day it had been with three different locales and runs. All distinctly different from each other and challenging the limits in terms tracks one was a blessing in literal sense then there was a gully you could drive a normal car on so bumpy it was it it was like so many thuds, then there was an S bend, it was perfect to maneuver the car around the stupas, and fly it down the elevation, and the last was a straight you could always be on gas but these are not tracks of ay nature, and the suspension of the car was heightened to accommodate this terrain.

A great and long day at office for Neel and Team RBR, and the production team was already having a look at the footage they had painstakingly recorded under trying circumstances of the monastery to the motorable roads and to the Magnetic Hills.

Something I should mention here is that everyone seamlessly fit into roles whatever it meant. Stopping traffic, regulating the traffic and getting people to cooperate, it was getting more and more pleasant with more challenges along the way and every time it was being successful met with the challenges were more inviting along the way!

That was about the long day in the plains, and as we look up it was the hills inviting us with a smile, was that a sign of the greater things to come, keep reading this page to know how the hilly terrain and snow-clad mountains welcomed us to their fold.

R Senthilkumar

Khardung-La Chronicles – Day 3 Part 2

After a nice sumptuous lunch at the Grand Dragon, the only hotel in Leh which boasts of centralized heating, I got introduced to Neel Jani, the driver who will in all probability will hold the record of being the first driver to have driven an F1 car at an altitude of over 18300 feet above MSL.

The most striking part of him is his ever smiling countenance and short and stately appearance. He doesn’t look Indian but the manners bare it all, he is Indian from his Dad’s (Mukesh Jani) roots in Gujarat, India.

He would say I am more of my Mom in my looks. The family history dates early days even before independence of India. His family has been across the world in Africa and in Europe more specifically. Now he is also in America for the races and that means he is a World citizen by his own words.

So that evening we went around the Leh Market to begin with. It is a small place but you would come to know that its pretty costly too in terms of heritage and also some of the things you could buy.

But yeah Indian shopping isn’t all complete without our street shopping and Neel was only willing to go that extra mile and enjoy his trip this day at the markets.

So he went around shopping trying a bit of apparels and some caps and et all. He took to conversing with the shop keepers in the Hindi he could try and plain English and got to know the things and the history of some of the heritage items for sale.

There was so much to shop and so little time, you know what I mean, it is possible that you would want to take a part of history with you. But then we can’t take all that is on display.

Neel took time off to stop and make pictures with onlookers once they found that he is a racer and an F1 driver. Notice him being casual and ofcourse he was wearing only his Red Bull T shirt, he was down to earth personified.

Neel spent some time purchasing some shawls and caps and even tried some of them on him when ever he felt the urge to try it out. He would seek help of the shopkeeper and try it out and would ask us if it fit him or how good looking he was with that dress or cap on.  He also took some postcards for memory sake.

The most interesting part was when he went shopping for some apples and well he was on the other side meant he was like sitting among them selling the apples. He had a great time and it probably is that the climate is cold but people out there are warm. And with a global citizen by your side you would feel better irrespective of the temperature close to some 5 or 10 degree C.

Walking down the street, Neel when he came across a prayer wheel, you are bound to find them like we have Ganesh temples across in the city, decided to go around three times for a prayer.

Down to the welcome arch and shooting some pictures of his walking the street and a photo frame in air were some of the memorable moments during the afternoon.

Some nice shots taken I thoroughly enjoyed this shopping and clicking and we return to hotel to wait what we were told the F1 car is some 20 kms away from the venue. So it is getting close to what we have been here for in literal terms as the car arrives, we are into the game for sure.

R Senthilkumar

Khardung-La Chronicles – Day 2

So what better way to begin a day with yesterdays’s memories? My initiation into the Red Bull family started the night we landed here. Very affable and helping team, and more so focused on job at hand and fire fighting some minor unforeseen issues, the team was all pepped up to make the most of the project at hand, driving an F1 car at Khardung La, some 18300 odd ft above MSL.

This is not a project done in haste yesterday but one which has been planned over a period of over six months and getting approvals and clearance et al, and now we were closer to reality some few days away from history being made.

The morning was warm and the sun was hot, you should expect sun to be closer to you and he could easily tan you to the darkest of the color. And well if you wanna read about the term acclimatization and more importantly about medical advice please read here.

The teams on the production side were divided into two. Before I go further allow me introduce the crew – Case Productions under Selim.

This team has the rare distinction of shooting for over 30 days at Antartica and that too was for Red Bull. A very energetic and an enthusiastic team was already at work. They take their fun at work too seriously I bet.

Getting back I was going to travel with the Helicam team for generic visuals across some of the finest tourist destinations in Leh. The team had a lovely couple in Tomas and Renata hailing from Poland and Berk from Case Production to help them out.

Accompanying us was the ever smiling Mr. Sonam Dorje, the Asst Director of Tourism in J&K.

Our first stop of the day was the Holy Fish Pond Lake adjoining the Shey Palace.  After few minutes of walking around the pond and the road to the palace, the first shot was setup on the helicopter-camera.

The helicam went soaring up in air Red Bull had literally given it the wings. Tomaz took a nice trajectory hovering the monastery almost setting up a shot when accidentally the pigeons flew all at once.

I was training myself with a camera my brother Sashi sent me. Some nice shots of the Palace and the heli-cam in air.

Next we proceeded to the Thiksey Monastery, further on the same road, it was visible from a distance and we took a little road to go to the place. Up on a hillock, the monastery had an imposing structure and a grand design. The F1 car would start from here, and the monks here would bless with their venerable presence.

It was a challenging shot for the team and they took almost two hours in finalizing three shots from three different directions.

It held the young monks in awe when they saw the helicam on air. It was nice capturing them on the camera for me. On the way back sun on top helped to record some of the finest stupas on heli-cam.

It was lunch time at Hotel Grand Dragon.

The Red Bull Racing team – (F1 show car Team) was awaiting the arrival of the car in the mean time and they were the ones  truly acclimatizing to put it in perspective.

Well you know you can’t exert yourself more and thus we had the first day of shoot! A truly successful trip at that and happy awaiting what’s in store for tomorrow. The car would have arrived so too was the driver Neel Jani!

R Senthilkumar

Khardung-La Chronicles – Day 1


A secret location and a secret mission was all so cinematic and the travel part added to it. The plane just about flying low if you know the land is the almost 12000 ft above MSL.  As we descend to the highest altitude Airport of Leh, both sides out of the window looked like out of the world. Mountains covered in the snow and rocks in formation and clouds all below us. The flight looked tantalizingly navigating a route amidst the snow clad mountains and lakes. We were very near to the ground in real. Looking out of the window we could see them crystal clear.

The plane did one roundabout of a hillock and touched very neatly on the ground and what a small run way it was. This airport is also the base for the Indian Air Force.  A nice landing done and a chill weather welcoming us, the view was breathtaking as we got down the plane. I am sure the view from the cockpit should be breathtaking. And for someone who had just finished the two parts of Amish ‘s novels – Immortals of Meluha  and the Secret of Nagas, it was like looking at the Kailash and other from above and I could imagine them snow clad and people living in such places.

The temperature was 13 degree C.  We were led to a smallest airport possibly, with a smallest luggage belt. The oxygen levels were also about 20% to 30% less. This would make you pant literally. So you should even watch your steps to keep yourself from exerting too much!

After the luggage being cleared, we headed to the Hotel Grand Dragon where the RBR Team was put up. Post an initial briefing on the climate and how to keep ourselves fit in the high altitude and how to react to certain possibilities, then we went further to our place Hotel Ladakh Resort.

It was a scenic view from the hotel and my window opened to the Shanthi Stupa and the mountains on the other side.

The most important part on this trip is getting acclimatized. This is important for the visit for anyone simply because it helps you to enjoy the days you had planned without any further medical problems.

So the message was clear, get set to acclimatize for a day or two, keep yourself to your hotel, travel less and let the plan begin to take shape on day 2 or day 3 preferably.

This being a first of a kind visit for me personally, I decided not to take any risk for there was something which I felt I did not want to miss for a lifetime and I decided to take it one step at a time. And the journey has just begun.

R Senthilkumar