This is the story of a Himalayan Icon.
When traveling in the Himalayas, you can expect the unexpected. Undiscovered places, untold stories or scenic road trips. One such story is that of Samantha Dong, a native of Darjeeling, 25Km from Maneybhanjang or a ‘place where all roads meet’. This remote village in the sky is known as the Land of Land Rovers.
Samantha Dong drives the new Discovery variant of Land Rover from Maneybhanjang to Sandakphu, a summit in the Himalayas on the India-Nepal border at an elevation of 3,636 meters.
The Land Rover has been in her family for three generations now, and she has been following the footsteps of his grandfather to become the first female Land Rover instructor in the Himalayas. She loves its ability to manoeuver in extremely challenging terrain with steep gradients and hairpin bends.
Since 1958, Land Rovers have traveled from Maneybhanjang to Sandakphu, the Land Rover Series-1 in particular that has been ferrying people, food, and essential items up and down this route. This sustained and robust display of “INNER STRENGTH” shaped not only the lives of the people in the region but also developed an entire ecosystem, providing livelihood and helping people make more of their world.
These cars are the remnants of the fleets the British used to have in the tea plantations in Darjeeling before independence. Today, there are total 42 Land Rovers, the oldest dating back to 1957 and the latest including the Discovery edition. People fear traveling in other vehicles as they are not reliable. So yes, we can say that these Himalayan villagers are the most loyal fans of the Land Rovers.
But how do we get there?
There are daily flights from Delhi and Kolkata to Bagdogra in West Bengal. Travel back in time and have a seat in your Land Rover Series-1 model to make the 4-hour journey to Maneybhanjang, the trailhead for one of the most challenging roads in India. At Maneybhanjang, hop on to the new Discovery edition as the road is quite bumpy. Maneybhanjang to Sandakphu is a 31km route, but the road repletes with rocky surfaces, steep inclines and narrow sections with the mountain face only centimeters away from your car. Hence, you could take more time than you expected.
These Land Rover drivers like Samantha are risking life to sustain their lives. Their reward? The view from the top of Sandakphu.
On a bright and sunny day, one can see the Mount Everest on one end and the Kanchenjunga mountain range on the other side.
So pack your bags, and let us meet the most loyal fans of Land Rovers in the Himalayas!