Saturday, June 9, 2001

Here comes the Isuzu Challenge!
H. Kishie Singh

"WE are going from the Ganga to the Indus."

An Isuzu  participating in the Thailand Laos - Vietnam Challenge in 1998.
An Isuzu participating in the Thailand Laos - Vietnam Challenge in 1998.

"We don’t hurt the environment. We don’t cut jungles. We go with nature. That is the idea. The sub-title of Isuzu Challenge is ‘Man and Machine for Nature’."

"India is the most fascinating country in the world. One land so many people."

These comments are made by Zeev Dar, Managing Director of Geo Tours, an Israeli tour company, which in collaboration with UMI (Universal Motors, Israel) and ISUZU Motors of Japan has cooked up a most appetising adventure called the Isuzu Challenge.

And it promises to be just that. Eighteen Isuzu four-wheel drive vehicles will be coming to India for the Indian Himalayas 2001 expedition. Why India and why the Himalayas? "We came to India about three years ago. In India you have everything you want. When I travel from Himachal to Ladakh, it is one land. Tomorrow I could cover Rajasthan or Kerala. It’s so different, one country, but different regions, people."


So to this land of myriad contrasts comes the Isuzu Challenge.

The idea was born when UMI got the agency for ISUZU in Israel and the first batch of ISUZU SUV vehicles were delivered to Israel. They came by road from Japan to Istanbul and from there by ship to Israel. Geographical Tours, which specialises in expeditions and adventure tours, decided to organise annually overland expeditions to remote and faraway places? Their purpose, it decided, would be to highlight the beauty of the area, and to bring it on the global map. The expeditions would record unusual encounters while travelling to remote areas and sites rarely seen.

The route is planned with extreme sensitivity to prevent any damage to the surrounding environment. Held annually, every Isuzu Challenge has a specific ecological target. It donates resources to assist regional environmental protection efforts. For example, the Isuzu Challenge ’2001 will pass through a remote village called Karzok in Ladakh. The village has been adopted by the organisers and they will provide solar lights and solar cookers to the villagers. They have recognised the fact that Ladakh suffers from a lack of sustainable energy sources. The sun, however, is a constant companion, the main energy source in the Himalayas. This source, however, has not been well utilised and the Isuzu Challenge will attempt to check this socio-economic lapse.

The route for this year’s expedition being surveyed at Pangong Tso in Ladakh
The route for this year’s expedition being surveyed at Pangong Tso in Ladakh

The first Isuzu Challenge was from Namibia to Botswana. Ten vehicles with a team of 30 participants drove 4000 km across the Namib desert, crossing the river-beds of Damaraland, the Okovanga delta and Choke National Park in Botswana.

To help the project "From Hunter to Preserver" — quite like India’s Project Tiger— the Isuzu Challenge presented an Isuzu 4x4 pick-up to the project.

In 1998, the Thailand Laos — Vietnam Challenge was held. Crossing the mighty Mekong was a problem. Local shipping craft were used. They are primitive but have been successful in promoting tourism and preserving the reserve.

The Isuzu Challenge helped by donating a passenger boat and marine engines to the people for whom the river is a lifeline.

In 2000, the Isuzu Challenge went to the Patagonia region in Argentina. The expedition started at the oil town of Comodoro and covered 3,600 km to reach Ushuaia, the southern most town on earth.

The 2001 Isuzu Challenge will be held in India with a fleet of 18 brand new Isuzu Troopers. The Trooper has a formidable track record in off-road events. The truck of choice is the IPPON4x4 with a three-litre turbo diesel engine. The expedition will take off from Rishikesh, on the banks of the Ganga, and after crossing Mussoorie, Dehra Dun, Narkanda and Jalori, it will reach Manali. A two-day stop in Manali and then the challenge of the Himalayas will be met.

After crossing Rohtang and Baralacha La, the participants will head for Pangong Tso via Nyoma Rap. And then they will move to Tankse, Shyok and Aghan on the other side of the Ladhak range through the Nubra valley and finally climb up to Khardung La. At 18,380 feet, it is the highest motorable pass in the world.

All these years Khardung La has been approached via Leh to enter the Nubra valley. This could be the first time that Khardung La is being approached from the Nubra valley, and not the other way around.

But then this is in an off-road, adventure expedition. The Isuzu Challenge goes where there are no roads. It leaves nothing behind except impressions and memories.

Zeev Dar insists that the success of the Isuzu Challenge lies in the work put in by its team, both before and during the event. Istik Min is the 4x4 off-roader magician. His knowledge is phenomenal and he handles the expert and novice drivers through mud, slush, snow and rivers. During the event, each member has to be a link in a chain. There is no competition, only team-work, and that is the formula for the success of the Isuzu Challenge.

The Isuzu Challenge has about 50 participants. Some are professionals in fields (relevant to such expeditions) such as ecology, off-road driving, engineering and reporting. In addition to the professional team, a few participants are also chosen from a group of screened applicants and invited to drive .

On June 11, the Isuzu Challenge will leave Rishikesh and arrive in Leh on the 29th of same month. On the June 16 and 17, it will make a two-day stop in Manali. Come and see how to enjoy the outdoors in a 4x4 vehicle!

(The writer will be participating in the event on a special invitation from the organisers.)