Roadtrips are exciting.
Let me rephrase the previous statement by saying road tripping is a way of life at TopGear. We spend at least ten days on average on the roads, and other days think of planning and fantasising and living on its aftermath. Do we have stories to tell? Encyclopedias to fill, but the best ones remain in our memories – etched forever. It is a particular issue, the 1st anniversary of Topgear India 2.0, and we all went down our paths searching for stories to tell. Last month we had gone down south towards the historical Hampi, which meant now it was time for the hills. We dialled folks at BMW, and X5M Competition was made available for the journey.
To capture great stories, you need a great set of cameras, so we got the Canon R5 and a range of lenses to make it happen. We sketched out the plan. You can’t ask for more. Perhaps a Urus would have been orgasmic, but when you drive 1200 KM from Delhi through Chandigarh through some adventure places in Hoshiarpur and finally to melt in the snow in Shimla, you just shut up, take the keys and disappear in 3.8 seconds. That’s the time it takes to reach the 0-100 kmph mark in the X5MC [let’s give BMW X5M Competition a baby name], the same time it takes to reach the Gaj retreat at heartland Punjab from Chandigarh airport.
I had sent my team to Delhi to pick up the X5MC and landed myself with some more road trippers in Chandigarh airport. It was a commotion in the office and arm wrestling of sorts to fly to Delhi and drive nonstop to Chandigarh solo. You can’t blame us for this; the thought is salivating enough to have a restless night’s sleep, just like when you know you will meet someone important, maybe your partner who had been stuck in Brazil due to the lockdown and finally lands after ten months. To make matters complicated, it was red, and valentine’s week had just passed. From the time I sat on the seat through the entire course, I had a date drive, and nothing could make me leave the driver’s seat, even if that meant another arm wrestling or sumo fight.
The thing about long drives in India’s luxury cars is that they look like a dreamy affair, but the reality is you have to be very careful because these machines and their tires are meant for Europe, and we have something else on our roads. I was always amused by the thought of why will someone pay north of Rs 2 crores for a BMW SUV, which without the M & Competition badge costs less than 1/3rd the original. But the more we drove the roads, the more answers I got. First, X5 is one of the most capable SUVs with a great price to features and driving dynamics, and I can vouch for that being the owner of one for the last two years. Now you add massage seats, a 4.4-litre V8 engine, and so much power on your tap that perhaps you can compete with a flying chopper. Then you have a boot which can load up enough with five suitcases and sundry and still drive pretty. Then if it were the yellow Urus, the hinterlands would get your attention from the village mafia [not sure if that exists] and the bikers who will drive up close to your ass to take a peek. So X5MC can pass off silently by the chai stalls and make noise when overtaking that annoying vehicle in front of you. You need to buy one car to sit in your garage, which will follow the equation: One Enthusiastic car = SUV Style, Boot space + sportscar type pick up + engine exhaust which can probably get your neighbours to file a police complaint. That is the X5MC, and it’s not for everyone.
We were nestled in the beautiful Gaj retreat, which had ATVs to play around, a 360-degree dry hill view whichever way you see, and a lovely boutique retreat built on top levels of Ecotourism. They also grow their oranges, and the orange juice tastes like honey dripping straight from the nest. The retreat pins on the intersection of 31° 17’ 22.3” N Parallel & 76° 17’18.4” E Meridian [let’s get technical] and is set amidst a vast privy forest reserve rich in wildlife on the plateau of Manaswal – Garhshakar, Punjab. And to our extreme delight, the retreat offers some excellent opportunities for unique adventure activities such as 4×4 Offroading, Para Motoring, ATVs, Horse Safari Excursions, and more.
Gaj retreat folks were impressed with the X5MC – of course! Who will not be? So they dropped the idea of crossing a river stream on a car, like water wading. We left, and I saw Gypsies trailing me, and that took me to my college days when I used to own one, albeit for a short time, and I exactly knew that the joke is on me. No way on Earth can I risk this expensive machine on a flowing waterbed pelted with stones. I parked it just before I knew the tire profile of the X5MC would be compromised and hopped into the Gypsy to drive, drift, and dribble across the river stream that had me screaming inside. Maruti Gypsy was a 1.5-litre, 15-year-old vehicle and so much capable that you can take it under the river or into a graveyard and come out smiling. I could still see the Gaj retreat guys having a grin smile on their faces, and I accepted the humble defeat to an unspoken challenge. I would instead take them on the tarmac on the way back and throttle open the 626 BHP to my satisfaction.
It was now time to drive it through the winding roads an ill be breathing the purest oxygen. Pristine and blissful. It was so silent that a loud conversation on a smartphone can get the security to knock on the doors. It’s just 10 minutes away from the world-famous Naldehra Golf Course, but a slow game like golf when you have X5MC to hang around with? The choice was easy. We drove further up to Nathula, a good 2.3 hours drive to the snow. The tyres were not meant for snow; neither was it Iceland. Local porters were pouring in mud on the roads. Perhaps why change tyres when at the tap of a button local employment gets a thumbs up? Still, we had to drive carefully, and my fear was also that the noise should not wake up the Himalayas; that’s another story. Driving on snow, you have to keep two things in mind that don’t accelerate and don’t brake. Just cruise along; you will be fine. When you pilot the V8 in X5MC, and the adrenalin keeps pushing you to throttle up, it is a real test of patience levels in a petrolhead. Driving through winding roads, highways, typical Indian roads, and finally snow, the drive was epic. The story was complete, and the pictures speak for themselves, all shot on Canon R5 and the video. If you get time around, take a look at youtube/topgearmag.
All images are shot on a Canon R5.