Features/ Travelogues/ From City Streets to Snow-Capped Peaks: A Hector Odyssey

From City Streets to Snow-Capped Peaks: A Hector Odyssey

The summer sun beat down mercilessly, a stark contrast to the yearning for cool mountain air. A solo escape wouldn't suffice; this called for quality time with loved ones, far from the city's cacophony. Neither the call of the north nor an invitation to MG Experience drive was undeniable. Spur of the moment, we flew our way to Chandigarh. Unlike other airports, Shaheed Bhagat Singh International Airport shares its space with the Indian airforce and you are treated with a handful of fighter planes and choppers. Stepping out, a convoy of MG Hectors awaited us, ready to be our companions on this adventure. So we set a challenging mission for ourselves, and although we got many suggestions, we aimed for Bara-lacha la. This high mountain pass in Himachal's Lahaul district carves a path towards Leh in Ladakh. The real kicker? Even in May, you might just brush shoulders with snow!

Meanwhile, amongst the convoy were the latest Hector BlackStorm Edition, sporting a starry black colour scheme with red accents, and exuding an air of power. But for this journey, we got something even more thrilling: the Glaze Red Hector. As I gazed inside, It was a diesel manual – a perfect match for driving enthusiasts.

Not only did the automatic tailgate impress, but the segment's best boot space swallowed our luggage with ease, making a strong first impression. We started off in Punjab, the land of jacked-up cars with elaborate alloy wheels, the Hector continued to hold its own with its commanding height and expansive windows. Soon after clearing the city, we hit the express highway, and the 100kmph speed limit felt like a mere suggestion. The 2.0L turbocharged diesel engine, though not the quietest at startup, purred along at the tap of the right foot, and its 168 horsepower of power on offer was perfect for highway cruising.

Lunchtime brought a closer look at the recent facelift. A fun fact: remember how the Hector and Hector Plus looked different before? Now just like the screen, MG had managed to enlarge the grilles as well. By then, our delicious large meal arrived, momentarily distracting from the infotainment system's upgrades.

The previous 10.4-inch screen was perfectly adequate just like my meal, even featuring physical buttons. However, the new 14-inch display, the largest in the segment, is undeniably a showstopper. Maps in portrait orientation became our road trip companion, providing additional information as we needed it. We could see the red marked in maps miles ahead but still couldn't do anything. The jams were due to either road construction or landslides, we could be only sitting ducks. The improved 360-degree view camera offered crisp visuals and seamlessly integrated with the turn indicators. Speaking of indicators, the automatic feature might have caused some confusion on the winding roads – my only complaint about the car throughout the entire journey – but it might serve as a gentle reminder to signal properly for some, not for me.

Long journeys like this shouldn't be backbreaking, and I was already aware that both the Hector and Hector Plus offered supportive seats with ample thigh and lumbar support. The softly sprung suspension handled potholes and broken roads with grace, exhibiting body roll only at higher speeds – which is acceptable from SUVs of this size. We stopped at Sundernager to catch the sunsets with the perfect backdrop of lakes and mountains, reminiscent of a kindergarten child’s paintings. We were only halfway through our journey to today's halt. The maps are now set to the Renest Hotel in Manali and we continued to munch miles.

As the sun dipped below the horizon, the snow was coloured with hues of orange and pink, and the drive transformed into a magical experience. While the rear passengers enjoyed reclining seats, those upfront received the added luxury of ventilated seats. However, after a few tunnels, we didn't need any sort of cooling.  The next morning, we were awestruck by the snow-capped mountains, their peaks piercing a canvas of clear blue sky, and driving 270 km became fruitful. Sunlight glinted off the pristine snow, creating a wonderland of towering vanilla softies. Throughout this journey, the strong mid-range torque of the Hector had our back, climbing up the winding section soon became my favourite part of the journey. The Hector navigated the winding paths with ease, the panoramic sunroof further enhancing the breathtaking views. The 8-speaker Infinity audio system also kept things peppy on the move, as the roads got curvy, sometimes hugging the mountainside with sheer drops on one side. While the numerous tunnels were engineering marvels, none compared to the Atal Tunnel in Rohtang. We were instructed not to stop anywhere along the echoing 9 km stretch, the darkness eventually giving way to a burst of light reflecting off the snow-covered peaks. It might take a moment for your eyes to adjust to the light and the overwhelmness. 

Our hunger for adventure remained, but the Bara-lacha Pass was closed due to snowfall and landslides – a reminder that even the best-laid plans can change on a road trip. This unexpected setback made us think of a detour near Sissu. The MGs in our convoy lined up on a helipad, and we were witness to some spectacular views along the river which snaked its way between quaint villages and snow-laden pines. 

Could our Hector handle the challenge of rocky riverbanks though? There was only one way to find out. We finished our noodles and embarked on our off-road adventure. The seemingly massive boulders posed no problem for the Hector's impressive 192 mm ground clearance. Melted ice created slippery patches, but the 4x4 MG Gloster support car was readily available in case things got messy. To our surprise, the Hector handled the terrain effortlessly, its suspension even absorbing a few jumps!

With newfound confidence, we continued on through Keylong and the jaw-dropping Jispa, a small village town in Lahaul that offered breathtaking vistas with almost zero traffic. As the sun dipped below the horizon, we parked, the sky ablaze with colour, transforming the drive into an unforgettable experience. This was where the mountains whispered their farewell, not a goodbye, but a "see you again."

Our Hector was dusted with mud and ice, but our hearts were brimming with the exhilaration of the journey and the breathtaking beauty we had witnessed. We left with a promise to return, the car's full LED headlights illuminating the path ahead as the stars emerged behind the timeless monuments of nature's grandeur. Last but not least, burning through gears and grinning through gridlock, our trusty diesel manual took on everything the road threw at it: spirited bursts, bumper-to-bumper crawls, and even some left foot-testing inclines. Despite all that, we still managed a surprising 16.9 kmpl! Maybe diesels really are the kings of Indian roads. On that bombshell, until next time, happy adventuring!

TopGear Magazine June 2024