Ah, the Himalayas. Magnificent and cool, they’re just where you’d want to be when the weather gods dial up the oven to slow roast. Except, everyone and their uncle has the same idea. A driving holiday to the hills, then, may be an escape from the heat but not quite from the madness that is Indian traffic.
“Ah” to “aargh”? Not so soon. Because there’s buzz of a new road near Shimla in Himachal Pradesh. One that’s said to be free from holiday-goers. Free from potholes. And importantly, free from too many long, straight stretches. Could this… could this be the promised land? The driver’s holiday route? The perfect hill road? We just had to investigate.
For the exploratory mission, we summoned the services of a certain big B — the Bentley Flying Spur. Who said a drive of discovery can’t be done in first-class comfort? Ours is the one with the ‘I own oil fields’ W12 engine. Yes, the 6-litre twin-turbo power station whose vital stats read 616bhp and 81.6kgm. Unverified sources claim NASA studied this engine for use on its next space mission. But let’s not get into that.
Chandigarh is base camp for us. Traffic here, as always, is orderly and allows for a stately exit out onto the well-surfaced Himalayan Expressway. It’s NH22 post that, with the climb starting in earnest at Parwanoo. Unfortunately, as the altitude increases, road discipline drops, at least when talking of boisterous SUV drivers. Their urgency has me convinced they’re practicing for Pikes Peak glory. Perhaps they have more use for the Bentley’s calming massage seats than I do. Anyway, I let them through. Soon enough we reach, scratch that, ‘arrive’ at the small but bustling town of Kumarhatti. If the treasure maps are accurate, this is where we are to break off from the main highway that leads to Shimla, and point the Flying Spur’s regal nose onto SH2 towards a town called Nahan. Fingers crossed.
In the first kilometre or so, nothing stands out. There’s the usual melee of shops and haphazardly parked cars. But as we journey on further away from civilisation, things begin to get vastly better. The vehicle count reduces, the vistas extend a lot further and the scenery-corrupting electric wires overhead all but disappear. As for the road, it seems smooth, wide enough and well protected. The guard rails and barriers along the route will be my last line of protection should I make a monumental error at the wheel. I really don’t want to test this Spur’s ability to fly. Off mountains, that is.
As the Himalayas go, we’re not all that high up at just over 1500m above sea level. And if the data we have is accurate, we’ll climb to a max of 1800m. Thing is, in the Bentley, even acute changes in gradient just don’t register. The engine makes so much power that a few millimetres of throttle movement is all that’s required to get by seemingly challenging inclines. Metaphorically, then, this is the right car for tycoons in a hurry to get to the top. That the engine does so much without the rev needle ever crossing 2000rpm means there’s little noise from under the long bonnet to disturb the calm of the place. Just as well, because there are boards alerting road users of wildlife in the area. We don’t see much of either — wild life or other road users.
With the road low on vehicles per minute and my heart steady on bpm, I give in and start to take a few liberties with the Bentley on the straighter stretches. The smallest doses of full throttle leave me wide-eyed — the Flying Spur blasts forward like a pebble shot out of a catapult. Perhaps there is some truth to those NASA rumours after all! Seriously, the way this thing picks up speed is simply otherworldly. Speaking of which, in some other part of the world, this Bentley has actually been tested for a true 320kph. Out here, I’m just blown away by its capability to shrink the clear sections of this beautiful 75km stretch of tarmac.
As the road works its way up, down and all around, the Bentley proves even more fun. It’s not a sportscar in the corners, but for a land-going luxury yacht, it’s mighty impressive. There’s lots of grip (all-wheel drive, of course) and with the air suspension set to its lowest, ample feel at the wheel too. Still, there’s no escaping the sheer bulk of this thing on the twists and turns. Also, I have no option but to be mindful of the car’s squared-out tail, simply because it extends all the way back into yesterday. If you are one who’s never left the palatial comfort of your Spur’s rear seat, I can tell you the above is something always playing on your chauffeur’s mind. That, and of course, the realistic fear of the Spur running out of fuel — the big W12 has a copious appetite for petrol.
It’s not a worry today, but I opt to tone things down as the day goes by. We wouldn’t want to rush by the mesmerising sight of the snow-capped peaks in the distance, now would we? As we start to make ever longer stops for photography, the beauty of the place really gets us. It’s just as peaceful outside as it has been all through the morning in the Bentley’s sumptuous cabin. If only all our hill roads were like this. Where the gentle sounds of birds chirping and wind rushing through the pine forests was all you could hear. Before I err towards wishful thinking and go on a different tangent, I have to tell you this bit of Himachal Pradesh’s SH2 is all that it was made out to be. Scenic, serene and sinuous, it is truly one of India’s best roads.
Luckily for us, we got to celebrate it in the lap of handcrafted luxury. Problem is, after experiencing how effortless the Bentley was up in these hills, I want to do more. Drive higher up, search for more hidden gems as this and generally explore the unknown. Unfortunately, as much as I’ve become a fan of the Flying Spur, I know it won’t be the car of choice on such ventures. Wait, what? Did someone say there’s a Bentley SUV coming soon? To another great car, great road then!
We started from Chandigarh and as such, the route is quite straightforward. It’s best to head towards the hills via the fast-flowing Himalayan Expressway. There on, get onto NH22 that leads to Shimla and make your way to Kumarhatti 43km away. It is an uphill drive so ensure your car is in good shape. It goes without saying, but be courteous to fellow road users and always give way to uphill traffic where needed.
At Kumarhatti, turn on to SH2 that leads to Nahan. The 75km stretch is low on traffic but is made up of many blind corners, so always drive with extreme caution.
Mobil 1 ™ – Never too cold for comfort
When cruising through serpentine hill roads in cold, bleak weather, Mobil 1 synthetic oil will provide optimal protection even in the harshest driving conditions. In low-temperature engine start-ups, while conventional oils take some time to circulate and reach critical engine parts, allowing friction between un-lubricated parts to cause wear, Mobil 1 is engineered to reduce internal friction, resulting in outstanding flow characteristics. Mobil 1 pumps quickly and circulates easily — even if the temperature goes down to -50°C!
On your next drive to the hills, fill in Mobil 1.