The Himalayan Motorsport Association loves constructing scenic escapes for auto enthusiasts, the Raid de Himalaya being its most famous creation. The Mughal Rally was conceived on the same lines as the Raid de Himalaya, the routes of course differing in historical significance. The Mughul route, 10,000ft above sea level, was used by Mughal emperors Akbar and Aurangzeb to come to Kashmir from Pakistan. However, it is also said that the Gujjars were the first to use the route, followed by the Mughals. Irrespective of who came first, what is indisputable is the thrill that the route had in store for the 50-odd participants who had lined up for the start of the Mughal Rally in Srinagar. The road surface could be best described as hellacious. It was a bed of carefully placed rocks, each the size of a human palm. A puncture would spell doom for drivers, with the nearest village being over 40km away. For these drivers, walking, of course, wasn’t an option.
The first day presented awe-inspiring vistas for the rallyists. The climb up to the first pass, Sinthan pass, provided much joy to the excited drivers. The seemingly endless switchbacks on a variety of roads ¬– ultra-smooth tar, mud and then gravel - made things sufficiently entertaining. The route that unfolded spanned arid landscapes, scenic peaks, and gravel roads, sitting alongside killer drop-offs. The stretch from Sinthan to Jammu was a two-lane road that had a tendency to switch from smooth tarmac to a dusty path with increasing regularity. The villages en route were a delight though. The villagers had been warned of the onslaught, and instead of getting peeved with the pandemonium, they lined up on the streets to cheer the cars and their drivers as they roared past towards Jammu. Failing fuel pumps and punctures were the only problems on the first day, and all the participants were raring to go on day two.
The second day tested drivers’ endurance levels to the hilt. As drivers passed Rajouri, they crossed one of the landmarks – Chingis – a place where Aurangzeb's intestines are rumoured to have been buried. Aurangzeb is said to have died on his way to Pakistan and while embalming his body, his internals were removed and buried in a haveli. There's even a place called Bafliaz in memory of Alexander's horse Bucephalus who died on the banks of the Jhelum River. It was after Bufliaz that the climb to Pir ki galli (galli means pass) of the Pir Panjal range, the day's high point, both figuratively and otherwise, began. This route is set to open in 2011 to the public, but when drivers snaked their way up, the hillside was still being blasted and the bulldozers had hurriedly cleared a way for the rally. Punctures, 40-degree climbs demanding steep turns, deep slush, and knife-like rocks signalled tough times ahead. To add to this, only a short while after drivers passed, a landslide blocked the route. However, waiting bulldozers had the stretch cleaned up in no time and kept the rally on track.
After a long, exhaustive and challenging journey, the tired but elated drivers finally made it to Srinagar. However, some drivers seasoned at the Raid de Himalaya found the Mughal Road rather tame in comparison.