I read a quote recently, it went like this, “ Life is a like a book, those who don’t travel read only one chapter.” The quote is an anonymous one, but it got me thinking, travel opens up many opportunities for experiences. As humans we have the inherent desire to be curious. This curiosity and desire to know more pushes the bold out of their comfort zones to go explore. In the end what does man really long for? Freedom.
Freedom, as described by one of famous saints is, not doing what you feel like doing. It may sound a little absurd, how can freedom mean not doing what one feels like? In the end freedom means having no boundaries and no limits, doesn’t it?
Well everything has limits and freedom allows us to come pretty close to the extremes of these limits. These limits are a medium allowing us to enjoy what we want to, without going overboard. One such medium, when it comes to exploring the unknown is the extremely capable Land Rover Freelander 2.
At first, when you look at it, your first reaction is never going to be an exclamation of “WOW!” The Freelander 2, which from now on I shall refer to as the “Freely”, has a design that grows on you. Yes, I agree it takes a while but nonetheless the more you see it, the more you start liking it’s compact backside and bulbous nose, with those distinct Land Rover daytime running lights. The boxy design allows some great views while driving and openness prevents the many blind spots, but I guess that can be said about many SUV’s.
Being the first week of May, I was pretty skeptical about finding some snow in the land around Manali and the Solang Valley. I was banking on the fact that this winter had been pretty harsh and long. The Freely was ready to go right from the beginning of the trip. Delhi to Manali is a great road to drive on. The 600kms to be covered can easily be done in one day, one thing to be really cautious about is the great number of trucks on the route, all the way. Leaving Delhi the views move from the flat planes to the low hills and as you climb into Himachal Pradesh the views get better and better. There is not really too much to talk about when it comes to the drive to Solang apart from the fact that the curves and corners are many and surely are blind, with trucks trying to over-take each other without caring about the oncoming traffic. The sole issue to take into consideration while thinking about making the drive to the Solang Valley.
The Freely is an extremely comfortable car, especially when it comes to long road trips with quite a few bad roads. The suspension absorbs the bumps very well allowing for a great ride in the cabin. In a country like ours where the sun beats down upon you tiring you out, the uncovered moon roof in the Freelander does allow a lot of heat to enter, which means working the A/C harder to keep the cabin cooled, but that is just a small hiccup, the A/C on the other hand works great, cooling the interiors quickly allowing for a pretty much instantaneous relief from the scorching sun.
Perched up at about 8500ft above sea level, the Solang Valley is a beautiful part of Himachal Pradesh, located some 13kms north of Manali. Solang is a small town, the main attractions being hiking, trekking, skiing and a favorite of many tourists- paragliding. Rohtang Pass is about 54kms from the Solang Valley, the first pass to be crossed if one is headed to Leh. This seemed to be the perfect spot for the Freely to hang its cape for a few days and go in quest for some snow (which I soon realized was easier than I thought).
Filled with flowing streams in the valley floor and the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas constituting the backdrop, Solang is perfect Land Rover territory. The town’s main street is asphalt but everything else becomes a dirt track in and around the town and due to the large quantities of snow this winter, the ground was quite mushy is many places. After talking to a few of the townsfolk I learned that Solang gets about six feet of snow, as an average per year. This year it has been quite excessive which is why the road to Rohtang is still shut and snowed-in, scheduled to open around the end of June.
Now as you guys must have read in my past stories, I have driven the Range Rover Autobiography in the deserts of Rajasthan and have taken to the Range Rover Sport through quite the trip in and around Goa. So I am pretty well versed when it comes to driving Land Rover vehicles off-road. With the Freely, initially I was a little skeptical. She is the smallest of all the Land Rover cars and it would be a shame if anything happened to her this far up north. Driving over potholes is one thing, driving through slushy mud roads is a different situation. Luckily the Freely gets a great terrain response system. This gives the user an option to switch between grass, gravel, snow, mud and ruts and a sand mode at a simple push of a button whenever needed. Here in Solang, mud and ruts seemed to be the best bet for the terrain.
When it came to really taking the Freely off the tarmac, I was amazed at the way she performed. This is one aspect about Land Rover vehicles that I love, they are wonderful to drive on the road but the minute you decide to go off-road and put the car in one of the off-road modes it behaves completely different. The Freely’s body undulates on the terrain and takes in anything that the geography of the region throws at it.
About four kms from Solang, along the main stretch of tarmac is a small village called Dhoondi, this is where my quest for snow ended. After getting access to the restricted area, I made my way to Dhoondi where I was amazed at the spectacular view I got there. Being May, there was still quite a bit of snow on the ground. Dhoondi is highly prone to avalanches, hence the Himachal government has ordered for a Snow Gallery to be built, which allows the road to be unobstructed even if an avalanche occurs. This road that I was on, lead to what is to be called the Rohtang Tunnel, a tunnel connecting the Solang Valley to the Spiti Valley. While trying to get the Freelander2 up on to the snow bank, I got a little stuck in ice, but with the help of a shovel and a few flat rocks the Freely grabbed traction and was free.
Dhoondi was just the beginning of the white land. I headed towards Rohtang to get some skiing in. The winding roads had snow on either side, well a snow wall on one side and a snowy cliff on the other. I made it up to the point where they were ploughing the snow to clear the road, getting ready to open up some more stretch to Rohtang pass. Considering I went early in the morning there were no vehicles on the road at all, on the way back it was chaos, tourists had flocked from all over to come to the snowline. For many this was the firs time they had seen snow, so the excitement was more than enough to cause the chaos. Being the only car amidst the snowy surroundings did feel great.
The Freely felt at home as much as I did. As the days in the mountains went by I started to appreciate the Freelander 2 even more than I had expected to. She performed great no matter what the situation was. Spending a night by the river was one of the highlights of the trip. I wanted to get the Freelander2 right up close to the flowing water, getting there meant navigating through a rocky river bed. Even though the Freely doesn’t have any low-range gearing, she easily climbed over the rocks and made her way to the flat spot by the river where we spent the night under a sky with millions of stars, listening to the award winning album called “Flowing River” by the best artist ever, Mother Nature. When it came to packing up and leaving, the Freely showed no signs of flinching either; the trunk space is more than adequate for a large tent, for some lawn chairs and my photography equipment. Crawling out of the rocky outcrop was a piece of cake for the Freelander2.
At this point, after dueling with some snow, driving through some muddy roads, crawling over rocks and wading through a small tributary of the River Beas, I thought to myself, why stop exploring, there is still time to head back to Delhi, lets take the Freelander2 into the hilly forests and check out how she performs. That’s exactly where we headed to next. About 30kms from Solang is a place called Janna, getting to Janna means crossing through Naggar onto a dirt track forest road. With pine trees on either side and the sun shimmering through the trees, the setting was just perfect, and what more could I ask for, I had a capable Land Rover Freelander2, incredible views of the valley and all the time in the world to explore. Not that there was too much off-roading to partake in on the way to Janna, but just knowing that I had a capable vehicle allowed me to push some boundaries when it came to the path that I took. Parking the vehicle for a few shots on a cliff overlooking the valley made for an ideal Land Rover style shot.
As I headed back towards Delhi I was reflecting on the large amount of b-road driving that had taken place in the last few days. I had the opportunity to experience the Land Rover in traction-less snow, slushy mud, the ruts of the forests and the rocks of the riverbed. I even took the Freelander2 into the cold waters of the river Beas for a bath. The amount of freedom I had with this car was unimaginable. As I racked on the kilometers back to Delhi I realized that I hadn’t been able to play with the Sand mode of the Freelander2 at all. Well that was pretty obvious as I had been up in the mountains for most of the time.
Well I guess it was now time to find some sand to play with. After experiencing some sun and snow, sun and sand would be a home run.
From negative three-degree nights in Solang to forty degree plus temperatures in Delhi, the change was ridiculous. The Freely handled this change as if there was nothing going on. That’s when I remembered reading that the Freelander2 had been tested in -40 degrees in the Arctic as well as the extreme heat of the Sahara. It can handle weather changes easily; after all it’s a Land Rover at heart.
After making a few calls and talking to a few friends I was lead to a place on the outskirts of Delhi where I would be able to do some off-roading in the sand. They were correct, this place my friends had lead me to was actually a practice ground for rally drivers. Sand tracks with axle articulating descents and steep climbs- this was off-road paradise. Up till now the hardest test the Freely had to go through was crawling over the rocks to get to the river, this seemed like a herculean task for the car.
What do you guys think happened? If you thought that the Freely got bogged down in the sand then my friends, you are highly mistaken. In Sand mode the Freely more at home than anywhere else. There was a three and a half kilometer sand track that the Freely tackled with complete ease, A/C turned on full blast, sliding around the corners, creating a dust storm as it whizzed by the onlookers. When it came to the hill descents, the “Active Hill Descent Control” allowed the Freelander2 to effortlessly climb down the sandy slopes.
The 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine produces more than enough torque to get you out of any sticky situation. Climbing up the steep sandy slopes was once again, an effortless conquer. Just like it’s older siblings the Freelander2 is a true Land Rover. Comfort while being off-road is something that Land Rover stands by and they really do show it in their products. Not once did I feel uneasy in the Freelander2. It cocooned me in it’s cabin as it endured all that nature threw at it. Be it in the cold or the heat, I was always comfortable. While the jeep drivers either froze their backsides off in the cold or inhaled loads of sand and dust while bombing around on the track, I was enjoying the A/C cabin and the awesome Meridian sound system.
The Freelander2 allows you to explore the unknown, but within it’s own limits and that’s where I understood the meaning of the statement, “not doing what you feel like doing.” The Freely is so capable that one can forget that it cannot do many things its older siblings can. The Freelandr2 is a highly capable off-road vehicle but it works best when the driver knows its limits and boundaries. Unlike its brothers and sisters, the ride height cannot be increased in the Freelander2 and there is no low range transmission either. The terrain response system is manual and has to be selected accordingly, but those are just small shortcomings when it comes to the baby Land Rover. Just like the other cars in the Land Rover fleet, the Freelander2 gets active brake assist, where the on-board computer can brake each wheel individually allowing for the car to articulate over deep holes and big bumps and providing the right traction to each wheel so that the car can remain planted. There were quite a few instances that I had the rear wheels off the ground while descending from the sandy/rocky slopes in the Delhi, but not once did I feel unsafe or uneasy. No matter what I did I felt in the limits of the car and its capabilities.
As I said earlier, the Freelander2 is a medium to go explore the unknown. It allows the user to take the unbeaten path, but it does it with a sense of responsibility and safety. Knowing your own limits and knowing the cars limits in tandem allows for a great experience, when it comes to any land rover and you shall be surprised as to what the Freelander2 can do. The stadium seating means you can even take your kids along in the back and give them an experience that they will cherish and crave for again and again. I think I can even cross the line a little bit, and say that they might even forget their cell phones and play-stations and ask for an off-road adventure, and you know what? The Freelander2 will deliver every time around.
Its that feeling of security that makes the Freelander2 such an awesome machine when it comes to having an off-road adventure. Being able experience snow, sand, mud and water all in one trip was quite a feat. The car performed as though it was it’s hundredth pantomime. The Freelander2 means business; don’t take it as a softie because it is nowhere close. If you have one, take a chance and try getting off the everyday road, go explore some place that has aroused your curiosity for a while, I’m sure it will amaze you and you shall develop a new found liking for your Freely. So go be free, with her unparalleled potential she will surprise you; after all she was made to go above and beyond.