Adventure. There’s no doubt that it means different things to different folks. But, if you look it up in a dictionary, an adventure is defined as something that is an ‘unusual, exciting, and possibly dangerous activity, trip, or experience or the excitement produced by such activities.'
Now, being car enthusiasts with a knack for travelling, our definition of an adventure is pretty straightforward. We love exploring new places with our favourite set of wheels! And these places and experiences aren’t just for kicks, but they also serve as soul-cleansing experiences. A detox from the mundane, if you will.
Allow us, then, to share with you an adventure of rather epic proportions, which we undertook recently when we headed to some of the most serene, challenging, and picturesque vistas of Uttarakhand. Covering four national parks of this beautiful Himalayan state, we embarked on a 1,500km road trip across the length and breadth of Uttarakhand in search of its exquisite wildlife while also soaking in some of nature’s most breathtaking views around these parks.
Of course, for an adventurous road trip such as this, we needed an SUV that not just feels right at home on the rough turf, but doesn’t compromise on driving pleasure, luxury, creature comforts, and space. Not to mention, since this journey is all about capturing the natural beauty in its true essence, an SUV that’s high on style was a must. And, suffice to say, the vehicle you see here – the all-new Mercedes-Benz GLB – fits the bill to a tee. Firstly, thanks to its mini-GLS design, it grabs eyeballs everywhere you go. Plus, with its rugged off-road oriented design, short overhangs, 4MATIC all-wheel drive, and a mighty diesel motor, it’s got all the ingredients for an adventurous road trip.
On the other hand, it’s a true Mercedes at heart, meaning it does comfort and luxury like no other. And, with three rows, it had ample space to carry our adventure and camera gear as well as the entire crew. With the third row folded down, it opens up 500 litres of boot space. The second row can also be folded flat in a 40:20:40 split and can slide by 140mm, resulting in more legroom space. All in all, the GLB’s versatility makes it a perfect companion for an adventure such as this.
Eye of the Tiger: Jim Corbett
We kickstarted our adventure with what is probably the most popular wildlife park in Uttarakhand – Jim Corbett. Established in 1936, it is the country’s first national park and is located in the lower foothills of the Himalayan state. The park gets its name from the legendary hunter and naturalist, Edward James Corbett, who hunted a number of man-eating tigers and leopards in this region during the British Raj. Corbett was also instrumental in spreading awareness for the protection of Indian wildlife and played a key role in the creation of a national reserve for the Bengal Tiger. Now, as of today, Jim Corbett Park is home to around 60 mammal species and over 580 bird species. But, yeah, if we have to be honest, we were there to see the Royal Bengal Tiger. And we did, and what a majestic sight it was!
Within just 45 minutes of entering the forest, we were fortunate enough to spot a Bengal Tiger, cooling itself off in a river. Although there are over 250 Bengal Tigers in this reserve, our guide was quick to point out that not everyone visiting the park gets that lucky to see one in this region, so it was truly a sight to behold. Not to mention, everything about this creature is royal in the true sense of the word. The way it walks, stares, or sits, it has a calm yet authoritative charisma for sure. In fact, if you didn’t already know, the term catwalk is derived from a tiger’s walk, for it’s the most giant cat of them all. On our way back from the hotel, we headed to the river bed in Marchula in search of more wildlife. The terrain was rough and rocky but we decided to explore the unexplored nonetheless, thanks to the GLB’s off-road capabilities. We spotted a couple of exotic birds around this region and called it a night with a sumptuous dinner by the river. The next day, we headed towards our next destination – Rajaji National Park.
The Elephant Kingdom: Rajaji National Park
Located in the Garhwal region, Rajaji National Park is the state’s second most popular wildlife sanctuary. It’s named in honour of freedom fighter and first governor-general of India, Late C Rajagopalachari, who was popularly known as Rajaji. The park is spread over an area of 820 sq. km and is located on the banks of the Ganges and Song rivers and covers areas of Haridwar, Rishikesh and Dehradun. Rajaji also happens to be the second tiger reserve in Uttarakhand and it has over 50 species of mammals, albeit the most popular ones are the endangered Asian Elephants as well as the Bengal Tiger.
The drive from Corbett to Chilla – one of the gates of the Rajaji National Park – takes around 5 hours. However, thanks to the mighty performance of the GLB and empty roads in the wee hours, we covered the 180km distance in just under four hours! In the hills, the GLB was a revelation – its handling is stellar and the grip levels are amazing. Not to mention, with its seamless power delivery, it shoots out of corners like a cat on the prowl! At the same time, its creature comforts, including the opulent and spacious seats, stunning dual HD MBUX displays and a high-quality music system keeps you cocooned in luxury and comfort during long journeys. Suffice it to say, our drive to Chilla was a breeze.
Upon reaching Chilla, we drove deep into the jungle for a jeep safari to spot the famed wildlife of the park. For nearly an hour, we spotted nothing, except some peacocks, migratory birds and red junglefowls. It was turning out to be an unsuccessful stint until the very last minute – while crossing the last river bed on the safari, we came across not one but a whole family of Asian Elephants! And, surprisingly, they were quite patient around us – they even posed multiple times for a ‘family picture’ as we pulled our cameras out. However, with the sun going down, we had to head back. On the drive back, we spotted more wildlife – sambhar, spotted deers, wild boars, etc. Tiger spotting doesn’t happen here as often as in Corbett, but you never know when you get lucky! We didn’t though…
The ‘Mini’ Switzerland: Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, Chopta
Our next destination was the Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s around 200km from Rajaji National Park, and the drive to the park comprises just hill roads covering the towns of Rishikesh, Devaprayag and Rudraprayag. That said, these roads are some of the best mountain roads in the country and make for an exciting drive. The tarmac is smooth while the road itself is quite wide. And, in the GLB, we managed to munch miles quite briskly.
Kedarnath National Park sprawls over 970 sq.km and is claimed to be the largest protected area in the Western Himalayas. The park’s elevation ranges between 1,000m to 7,000m above sea level. Of course, we couldn’t cover the whole of it in two days, so we stuck to the Kanchulakhrak sanctuary, which is home to the endangered Himalayan Musk Deer. Unfortunately, the day we arrived at the park, it received heavy rainfall along with a hailstorm, meaning we couldn’t spot the musk deer. It must have been sitting cosy somewhere was our guess. That said, the alpine meadows of Chopta made up for all the hard work we had put in to reach there. It’s called the ‘Mini’ Switzerland for a reason. The picturesque views in the region are straight out of a painting, you’ve got to say!
The Last Hurrah: Nanda Devi National Park
Nanda Devi National Park is probably the most underrated, albeit the most stunning park that we visited on this drive. And like they say, you should always end on a high – this was just one such moment.
Located at the heart of Uttarakhand, the Nanda Devi Biosphere, as the name suggests, is a national park around the Nanda Devi mountain – the second-highest peak in the country. Calling this park vast would be such an understatement. You see, this park covers an area of a whopping 6,400 sq. km! What’s more, it’s an altitudinal range of 1,800m to 7,800m – the Nanda Devi peak is 7,816m tall! Of course, with mountains that high, most of the region is off-limits. However, there are some areas where you can visit and spot the spectacular flora and fauna of this park. Prime among this is the Valley of Flowers. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Valley of Flowers is a high-altitude meadow that’s home to over 600 species of exotic flowers. This is where nature blooms in full glory, you’ve to say. That said, it’s not an easy place to reach – you can’t simply show up here in a vehicle. It’s a remote valley that includes a steep trek of around 14km from the village of Pulna, which is where the tarmac ends.
Now, reaching Pulma, is no cakewalk either. From Chopta, it’s around 120km, but the roads are in terrible shape. With frequent landslides and road construction work going on virtually throughout the year, it’s a treacherous terrain – a natural off-road obstacle course of sorts. Surprisingly, it wasn’t all that difficult for us in the GLB. With its high ground clearance, short overhangs, and the impeccable 4MATIC all-wheel drive system that can split torque 50:50 between the front and rear axles, the GLB made it look like a walk in the park. Of course, we couldn’t go all the way to the Valley of Flowers, for most of it was still snowed up, but the drive to the last village gave us a sense of achievement nonetheless.
With all four parks covered, it was time for us to wrap up this adventure. So, what did we get after covering nearly 1,500 km and scaling some serious altitudes of Uttarakhand? Well, put simply, a soul-filling adventure. To see nature in its rawest form is a blessing indeed. And during our trip to Uttarakhand, everywhere we went, it was like seeing nature paint itself with the most beautiful colours and creatures. As they say, difficult roads always lead to beautiful destinations. This was the case on this adventure as well. The only difference is, while the roads were treacherous and difficult, our journey was made easy by the GLB with its unimpeachable driving experience and luxury.
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