‘To drive a Land Rover you need a bit of courage, and you must be very confident,’ explains proud Indian petrolhead Tenzing upon spinning the chunky steering wheel through his hands. ‘Driving on the bumpy roads is very tough, but you can get anywhere you want driving a Land Rover.’
We take his word for it, as he should know; he traverses the almost impossible thoroughfares of India’s Maneybhanjang region in West Bengal on a daily basis. Known as the ‘Land of Land Rovers’, the rural location deep within the Himalayas is heavily reliant on a fleet of meticulously maintained Series Land Rovers – the oldest of which dates back to 1957.
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Some slight modifications have been made to the vehicles to provide extra comfort and control – including on certain examples the installation of power steering and first-generation Discovery steering wheels. Drivetrain and mechanicals, however, remain as they did upon leaving the factory.
Meet the local Land Rover drivers
These vehicles are passed down from generation to generation, meaning the area’s inhabitants are imbued with gratitude for the classic 4x4 embedded in their very fibre.
‘Counting all, we have 42 Land Rovers,’ one of Maneybhanjang’s residents comments, a radiant twinkle of affection for Solihull’s finest accompanying their fond – and clearly indebted – words.
The steadfast appreciation for and pride in the British workhorse circulates through the village, as confirmed by a single conversation with the local shop keeper.
‘This is not exactly a town, it’s a small village. We feel so proud about it when people say to us “where do you belong to?”. We say we belong to the place where we have Land Rovers.’
Their pride is easy to understand. The local trails are strewn with rocks and severe undulations, atop towering gradients and sharp, near-unmanageable hairpins. The weather is treacherous, with pelting rain, thick fog and strong winds cutting through the landscape with ferocious tenacity. Lesser 4x4s have tried and failed – but the basic design of the early Land Rover has never let these people down.
A ‘fear’ of travelling in lesser 4x4s
As you can imagine, the 31km commute regularly undertaken by locals is no mean feat. Attention must be paid at all times to where each corner of the vehicle is placed. A single mistake up here, and the Land Rover will plummet with stomach-churning horror hundreds of feet down the mountainside, encasing the inhabitants within a Birmabright coffin.
‘We fear travelling in other vehicles, because the road conditions are very challenging. On the route to Sandakphu, no other vehicle is better than Land Rover.’ These are the very words of a local monk, who is more than aware of the logistical issues involved in keeping the hilltop village, located 3636 meters above sea level, stocked with food, medicine and equipment.
As part of this year’s 70th anniversary brand celebrations, some of Land Rover’s Solihull team recently paid the remarkable collection of Series vehicles a visit, to witness the vital role each one played in daily mountain life.
First seen during the Amsterdam Motor Show in 1948, the Land Rover has since changed lives for the better around the globe. But that’s not to say modern examples can’t tackle the rough stuff, as proven when the team offered a local, faithful Land Rover enthusiast the chance to drive a new Discovery 5...