February 2023 | 760 words | 3-minute read
Climate change is real, and the effects are all around us. In September 2022, Jaisalmer was lashed by the heaviest monsoon in the last two decades, consequently blanketing the Thar desert with shrubs and greenery that's changing the entire character of the region. In western India, the monsoon was yet to fully retreat in October 2022. And up in Ladakh, winter was yet to set in.
In fact, Leh was so hot in September, and the sun so scorching, that before we set off to drive the Tata Nexon EV MAX to the highest motorable road in the world, the Umling La pass at 19,024 feet, the entire crew trooped off to the market to buy hats and sunscreen.
We have to make a change, and as car enthusiasts the obvious first step is electric cars. The next step is, of course, infrastructure, but that's a problem — like range — which is over-indexed. Leh is as remote a city as any in India, but even out here there is a public fast-charging station fed from a solar electricity grid. And the benefits of EVs in this ecologically fragile location are even more apparent.
Leh to Hanle
The higher you go the more oxygen density reduces and that causes internal combustion engines to lose noticeable amounts of power while visibly increasing tail pipe emissions; diesel vehicles spewing exhaust fumes are the bane of these parts. And the Nexon EV MAX presents a remarkable contrast on leg one of our drive, which is 250km from Leh to Hanle.
Our EV zips past vehicles struggling up the steep mountains with an incredibly addictive enthusiasm. Hanle was recently designated as India's only Dark Sky Preserve, and the zero light pollution affords the best views of the skies making it something of a pilgrimage centre for star watchers, while also housing the highest observatory in the country.
Through sanctuaries and passes
As for the Nexon EV MAX, the zero tail pipe emissions are allied to zero noise, thus cutting out pollution in all forms. It's something we are particularly conscious of as we leave Hanle after an overnight charge and cut through the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary, quietly driving past native species like the Wild Ass, Himalayan Marmot, Tibetan Gazelle and more grazing on the plateau while Black Necked Cranes swoop past.
"It's quick without even trying, and I creep up to the top of Umling La pass in absolute silence, much to the surprise of the Border Security Force officers who hadn't heard the Nexon EV MAX coming."
The rugged SUV-underpinnings and tried-and-tested Ziptron architecture also give us the confidence to drive the Nexon EV MAX up the rough and rutted Nurbule pass, a route that offers us views that can confidently be rated amongst the most mesmerising you will encounter anywhere in the world. From Nurbule we descend 2,500 feet to Chismule, which gives us an opportunity to use the Multi-Mode Regen to recover energy and recharge the batteries for the final 3,500 feet climb over 24km on a phenomenally smooth road laid out by the Border Roads Organisation — a testament to the incredible road-building skills of our nation builders, in one of the most inhospitable and harsh regions on earth.
Higher than Everest base camp
Half-way up the climb we pass a signboard that tells us we are higher than the Everest Base Camp and stopping to take pictures reminds us of the effects of altitude on us human beings — just a couple of steps leaves us breathless, and our heads are beginning to throb violently. The Nexon EV MAX, in marked contrast, performs just as it would at sea level, climbing the steep hairpins with a shocking effortlessness. It's quick without even trying, and I creep up to the top of Umling La pass in absolute silence, much to the surprise of the Border Security Force officers who hadn't heard the Nexon EV MAX coming.
The fact that this is the first EV to climb the highest road in the world quickly brings out the other BSF personnel, and they join us as the adjudicator from the India Book of Records ratifies the record and presents the official certificate.
We have to wrap up in 15 minutes as our bodies physically cannot take the effects of extreme altitude, but that's enough time to soak in the clear blue skies and white fluffy clouds, unsullied by the effects of pollution or climate change. And by driving the Tata Nexon EV MAX to the world's highest road, the teams at Tata Motors and evo India have proved that this made-in-India EV can take on the toughest and most extreme challenges in the world and that India is in step with the rest of the world in the journey towards electrification.
The author, Sirish Chandran, is editor of evo India magazine, and has been testing and reviewing cars and bikes for 22 years.