Owners of the famous Series I Land Rovers that climb the Himalayan mountain of Sandakphu in India are going to the government of the state of West Bengal to get support to keep their vintage vehicles on the road. After decades of plying the high peaks at the roof of the world, the Land Rovers are tired, and the hope is that becoming an official piece of national heritage will help direct money and tourists their way to keep the vehicles on the road.
We last discussed the Land Rovers of Maney Bhanjyang in 2018, when Land Rover India made a series of short films about them for the 70th anniversary. They are the remnants of a large fleet of Series I vehicles that made their way to Darjeeling tea plantations in the years right after Indian independence. Up into the 1990s, you could see Series Is all day long in Darjeeling, working as taxis and work vehicles. As time went on, the remaining fleet more or less consolidated itself to the nearby village of Maney Bhanjang, where they drive a tourist route up the mountain at Sandakphu. Along the way, they provide supply services to communities on the mountain.
Five years after that film was made, the Land Rover fleet has continued to thin. The vehicles are getting older, and even with engine swaps and ingenuity, there is only so far they can go in the rough conditions without a major overhaul. They have also faced some opposition from the local government, who feel that the vehicles are too old to be safe to climb the steep mountain. In early 2018 they offered an alternative to create a flat, 1940s-themed tourist circuit in Darjeeling if they were taken off the mountain route, though as of 2023 the Land Rovers are still plying the peaks.
As Land Rovers are retired, they are often replaced by Mahindra Boleros, an Indian basic 4x4 that is a sort of modern interpretation of the Series. The organization that runs the trips, the Singalila Land Rover Owner's Welfare Association, may have also been renamed the Land Rover and Bolero Welfare Association to reflect this, though it's hard to clarify this. From the 50 or so trucks that ran the route in recent years, they are down to 39, with breakdowns and a lack of spares risking taking the entire fleet off the road. Several vehicles have been junked in recent years for lack of spares and mechanical support. Most vehicles are Series I built between 1954 and 1957, though there are some Series II and Series III in the fleet.
The head of the Welfare Association, Anil Tamang, has gone to the state government to ask for heritage status, which would help to preserve the Land Rovers and build a larger tourist case for them, along the lines of the narrow-gauge Darjeeling Toy Train, a global icon that runs nearby. Doing so would help to get some funding to support advertising and maintaining the Land Rovers. Otherwise, it's possible that this fantastic little corner of the Land Rover world could vanish in the next few years.
Get the ROVERLOG Newsletter Delivered to your inbox
Sign up and receive once every 2 weeks