“I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, with every Christmas Card I write.. “ Jim Reeves
An old Christmas Carol I inherited from my mum sparked a fantasy in me, then a little boy. A snow-covered Christmas day huddled around a fire sipping on a warm cup of Eggnog ( a traditional Yuletide drink). That, in my mind, was a real Christmas. Growing up in Calcutta, the closest thing to a white Christmas that little me could get was a smoggy winter morning. It was a lifelong fantasy that was left unfulfilled. That's is, until this year. Living in Delhi meant that snow-capped hills and my white Christmas was just a few hours drive away. All I had to do was to go get it. But first I needed a car. A tough, quick and comfortable SUV, preferably with a snow mode for getting through rough patches of ice roads. Luckily Volkswagen was gracious enough to send me their recently launched Tiguan SUV. What's even better is that it ticked all boxes for my little mission including a snow mode. Come Saturday morning, a down jacket, ingredients for eggnog and my childhood dreams were packed into the Tiguan’s 615-litre boot, which was more than accommodating. Next stop Manali. Word of snow in the Solang Valley meant my white Christmas was just a day's drive away. Little did I know life was not going to let me have my white Christmas so easily. Little did life know I wasn’t giving up that easily either, I'd have my white Christmas if it was the last thing I did.
Day 1 Delhi-Manali
A cold smoggy winter morning meant that getting out of bed was a task in itself. But the prospect of a Christmas in the snow got me out of bed. Not to mention a 141 bhp VW SUV and twisties! The first task, however, was getting out of the city and the noxious smog. Winter traffic in the early hours of the morning meant that task one was completed with ease and before long we had Delhi and the smoking Karnal bypass road landfill in our rearview mirror. After that, it was all a matter setting the cruise control just right and pointing the Tiguan in the general direction of Chandigarh. Naturally, this gave me a chance to put on some def Christmas carols and really get in the zone for my Christmas weekend.
Christmas countdown: T-48 hours
The highway gave me a chance to get a little thoughful about the Tiguan. It was my first time in Volkswagen's SUV. Truth be told, the Tiguan doesn't fit the usual SUV profile as it's sedate and doesn't have any of the usual bulky proportions or boxy design elements. And I like that about it. But at first glance, it did make me feel like the Tiguan wasn't going to make it if the road got really bad. Boy! did the Tiguan have a thing or two to show me about not judging books by their covers.
Once we did get off the high road at Bilaspur it was time to find out how the Tiguan handled the twisties. Sports mode was engaged.Thanks to low lying roofline and Volkswagen's bang on suspension game, the Tiguan handles much less like an SUV and more like a four-wheel drive sedan. This meant that even with hordes of people who had decided to descend on Manali ahead of Christmas weekend, we made it Manali early in the afternoon beating Google's ETA by almost 3 hours. Take that Google! Ze Germans have no time for your inefficiencies!
Once in Manali of course we realised that the 'word’ of snow in Solang valley hadn't just reached us. Despite it being the middle of the offseason Manali was teeming with folks all of whom had has the same idea as me.
The next morning it was time to chase the snow, after stuffing my face with bacon eggs and baked beans at old Manali. We started on our way to Solang valley and my white Christmas.
Christmas countdown: T-24 hours.
Day 2 Manali-Dharamshala -Christmas Eve
Solang Valley was, by this time teaming with snow searchers like myself. The problem was that Solang had no interest in cooperation. It had last snowed two nights ago, and two consecutive warm days meant that the snow that was on the ground was starting to melt and turn brown. Not to mention a 6-hour gridlock between me and the snow. Further compounded by the fact that there was no place that would have us so late in the day.
This called for a new plan. Friends of Express Drives in Manali gave me a lead that there was snow in Dalhousie. My white Christmas awaited me there. But half the day had gone battling the gridlock. There was no way I was going to make it on that same night. The clock was ticking and my dreams of white Christmas were slowly melting away like the brown muddy snow at Solang.
It was time, to put my foot to the floor and see what the Tiguan was really capable of. I had a few hours and 200+ kilometres of hill section to go before my night halt at Dharamshala.
This is also the point where I started falling in love with this VW. The road to Dharamshala was mix of pristine tarmac twisties and rutted under-maintained roads. It gave me a chance to set the Tiguan into off-road mode and even play around with the settings in the off-road+ mode which allows you to tinker with each setting to your fancy, easily one of my favourite things about the Tiguan, it's versatility. That's not saying that it comes easy. Understanding the entire system through a myriad of buttons switches, levers, dials and telekinesis does take a bit of time, but most cars these days are a little complicated. But on the plus side, this means that you can set up the Tiguan's suspension, steering, drive and traction control to exactly the way you like it.
This also meant that I could make that 200+ KM in less than 6 hours. It was Christmas eve, and my white Christmas was still a day away. This was going be tricky.
Christmas Countdown: T-12 hours
Day 3 Dharamshala-Dalhousie
Christmas morning. I jumped out of bed. I was a man on a mission. There was a shortcut to Dalhousie along a the river bed. Locals warned us that the road was rutted and looked at the Tiguan's unassuming form and deduced “yeh to nahin jayegi” ( This car won't go). I took stock of the situation, for one the Tiguan does sit low at 149mm off the ground (but that’s only when fully laden). Which means that if the road got really rutted it just wouldn't go. On the plus side, this means that the Tiguan sits lows and sticks to the road like glue. I had two options, one stick to the high roads reach there in the evening and miss my white Christmas entirely. Or, risk it off-road cut through the valley and actually make it with some time to spare.
Off-road mode engaged. Set precisely the way I liked it. I headed for the river bed. This was no run of the mill flat pea-gravel surfaced riverbed either. It was as unkempt as it could naturally be. Rounded river rock lined the surface. No time to worry about the finer things as there was a Christmas to be celebrated. The Tiguan rose to the occasion like it was born to it. The traction control light lighting up like a strobe light in a club. We slid jumped and bashed our way through the river until Dalhousie was in sight.
Inside the cabin, other than the tunes playing out of the infotainment system, we might as well have been driving through Mumbai Central. On the outside, however, the Tiguan was a few sponsor stickers and an exhaust short of a rally car. Rooster tails and all. This brings me back to the suspension, which is amazing on tight roads, and still somehow very good off-road. The only problem seems to be a lack of travel in the shocks, which seem to bottom out when the road gets rutted unleashing a painful metal-on-metal sound. It seems to be a case of the lesser of two evils considering that increasing the travel means that the Tiguan might find a bit of body roll, ruining its impressive tarmac adhesion. Another pristine ghat later Dalhousie and white powder covered peaks were in sight. I was going to have a white Christmas after all.
Christmas Countdown: T-6 hours
We reached Dalhousie in the early hours of the afternoon, which meant that we had just enough time to head up to the snow. Narrow roads covered in black ice and lined with walls of freshly driven Xd meant that I finally got a chance to put the Tiguan in snow mode. And this made all the difference. Traffic ahead and behind me struggled for traction. The Tiguan stayed planted even as we pushed our way through the ice. We reached the snow safe and sound. We were greeted by hot pakoras and chai. Far from the roasted marshmallows and eggnog that I had envisioned, but I wasn't one to be disappointed. We had got our white Christmas after all. Against all odds. Through flat ghat roads, off-road and snow the Tiguan held its own.
It kept us comfortable, and had enough space for all the luggage, it handled well and even went off-road with no qualms whatsoever. And all while looking like the suave German that it is. Unassuming at the face of it, but on the inside it’s ready for anything that stands in its way!