From peak to peak: two Škodas in the mountains

The India 2.0 heroes Kushaq and Slavia were on familiar ground in the foothills of the Himalayas.

17. 1. 2023

When you arrive at the airport after flying some 6,000 kilometres, the morning air greets you. The quiet concert of muffled car horns in the distance has a calming effect. This is the sound of India’s capital. The metropolis is home to around 25 million people. Every winter, the city is blanketed in smog. Masses of cars clog the roads. But of course, this is only one side of this overwhelming metropolis. It is the clichéd image of Delhi. 

New,Delhi,-,India,-,11,November,2017.,Traffic,Jam Traffic jam on the polluted streets of New Delhi, India. 

The group of travellers takes a propeller plane to the district of Dehradun in the state of Uttarakhand. There, the twelve international journalists have been invited to a drive with the Škoda models Slavia and Kushaq among the breathtaking hills of Mussoorie and Dehradun and the River Ganges.

Indian roads aren’t easy to tackle

Holger Karkheck does not have an easy job. Not because of the steering wheel being on the right-hand side but because of the road users right next to him. Cars, rickshaws, scooters, motorbikes, pedestrians and bicycles. Among them, children, cows, dogs, monkeys and trucks. In India, the roads belong to everyone. But the Editor-in-chief of German Auto Bild bravely manages his test drive.

His colleague Thomas Geiger, the German motoring journalist and author, loves getting behind the wheel to explore new places. He glances around, trying to take in all the sights. The streets in front of him are narrow – even motorised rickshaws struggle to fit through. It takes quite some effort to merge into the throngs of people on the road. But there is no pushing at all; the road users only seem to encourage the flow, and somehow, it steadily moves forward.

In India the roads belong to everyone: cars, rickshaws, children, cows, dogs, monkeys and lorries.

František Dvořák from Czech on-line newspaper iDNES.cz and road test editor at CompleteCar Dave Humphreys also know that the aim is to stay in the flow of traffic, no matter how crowded or narrow the road is. Around them, slender boys push huge ice-cream carts on cargo bikes in the slow lane on the left, families of four sit on a scooter, and craftsmen transport multiple ladders on a motorbike.

Localising the management: a question of perception

Education has become a status symbol, enshrined in the constitution as a fundamental right since 2009. From engineers to highly qualified IT experts, India’s education system turns out successful people. “And some of them join Škoda Auto Volkswagen India,” says Christian Cahn von Seelen, who was appointed Executive Director of Sales and Marketing at Škoda Auto Volkswagen India in April 2022. “Not all of them,” he smiles. “Some will become prime ministers in the UK, some are going to be chief executives of Microsoft.”

Christian-Cahn-von-Seelen-04-copy_b4003f6e Christian Cahn von Seelen
Executive Director of Sales and Marketing at Škoda Auto Volkswagen India

There’s a strong topic, Christian Cahn von Seelen suggests, and not only in production. “We localise everything, including the management,” he says. The entire workforce consists of about 5,000 employees, 35 of whom are Europeans. The trend is downward which makes perfect sense.

Martin_Groman_DSC02281_9f27e6ceHigh peaks are followed by picturesque valleys and then another big city - India offers all possible driving conditions.

Christian is generally not good at opening up to strangers. But in India, people make it easy for him. He is frequently approached while out walking. He knows a few words of Hindi. When asked if he likes it in India, his eyes sparkle: “I especially like how welcome I feel. Even though I’m obviously not from here and only understand the culture to a certain extent, I’m never met with suspicion. I’m always met with genuine interest and willingness to help.” A major advantage of working in India, compared to China or Japan, for example, is the language. “The people we work with speak English. And you can basically conduct every business transaction, down to the dealer level, in English.”

The manager has interculturality in his blood. “I enjoy the international differences, especially when I’m in a country that has annual economic growth of seven per cent. In Europe, we’re talking just one or two per cent, if not recession. In India, millions of families a year make the step from working class to middle class.”

The Queen of the Hills

The sun finally clears the mist. Arriving on the outskirts of Mussoorie with the Kushaqs and Slavias, the journalists continue on foot. You don’t have to believe in Shiva or any of the other gods to be captivated by Mussoorie. You don’t even have to be Hindu or religious in any way. You only need eyes, ears and a soul to sense that this is a special place. With its green hills overlooking the Himalayas, Mussoorie is one of the most popular hill resorts in Uttarakhand. The Queen of the Hills is about 30 kilometres from Dehradun. 

Martin_Groman_120A3107-kopie_0290accd India’s mountain roads can be a real test for European drivers.

Like almost every part of India, it is a place of contrasts. But compared to the megacities of Mumbai or Delhi, it’s an air health resort. Our guide keeps turning around to make sure his guests have not got lost between small temples and food stalls.

The guide, who knows the place well, leads the way. A two-kilometre walk takes an hour and a half because you are basically strolling through the alleys in a collective, peristaltic movement with other road users, and you feel as if you are browsing every shop for souvenirs. For the guide, of course, it’s a good thing that the 30,000-strong Mussoorie community at the foot of the Himalayas is becoming increasingly attractive, even for the textile sellers and boat operators down the valley on the sacred Ganges.

Foreign journalists drove the Škoda Slavia and Kushaq through stunning mountains and alongside the Ganges.

Change of scene: Monks can be heard chanting from the temple room of Mindroling Monastery in Dehradun. The oldest parts of the monastery were built towards the end of the 10th century. The smell of incense wafts through the door. Inside it is cool. The drawings on the ceiling depict a world where time is more powerful than man. Dragons, miraculous figures and dancing skeletons in the eternal cycle of rebirth. Below, the Buddhas raise their bald heads. The believers sit in a lotus position on the floor, in front of them a flat bench with texts on it. Two monks bring hot tea and hand out snacks to everyone present. Others bob up and down. Then, they sing the same lines over and over again. The devout Tibetans are evidently comfortable and protected in their Buddhist temple. They may seem carefree, far from the crowds and noise of the city. And in fact, they are carefree. They are free from worries about money, about power, about their name and career.

It was a remarkable year

The way back for the international journalists leads directly through Dehradun. Into the evening rush hour. Right into a traffic jam. We are driven through the heart of Dehradun, passing sweet shops, metal dealers, insurance agencies and carpenters. The colourful signs above the shops are printed in dense text. The houses are often intertwined; it is not always possible to tell where one ends and the next begins. In between, narrow alleys, overburdened electricity pylons and traffic lights with countdowns. The acoustic diversity is hard to escape from. Despite the hustle and bustle, driving through Indian cities at night as an international traveller feels good – at night when a sea of lights is burning. It makes the first encounter with the metropolis feel more intimate, and calmer. Meanwhile, the air is cool like a bohemian late summer night. When the sun sets here at 5 pm and the temperatures drop a little, people warm their hands around campfires.

Martin_Groman_DSC02257_34696b65The Škoda Kushaq and Slavia on their travels around India.

“Usually, we call the international community to our Mladá Boleslav headquarters to stage our products,” said Petr Šolc, Brand Director of Škoda Auto. “It gives me great pleasure and pride to invite the world to India to showcase our India-developed and India-made products, which have proven themselves on a global level. It was an incredible few days for all of us at Škoda Auto India, interacting with experts from India and the world. Our India 2.0 heroes were in their element in the beautiful foothills of the Himalayas and 2022 has been a remarkable year for us. With the response we have received, we are confident we will carry this momentum forward into 2023 and beyond.”

Petr-olc-05-copy_e1aaedff Petr Šolc
Brand Director of Škoda Auto