I took these photos in the town of Leh in Ladakh, northern India, near the area of Kashmir devastated by the 2005 earthquake. I spent two months there in 1990 as cameraman on a documentary film (50K JPEG), and came away with a real respect and affection for the people there. It's in the Himalayas, close to the border with Tibet, and the only road to the outside world is closed by snow for much of the year. The majority of the vehicles in Ladakh are Jeeps, most of them made in India, and undoubtedly many of them were used in 2005 to get relief supplies to isolated villages flattened by the earthquake.
The difficulty of access was likely one reason that press coverage of the massive destruction quickly dropped off, even though the suffering was in many ways worse than that of the 2004 tsunami further south. Many thousands of families in the mountains were left without proper shelter for the winter. A donation to the Red Cross would translate directly into lives saved by medical attention and insulated tents, in similar disaster areas. -- Derek Redmond
CJ-4 Ambulance, Model MM440: Tales from westerners who have been in the hospital in Leh are scary, but it's probably better than nothing, and the roads into Leh from outlying villages are difficult even in summer. I can't imagine anything other than a Jeep trying to get through in winter. The Mahindra CJ-4 is a longer version of the CJ-3B, and was never produced by Willys.
An Indian Army Jeep is parked on the main street in Leh as the soldiers take a stroll. See a larger copy (100K JPEG) which gives a better look at the beautiful mountains in the background.
Not surprisingly, the first Jeep in Leh was an Army Jeep. But it was in 1948, well before Mahindra started building them in India. A remarkable 1948 Indian Army photo courtesy of Bharat-Rakshak.com shows the first jeep arriving (60K JPEG) at the newly constructed Leh airstrip, the highest-altitude landing field in the world. The area was threatened by invading Pakistani forces in 1948, and only the relief flights by a few Royal Indian Air Force Dakotas prevented the fall of Leh.
At that time there were no roads into Ladakh, and most of the residents had never seen a motorized vehicle, let alone an airplane. The Leh airport today still requires arriving flights to spiral down into a small flat area surrounded by mountains.
Taxis in Leh: Most of the Jeeps in this picture are taxis; maybe the yellow line below the windshield means Yellow Cab? It's actually a Tibetan Buddhist gesture. All but one Jeep here are 3B's. See a larger copy of the photo (100K JPEG).
Four Door CJ: This version with the fastback hardtop is still one of the most deluxe examples I've seen of the long-wheelbase Mahindra Jeep.
Government Jeep: Reliable transportation for an official of the government of Jammu & Kashmir State, which includes Ladakh. Right-hand drive, so the spare is on the left side.
Download a QuickTime Movie (650K) of the government Jeep as it headed into town on the highway. I'm not sure if you'd call this on-road or off-road driving, but it's pretty typical of Ladakhi drivers. The shot is taken from the film I was working on, called Ancient Futures.
This photo offers a good look at a Mahindra MM540, which differs slightly from the Willys CJ-5 and CJ-7.
Ram Rao provides this description of the differences:
"The length of the hood (windshield to front edge of hood) is identical to that of the early CJ-5. (Later AMC CJ-5's have a stretched hood.)
"The rounded fenders on the Mahindra are modeled approximately after the Willys CJ-5. The shape of the groove along the fender as well as the fender itself differs where the curved metal meets the radiator grille. The Willys M38A1 and early CJ-5's also did not have the reflector/sidemarker lamp in the front fenders. They had a cutout in the hood on the right for accomodating a snorkel, and the cowl in the US originals had an air-intake grille and a battery box cover. The bulge in the center of the hood was also narrower and taller than that in the Mahindra design."
"The first and last (seventh) slot in the grille were "squeezed" to accomodate the large headlamp openings in the military M38A1, and the civilian CJ-5 used the same grille. The MM540 design on the other hand, uses smaller headlamps, and has all seven grille-slots identical to each other, like the CJ-3B (and the Jeep TJ).
"The white fiberglass top is the 'Stallion' model made by ROPLAS, a Mahindra company."
This photo shows the Jeep of the Medical Officer in Leh.
This Jeep belongs to the police. Ladakh is a high-security area, adjoining the frontline of confrontations with Pakistan and China, so photographing the police and military is frowned upon. This is enlarged from a distant photo. See a larger copy (48K JPEG) for a better view of details including wire mesh over the windshield and warning light, and the "Flying Squad" logo.
Elsewhere on the web, see Mountainous Ladakh for more details and history of the area.
See more Mahindra Jeeps on The CJ3B Page.
Return to Jeeps Around the World.
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