I have been involved in testing of new cars that belonged to my company. But, all that are with SOPs and defined patterns. This time, it was about driving a competitor in the extreme road conditions just for the joy of driving and fun of travelling. No SOPs and we were our own bosses… The India unique driving conditions… With money spent from our own pockets… So this is what it was all about.
Part 1: We meet our new friend from the showroom- Maruthi Swift Petrol
The car was delivered from the showroom just 30 minutes before our arrival. It had the ribbon on its hood and a TC plate for registration indicating us that we were the first people to drive it. After all the formalities, the experimental trip kicked off in a traditional Indian way- Getting ourselves photographed in front of our brand new car with the self-drive company owner handing over the keys to us. The road ahead is supposedly beautiful with greenery all the way with paddy fields, hills and tea plantations. It was past sunset and hence, it was just a cruise from Guwahati to Kaziranga highway. We checked into the resort by 10.00.p.m which we had booked at Kohra range of Kaziranga National park.
The next morning, we drove through the rustic areas of Kohra to reach the elephant Safari area. It was a splendid view with lush green paddy fields hovered over with mist and mud smeared huts dotting the entire stretch which set a positive tone for the day. We even spotted a couple of rhinos by the roadside itself 😀 An elaborate story of Kaziranga is another post altogether and hence, I will drive you across from here to reach Neemati ghat as the last ferry would leave for Majuli by 04.00.p.m. The car too sped similar to the drive you’ve just been through the post from Kohra to Neemati ghat- HIGH SPEED! Majuli is yet another post in my blog and that comes with Diwali lights, fireworks and a lot of pulling and pushing of the car in the dusty terrain of the countryside. A drive to be truly remembered!
Part 2: Driving on the National Highway no.13- A sneak-peak to Arunachal Pradesh
It was complete off-road driving (Read it flying) all along the banks of Brahmaputra from Dhunaguri Ghat of Assam. We had covered a stretch of 165 kms/4hrs via North-Lakhimpur in merely an hour through a shortcut via Parbatipur. We had met a cop from Arunachal Pradesh who had asked us to follow him and we did that although skeptical about his real motives 😛 We heaved a sigh only when we saw some people around and that’s when we realized we were right in front of Arunachal gate at Banderdewa check post. Having sorted out the issues of inner-line permits for us and our swift car with no number plate (We had a temporary registration), a grueling drive into the state of Arunachal had begun along NH.13. It was pitch dark at 6.p.m. in the evening and not a soul on the road san us. We braved a couple of landslides and waterfalls- both plunging right onto the road that we were driving through. It was 12.00.a.m.when we reached Hapoli market in Ziro town of the lower Subansiri district. The three of us were trying to get in touch with the homestay owner for directions from 5 different mobile network providers and yet unable to make a call. We were kind of stranded in the middle of a freaking cold night at nowhere!! There were no civilians on the road but hundreds of cops walking around with balaclava and guns keeping vigil in the place prone to surprise social turbulence. Meanwhile, we were confronted by a CRPF cop as to what we were doing there at that time and we explained our plight to him and seeked help. He offered to help us telling BSNL lines were up and he could call our homestay from his mobile- unfortunately, our homestay guy was still not reachable, thanks to his Airtel connection! By that time, we had decided to spend the night on the road with our shorts and loafers to help us bare the zero temperature at Ziro town. But in a while’s time, a miracle happened. Our homestay owner had realized the issue with the mobile networks and come down to Ziro searching for us. He found us! But rightly then, his Maruthi 800 refused to crank… He pushed it aside until next morning, got into our car and took us to safe harbor- his homestay at Siiro!
After all the sightseeing and lifetime experiences at Ziro, we had to now drive back to our next destination- Jatinga. It was the same highway down until Banderdewa, but this time during daytime. So we had ample vistas to soothe our eyes all the way… Deep valley with clear waters and occasional rapids of the Subansiri on one side and thick jungle on the other kept up the motivation for the drive on that Roadless NH road! Occasional Apathani women folk hitch hiking a drop to different villages enroute to Potan and frequent photo stops added to the tempo. Further down, while the sunset added colour, the grazing Mithuns along the valley added charm to the drive. Mithuns are shy animals belonging to the cattle family. They resemble bisons from Nagarhole in their features but are in shades of white colour. They are handsome creatures! In such bad tarmac, we were still able to keep the good condition of our new car with just the rear mudguards hanging down. We crossed the Banderdewa by 06.00.p.m. and thus the next sojourn into Assam happened.
Part 3: Driving on the Asian Highway no.1 to Haflong.
After a short tea break and for dinner, we drove until Tezpur where we decided to stay for the night. After seeing no roads in Arunachal, the new tarmac in Assam seemed more like a speedway in NFS. We were cruising through the NH passes over the 3kms+ long Kolia Bhomora Bridge across the Brahmaputra and cuts through tea plantations and paddy fields in most stretch and was a delight to drive. But, we were watchful at the same time as the beautiful stretch was also known for anti-social elements like militants, Maoists etc. The next morning, we started early towards Dima Hasao district so that we had sufficient time to explore Haflong and make it to Jatinga to watch the famous birds’ mass suicide phenomenon. We were blindly following our dear friend- google maps and cruising on the AH, that is being newly developed in the stretch that we were supposed to drive till Haflong. We were thoroughly enjoying our drive through the newly asphalted 4-lane road passing through the forest reserve area. However, we did not want to risk ourselves by stopping anywhere even for a nature’s call as the entire stretch is known to be socially intolerant and infested with militants. It was only us and no one else amid virgin forests on both sides for as long as our eyes could reach. The map was indicating only ONE road right until Haflong without any crossroads and hence, it was an easy way to go…
We had just passed through the tunnel near Mahur junction and suddenly the road disappeared. The front wheels of our car were stuck inside a deep pool of slush. It was 01.00.p.m. and our enjoyable drive had halted. The map on all our phones continued to indicate the road ahead. We opened the doors to get out n push the car- we were amused by the knee deep water that we had just got ourselves into. There was a huge rock exactly under the front cross-bar which meant we couldn’t push it forward. Meanwhile, we noticed that the water level was rising due to a continuously flowing stream which posed a risk of the water entering the engine. While 2 of us took to task of digging a water-way for the stream to flow out, the other friend walked back until the tunnel where we hoped to find some help. There were a couple of cars who had lost their way too and drove to the place where we were stuck, but they were quick enough to shift to the reverse gear and drive back. Remember… The place is infested with militants?? Our poor friend near the tunnel- was trying to stop every single vehicle that passed by and no one cared! By 03.00.p.m. he somehow managed to walk back with 3 local boys who came down with a couple of posts to lift the car out of the slush. The ground clearance was bad which at the first place had got us down to where we were. The front bumper seemed fragile to come out if we tried to lift up with it. There were no side skirts or reinforcements that could help us to hold the car up. And then there was a huge dent & a bump on the Rear door while my friend was trying to support his shoulder in between. We together tried all possible tricks and ideas to get the car out but all in vain. The sun had begun to set by then which meant we had very little time left with daylight lest spend the night inside the car in the middle of nowhere with highest possibility of getting mugged at gunpoint and worse- become a meal to some hungry wild animal. It was 04.00.p.m. and we were still stranded.
While we had given up and thinking about the way forward, a Mizoram bound family arrived in a XUV-500. Seeing a girl, they took pity on us and offered to help us by waiting until we arranged for a rope. Fortunately, another truck arrived on a lost route within the next 10 minutes. The truck driver obliged to open a compartment in his truck which was located deep under and was never touched since the time he had owned the truck. He finally pulled out a big chain which was then attached to the XUV and towed the swift out of the ditch. It was a moment of celebration… not only to us, but to so many people who had gathered during the course. With some navigation help from the locals, we took a small deviation to avoid the landslide that had actually caused the entire episode of getting our car towed. The highway ahead right until Jatinga was under construction with just heavy dust all around. There was a spot where our car was in the middle of like ten JCBs around- Like a scene from the transformers. Wow! A wonderful experience in a no-man’s world…
Part 4: Swift gets a face wash
We found a local garage at Haflong who vacuum cleaned the interiors and did a high pressure wash for the exteriors and underbody. Our car looked as new as it was when we took delivery. Only change point was that it had a big bump on the rear door and functionally, the power steering would suddenly get harder than its manual version due to the leaking power steering oil, the brakes took a longer distance to stop and the entire electrical system would suddenly go off during the drive due to the excessive electrolyte spillage in the battery and of course- the wheel alignment had gone for a complete toss. We drove back to Guwahati braving the deadly combination of multiple malfunction Indication Lamps on and horrible road sense of the people on the newly laid highways. We returned the car at Guwahati and the rest is better left untold…