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14/15 July – A Record Drive

Friends, I had done 2096 kms in 72 hours since the flag off from Leh at 4 am on the 11th. I was well on target to complete the drive in 110 hours, as scheduled. When I started the car at 4 am on 14th morning I had targeted to halt at Bangalore. Well, plans are just that, plans. What happened in the next 27 and half hours was nothing as per the ‘script’. A dream played out and a record was broken in style. Between Nagpur and Adilabad the NH 7 is not in great shape. The heavy vehicles on the roads and the constant dogging of pot holes tired me early and my eyelids drooped. Before 5 am I pulled up to the side of the road and slept for 20 minutes. When I woke up there was enough daylight to discern the condition of the road. Despite the short nap I reached Adilabad at 7.20 hours – I had covered 200 kms in 3 hours and 20 minutes. Leaving Adilabad at a half past I was on the best part of the NH7 – the stretch from Adilabad to Kanyakumari is a beauty. Nizamabad went by and I reached Hyderabad …

13 July – A decisive day

Friends, When I told Aditya Arya of Muthoot Finance last night that I intended to drive to Nagpur the next day he shook his head gravely, in doubt, and suggested that I rethink the plan. I took his suggestions and firmly landed my haunches on them. I stepped on the gas at 4 am from the hotel in Agra. The night rest had refreshed me. I reached the appointed place in Gwalior by 6 am and for the first time I was ahead of the Muthoot team. But then, it was my mistake. I had informed the team that it would take me three hours to Gwalior from Agra, whereas I reached in two – the sparse early morning traffic was a ‘wind aid’, so to say. PK Kapoor, the Branch Manager of MF Jhansi, was ready for me by the time I reached the rendezvous point at 8.30 am. Once again I had escaped the city crowd for it was too early for even the early birds. Muthoot Finance does not have a branch in Lalitpur and hence, last time they had moved one of their branch managers from Jhansi to Lalitpur for the certificati…

12 July – In the shadow of the Taj

Friends, My plans were undergoing dynamic changes, virtually almost every hour. It had to be so for the halts would have to depend on the distance to time factor. Based on the halt at Tandi I had asked for accommodation to be blocked in Chandigarh and Panipat. That would have to change since I had reached Manali last night. I mentally prepared for a halt in Delhi and penciled a call to arrange accommodation there. With all these thoughts I left Manali at 5.15 am – I had given myself a bonus of 75 minutes, for I normally start at 4 am. Traffic of heavy vehicles impeded the speed. When sheets of rain descended short of Bilaspur (HP) I wondered if it would spoil my plans to reach Delhi by late evening. By 8.30 am I spotted Hotel Neelam in Bilaspur, where I had planned to get the first certification of the day and a cup of hot tea. As I turned into the compound I could see very little ahead of me except driving sheets of rain water. I eased the car through the gate of the hotel and heard t…

11 July 2012 – An unparalleled flag off

Friends, The alarm went off as set for three in the morning. I got off the bed with a bounce and proceeded to get ready. By a half past I was at the hotel lobby with the rest of the luggage. George was up too – I really felt bad having disturbed him over the past three days. Mishra turned up at a quarter to four with a posse of CRPF men with their latest fancy machine guns. Mustafa refocused the lamp that shone on the hotel from his house. The certification was done by Mishra and Tashi and it was time for the flag off. It was an emotional moment. Over the past 72 hours I had become close to those I had met for the first time like Tashi, Mishra, Avinav, Mustafa and the CRPF men. And I got closer to George. Photographs were taken, hands were shaken and the four flags beckoned me to leave. Waving those present I eased on the throttle and moved out of the gates of the hotel. Mishra had promised to inform the Upshi check post to facilitate the certification and it proved effective. I was th…

10 July – The penultimate day

Friends, I woke up early in the morning to complete the blog posts and then realised that I had less than 24 hours to go for the start of the record Drive. The condition of the roads to Manali and those in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra came rushing into my head vividly. Butterflies made the usual noises and doubts reared their unsolicited heads for a while. The loud “I will do it” resolutions banished the butterflies and the doubts in one go. Most of the morning was spent loading up the car, positioning the provisions within easy reach while driving and putting up the banner brought in by Muthoot Finance. As George and I were chatting in front of the hotel Mr. Mustafa, the owner of the hotel, drove in and parked his car. George is a personal friend of his with many years of association. Mustafa is an artist and his many paintings adorn the walls of the hotel. As is normally with a genuine artistic creator he refuses to sell his pieces. George apparently, failing in his entreaties to po…

9 July – Tuning of machine and man

Friends, I had the surprise of my life when I reached the dining hall for breakfast. Mr. GPC Nayar and Prof. Abdul Rahman were at a table with their travel agent in Leh. Mr. Nayar, the founder Director of SCMS Cochin, has been a role model for self financing educational institutions in Kerala. He has built up an enviable reputation in the sphere of education and professional competence. The various graduate and post graduate courses offered by SCMS are much sought after by an eclectic mix of students. As Mr Nayar had read about my travel and was not very surprised at my being in Leh, but the coincidence added luster to the meeting. After a heavy breakfast I went with George, Tashi and Mishra to residence of the Principal of the Moravian school. After introductions and initial pleasantries we moved to the school. The Principal instructed that the Assembly be called to order 5 minutes before the scheduled time to give me extra time to address the students. The 125 year old institution is …

8 July – Time to recoup

Friends, I was booked to stay at the Old Circuit House (OCH) upon my arrival into Leh yesterday afternoon. However, the allotted room was dusty and I soon developed an allergic sneeze. As if to top the woe, the bathroom was a virtual exhibition room – large windows without curtains. People sunning on the terraces of the neighboring houses had unobstructed views into the bathroom. The assurance of the caretaker that people are not voyeuristic in that part of the world did not blend well with my concerns. I bothered Mishra of the CRPF to get a room allotted in the New Circuit House (NCH) near the Airport. I had stayed there during my visit of Ladakh in 2007. He pulled all the strings he had at his command and finally managed a room in the NCH. The room was on the ground floor and was not maintained well – it was a wee bit better than the OCH. I had to make do for the night and I was tired. However, heavy traffic on the road bothered me till late into the night and the sodium vapor lamps …

7 July 2012 – The sweetness of achievement

Friends, The idyllic environs of the Adventure Camp in Sarchu could not compensate for the absence of sleep through the night. The thin air made breathing difficult and as the night progressed demons seized my mind. I started imagining ailments I had read about and it sowed strong seeds of doubt if I would be able to complete the trip. It would be duplicitous on my part if I said that I was not scared. I was, but I was equally resolute about succeeding in the ‘task’ on hand. Power supply and communications are not available since Sarchu is habited only between May and October. Thus, the season is just for about 5 months. All life forms migrate lest they become victims of the harsh winter. I had borrowed a torch from the camp the previous night to attend to the morning chores; the genset is switched off after dinner. However, I did not anticipate the non-availability of water. When challenged, make the best use of the available resources. I ‘raided’ the dining tent and collected all the …

6 July 2012 – Reaching the Base Camp for Leh

Friends, Incessant rains had rendered a portion of the road close to the Rohtang Pass virtually unusable. To rectify the situation the BRO/GREF had closed the road in the night from 8 pm resulting in a huge pile up on either sides of the bad patch of about a km.Most of the vehicles held up were cargo trucks. Work was on the entire night with 4 JCBs to improve the road condition and facilitate unhindered movement. My early morning start – 2.45 am – helped me to join the ‘queue’ about 10 kms short of Rohtang Pass at 3.45 am. Estimates varied about the time of opening of the road. While waiting for the road opening I took a short nap and when I woke up I found people curiously going around the car. A couple of them even suggested that I should not attempt the crossing as the low hung suspension would not withstand the poor road condition. I was alarmed, to say the least. But I was not going to give up without a try. By 7 am the barrier was lifted and there was a mad rush to get to the fron…

5 July 2012 - The ancient abode of Manu

Friends, I was to have left Delhi at 5 am as per the original program. The previous evening I rescheduled it to an hour ahead. This meant that all the Muthoot teams that were to meet me in Panipat, Ambala and Chandigarh had to reschedule their programs too. It was particularly harsh on Panipat and Ambala. However, as I have come to experience, the MF teams surpassed my expectations and proved why they are what they are – the best in their lines of business. I fuelled up at one of the stations on the Delhi border. The attendants were having tea and they offered me one to rev me up. Though there was heavy truck traffic up to Ambala the excellent road condition and the better roads sense among the users help me better the inter location timings. The MF teams ahd set up warm receptions en route – the meeting point in Ambala was the Puran Singh Ka Dhaba, which had earned wide recognition after it was featured in the TV program ‘Highway on the Plate’. Chandigarh was the last location for cert…

4 July 2012 – Reaching the Rajdhani

Friends, The domestic help of the Sudhanshus had given the car a complete makeover overnight. Sudhanshu certified the departure details in the specified format and Karan piloted me to the highway saving me precious time. The road condition right up to Delhi was a mixture of the very good and okay. Jhansi-Gwalior was tough and quite some time was lost in the movement through the cities of Gwalior and Agra for the highways weave through the city. Jhansi was quiet for the electiosn to the local bodies were on. All shops and establishments were closed. En route the Muthoot teams certified the journey at Lalitpur, Jhansi, Gwalior, Agra, Mathura and on arrival in Delhi at the Heritage Inn Hotel near the ISBT. At Agra a local NGO gave me a certificate appreciating my journey. The youngsters drawn to the cause from various purely for altruistic reasons have taken up many local issues. I have thus far travelled over NH7, 34, 26, 75, 3 and 2 while getting into Delhi from Kanyakumari. NH7, to me, …

3 July 2012 – On track

Friends, It was sheer mind over matter. The lack of sleep the previous night was no reason to let the spirits down. I was ready to leave by 3.30 am. The MF team leader had arrived to certify the start of the Kurnool-Hyderabad leg of the journey. The NH7 was very good up to Adilabad. Thereafter certain stretches on the Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh borders were extremely bad. A lot of road work was on to 4 lane the NH7 all the way up to Sagar and hence the roads were good only in patches.
After I had made out the detailed route map and charted the approximate timings it emerged that Sagar would have to be a location for overnight stay. I sought the advice of Jethi, my batchmate, about the possibility of tapping some railway resource to locate a decent overnight dwelling. He came back promptly with the information that one of his former classmates is based in Sagar and that he would help. He further added that Sudhanshu, his friend, had offered to put me up instead of spending a night in…

2 July 2012 – A fine start

Well rested after a good sleep I was fresh and ready for the 4 am start. The car was to be flagged off from front of the Muthoot branch a short distance away from the hotel where I was staying. The Branch team and Cochin team enthusiastically organized the send off from Kanyakumari. The certification as necessitated by the Limca Book of Records was done by the District Medical Officer. The lady and her assistant were at site well in advance of the start.
I had made a detailed chart of the time I was expected to take to cover the distance between two certification locations. Having had little experience of most of the roads on the planned trip the timings were tentative. However, this was crucial since the authorities for certification had to be in position well before I reached the intended location. The meeting points were well rehearsed with the Muthoot teams across the country over phone and Video Conference. Harish Thampy, the Manager Marketing, was the central point of contact. We…

1 July 2012 – On the roads again

Friends, After attending the early morning Sunday service at the St Joseph’s Church a small gathering at home feasted on the appams, puttu and egg roast that Satheesh, my brother, had organized. Apart from the usual suspects of Satheesh and his wife, Niba, Ummachan and Mathew, the farewell party included Beena, Ajay and my Uncle, MK George, who had played a critical role in the sponsorship of the Muthoot Group. The branded car looked magnificent and was an eye catcher. A few photographs and goodbyes later I rolled the car out of Alfa Serene on to the road for Kanyakumari. I had hit the roads once again on a longish trip by car after the All-India trip last year. However, there are two differences on this occasion, namely that the car is owned by me and that I am sponsored by the Muthoor Group.
Even on a Sunday the two laned NH47 was quite busy. I wondered if the narrow, pot holed roads on the Ernakulam-Trivandrum highway mirrored the Keralite mindset. Instead of the police concentrating…

Record Drive

30 June 2012 – North-South Expedition
Planning a trip is complex. When the trip is unique in some way or it is to set a record of some sort the complexity increases many times. So it is with the trip I planned to set a new record for a solo drive between Kanyakumari and Leh (Ladakh).
The Limca Book of Records (LBR) recognized my All-India trip with the mention of it in the 2012 edition. The paperback had mention of many unique feats performed by people who had decided to get out of their comfort zones and challenge existing records or beat a new path. My attention got focused on expeditions undertaken to cover the East-West and the North-South routes. Since Kanyakumari is closer to Cochin I decided to make an attempt on the existing record of 149 hours and 25 minutes for the solo drive between Kanyakumari and Leh. The LBR has a set of stringent rules to attempt any record and they have to be fully covered. The route one has to travel of nearly 4000 kms one way is also set by them; Kanya…

19th April 2012 - Arriving Cochin