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Showing posts from 2015

MATTER OF PRIDE

Accidents on big mountains happen when people's ambitions cloud their good judgment. Good climbing is about climbing with heart and with instinct, not ambition and pride. - Bear Grylls
Through all the expeditions and roads journeys I have been constantly asked what it is that I gain from them. To me such interludes help rejuvenate the soul and help spend quality time with oneself, help understand the sameness of humankind despite obvious differences, help appreciate culture, food, dress habits and local customs, help open one’s mind to diverse thoughts and beliefs, help admire the cosmic balance and beauty that Nature holds, help conquer fear of the unknown, help spread smiles across lands and peoples and much, much more. They fulfill the internal drive to travel and experience adventure, fulfill a certain ‘calling’, fulfill a sense of ‘been there, done that’, fulfill a yearning of achievement and such other. However, to me the greatest gain is the inspiration one’s travels provide…

CHALLENGES

Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory. - George S. Patton
An expedition has many elements of risk attached to it, some known and many unknown, and braving challenges is integral to it. Some challenges could be life threatening, some a matter of hearsay and many are simply products of the fear of the unknown. Putting together information from people who have done the routes in the past and collating as much information as possible from published sources is a matter of prudent detail. Therefore, when you attempt something unique and unprecedented you would be, by and large, beating a new path. The two international expeditions to London and Singapore and three of the five Indian expeditions I have undertaken so far fall into the category of ‘being done for the first time’. Hence, there is very little data to fall back on and much less that make cogent sense.
Planning the route and making provisions for night halts is one of the first challenges that I come…

GETTING THE FAMILIAR SCHEDULE TOGETHER

As a rule, we find what we look for; we achieve what we get ready for. - James Cash Penney
As the expedition was being finalised I had to decide on the car to undertake it in. The choice was between the Swift, in which I had undertaken five Indian Record Drives, and the Ford Endeavour, in which I had done two international expeditions. The four wheel drive and automatic transmission of the Ford tipped the scales in its favour. The Endeavour had suffered two ‘knocks’ during the drive back from the South East Asian Odyssey. I had bumped into a mini truck meant to carry poultry as I was descending the ghats from Kohima to Dimapur. The truck had cut in sharply in front of me and braked. The reaction time I had could only reduce the impact. The extra Hella lamps got crushed on hitting the crash guard of the truck. That was the only damage I could perceive on a cursory inspection at the accident spot. The poultry truck, after seeing that it had not suffered any damage, left the spot without …

AN UNFINISHED AGENDA BUBBLES

Yesterday is but today's memory, and tomorrow is today's dream – Kalil Gibran
A couple of weeks before I hit the road for the South East Asian Odyssey, the Trans Himalayan Expedition was added on to make it a mega double header. The overarching reasons for it were two. First, the weather conditions and the season to undertake the Trans Himalayan Expedition are extremely crucial. The passes have to be open while, at the same time, rains shouldn’t play spoil sport with landslides and unmotorable road conditions. The months of March-April and October-November would be ideal from the monsoon point of view. But many passes are not open then and the Leh-Manali route is closed during these months. Therefore, the months of May-June and August-September emerge the best bets. However, the risk of rainfall is high during these months, particularly in the north east of the country. There can never be ideal conditions; they have to be met and overcome as they happen. Second, I have a very l…

Post Trip - 16 May 2015 - Oh, What an Odyssey!

The South East Asian Odyssey was planned in three months and executed over 77 days, covering 21635 kms. The odyssey took me through 9 countries, of which 8 were by car. The countries covered were India (8268 km – 17 days), Myanmar (3369 km – 11 days), Thailand (4744 km – 15 days), Lao DPR (2395 km – 9 days), Cambodia (688 kms – 3 days), Malaysia (2112 kms – 10 days), Singapore (59 kms – 4 days), Vietnam (0 km – 5 days), Indonesia (0km – 3 days). The Ford Endeavour, KL 29C 2131, consumed 2400 litres of diesel oil, with an average price of Rs. 51.50 across countries with mileage of 9 kms to a litre. 340 kms were covered per day, on an average, if the 64 driving days alone are factored in. Else, over the 77 days 280 kms were covered per day, on an average. 27 border crossings were done during the onward and return journeys, of which 25 were with the car. While the average cost of accommodation was Rs. 2000 per night, food and beverages cost Rs. 500 per day.
Cambodia was the only foreign c…

Day 77 - 15 May 2015 - Chennai to Cochin

Yes, this was the day when the expedition would end in Cochin. UPM Advertising has been a major force in ensuring visibility of the expedition at the flag off, on social media and among friends and relatives. Mary George and Phillip Cherian have been pillars of support for almost all my expeditions. And it is with them that the responsibility of organising a reception in Tyrex vested. Silently they worked on it and all that I had to do was to confirm the time of arrival into Cochin. After I reached Chennai I confirmed to Mary that I would reach Cochin at 5 pm on 15 May.
Yesterday I half thought of engaging a Ford service station to take a look at the car because the acceleration was almost capped at 100 kmph and the initial resistance was accompanied by increasing sounds! Even then I decided to push the machine to its limits. After all, my expeditions have been about “Pushing The Limits”. And I banked on the ‘soul’ understanding the importance of the occasion and coming to the party. I…

Day 76 - 14 May 2015 - In Chennai

The photoshoot in the morning in Marina Beach would happen only if it didn’t rain, Suzanne had said last night. Abraham had warned me to be at the location in time because Suzanne and Tushara would be there as the clock strikes, he was sure. With light to medium rain clouds gathering in the distant I forewent breakfast and reached the Gandhi Statue on Marine Drive a half hour before the appointed time. With the beach and the Police headquarters in the background, I was taking a few selfies when a police constable requested me to park the car parallel to the kerb. I had not realised that the length of the car would be an obstruction to through traffic during peak time. Watching the calm sea that morning I could not fathom the destruction that tsunami waves had caused there that fateful Christmas Eve.
Ashok Thomas, Tushara and the photographer arrived just when the sun shone brightly and the light was right for the photoshoot. Suzanne informed that she was on the way and that the shoot …

Day 75 - 13 May 2015 - Visakhapatnam to Chennai

It was time to leave the City of Destiny. Except for a few of my expeditions like North-South, East-West and that to London, Visakhapatnam always figured in the itinerary. The hospitality of Thulasi Ram and his family has been the prime reason for that. During this expedition Visakhapatnam had not originally figured in the return trip because of the Himalayan Expedition that was to be attempted immediately on conclusion of this one in Tezu, Arunachal Pradesh. However, the earthquake and aftershocks in Nepal changed all that. It was only ten days back that I redid the South East Asian itinerary to cut out the Himalayan Expedition. When the reroute was done I sought the assistance of Gopal Mohanty in Kolkata and Thulasi Ram in Visakhapatnam for accommodation in Guwahati, Malda, Kolkata and Visakhapatnam. It was standard operating procedure. No matter what, they were always there for me. Into this category fall KB Singh in Imphal, Moncy Thomas in Bangkok, Ajo David in Batam, Sreekanth Na…

Day 74 - 12 May 2015 - Kolkata to Visakhapatnam

I did not think I would survive the road journey this day to write this piece. It was a day on which I lurched from one ‘near death’ experience to another. I had no inkling of what was in store when I left the Garden Reach ORH just as the sky was lighting up with traces of a new dawn. The Vidya Sagar Setu Bridge looked lovely decked up in multi coloured lights. The Rs. 10 toll charge for the bridge must be the lowest anywhere in the world. Kolkata is still one of the cheapest cities to live in in India. Being fond of street food I ventured into a small eatery opposite the SER headquarters building last evening and had four chappatis and vegetable curry for Rs. 12! I was embarrassed to hand over a 500 rupee note, but the vendor returned change without hesitating even once!
The concrete road up to Balasore was treacherous since it has been excavated at intermittent intervals for repairs. Every km had at least two diversions. The road closures were unscientific; instead of closing off one…

Day 73 - 11 May 2015 - Malda to Kolkata

It had rained heavily overnight and the sky was still overcast when I loaded the luggage into the car; the quantum of soiled clothes started outweighing the fresh ones. I calculated that for the remainder of the trip I would need a couple of fresh t-shirts and socks. The rest were fine. The caretaker of the ORH gave me a flask full of hot water so that I could have some coffee on the way.
I was apprehensive about Google Maps showing me the way out of the town because of the experience on the way into it. I had hit a few dead ends before reaching the ORH. But, this morning, a repeat did not happen and I eased on to the NH 34. Despite it being early morning truck traffic was heavy; on the approach to the Farakka Barrage there was a huge hold up that took away more than 30 minutes. That’s when I decided to have a cup of hot coffee waiting for the congestion to clear up. The traffic across the barrage was being directed by paramilitary personnel, who were also in charge of guarding the bar…

Day 72 - 10 May 2015 - Maligaon to Malda

There are days when nothing goes right. This day was one such. Indications of it came early when the GPS directed me from the rest house to the General Manager’s house, instead of on to the main road. Then I hit the busy railway gate of Kamakhya railway station and remained there for 15 minutes, instead of taking the alternate route to avoid it. At that time I did not know that greater delays were to happen during the journey to Malda.
The drive to Malda would take me about 12 hours, I calculated, to cover over 650 km. I have done the stretch many times in the past, including the forward leg of this expedition. Road conditions as well as the heavy freight traffic slow down traffic. Hence, I marked a 5 am start and made the rest house charges last night itself. Of the two routes to Malda I chose the Bongaigaon-Alipurduar-Dalkola route. Driving was alright till I reached the outskirts of Dalkola and I was maintaining an average speed of 55 kmph.
Dalkola is a busy three way intersection. O…

Day 71 - 9 May 2015 - Imphal to Maligaon

This is my third visit to Manipur, the second in this expedition. Every time I come here I learn something new. Something that may not be known to most people living outside the state is that the Indian Flag and the Constitution are ‘outlawed’ in Manipur. The more than 30 underground outfits – UGs or local armies, as they are known – have made it ‘punishable’ to display the Indian Flag and to owe allegiance to the Indian Constitution. Therefore, the flag is flown or displayed only in government offices. Republic and Independence Day celebrations are not conducted in public. They are normally days of ‘bandh’. Flag hoisting is confined to army camps and high government offices. Singing the National Anthem is a criminal offence as per the diktat of the UGs. Extortion by the UGs is rampant in the guise of local ‘tax’ and protection money. Recently many schools in Imphal faced forced closure for over a week as the managements refused to yield to the demand of the UGs for school seats, that…