Thursday, July 26, 2012

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 well ahead of the appointed time at 11.20 am. The struggle to get through from the north of Hyderabad to the south to take the Bangalore highway was forbidding. As luck would have it I asked an auto driver at an intersection and he guided me expertly on to the Outer Ring Road.
Once on the ORR I started recalculating again. I thought to myself that I should bye pass Bangalore and halt at Salem instead. Maybe the dreams were too much for me. I was overcome by sleep. I pulled up once again and slept. This time I slept for an hour. As I woke up I was gripped by panic. I had informed Kurnool that I would reach there by 3.30 pm. It was already 1.40 pm and I had 155 kms to go. I washed my face and stepped on the accelerator. Fortunately, I got a couple of companions who wanted to race me. The competition saw me reaching the certification point 15 minutes late after fuelling at a pump. Anathapur went by within the next two hours – 150 kms. Nearing Bangalore I got ravenously hungry – I had had very little to eat the whole day. The sight of a Cafe Coffee Day outlet made me go limp. I drove in and ordered a combo. I used the facilities in the outlet to refresh myself. I also got in touch with the MF team in Cochin to confirm the rearranged timings beyond Bangalore. There was not a murmur of protest from any of the teams down the line. I was to reach Dharmapuri and Salem on either side of midnight.
The enthusiastic Bangalore team caused much mirth in front of the Esteem Mall where I stopped for certification. In five minutes I was off on the road again. I resolved to drive through to Kanyakumari. If I reached there ahead of 8 am I would be bettering the existing time by about 50 hours. That was the new target – reach Kanyakumari before 8 am. The same was relayed to all the MF teams down the road, as it were.
Just of Bangalore the skies opened out. Buckets and unending buckets of rain made driving almost impossible. The rain water on either side of the road made lane driving nonsensical. To top it all vehicles on the opposite side of the road splashed copies quantities of water on to the wind shield. At one time I contemplated stopping the car till the rains eased. But the thought of the MF teams waiting and their regular calls made me feel a sense of guilt every time I thought of stopping. If they could wait in the rain why could I not drive in the rain? I kept at it and reached Dharmapuri almost at the stroke of midnight. The warm and smiling MF team was at the appointed place to certify. They assured me that I would be able to drive into Kanyakumari as scheduled. The weather did not let up till Salem. The Muthoot team was waiting in pouring rain, but with smiles on their faces. I left Salem at 1 am and the rains eased. Thereafter, I drove at ease to reach Dindigul at 3.30 am and Madurai at 4.15 am. I had been driving for over 24 hours. I kept the creeping fatigue away by reminding myself how close I was to my goal.
It was around 5.30 am when I heard a big shout. My eyes opened in time to stop the vehicle. I had narrowly missed a guy on a moped travelling in the opposite direction and I was headed for a field! I parked the car, shut my eyes for a minute and prayed to the Almighty to give me strength to complete the task within the target. I cannot explain what happened but I was overcome by a new wave of energy. I reached Tirunelveli at 6.40 am – had covered 170 kms from Madurai in 2 hours and 10 minutes. The reception committee at Tirunelveli was ecstatic at seeing the car and the driver. Everyone wanted a photo and to garland. Time was slipping by. I had to tear myself away from a cheering crowd in 5 minutes and get into the car for the last lap to Kanyakumari – but not before accepting a large portion of Tirunelveli halwa and a garland of rajanigandha, my favorite flower.
My mind was in a whirl. An assortment of thoughts demanded my attention. I had another 70 kms before me. The possibility of completing the distance in less than 100 hours was brighter. Would I have a breakdown before reaching Kanyakumari? When you near the goal the goal seems a little further away. But as I paid the entry tax at the toll booth and parked the car in front of the Muthoot finance office I asked the waiting crowd for the time. It was 7.30 am. The 3848 kms Record Drive was completed in 99 hours and 30 minutes – nearly 50 hours less than the existing entry in the Limca Book of Records. The last stretch of 1750 kms was completed in 27 hours and 30 minutes in one go – a true test of stamina, concentration and blessings of God. Having said this I must admit that it would not have been possible without the cooperation and excellent logistical arrangements by Muthoot Finance.
The Assistant Civil Surgeon who had certified my start from Kanyakumari at 4 am on the 2nd July was at hand to certify my arrival into Kanyakumari at 7.30 am on 15th. A two week saga had ended. The regular and prompt handling of the Facebook site had drawn a lot of friends and fans to follow the drive. My wishes to all of them who egged me on and provided crucial emotional support. Completing the drive within 100 hours made me experience what Roger Bannister must have felt when he ran the mile under 4 minutes, even against the advice of doctors. Skeptics were many on the way, but prayers of well wishers triumphed in the end.

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 certification. This time around, the notice was too short to do that. Hence, I stopped at the Lalitpur NHAI toll office and requested the IT Manager to certify the entries, which he did after ascertaining the reason for the same. He even came out of his room to admire the car.
In the initial scheme of things I was to halt at Sagar today. But thanks to the rearranged itinerary I reached Sagar at 11.40 am. The Muthoot team was in full attendance at the KT Motel, where we met in the presence of the sitting MLA of the neighboring constituency, who owned the Motel. After light refreshments, animated banter and photographs I was once again on the road by noon.
Anil Agarwal, a retired SBI officer, working with Muthoot Finance in Jabalpur had reached Narasimhapur well in advance to facilitate the certification. The road condition was good and I reached the certification point in slightly over 2 hours. Similar was the case with Seoni. By 4.30 pm I left the Seoni certification point and was well settled on the road to Nagpur. A casual glance at the fuel tank display sent shivers up my spine and my hands went cold. I had somehow missed the visual indication of an emptying tank as well as the insignificant audio signal. I decided to turn back and head for Seoni town. I prayed that I would reach a pump in time. After cutting off the AC and driving at normal speed to conserve what was left in the tank I reached a pump in the town. The pump attendant, while filling fuel asked me to take the Chindwara route for Nagpur. He said that the pot holed roads via Pench would tax the car. The detour would have cost me nearly an extra 100 kms. I decided to stick with the Pench road. It was nasty and it tested my patience. The fading light distressed me. Somewhere along the way the road improved, but I must have taken the wrong road for I suddenly seemed to be further away from Nagpur than I thought I was. When I reached the Shivani International, in the heart of Nagpur, I was told that I had needlessly taken an Expressway that caused me about 30 minutes. Anyway, I had done 860 kms in 16 hours. And I was beyond the halfway mark in less than 72 hours. The reception team at the hotel was a large Muthoot team keen to hear from me about my experiences. I shared some with them, had a press interaction and repaired for the night. The Chicken Biriyani was too hot for comfort.

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 two loud thuds and the car stood at an incline from the front to the back. I realized that something terrible had happened. Hearing the sound two guys came out of the hotel reception. One of them, possibly seeing the fright on my face, reassured me that they would get a crane and lift the car up. I was still in the car and the engine was running. The second guy, Thakur, asked me the cut the engine and come out of the car. When I stepped out of the car I saw the steps. I had gone down two steps at the entrance to the hotel. Instead of turning right in to the hotel car park I had gone straight ahead and ‘walked’ down the steps of the hotel! Thakur got into the car and straightened the front wheels of the car by moving it delicately. Passengers in buses going past the hotel craned their necks to see the vehicle standing so funnily. I expected a crowd to gather, as is normal in Kerala. It did not happen. Thakur called all the hotel hands from the dormitory and asked them to make a small ramp between the steps. Back and forth and in the twinkle of an eye the vehicle reversed on to the road. My appetite for tea had vanished. I got the certification done by Thakur, the Manager of the hotel, and thanked him profusely for the quick reversal of fortunes. However, Thakur was bewildered by the fact that I had reached Bilaspur in 3 hours and 30 minutes (including the time it took to pull the car out of the mess); it normally takes 5 hours for the distance. When I asked Thakur how he decided on the method to rescue the vehicle he winked and said that mine was not the first case. When I left the hotel reception I saw deep gashes on the steps that told of past misfortunes.
For a while after leaving Bilaspur I was at my best behavior behind the wheel. Steady at 60 kmph and overtaking conservatively I did some mental calculations on when I would reach Delhi. 5.30 pm was my best bet. I rang up the hotel in Delhi and confirmed my reservation. Shortly thereafter I lost control of my control. I speeded to Chandigarh and was out of there after the certification and a brief press interaction before noon. I recalculated and saw a small window of opportunity to push through beyond Delhi. I consulted the Muthoot team in Cochin and was told to do as I deemed fit. They would arrange the certification teams as required. That gave me a boost and I decided on halting at Agra.
I left Delhi at 4.30 pm after certification at the Rajghat. The Delhi certification was after the ones in Ambala and Panipat, where enthusiastic teams sought to spend more time with me. But, I do not know if I was rude. I curtailed the meetings and got out of each of the places in less than 5 minutes. It was exasperating getting out of Delhi and beyond Faridabad. It was closure time and long lines of vehicles made mincemeat of my plans. I started wondering if the revision was worth it. Out of Faridabad I tailed a ‘pace setter’ and made good time. I got past Mathura, after certification, at 7.30 pm. In the night it took me 80 minutes to cover the 55 kms to Amar Hotel in Agra. The hotel was in close proximity of the Taj. I got the car fuelled up and ate a small dinner before turning in for the night. I tucked in thanking God for the excellent distance I had made today (765 kms in less than 16 hours) and the Muthoot teams for having accommodated my changes. I have over 2600 kms to go before I reach Kanyakumari.

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 through the check post by a quarter to five. Once I paid the excise toll at the exit to Upshi all mobiles went dead. I mentally prepared to stay incommunicado till I reached Darcha.
After day broke well before 6 am I had clear and unhindered view of the road and made haste. However, I was not looking forward to the dirt tracks on the Upshi-Pang route. The lack of directions when to get off the beaten track and when to get on to it made driving difficult. But, fortunately today I had a lorry speeding along in front. I decided to stay firmly on its tail at a distance to avoid the dust and dirt but enough to keep it in sight. This strategy helped and I made good time. I travelled almost 50 kms like this. Just when we were negotiating what turned out to be the final bad patch the lorry got bogged down in the dirt. I bye passed it and moved on to the final stretch to Pang. Thanks to the truck piloting me most of the way I had reached Pang ahead of the penciled time. This time I lost little time at Pang getting the entries certified by Major Atul Srivatsava. After a cup of tea with him he asked if he could help me in any way on the roads ahead. I requested him to pass on a signal to Sarchu for certification. Between Pang and Sarchu I passed a lot of bikers going towards Leh. I fathomed that they were more driven than I given that the conditions on a 2 wheeler are definitely more challenging.
I had planned to halt at Tandi to facilitate the ‘assault’ on Rohtang Pass early the next morning. But when I passed the police check post after certification immediately after noon I thought it prudent to revise the night halt location. However, I had to wait till Darcha to make the necessary arrangements. When I passed Tandi by 4 pm I rang up the Chief Freight Transportation Manager of Northern Railway, Mr. Manoj Srivatsava, with a request for accommodation in the Railway Holiday Home in Manali. As usual, without a demur, he did the needful.
As I negotiated a sharp curve much ahead of the Rohtang Pass I caught sight of the driver of an SUV coming in the opposite direction waving at me to stop. As we neared each other I stopped the car, rolled down the window and shook hands. Sanjay Madan said that he had followed my drive on Facebook and had anticipated meeting me today. He wished me luck and told me that he was with a person who had driven from London to Delhi over land. Wow! My heart thumped and I felt in my mind the shaping of another dream. I even named it “From God’s Own Country to the United Kingdom”. I have to dream more and freeze plans to do that some time in the near future, I logged in my mind.
By 5 pm the weather turned. A light drizzle preceded the darkening of the skies and as if by magic thick fog enveloped the mountains, the roads and all that moved on them. I had not fitted any special lights on the car and hence, found the going tough. I kept on saying in my mind that I have to reach Manali in time for a good nights’ rest. I focused more on the road. There was nothing to disturb me. I normally switch off phones and music when I do difficult stretches. It helped. I passed many markers I had mentally noted when I had driven from Manali to Rohtang Pass on the 6th. The road felt a bit better ‘underfoot’, so to say. In a trice I was through the location that had almost stalled my plans on the 6th. I remembered the supervisor who was my guardian angel on the day. I then tailed on to a car in front of me to guide me through the fog. When I passed Gulaba I said a prayer loudly in thanks. I reached Manali in 16 hours; normally even taxi drivers take 18 hours to complete 480 kms of the Leh-Manali stretch. It felt as if a divine power was guiding me to achieve something extraordinary. After certification and fuelling I rested in the Holiday Home. An excellent veg meal preceded a good night in bed.

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 possess one of the creations, has threatened to ‘steal’ them. Having no such honorable intentions I requested Mustafa the artist to give me an autograph. He invited George and me for a cup of tea in the restaurant and fetched a few postcard reproductions of his works. He autographed them for me with the word ‘Jully’ above his signature. The word represents the warmth and hospitality of the region. It stands for all the magical words like ‘thank you’, ‘welcome’, etc. Mustafa has incurred enormous costs to put up systems to provide hot water and running water even during winter. However, the hotel is fully booked during the season and is the favorite with visitors during the winter. The proof of its popularity I witnessed in the form of Gautham Gambhir, the cricketer, who recently led the Kolkata Knight Riders to victory in the IPL. I recognized him as he entered the hotel lobby and ran with my camera for a picture. Mustafa was kind enough to click a picture for me with Gambhir. He had come into Leh with Rohit Sharma, who was also residing in the same hotel, for a photo shoot.
Mishra and Avinav joined all of us and we had many sessions photographing the car, with the car, with the CRPF men, etc. Time was nearing for the flag off. There were many curious onlookers mesmerized by the branding of the car and delighted by the banner. It was decided that Mustafa, Mishra, Avinav and Tashi would flag me off in the presence of a large CRPF contingent at 4 am the next morning. We decided to hit the sack early to wake up in the wee hours for the send off ritual. Finally, this was it.

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 prime among the schools in Leh. The Missionary school is the first choice among the elite and the lesser privileged. It has over 1200 students on the rolls. On this day the Assembly for all the classes were combined with the exception of the KG – normally they have 4 different Assemblies.
The Principal had requested me to park the car next to the dais meant for the Assembly. I had also brought it unwashed for the students to appreciate the tough drive she had endured. And she hogged the limelight. I wondered why my wife and car evoke similar sentiments from those who observe them in my company – it is always sympathy for them and looks of ‘brute’ for me! Anyway, I quite enjoyed the gawking and the animated banter among the students when they got closer to the car. A school Assembly is something I dreaded as a student – I saw it as an occasion to be caned in public for being late for it. As requested by the Principal I kept my address short and punctuated it with messages of “No dream too big” and “No task too small”. The Principal had a large map of India brought to the stage and traced his finger over the route that I had travelled. The enormity of the journey hit me then. Fr. Gergen asked me questions for the benefit of the students. A sixth class student expressed his desire to cycle to Kanyakumari from Leh in response to a question by the Principal. The hand raised in firm resolution made feel proud to have driven to Leh and accepted the invitation of the Principal. A few students approached me after the Assembly with questions about the ‘most beautiful’ place in India. A difficult question; but I count Ladakh among the most beautiful places in India, populated by lovely people.
After tea and further talk about various topics – the admission for Mishra’s child was also confirmed during the time - we moved to the Service Station to get the machine tuned and cleaned. The car was once again the cynosure of all eyes at the Service Station. I had penned down the various check points and the staff promised to attend to it. Tashi and Mishra asserted their influence to get an efficient job done in quick time.
I rested in the hotel, further recovering from the strains of the drive to Leh. After I woke up from a nap we had unexpected guests. Mishra walked in with the Superintendent of Police and his Deputy. I had wanted to visit him in his office to pay a courtesy call. He would have one of it and decided to visit me in the Hotel. He promised all help in the return, particularly the certification at Upshi. By 4 pm I was informed that the car was ready. I went with George to pick her up and was told that she was in ship shape. George and I test drove her and found her so. I fuelled up full tank and bought some provisions to last me the return drive to Kanyakumari.
Tashi had arranged a small get together at the Indus Hotel in Choglamsar. The rather commodious surroundings were beside the Indus River – despite the failing light George and I with Avinav Choubey of Muthoot Finance walked to the river and enjoyed its serene and salubrious environs for a while. It was cold and I had to borrow a pullover to tide over it. The residence of the Dalai Lama, when he visits Leh, is just a stone’s throw away from the Hotel. Tashi and his friends had arranged a special cook and laid out an elaborate feast. The food was outstanding. I had another night of excellent rest.

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 pried my eyes open through the curtains.
Being a Sunday, my first thought upon waking up was to locate the Catholic Church. I had been told that it was within striking distance of the NCH. After a couple of cups of tea I set out in the direction pointed out by the caretaker. In a short while I spied a cross on top of a building and drove in its direction. The gate to the church complex was closed, but I knew I was in the right place. An elderly person came to me from a house nearby and demanded to know my business there. From him I confirmed that the service would begin at 10 am. When I got back to the Church at the said hour a few faithful had taken their seats. The branded car immediately made a splash – the priest had a small chat with me and ascertained my ‘mission’ in Leh; he himself was from Kanyakumari district and I had driven in from Kanyakumari. The senior nun in charge of making arrangement for the service requested me to do the first reading. The service was in Hindi and English. I marveled at the ease with which the Tamilian priest handled Hindi and the mellifluous voice of one of the younger nuns –I later learnt she was from Vellore, in Tamil Nadu - who led us to sing in both Hindi and English. I interacted with the priest and the nuns and a few of the laity – many from Kerala – after the service. I promised to look up the priest and the nuns at the St. Patrick’s School at a convenient time.
I had woken up in the morning feeling a bit tired. I had to find a suitable alternative lodging if I were to recover and do a good job on the Record Drive. I had arranged with Tashi last night to check out a Guest House. I gave him a call after breakfast only to discover that George Jacob, a good friend of mine from Bangalore and who had offered the help of Tashi in Leh, had landed up in Leh this morning on business. He offered to share his accommodation in the Grand Dragon Hotel. Despite my protestations that I would be in his way and that I could impact his business requirement George dismissed them and I moved into a large room of the best hotel in Leh. Since I had to service the car the next day I moved all the luggage from the car into the room as well.
The comfortable room, the service of the hotel staff and the hospitality of George, one of my Guardian Angels in Leh, were ideal settings for resting my weary body and recouping mental strength. George has been a frequent visitor to Leh and the colder parts of Ladakh over the past 4 years. He used Ladakh to test out one of his inventions – the ‘heating panel’, which is more energy and cost efficient and is the best fit for rarified climes. This invention, marketed and presented well, will impact the defense requirements positively and make life easier for those defending our frontiers in the colder regions. His genteel and honest manner opens sensitive doors easily. His altruistic nature has seen him use his invention to benefit schools, hospitals and churches in the area. Using the valuable feedback he got from them he even improved his product.
I used the rest of the morning and early afternoon to catch up on my writing. George visited the Moravian School, the biggest school in Leh, whose Principal was a personal friend of George. He came back with a request from the Principal to address the Assembly of students the next day morning. I immediately accepted the request and it was arranged that we would meet him at the Moravian Church after 9.30 am the next day. In the evening George and I went to the St Patrick’s school – George had done some work for them too – and spent a half hour with the priest and nuns. Over a high tea we exchanged views and had many good laughs.
I had not been hungry during lunch and George had suggested Cream of Asparagus soup with toast as a light meal. What passed between my lips was the most delicious soup I have had my whole life. The fresh Asparagus added to the richness of the brew. The Hotel was fully booked out – the efforts of George to get a room with twin beds did not fructify despite his apparent clout tempered by his insistence on not disturbing the schedules of either the hotel staff or the occupants of the hotel. The capacity crowd meant that the dining hall was packed. George expected a few guests over dinner. I requested for an early dinner and turn in as the sleep deprivation was catching up. I tucked into large portions of roast chicken and mashed potatoes – they were mouth wateringly delicious. I slept like a baby, without any cares in the world.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

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 bottles that had water in them. Since 30 campers had dined in the tent the previous night I had enough water for the necessary; bathing and shaving were not part of the agenda.
After Ajay certified the start of my onward journey at 4 am I cautiously shifted gears for the road to Pang. It was pitch dark and I picked the road only with the headlights. And within about 10 kms I lost my way! My headlights picked up nothing beyond a certain patch of the road. I got down to survey the road with the help of a torchlight. What I saw was a precipitous drop into a river! Where was the road to Pang – it seemed to have vanished. I drove back a 100 metres and caught the headlights of another vehicle in the opposite direction. I stopped it as it came close and understood from the driver that I had to take a hairpin bend where I found the road missing.
Sarchu is at 4200 MSL and Pang is about a 150 metres higher. However, between the two the road passed through at almost 17000 feet. The air got thinner. I found it difficult to even get out of the car. Breathing was laborious and the landscape stark. For almost two hours of the three hour drive the outside temperature was between 1 and 0 degree. Add to that the wind chill factor and one can image how forbidding the atmosphere is. The mountains are evidence of the art that Mother Nature is capable of. The wind sculpted terrain is like no other in the country. The eco system is fragile - hardly anything grows there. To say that I felt lonely is to understate the emotions. Imagine a situation where there is no help if you want it and with no means to communicate if you had to. It is challenging; it is not untrue to state that the 80 kms from Sarchu to Pang is the most challenging I have been on in India.
I was relieved to get to Pang – just because of the proximity of life. To just know that there are others you can talk to, to seek help from, to laugh with provide relief. I imagined what Adam felt like when he awoke from deep slumber to find Eve – he must have been relieved. The snake and the apple were not on his mind then! There were numerous bikers having breakfast in the makeshift dhabas. I located the army camp – the transit camp at 15560 feet is reportedly the highest in the world. The sentry spoke to someone inside the Camp and I was asked to go to the Mess and have breakfast, while waiting for the Commanding Officer. I met a couple of JCOs while being served parattas and tea. From them I learnt more about the harsh climatic conditions in Pang – it is one of the driest places in India. One of the JCOs who had served in Siachen considered the air in Pang more challenging. Major Srivatsava was kind enough to certify as required and within an hour I was on the road to Upshi. When he came to know that I was ‘racing’ to beat a deadline he felt apologetic about the hour I lost in Pang.
One of the JCOs had described the road to Upshi in detail and I found it that way. Theer were numerous diversions through sandy desert – in many places it felt like a desert rally with sand kicking up on the windscreen and a huge cloud of dust behind. The road has to be taken during the day for there are no directions about the diversions. Nearly 60 kms of the 140 kms is in bad condition. Work is going on in many reaches. On the way I passed Lachung La and Tanglan La – the second and third highest motorable passes; the first being Khardung La at 18500 feet. The chilly winds bit into me and I only stopped for a few pictures.
About 20 kms short of Upshi the mountains become a visual delight – red, green, brown, deep yellow, grey and combinations of them made me stop the car many times to photograph them and marvel at His creations. On the bend into Upshi the first glimpse of the Indus River is equally fascinating. The ASI in charge of the Upshi check post gladly certified my entries; one has to make entries in the check post register also.
I left Upshi at 12.30 pm and belted on the road to Leh. I could have reached Leh in under a half hour for the 48 km road was very good. But, I stopped on numerous occasions to speak to the concerned in Leh for the mobile connection came alive in Upshi. Karu, the village en route to Leh, is green. Organized farming is visible in large tracts.
I ‘reported’ at 1.30 pm along with Abhinav Choubey of Muthoot Finance and Tashi Gyalson, an advocate in Leh, to the office of the Assistant Commandant of the CRPF for the certification of the end of the journey. I had done the 3811 km journey in 129 hours and 30 minutes – almost 20 hours less than the prevailing record of 149 hours and 25 minutes. The journey took me through 11 states plus Delhi and Chandigarh. The sweetness of the achievement cannot be expressed adequately in words, but this much must be said - without His care, the commitment of the Muthoot Team, the assistance of Tashi, the prayers of near and dear ones and the superb performance of the car the achievement would not have been possible.
Tashi arranged for a meeting with the PTI representative in Leh and the evening was spent settling down into the Circuit House, which was arranged by Mishra, the AC CRPF. I looked forward to good sleep to compensate for the loss of it the previous night.

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 front of the queue. It was 8 am by the time I got to the bad stretch. What I saw there almost made me reverse the car and take flight. As I was waiting for my turn to attempt the bad stretch of about 50 metres I met Gopi Pillai, a resident of Kullu. Originally hailing from Kerala and with business interests in Mumbai and Kullu he was going on a holiday to Leh with his family. He told me that if I get stuck in the morass I would, in all probability, even lose my car. This interaction put more butterflies in the stomach but more faith in the heart and prayers on my lips. I put my car in first gear and raced to the slush filled trough and steep slope. I heard a grating sound as a huge stone hit the car underneath. The engine sputtered and died. There were about 50 laborers and many supervisors under GREF control working at the spot to ‘push’ the vehicles through. One of the supervisors asked me to disengage the gears and summoned a few workers to lift the car out of the spot. The supervisor then came to me and gave me elaborate directions to negotiate the tough spot. Most importantly, he reassured me that I could do it. He asked me to throttle up on first gear and drive in a zigzag manner up the slope. Two attempts and I was through it. Unfortunately I could not go back to thank the guardian angel for the next vehicle was already attempting to negotiate the slope and I had to move the car away. In a short while thereafter, by 9.30 am, I passed the Rohtang Pass. What needs to be appreciated here is that it took me nearly 7 hours to traverse 50 kms. I had another 170 kms for the night halt location at the Adventure Camp in Sarchu.
The most challenging road was behind me and hence, made good time to reach the Padma Lodge in Jispa by 12.30 pm. The road was good only in short stretches – some places it was outrageously bad. Vikram was the Manager of the Lodge and he was to certify the log sheet. The Lodge is almost always fully booked out during the season time between June and October. The winter months see nearly 20 feet of snow in Jispa and the surrounding areas. All life forms migrate out of the place by end October and return to get ready for the season by mid-May. Vikram moves to Goa during the off-season in search of employment. The well appointed rooms and tents of the Padma Lodge are set in a ‘bowl’ of huge mountains and nursed by the river. Vikram offered me lunch – I tucked into an omlette of 4 eggs, toast and a paratta. Vikram refused to take any payment for them.
After a few snaps I hit the road on the last stretch for the day to Sarchu. I stopped at many places en route to take in the scenic beauty and commit some to camera. Vikram had warned me that mobile phones would be useless after Darcha. Apparently there are no towers between Darcha and Upshi, due to absence of human habitation, which meant that I would be incommunicado for almost 24 hours. I informed friends, family and Harish of Muthoot Finance, Cochin.
I reached the Adventure Camp at Sarchu just after 4 pm. The 30 residential tents and other utility tents are located adjacent to the highway surrounded by mountains. The air is extremely rarified and breathing was difficult. At 4200 meters, even getting out of the car was onerous. Ajay, the Manger of the Camp certified the arrival at Sarchu and made me comfortable with hot tea and biscuits. A short while later Mr. Shyam Chand Azad, the PTI correspondent and editor of the Tribal Toady magazine arrived at the camp and we had a long chat about the trip.
After settling into the tent I tried to take a short nap before dinner. Despite being tired I could not nap. I reported to the dining tent by 7 pm for an early dinner so that I could get some extra rest for an early morning start. Soup, pasta, rice and curry made for a nutritious meal. I turned in by 8 pm with the excitement of doing the left over 257 kms the next day to set a new timing for the North South Expedition. Though the bed was comfortable I found sleep in short supply due to the dry environment of the Camp

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 certification my MF. While I drove into Bilaspur I spotted the Neelam Hotel. I drove in and asked the proprietor of the Hotel if he would make the necessary entries in the log sheet. He was more than willing to do so and evinced a lot of interest in the trip that I was doing. He also commented on the speed at which I was travelling. I ordered a lunch of rotis and dal. Mr. Chandel, the proprietor refused payment for the meal. I told him that I would be back for certification on the return trip to Kanyakumari.
I could not believe the crowds in Manali – there was not an inch of space on the roads, restaurants and hotels were at a premium. The rather lean infrastructure of the town was bursting at its seams. I fuelled up and met up with Mohinder Singh, my contact for certification at Manali. While he was finding me some place to park my car near his business premise I was approached by three youngsters who were keen to know if I was a Malayali. As it turned out they were students from Calicut on a tour of the North. I spent some time with them after a brief chat with Mohinder and certification.
I checked into the railway holiday home, where the VIP room was made available to mem thanks to Mr. Manoj Srivatsava, CFTM Northern Railway. I told the young man in charge of the holiday home of my mission and he promised to revert to me with the latest situation prevailing on the Manali-Leh road. He advised me to leave by 3 am so that I could beat the early morning rush due to closure of a section of the road that night. I decided to take his advice and had an early dinner and turned in.

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, is far superior to the other stretches, with NH1 a close second. During the day, near Agra, I suffered my second bird hit. The first was when I was racing the Express train near Dindigul. These incidents made me wonder whether I was going too fast or if the birds have gotten slower?
Sanjeeb Halder has been a dear friend since the days of probation in the Indian Railways. I will never forget the day he ‘entertained’ my ‘father-in-law to be’ in a guest house in Chennai by serving him tea out of a beer bottle. When I got the invite to attend his son’s wedding reception in Delhi I recast my travel schedule a bit to accommodate the function at 8 pm in the Sardar Patel Marg Officer’s Club. I used a combination of the Metro and an Auto to get to the venue. There were many known faces who had come from the South and others based in Delhi. After a round of pleasantries and exchange of business information I got to meet the newlyweds and their parents. I could not spend more time at the venue for I had to get back to the hotel and rest before the drive tomorrow morning.

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 a hotel. When I spoke to Sudhanshu he was of the view that I would feel more comfortable at his place. I accepted the invitation. I was in constant touch with him and the Muthoot team as I neared Sagar. When I was piloted in to Sudhanshu’s residential compound by 8 pm I was not prepared for the absolutely overwhelming reception. The entire Muthoot team of two branches, the Rotary officials and the Press, besides the family members made up for a formidable reception committee. Time went by quickly with interaction with those present, garlanding and presentation of bouquets. A photo session also took up some time. It was just a half hour to midnight when I sat down with the family for a gorgeous dinner. Mrs Sudhanshu runs the most sought after and successful school in Sagar – Vatsalya – which had been founded by Sudhanshu’s mother, who had retired as Principal of the Kendriya Vidyalaya. Topic after topic were dissected and debated with Mrs and Mr Sudhanshu and their two daughters and son. It was also of interest to me that Karan had recently biked the Manali-Leh stretch and got valuable tips from him. Just as the clock struck midnight a beautiful homemade cake emerged to celebrate Sudhanshu’s birthday. After the short celebrations I retired for a power nap in the confines of the huge 140 year old house that had once been residence to a British Army officer. The house was typically the type that the British built in India – huge ceilings, large teak windows and doors and humongous verandahs.

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 were to stay in constant touch over mobile; he in turn would do the needful to ensure personnel at the intended locations. This day was a test of all the background work that had been done. I can say with utmost pride that the support of the Muthoot teams across the entire run during the day was exemplary and I lost no time at all in ensuring the documentation as per the guidelines issued by LBR.

The excellent condition of the road (NH7) right from Kanyakumari to Kurnool ensured that I was ahead of the scheduled time. In fact, when I left Dharmapuri I was almost 2 hours ahead of the intended time. However, the mess of getting in to and out of Bangalore, with heavy traffic to boot, ate away all the gains. The excellent road condition did not come free. Regular tolling booths saw a steady erosion of Rs. 100 notes. By the time I drove into the hotel in Kurnool more than Rs. 800 was spent on tolls. I did not mind that for the nearly 1050 kms drive was hassle free and done in good time. Though there were rains in Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli it did not hamper my progress. It gave me immense pleasure to overtake an Express train near Vadipatti, near Dindigul. But the most important factor on the day was the enthusiastic participation of MF teams from Kanyakumari to Kurnool.

I was booked to stay in Kurnool at Hotel Rajavihar, a short diversion from the NH. A large turnout of MF personnel and press interaction kept me up till what I thought should have been bed time. Once I walked into the allotted room I was appalled by its upkeep. I changed three rooms before I decided enough is enough. I had made a poor selection to rest a weary body. Despite placing an order I was not served dinner till 10.30 pm, when I decided that a couple of apples should suffice. When I hit the bed I was in for a greater shock; the bed vibrated. Apparently there was some heavy machinery beneath the room I was in. I tossed and turned around till I no longer could. If it were not for the certification process I would have checked out immediately and left for Hyderabad.

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 on checking speed on the NH I feel that they should concentrate on educating those behind the wheels and checking rash and negligent driving. Besides, it should be the prime responsibility of the authorities to maintain the roads in good condition. Two vehicles in front of me were involved in an accident near Kayamkulam that could only be attributed to poor road condition. It is also ironic that politicians and high officials dart in and out of city traffic and on the highway at speeds higher than that prescribed while the ‘aam admi’ is subjected to laser guns and fined. These higher worthies should reflect on the fact that they would get nowhere on the roads in Kerala if they were to be without escorts and pilots and screeching sirens.

I got on to the Kanyakumari highway using the byepass road to Kovalam and Poovar. This saved me time by avoiding the busy stretches of Neyyatinkara and Balaramapuram. I had made arrangements to stay in Hotel Shingaar in Kanyakumari. After checking in to the Hotel I met up with the Muthoot team that had come for the send off. Shaibu and his young team members had come in advance to identify a gazette officer to certify the start and to organize the flag off. In the evening we went to the sunset point only to be disappointed by the shy sun that refused to come out from behind a thick veil of clouds. Later we did a reconnaissance of the exit road that would put me on the highway to Tirunelveli. The hour was approaching and the adrenaline was in full flow.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

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; Kanyakumari-Tirunelveli-Madurai-Dindigul-Salem-Dharmapuri-Bangalore-Anantapur-Kurnool-Hyderabad-Nizamabad-Adilabad-Nagpur-Seoni-Narasimhapur-Sagar-Lalitpur-Jhansi-Gwalior-Agra-Mathura-Delhi-Panipat-Ambala-Chandigarh-Bilaspur-Manali-Jispa-Sarchu-Pang-Upshi-Leh. This record drive is one that pitches distance against time with the two end points as Kanyakumari and Leh; the record attempt could be from either of the two ends. While the distance and the time are by themselves forbidding the requirement of LBR that the attempt has to be certified at 32 locations is the most critical and the toughest task in the attempt.

After having decided to attempt the record I spent considerable time trying to identify a sponsor with two distinct characteristics, namely, a Pan-India footprint and a strong brand. I had bought a new Maruti Swift in April this year and naturally my first attempt was to get Maruti interested. Days went by without any response from them and the attention turned to Tata Motors. By the time I got a thumbs down from them I was perilously close to ‘announcing’ the drive. When I shared my failure stories in getting a car company interested in the record attempt with my cousin in Cochin she lost no time in suggesting Muthoot Finance (MF). I kicked myself for having ‘overlooked’ a strong brand from Kerala that had gone right across the country.

I got an opportunity to explain my requirement to the Executive Director of MF, Mr. KP Padmakumar. The patience and interest with which he heard me out gave me fresh hope. What I was not ready for was the speed with which he acted on a short proposal I sent to him. Within 72 hours I was intimated of the approval of MF management. Soon thereafter I had my first meeting with the Marketing team to identify issues and chart the way forward. The meeting with Cherian Peter, Chief Marketing Officer, Shaibu Cherian, AGM Marketing and Harish Thampy Manager Marketing in early June set the tone for the meticulous and tireless work of the team. The alacrity with which they addressed issues and the systematic progress in the direction that we had held course for showed the professionalism of the Company. It also instilled a lot of confidence in me for the team identified the locations were the trip would be certified and the personnel that would assist in the effort. All the branches and regions of MF along the route were energized by the team and many have become enthusiastic followers of the attempt. During the course of the many hours of discussion and video conferencing we discovered a strong synergy between the Company and the attempt. MF has set a record for the maximum number of branches across the country – 4000 – and here I was attempting a record drive over 4000 kms.

MF undertook the branding exercise with gusto. It was decided that the car and the T-shirt worn by me would provide the ‘space’ to brand – I mentioned to the MF team that apart from the windshield of the car and my face the rest were available for branding. The design of the logo and the theme of the branding – flames signifying passion – sits very well on the car. A separate page was designed on Facebook to improve visibility of the record attempt. The branded car was unveiled in an impressive ceremony on the 28th of June by the Executive Director in front of the MF office in the presence of the management team and staff.

A list of items to be taken for the trip was made and each was ticked off as and when it found its place in the bags. A sound knowledge of the climate is essential to plan for the clothing. A visit to the Doctor determined the medical kit, including the palliative to avoid high altitude sickness. A special food hamper had to be thought of for the time-distance race would not permit prolonged stoppages for ‘meals’. The car was specially serviced and spares procured. Thus, both the man and machine were tuned for the ‘Race’.

Locations for overnight stay were decided depending on the possible road coverage in a day. Thus, Kurnool, Sagar, Delhi, Manali and Sarchu were zeroed in on. I am slated to stay in Sagar with a friend’s friend and in Manali in the railway rest house. Hotel bookings have been made in the other locations. While the drive from Kanyakumari to Leh is essentially a reconnaissance drive to finalise the route, locatiosn for certification anf familiarization of personnel I have targeted to cover the distance in 130 hours, which is lower than the present record. In the return direction from Leh to Kanyakumari, the actual record drive, is slated to be covered in 110 hours.

The thrill of the attempt begins when you load up the car. I did that last evening and the adrenaline has started its course. I will be driving tomorrow morning to Kanyakumari from Cochin.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

19th April 2012 - Arriving Cochin

Friends,
When dinner was being served last evening I asked if the train would reach Ernakulam on time. The attendant pointed out to the fact that we were ahead of time in Calicut and that there was enough ‘slack in the timings of the train to even ‘make up’ 2 hours. Such confidence cannot be browbeaten with any argument. I set the alarm for a half past the midnight hour and settled in for the short sleep.
I woke up as the alarm was set to go and made out that we were nearing Trichur. The train was late, after all; maybe, something will go wrong when you are dead sure! Thereafter, the train crawled like an Express train should not, particularly the Rajdhani. It only proved that Kerala does not respect even a hierarchy of trains, forget anything else. In hind sight, a brisk early morning walk may have got me faster in to Ernakulam!
I feared a haggle in the morning with the auto drivers. However, the pre-paid counter outside the station mitigated such a situation. The driver was well behaved and I gave him the extra he requested for the distance from the main road to the premises of the flat. The Himachal sojourn had ended and the strands of a new adventure had started its work on the loom of an exciting dream.