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.