Monday, September 9, 2013

A ‘Swift’ Travel on the Golden Quadrilateral – 8th to 11th June 2013

“He travels the fastest who travels alone.” Rudyard Kipling

I had chalked out a plan to undertake two solo trips between May and June this year - the Trans Himalayan (TH) and Golden Quadrilateral (TH) Expeditions.  The routes prescribed by Limca Book of Records (LBR) were obtained and so were the existing records.  The TH expedition is exotic for it keeps the Himalayas in the background during the entire duration of the drive – J&K, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Nepal, Assam, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh are the States/Countries covered on the stretch from Jammu to Tezu. The distance to be covered is 5500 kms.  In contrast, the GQ expedition is plain vanilla – covers 5850 kilometers on the National Highways linking the four metro cities of India.  While the TH expedition had not been attempted solo, the existing record for the GQ expedition stood at 96 hours and 10 minutes for 5846 kilometres.  Despite many attempts to rework strategies to better the GQ timing I was not able to gain sufficient confidence to undertake the expedition.  Not only were the timings tight, the impending monsoons presented additional challenges.  Therefore, I kept the GQ expedition on the backburner and started work on scheduling the TH expedition.  Timing is everything in the TH expedition.  Ladakh part of the expedition can be undertaken only in a small window between mid-June and early-October, since Rohtang Pass and the route between Leh and Manali remain snowed down for the rest of the year.  However, that window is when the monsoon is most active in the North East, Bhutan and Nepal.  I had make a detailed plan for the expedition and approached a couple of potential sponsors.  Repeated 'no' certainly was a dampener, but not a show stopper.  I approached Mr. Navaz Meeran of the Eastern Group with a request to sponsor the TH expedition.  The responses from Mr. Meeran and Premkumar, the CEO, were encouraging.  I forwarded a proposal for their consideration.   The sponsorship appeal was approved, but for an amount lesser than what was necessary to undertake the four week trip.  Hence, I requested the Company to make available the amount sanctioned to undertake the GQ expedition.  It was readily accepted.  I remain grateful to Mr. Meeran and his team, particularly Premkumar and Biju Job, for the co-operation and giving me the opportunity to set my sights on a new Limca record for the GQ.  In the meanwhile, I was informed from Tezu that unseasonal pre-monsoon showers in the region were leading to landslips and road closures for days on end.  Even the Rohtang Pass had not opened up by early June.  Thus, the absence of adequate sponsorship for the TH turned out to be a blessing in the final analysis.

Despite the sponsorship I had plenty of misgivings about the successful completion of the GQ expedition. Will the Swift be swift enough to meet the tight schedule?  Will I get adequate rest en route to ensure a safe and speedy transit?  Will the weather play truant and derail my efforts?  Will traffic blockages on the highways be an impediment?  What if I had a tyre blow out or any other mechanical problems en route?  How do I provide for food and biological requirements?  These and many more doubts assailed my thoughts and made mince meat of my confidence.  However, I was determined to give it my best shot.  I had to drive long hours and cut my bio stoppages to the bare minimum.  To complete the drive in less than 96 hours I had to be on the road for the major part of it.

Documentation is a primary requirement for LBR to approve a new record.  Proper submission of log sheets in the prescribed format is one of them.  In the previous I had relied on physical attestation of the log sheets at the prescribed locations.  A combination of physical attestation and GPS data was also acceptable to LBR.  To make the process faster and scientific I decided to completely rely on electronic tracking and recording this time.  I used the Google App “My Tracks” experimentally for a couple of weeks in Kerala, prior to my departure for the expedition, and found it exceptionally capable.  I also had the support of my friend Diwia Thomas, who agreed to upload the recorded data almost in real time on my Facebook page, entitled Record Drive.  This arrangement met the twin objectives of keeping my family and friends constantly updated and providing documentary support for the record claim.

To “preserve time” I decided to avoid any stoppage during the expedition for food or re-hydration.  To meet this I decided to limit the 'scope of food' to sliced apples, peeled oranges, dry fruits, nuts, digestive biscuits, crackers and chocolates.  I arranged them on the front passenger seat in such a way as to be able to extend the left hand and dip into a container for nourishment.  For re-hydration I picked up 24 bottles of water and a few tetra packs of juices.  They were also strategically placed for easy access.

The next area of attention was the Swift.  I took her to Global Tyres and got the tyres checked out.  Fortunately, a puncture-in-the-making was detected and attended to.  They assured me that the tyres, despite having logged 45,000 kilometers were in fine fettle for the tough drive.  I decided to get the headlights enhanced, for I did not have fog lamps to assist in the event of heavy rain or mist/fog.  The enhanced lamps were a great help.  I rounded up the attention to the Swift with her service in Indus Motors, Thevara.  They have always been of tremendous help before and after my expeditions.  As usual, they did a very competent job and I was ready for the expedition.

I did not require any assistance for accommodation en route and that reduced the planning process.  However, I had to decide on the right place to stay in Bangalore, from where I had decided to start the expedition.  The idea was not to waste much time to get to the highway, but at the same time had to be within the limits of Bangalore.  A hotel was sourced in Yeshwanthpur that was just a few minutes from the Tumkur Road.

Once the servicing was over it was ready for branding.  Biju Job of Eastern Curry Powder undertook that responsibility.  A very competent job was done in less than 24 hours and the car was ready in front of the Eastern Corporate Office a couple of days before my departure for Bangalore on the 6th of June.  Mr. Navaz Meeran requested me to leave Kerala as soon as possible with the car, for he was been badgered for sponsorships ever since the branding became public!  I received the keys of the car from him and was flagged off informally from the Eastern Corporate Office by the Director Finance of the Group in the presence of a large number of enthusiastic staff and officers.  With that, all was set and all that remained was for me to leave for the expedition!  The doubts still persisted – what kept me going was the belief that HE will guide me to success.

The date for travel to Bangalore was set for 6th of June.  I wanted to rest a day in Bangalore before attempting the near impossible on the 8th.  Whoever I discussed the expedition with, without exception, considered it an attempt to do the impossible.  Such discussions inevitably gave the expedition a 'Mission Impossible' tag.  I was clear about one thing – I should not loose my way in the maze of entry and exit of the metros and thereby jeopardize the mission.  In Mumbai I requested my cousin, George Kuriakose, to pilot me so that I could navigate from Panvel to Manor through Mumbai in the shortest possible time.  I expected the Navfree Application to navigate me through the metros of Delhi and Chennai.  During an earlier visit to Kolkata I had mapped its entry and exit.  Besides, I knew that I could rely on the Navfree Application to untangle any en route knots.

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