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 any verbal exchange. The damaged lamps were an eyesore and produced a grating sound. Once I got through the busy traffic of Dimapur I turned into a nondescript garage to remove the damaged lamps. That’s when I was told that the impact of the rear ending had pushed the grill in and jammed the bonnet of the car. It would take some time to get those attended to. Hence, I decided to drive on to the next big city, Guwahati or Kolkata, before attending to the repair. I was worried that I would be in a soup if I had to attend to anything under the hood, even if it were to top up the coolant or brake fluid. The accident had set off funny sounds in the car. It started as a whistling sound while accelerating. Higher the acceleration the higher was the whistling sound. After a while I learnt how to reduce the sound by controlling acceleration. Nevertheless, the sound was definitely there. Pedestrians and drivers stared at the car; in some ways, I got unwanted attention. Then came a grating sound. I had no idea where it all emanated from or the reason for it. I was convinced that the car would not last till the end of the expedition. Fortunately, nothing of that happened till I reached Cochin. But there was a grating sound that got louder with each passing day and a drag on the transmission, which prevented me from accelerating the way I wanted.
The second knock was on the way from Malda to Kolkata. A speeding freight truck got too close and knocked off the left side mirror. The place where it happened was so crowded and busy that I didn’t dare to stop and pick up broken parts from the road. What was left of the side mirror on the car helplessly flapped in the wind. I drove on with these major handicaps, thanking my lucky stars that the accidents had not happened on foreign soil. In Visakhapatnam Thulasiram taped the debris of the side mirror to make it look respectable.
Even though I had reached Cochin without too much of a fuss I had to get the vehicle repaired before setting off on the next expedition. For a few weeks the hunt for the side mirror proved despairing. Ford dealerships estimated the electronic mirror to cost anything between Rs. 18,000 to Rs. 25,000 with a two week order time. That is when I was introduced to Atulbhai in Surat by Rajiv Shah, my travel agent friend. Atulbhai is a genius with cars. His passion for cars and its parts is absolutely infectious. He can talk authoritatively for hours on the subject. What surprised me even more was that he acquired all his knowledge from magazines and articles and put the passion to use on vehicles he and his friends owned. I asked Atulbhai if he could source the left side mirror for the Ford from his network. All that I had to give him were photographs and details of the make of the car. In a week the brand new part was delivered by courier to my residence. What added lustre to the assistance was the bargain Atulbhai struck with his source. I got it for one third the Ford estimate!
I handed over the car to the Kairali Ford service station for the check up, repair and servicing of the Endeavour after the side mirror, the grill and the bonnet were attended to in another garage. Rakesh of Kairali Ford had been associated with the upkeep fo the Endeavour ever since I purchased her second hand in early 2014. He had been responsible for its excellent performance on the two international expeditions to London and Singapore. It was to him that I turned again to make her ship shape for the Trans Himalayan Expedition that could pose serious challenges to the man as well as the machine. Rakesh took just one test drive and correctly assessed what had to be done. The drag to the transmission came from the drive shaft. I left the car in his care for over a week and finally got it back with all issues attended to. The drive had once again become smooth and the car felt eager and ready to face the challenges of the expedition.
I am singularly unlucky with sponsorship for my expeditions. It could be my approach to the whole issue, but it seldom works out. Four of the seven expeditions have been fully funded out of personal savings. For the four week trip I anticipated an expense of Rs. 2,50,000 after factoring in family hospitality and government accommodation. Idea Cellular pitched in with a data card for the expedition in response to a sponsorship appeal. Since my appeals to Ford had gone unanswered for the previous two trips I did not approach them for this either. My appeals to Maruti too had fallen on deaf ears in the past. It is a pity that car companies do not see value in a partnership, especially when it involves challenges that are unique.
The itinerary for the Trans Himalayan Expedition was given by Limca Book of Records. The start and end points are Jammu and Tezu. I had initially planned to start from Tezu and finish in Jammu, when the Trans Himalayan was part of the double header earlier in the year. As it was now a standalone expedition I decided to start in Jammu and drew up the itinerary accordingly. The round trip would be about 13,500 km with the Record Drive comprising about 6,000 km of it. While the entire duration of the trip would be 29 days the compete portion would last 16 days from Jammu to Tezu. This expedition has not been attempted solo as yet and there lay the uniqueness of it. While finalising the itinerary I took into consideration the distance, the terrain and the possibility of getting decent accommodation along the route. Before zeroing in on THE route I made many changes based on input from friends and those who had experienced sections of the route.
Making a list of all that one has to take is another part of the preparation for the expedition. With the experience of many expeditions under my belt making the packing list had become less of a challenge as expeditions went by. Anticipated weather is a critical input to decide what one takes along. I had to factor in the plains and the Himalayan reaches while putting stuff into the bag. Material for documentation such as cameras, log sheets, laptop, rough journals and the like were part of the list. Food items formed a major part of the planning process. Liquids and energy sources were essentials. Emergency supplies had to be taken care of. Similarly medicines and emergency kit, car spares and all of the like were decided on. One by one the items were bagged and readied to be put into the car, a day prior to the start of the expedition.