On such a strenuous driving expedition, our physical and mental fitness aside, it is equally important to have a right and reliable vehicle. A comfortable car surely enhances the level of satisfaction of driving. Very affectionately I named our car, “Soham”. “Soham” is a chant popularised by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, of The Art of Living foundation. It means, “I am He”. I acknowledge the presence of the Almighty in the vehicle that takes me around.
The varied terrain requires a safer 4-wheel drive car with ground clearance of at least 190mm, if not more.
Anand’s “consent” to the trip was on the condition that I should take the vehicle of his choice! Smart on his part to have discovered what I was trying to hide. Both our current cars are fairly new with about 25K and 15K km on them. “Pappa, you certainly should not undertake this journey in your favourite Skoda Superb. Yes, the BMW-X1 SUV is better. But still not good enough. After all, you would be driving through some of the places where roads hardly exist.”
Anand was right. Under such situations, my Skoda Superb, with a ground clearance of only 164 mm, is far below the minimum safety need of 190 mm. Further, Chinese authorities do not give road entry permit for sedans. They demand the pictures from all sides of the car. For them, the vehicle should have SUV looks. They consider SUV more reliable. They don’t want me to have a vehicle breakdown and get stuck in their country for any reason! Fair enough.
I had the option of taking the BMW-X1, compact SUV. It has a better ground clearance of 179mm. Though not good enough. I checked with some of my contacts who have driven on the worst of the stretches we would be passing through. I was told X-1 would be just about ok. Arguably, it is just good enough for two of us.
Neither Pushpa nor I understand much of car mechanism. A few years earlier, I was capable of attending to any minor car-related problems. But now I have become lethargic and have developed the habit to look for assistance even to change a flat tyre. Habits hardly die! I decided that at least for the first 3 weeks of my journey, till the time I drive within India, I can have an assistant with us. So I decided to have our household assistant, Shiva with us. He is like a younger brother or son to me. Once we reach Manipur, the border city of India, he can fly back home! Our count of passengers in the car increased to three.
And then, my 9 year old granddaughter Nishi decided to join us for the entire tour. We would now be four for the Indian part of journey and three for the overseas drive.
We need to carry baggage to last us three months. We would be crossing through all types of climatic conditions – normal, cold, very cold, wet, warm, hot and very hot. Therefore we need to carry all types of garments. That aside, extras like food and water, a jerrycan for spare fuel, etc were also essential for such long journeys. Anand wanted me to play safe. He proposed that I take a bigger, better and safer vehicle than BMW X1.
Anand has reasonably good knowledge about vehicles. He shortlisted a vehicle each from Mercedes, Volvo, BMW, Land Rover and Toyota. Land rover is expensive and even its 3-year used model without warranty was almost same cost as a new vehicle of other brands with warranty. Also, Land Rover has a more sophisticated mechanism. In case of a breakdown, we might not find knowledgeable mechanics or spare parts. Hence we gave up the idea of second-hand Rover. We further narrowed the selection down to either Toyota Land Cruiser or BMW X-5. We had a series of meetings with the marketing executives of these brands. Dealers of BMW offered to provide certain facilities. Trusting them, we selected to go ahead with X-5. The trailer however
was slightly different than the movie we saw / are seeing … the post-sales service was drastically different to earlier promises, up to a point where, in one case, it had put our entire expedition at risk of cancellation. Without dwelling into the details, we decided to continue with BMW.
By coincidence, this is the type of car Anand wanted to buy for two years now. But since our current cars were not even a year old then, the decision was deferred.
One by one, items got checked on the to-do list: Itinerary, timings, hotel bookings, vehicle. Years ago when I dreamt of such an expedition, I wondered “How To Do It?”. Now, I have removed the “How To” and “?” and am left with “Do It!”
Written : Badri Baldawa
Edited : Meeta Kabra
To be continued………………