India, they say, packs in a lot of diversity, not just in its people, but also by way of culture, terrain, climate and vegetation etc. The list can go on and on. The natural beauty of the country varies from the Himalayas in the north to the beaches in the south, from the deserts in the west to the jungles in the east. Many people travel overseas to spend their holidays. How many of them have the time or the inclination to explore nature’s bounty within our own country, which boasts of a number of magnificent holiday destinations?
Truly, we need to look around our own country to see what it has to offer. And what better way than to drive around in one of the finest cars available? The idea gave rise to Honda’s ‘Drive to Discover’ campaign wherein eight print publications and three television media houses were invited to drive a Honda City from Srinagar to Kanyakumari.
CAR India had the honour to take part in the first leg of the drive from J&K to Punjab. Unfortunately, the recent unrest in Kashmir forced us to shift our starting point to Jammu from Srinagar. A little disappointed, we arrived in Jammu a day before the flag-off and immediately had a taste of the security rules in place there. The entire airport premises are out of bounds for taxi-cabs as well as people waiting to receive passengers unless they have prior permission. While my Airtel and Docomo refused to catch the network, Sawan’s Reliance showed ‘emergency calls only’. Pre-paid connections do not work in Jammu. Security reasons once again. Watching men with guns guard the city of temples is an awful sight indeed. What we saw here was that the ordinary man was tired of political feuds and the games played by politicians. All he wants is peace.
With very little time to explore Jammu, we headed straight for Dalhousie next morning. Clad in red, the Honda City was backed up by another City, dressed in an identical colour and driven by the company’s driver. However, with Honda’s reliability tagging along, we hardly felt the need for the backup car.
Encountering innumerable diversions riddled with countless potholes, we covered a distance of 90 km to Lakhenpur, after which our mobile phone networks came to life, signalling to us our exit from J&K. The roads showed no sign of improvement until Pathankot. Though we could not get good highway stretches to enable us to maintain constant speeds, the Honda City managed to return a fuel-efficiency of 16.5 km per litre.
From Pathankot onwards, the drive suddenly changed in character. We were now off the national highway and on narrow, but smooth roads lined on either side with tall trees until the hilly section. Driving uphill and downhill, taking in hairpin bends and sweeping curves, was a delight to the enthusiast within me. Adding to my excitement of driving through the twisties was the amazing handling of the Honda City. Never did the car leave its driver’s desired line. Brilliant chassis and well sorted out suspension assisted by steering with great feedback offered amazing handling and never disappointed me in the 80 km of hilly sections on the way to Dalhousie.
The second day’s drive from Dalhousie to Khajjiar (also known as the ‘mini Switzerland of India’) was one of the most beautiful ones that I have done in recent times. Extremely narrow roads dipped into fog and clouds accompanied us through thedense pine forests to Khajjiar, 24 km from Dalhousie. Set amid green meadows with cattle grazing in the foreground and a typical European-style house in the background, this spot has been a favourite among Bollywood film-makers.
Although Khajjiar itself was beautiful and abundant in natural beauty, it was the drive to this place and back that fascinated me the most. It showcased for me the magnificence of the Himalayas. This was when the motive behind Honda’s ‘Drive to Discover’ made itself clear, showing us our country’s beauty that would leave us amazed and bedazzled.
The third day of the drive took us from Dalhousie to Chandigarh, a day when we were in for a few natural obstacles. About 25 kilometres away from Dalhousie, we came to a standstill for over three hours on account of a couple of landslides that had blocked the road. Driving through the rain with the fear of landslides looming large and a more than 500-foot deep valley just a few inches away from our wheels was one of the scariest experiences I had faced so far! Mercifully, the drive thereafter was not all that eventful until Chandigarh, where we had to replace a punctured tyre. Coincidentally, Bhanu, who was driving the backup Honda City, happened to take some other route within the city of Chandigarh and also had a punctured tyre at the same time. It was late evening by the time we reached our destination to finish the first leg of 560 km in the Honda City.
The Honda ‘Drive to Discover’ indeed offered us the opportunity to discover some of the most breathtaking roads and magnificent vistas. In the process, it also made us aware of the tough life that people lead in the hilly regions up north. We also witnessed the Honda City doing its duty brilliantly well on every terrain, be it highways, narrow mountainous roads, rocky and wet hill sections and pothole-riddled roads in the remote areas. Comfort was in abundance and never did I have to worry about fatigue. With an overall fuel-efficiency of 14.6 km per litre of petrol, our admiration for the City went quite a few notches higher!
How I wish I could take part in the remaining drive to discover the rest of incredible India!