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Mahindra Adventure Tri-Nation Drive 2014

We join Mahindra Adventure on its annual cross border jaunt to get a better look at our friendly neighbours
Mahindra Thar
I am an early riser. But, to get up at 2.30am to start driving doesn't work for me. I simply must have my beauty sleep. But here I am watching the sunrise from behind the wheel of a Mahindra Thar belting down on the last stretch of the Yamuna expressway making my way to Agra from Delhi. But I am not alone. There are 30 more cars and over 70 odd people making this trip with me.
Welcome to Mahindra Adventure's Tri-Nation drive. A drive that gives regular people the opportunity to drive either the Scorpio or the XUV500 and even the Rexton all the way into Nepal and Bhutan and as I am figuring out, have a good time at that. And a good time everyone seems to be having. And no one apart from me seems to be complaining about the early morning start. Maybe I have become too old. Or maybe, I thought the life would be easier over the next 12 days as I spend exploring India and its two friendly neighbours by road.
It might not be the fastest or the least fatigue free way to travel and explore, but a road trip shows you and tells you so much more than just taking a flight or a train to a destination. And all you need to do to be on this road trip is phone Mahindra Adventure, empty out a lakh and a half rupees and have the right adventure spirit.
Interested? Well, then this is how it pans out...
Mahindra Adventure Tri-Nation Drive  briefing
Day 1: Delhi to Gorakhpur
Tanked up on coffee I thought I was ready to take on this 800km plus marathon drive. Now I have done this route in parts and the roads have been pretty impressive. So it should be a cake walk. And the first half of the drive is. The Yamuna expressway is lovely and even when you get off and join NH2, the road from Agra to Kanpur isn't half bad. Sure, it is busy, and because it is undergoing road widening work, there are diversions aplenty. But nothing that will have you pulling your hair out.
Kanpur has this lovely elevated bypass and we breeze through it. All 30 odd cars. This one is one long convoy. But it looks nice in your rear view mirror or through the front windshield to see so many cars of the same colour, donning the same livery, and surprisingly, being similarly disciplined; it just makes you feel that you are part of something big and significant!
Mahindra Adventure Tri-Nation Drive Delhi to Gorakhpur
But Kanpur, though a big and significant city in the state of Uttar Pradesh, is a nightmare. As soon as we get off the bypass we are stuck in a long jam. With narrow, dusty roads, manic motorcyclists, horse-carts and pedestrians who think because they worship Lord Ram, they are indestructible even if they walk straight into the path of a moving car, it's giving me a headache. The rest of the convoy as I peep into their cars, seem less harrowed; the holiday spirit maybe...
Mahindra Adventure Tri-Nation Drive Delhi to Gorakhpur action shot
If Kanpur wasn't bad enough, the road to Lucknow from Kanpur is terrible. It's literally pockmarked with potholes and though the Scorpios, XUVs and the Rextons seem to be flying over them, my Thar is making all these scary metallic noises which gives me the feeling something is about to break. But, since no one else seems to be bothered, I am the one slowing down the convoy. A little prayer, and I go for it bouncing around, drowning out the noise is Bollywood item numbers, and steering and braking aggressively to avoid whatever potholes I can; I want to give the Thar a fair chance at survival. Now it might be built like a rock, the Thar, but keep chipping at it, and it might crumble. We make it through only for it to get worse entering our night halt for the day - Gorakhpur. But at least the hotel is comfortable.
Mahindra Adventure Tri-Nation Drive Gorakhpur to Pokhara
Day 2: Gorakhpur to Pokhara
It's an easy start. It's still early - 6am wake up call, 7am breakfast, 7.45am briefing and 8am departure. But compared to yesterday, it's as lazy a start as can be. An 8am start does mean Gorakhpur is wide awake. Now imagine 30 odd cars making their way as one through narrow streets overflowing with people, carts and what have you, and it's not surprising it takes us over an hour to exit the city.
Mahindra Adventure Tri-Nation Drive Gorakhpur to Pokhara pic
Next up the Indo-Nepalese border. It takes us another couple of hours to get there. The distance from Gorakhpur to Belahiya (in Nepal) isn't much. But what seems to be the preferred practice this side of Uttar Pradesh, it's less road and more an infestation of potholes. So, we take it easy.
Mahindra Adventure Tri-Nation Drive Gorakhpur to Pokhara action shot
This isn't going to be an easy day. If the road and traffic leading upto Belahiya wasn't bad enough, the border crossing takes the cake. There's an inexhaustible traffic jam both sides of the border and by the time we finish the formalities of registering cars and people at the Nepalese immigration, another two hours have passed. But at least we personally didn't have to go through the hassle of dealing with the officials or the touts which made the wait far less painful.
The drive to Pokhara then on isn’t anything to write home about either; sure, there are plenty of twisties, but the bad traffic and road conditions make it all too tedious
Mahindra Adventure Tri-Nation Drive Pokhara to Katmandu
Day 4: Pokhara to Katmandu
Now if you are wondering where day 3 disappeared, well it was a rest day at Pokhara. So, while I lazed around reading a book and taking a lazy stroll, the rest of the participants seemed to be in hyper drive! You see, Pokhara is extremely touristy and there's loads to do here from paragliding to a microlight flight to river rafting. And each of the participants just went ahead and packed in all in a single day with a 4 am sunrise over the snow-capped mountains and a 5 pm sunset over the lake thrown in for good measure.
Mahindra Adventure Tri-Nation Drive image
Back to day 4 and since we only have 210km to do, we take a late start. The downside, of course, is traffic. In fact, the road connecting Pokhara to Katmandu remains busy throughout. And even though it is all tarmac, it's poorly laid. So, all you end up doing is bouncing over bumps, crashing into dips and skipping over everything else.
The drive is scenic, no doubt, but with the river on one side, the mountain on the other and twists and turns aplenty, it's exactly like the driving upto Manali from Chandigarh... only worse. And then when we near Katmandu the traffic intensifies. So much so that we are left crawling almost all the way to the hotel; a good 25km
Mahindra Adventure Tri-Nation Drive Nepal market
Day 6: Katmandu to Chalsa
As you might have figured by now day 5 too was a rest day; this time at Katmandu. And this time I went out for a bit of sight-seeing. I headed to what is known as the old town with old buildings and many old people; not all from Nepal, mind. It's great to understand the Nepalese culture, but a tad boring nonetheless. The good news is, even though it is a shrine of sorts, you can still order beer. And order we did, the local brew Everest, which incidentally was pretty good!
Day 6 is another marathon drive; nearly 700km to do, and that means no real sleep. I am woken up at 3 am. Well, at least this ensures we don't have to battle the local Katmandu traffic getting out. We are now on an extremely winding and extremely narrow road; it’s enough as wide as the Scorpio. To make things worse, almost all corners on this stretch of road are blind. So any oncoming car would have meant a lot of backing up.
Mahindra Adventure Tri-Nation Drive Katmandu to Chalsa
But soon we see the sun come up over snow-capped mountains and are cheered on by enthusiastic and curious local folks as we pass their quaint villages. It's a sight that can melt the grumpiest of men; a sight that can slow down the most hurried traveler; and a sight that can invigorate the sleepiest of journalists. So I jump out and join the mela of photography that’s taking place. Selfies, group shots, family portraits, it's all happening on this narrow road with some high decibel chit chat (everyone here except me is on a vacation after all). And while all this is happening, a truck waits patiently for us to finish, so he can be on his way.
Mahindra Adventure Tri-Nation Drive Katmandu to Chalsa pic
But as suddenly as they had appeared, the well-manicured terraced farms, snow-capped peaks, the winding roads and the cheerful locals are now only a distant memory. It’s barely afternoon and it feels like we have been transported to a completely different world; it's like driving in Kerala. There's one village after the other with foolhardy locals who couldn't care less about being run over by speeding vehicles. Pedestrians, cyclists and even motorcyclists and tractors move along on the main road which is just about two lanes. But that's not the scary part; it's the way they change lanes, turn into alleyways and cross the road that's properly scary. No one looks. They just make their move without worrying about what might be coming their way. I have a few close calls and back right off. This is truly harrowing.
Thankfully, by night fall and without incident, we are back in India – Chalsa in West Bengal.
Mahindra Adventure Tri-Nation Drive Chalsa to Paro
Day 8: Chalsa to Paro
Yes, yet another rest day later, we are on our final leg to Paro. It's quite straight forward: drive for just 100km to the border town of Jaigaon; cross over into Phuentsholing; get your immigration sorted; and move out into the mountains for an endless and entertaining switchback experience. Well, at least that's what it seemed on Google. In the real world, the drive to Phuentsholing was alright running along tea estates and a railway track with a train for company.
Mahindra Adventure Tri-Nation Drive Bhutan
It was getting the immigration bit sorted that proved to be a properly lengthy affair. It took us nearly six hours (and I thought the two hour wait at the Nepal border crossing was bad). But, once you get through the red tape, you realize how beautiful Bhutan is. The roads aren’t wide, but they are gorgeous to drive on; the view is charismatic with mountains and trees all round, and streams running across the road; and the traffic is so scarce, the 160km drive up to Paro is just corner after corner of pure entertainment. 
Mahindra Adventure Tri-Nation Drive Chalsa to Paro pic
It is here that I am reminded that though not the most comfortable, my ride’s still been quite apt for this adventure. The Mahindra Thar is an unabashed off-roader and a great one at that. Now it might be ergonomically challenged, noisy and a tad rude when it comes to ride quality. But on these hills, and at these speeds, I am surprised how good it is. There's some body-roll and the steering isn't the most precise or lively, but the Thar turns into corners with great energy and as the roads get slippery, it allows some throttle steer too. And if it can keep up with an AWD XUV500 driven anything but sedately on these tight winding roads, you can’t blame me for loving it! 


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