Friday, September 14, 2012

Second cleaning of EGR valve

The first time when my car's EGR valve had to be cleaned was 3 years ago (Aug 2009) when the car was 2 years old and had run about 20,000 km. I had written about it in detail and had also posted some pics at

After another 25,000 km of running (about 45,000 km on the odo), I needed to get the EGR valve cleaned for the second time recently. SVS light was not going off after 4 seconds and MIL light was coming on. Diagnostic investigations at MASS revealed Error Code PO400, i.e., 'EGR Flow'. It was clear that EGR nozzle and / or EGR cooler were clogged and EGR flow was reduced.

I must mention that apart from the warning lights there were NO OTHER SYMPTOMS, i.e., the car was running perfectly at all speeds. I even drove the car on the highway for about 400 km at speeds upto 110 kmph with the warning lights ON and didn't find the slightest difference either in engine performance or fuel consumption.

I got the defect rectified at PEBCO Service Centre at Sonari, Jamshedpur. As expected, both the EGR nozzle and the EGR cooler were clogged with a mixture of soot and oil. The EGR valve itself was not very dirty. Additionally, the Intercooler (after Turbocharger) was also dismantled and cleaned. Cleaning of Intercooler is a part of the 'EGR system cleaning package' at MASS.

The EGR system cleaning package cost me Rs 1520, including a few washers and gaskets that were replaced.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Some tips for driving on ghat (hill) roads

Someone sent me a e-mail asking me for tips on hill driving. His e-mail, my reply and additional valuable tips from my cousin Bhaskar Mookerjee are reproduced below for the benefit of all aspiring hill drivers :

Dear Debashis-da, 

I was searching for some travelogues for Darjeeling when I bumped upon your wonderful travelogue: 

It was an eye opener for an aspiring "hill driver" like me who is looking forward to travel to the hills. So, it will be great if you can stop by my questions and answer them.

Fyi, I own a Maruti Swift and have been riding it for 3 years now. 

1. What are the mental and physical preparations required for driving in the mountains? The roads are sometimes really narrow and then there are hairpins, the thought of which gives me goosebumps .But the desire to drive in a turn on.How do I gain confidence to drive in the hills? 

2.Is there any different set of skills required for driving in the mountains? 

3. Are there any roads around Kolkata where we can "practice" hill driving? 

Thanking you in advance! 

Sayak Chakraborty


Dear Sayak,

1) For driving confidently in the hills, you do need some experience. Obviously, that experience cannot be obtained by driving in the plains. So you have to go to the hills and drive slowly on some less treacherous ghat stretches first till you gain confidence to negotiate tougher ghat roads.

2) Anybody who has been driving confidently in a city like Calcutta may start practicing on ghat roads. No rocket science is involved -- one just has to be extra cautious till confidence is gained.

3) There are no roads near Cal to practice hill driving. My recommendation would be that you plan a drive to Siliguri and then onwards to Mirik. Siliguri - Mirik - Jorepokhari - Lepchajagat - Ghoom - Darjeeling is a very gentle ghat road and not treacherous like the Pankhabari Road. One drive on this stretch should be more than adequate to give you enough confidence.

Always remember on hill roads :

a) Stick to your lane.
b) Drive slowly.
c) Switch off music, avoid adda with passengers, concentrate 100% on the road.
d) While climbing up, shift to lower gears well in time so that speed does not become too low.
e) While going down, use the same gear that you would have used had you been going up the same incline.
f) Vehicle going up has the right of way -- so if you are going down, always give way.
g) Always sound horn at blind curves.
h) Avoid driving at night in India.
i) If driving at night, use high beam but quickly use dipper upon sighting oncoming vehicle.
j) Before starting trip make sure car is in top condition -- especially brakes and steering.
k) Don't try to overtake other vehicles unless you are fully confident and the road ahead is visible.

Happy hill driving!


Important tips from Bhaskar Mookerjee

  • Check Car Brakes & Hand Brakes before journey - Check Engine Oil, Brake Oil & Steering Oil. Keep recommended Tyre Pressure. 
  • Imp: Practice stopping on inclines (without switching off you car engine), stop for a few seconds or a minute using hand brakes and then re-climb slowly using your accelerator and releasing the hand brake (without rolling back the car) - People from the plains tend to clutch and de-clutch using the brake pedal and burn the clutch and there is excess tyre spin and car loses control
  • When you finish the plains and are starting the hill section take a break. When you restart remember that you now need to drive slower.  
  • Like DM says - STICK TO YOU LANE OR SIDE. 
  • NEVER ever cut corners like an F1 driver
  • Always stay alert - Switch off AC where you can and roll down windows. 
  • Always HONK on blind curves. 
  • When given a chance look ahead briefly (few curves ahead) to see oncoming cars
  • Always keep space for one car to pass on your side. Gauge oncoming traffic & wait on curves and bend when you see large trucks & buses so that they can pass easily. Remember they don't have power steering and brakes like you. Else they will graze your car. 
  • Keep children's hands and heads inside & belt up. 
  • Take it slow always never go above 40
  • UPHILL traffic has right of way  in the hills. 
  • So you need to practice reversing uphill as well (stopping with hand brakes). If a car is behind you, then the car coming uphill needs to reverse. 
  • When someone waits for you on a curve so that you can pass - say thanks by raising you hand slightly while keeping your thumb tucked in under the steering wheel while holding it & showing him your palm (much like the congress sign). Always keep both hands on steering wheel 10:10 position - very important in the hills
  • Take frequent breaks & stretch legs - The idea of a trip or joy of a journey is not in getting to the destination quickly but enjoying the scenery along the way - My two bits is not while behind the steering wheel - do this only during the breaks. 
  • While coming down hill use the higher gears (1,2,3)  to slow the car down and conserve on your brakes.
  • In case of a brake failure use the hill side to stop the car by grazing it slowly and coming to a stand still - Remember a car can always be repaired / replaced.
  • Be careful while negotiating landslides keep 3 to 5 feet distance from the car in front and let it go first - observe his path, wheel spins and car slide (if any) then follow him if he clears it. 
  • Be careful of fallen rocks and stones. Also of stones used by lorries to stop & then left behind. They are generally left behind on the road.
  • Park on bends and areas where you have left enough room for a car to pass. While parking on slopes and inclines use the hand brake and leave the car in gear (opposite to the incline). If left for a long time put a stone behind the rear wheel.
  • If stuck and you don't know what to do and people seem to be screaming at you for holding up traffic. Keep cool, stop , get out and ask the oncoming driver / taxi driver for help to get your car out of a tight spot  - Tell him it is your first time in the hills & they love it and help.

    Also in the NE - if you notice 3 to 4 taxis pass by you with a red handkerchief tied to the driver side mirror & they flash you. It generally means that there is a jam ahead or the road is closed. Good idea to stop at a local tea stall or ask oncoming taxi driver what has happened ahead. If it is a jam stop & take a sight seeing break :)

  • Keep Cool & Stay Safe ! !  

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Fuel injectors getting jammed in cylinder head of CRDI engines

There have been numerous instances of fuel injectors getting stuck / jammed in the cylinder head of Maruti Swift diesel cars. High-tech CRDI injectors do not require any periodic maintenance and therefore are not removed for years together. But when there is a defect and an injector needs to be removed, in many cases they are found to be jammed / stuck and very difficult to remove. The special tool (puller) used for pulling out the injectors sometimes gets bent but the injector refuses to come out. In such cases the cylinder head assembly has to be removed from the engine and sent to a machine shop to extract the injector (sometimes in pieces).

Some months ago I did a consultancy assignment for Tata Motors and found that many of their DICOR engines (including the Quadrajet engine used in Indica Vista – this engine is identical to the Maruti Multijet engine) are facing the same problem.

According to Maruti Suzuki, the problem is caused by water getting into the minute gap between the injector body and the cavity in the cylinder head which houses the injector. This usually happens during pressure washing of the engine compartment during servicing. Once water / moisture gets into the small gap, it causes rusting and that jams up the injector over a period of time.

Maruti Suzuki have come up with a simple solution – cover the top part of the engine during pressure washing. A picture of the cover placed over the engine in my car can be seen below.

I would advise all diesel Swift owners to:

1) Ensure that the engine cover is used during pressure washing. During the servicing of my car today, the MASS started washing the engine compartment without the cover. The cover was put when I reminded them.

2) Take care while washing the engine compartment at home. Don't direct water spray towards the top of the engine or below the black plastic engine cover.

40,000 km maintenance routines on my Swift VDi

With the odometer at 39,950 km, I got 40,000 km routines carried out today. Following important routines were done in addition to checking fasteners, greasing / oiling, washing and cleaning :

  1. Engine oil, filter and oil drain plug change
  2. Fuel filter change
  3. Transmission oil change
  4. Coolant change
  5. 5-tyre rotation

New transmission oil being put with a syringe with car hoisted

Additionally, both (left and right) front suspension strut bushes were changed. The struts were found loose due to compression of top rubber-metallic bushes.

Coil spring of strut assembly being compressed using special tools

New rubber-metallic top bush being fitted

I also had both wiper blades replaced as they had become hard.

Total expenses : Rs 6188 [parts and consumables : Rs 5006; Labour : Rs 1182 (with Rs 175 discount)].

The replacement of the strut top bushes cost Rs 850 (Rs 400 for 2 nos. bushes + Rs 450 labour). The set of two wipers cost Rs 490. These costs are included in the abovementioned total expenses (Rs 6188).

Maintenance issues over the last 4 years / 40,000 km

Requirement of maintenance has been minimal. In addition to scheduled maintenance routines (at 1,000km, 5,000 km, 10,000 km, 20,000 km, 30,000 km and 40,000 km) only the following needed to be done over the last 4 years and 4 months :

  1. EGR valve had to be cleaned at 19,800 km.
  2. Battery had to be changed at 34,600 km (after 3 ½ years)
  3. Front suspension strut top bushes had to be replaced at 40,000 km.
  4. Wipers were replaced at 40,000 km.

It is relevant to mention that not a single light bulb needed to be replaced so far!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Erratic operation of ‘Water in fuel filter’ light usually indicates failing battery in Swift (diesel)

A couple of months ago, ‘Water in fuel filter’ light came on (along with SVS light) in my Swift Vdi. I drained the fuel filter but the light kept coming on (and often going off during the next start-stop cycle, only to come on again after a day or two). In other words, this warning light started behaving in an erratic manner and its coming on and going off had nothing to do with presence or absence of water in the fuel filter.

As expected, even on days when the ‘Water in fuel filter’ light did not come on, the SVS light did not go off after 4 seconds of turning on the ignition. This happens because when the ECU detects a fault, the fault code (DTC) is registered in the ECU and the SVS light won’t go off after 4 secs of turning on the ignition unless the DTC code is ‘cancelled’ using the Tech-2 diagnostic tool.

I took the car to MASS where they found the DTC code to be P2264 – ‘Fuel filter water detection sensor circuit’. Since it was already established that the warning light was behaving erratically, the MASS suspected the battery because they had come across many cases of warning light malfunction when battery was weak in diesel Swifts.

Even in this forum diesel Swift owners have reported malfunction of warning lights with a weak battery. Therefore, I decided to thoroughly examine my battery (original Exide DIN 65 MF) before taking the decision to change it. I must mention here that I started experiencing some minor starting problem at this time.

I removed the battery from the car and charged it overnight with my external battery charger. The specific gravity readings were as follows :
Initial sp. gr. 1250 1250 1250 1250 1240 1250
After charging 1280 1270 1280 1270 1260 1280

After overnight charging, all cells were gassing freely, i.e., battery was fully charged. Terminal voltage was 12.85V.

From the specific gravity readings it seemed to me that the battery was okay and I fitted it back in the car. Things worked fine for a few days and thereafter the ‘water in fuel filter’ light started coming on again. Also starting problems increased greatly. On a couple of occasions when the car refused to start after 2-3 attempts, I feared that the car may not start at all, but luckily the car started on the 3rd or 4th attempt. One thing was sure -- something had to be done urgently to prevent getting stranded on the road.

I then got the battery load tested at a battery dealer and when it failed the test, the decision to buy a new battery was obvious.

After substantial research on the internet I decided to go for Base Terminal DIN 66 BT MF. I found that Base Terminal had built a reasonably good reputation in the Indian market, offered 2-year replacement warranty followed by a 2-year pro-rata discount warranty and good value-for-money. I bought this battery (from M/s Moonka Sales, Q-Road, Bistupur, Jamshedpur) for Rs 6800 and received Rs 800 as buy-back for my old Exide – in other words, I had to shell out Rs 6000 only.

After fitting the new battery, I got DTC cancelled at MASS. All problems resolved thereafter.

To summarise :

1) Specific gravity of all cells in a lead-acid battery may be okay but only a load-test can reveal the actual health of the battery. The battery should be able to deliver enough current under full load (during starting) to crank the engine at a high enough RPM to successfully start the engine. This is especially relevant to diesel engines because they have a high compression ratio and the temperature of the compressed air at the end of the compression stroke holds the key to ignition. In other words, it is not enough that the battery is able to crank the engine – the battery should be able to crank the engine at a sufficiently high RPM to initiate ignition of the fuel injected towards the end of the compression stroke.

2) In the 1.3 lit Multijet engine (fitted in diesel Swift and some other Indian cars), the ECU and Sensors seem to be quite sensitive to the battery voltage and tend to malfunction when the battery becomes weak (voltage falls). Erratic and false operation of warning lights, usually the ‘Water in fuel filter’ light, appears to indicate a failing battery.

3) The battery life in a diesel car seems to be significantly less than in a petrol car with comparable BHP. This is mainly due to the fact that a battery is subjected to much more stress every time it starts a diesel engine because diesel engines have a high compression ratio and much more force is required to crank a diesel engine. Furthermore, a petrol engine can start at a lower cranking RPM as compared to a diesel engine and therefore, a battery which is incapable of starting a diesel engine can continue to start an equivalent petrol engine for some more months.

4) The original Exide battery in my Swift Vdi lasted for about 3 ½ years (with no shortcoming in maintenance). Batteries in my earlier petrol cars (Maruti-800, Premier 118NE and Maruti Esteem) used to last for 4 to 5 years.

5) It is perfectly safe to disconnect (or take out) your battery in a diesel Swift for a day or more because the non-volatile memory in the ECU ensures that all essential programming and data for efficient operation of the engine, odometer reading, etc., are retained. Every time you disconnect your battery, you only lose your music system and trip meter settings.

6) Base Terminal seems to be a good value-for-money option to Exide and other leading battery brands in India. However, I would like to give my final verdict only when this new battery dies (if I’m still married to my Swift Vdi then!).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Trinamool activists block NH6 at Lodhashuli (near Jhargram)

On 22.07.10 I left Kolkata at 5 AM to drive back to Jamshedpur along with my family in the Swift. At around 8 AM I found a huge line of stationary trucks as we approached Lodhashuli (near Jhargram) on NH6. Fortunately, all the trucks were on the left lane, keeping the right lane (meant for oncoming traffic) free. Since there was no oncoming traffic I overtook the line of trucks (several kilometres long) and reached Lodhshuli road junction (from where one turns right for Jhargram) only to be stopped rudely by a bunch of local youth carrying Trinamool flags. They didn’t allow us to move further and directed me to park the car on the side of the road.Lodhashuli (2)

▲ Trinamool activists blocking NH6 at Lodhashuli. Note journalists atop truck taking pics. But not a single policeman was present.

What was the problem? Why the highway was being blocked?  Going by the version I heard from the local youth, a bus carrying Trinamool supporters back from Mamata Banerjee’s rally in Kolkata (on 21 Jul) was waylaid (by dacoits, apparently) around midnight on 21 Jul on NH6 near Lodhashuli. The miscreants had blocked the NH6 by placing dozens of freshly felled trees. As soon as the bus slowed down on finding the road blocked, the miscreants emerged from the bushes, attacked the passengers and robbed all their cash, mobile phones, etc. Thereafter, they set the bus on fire.

According to the local youth (all Trinamool supporters) at Lodhashuli, the dacoits were none other than CPM goons because they specifically targeted Trinamool supporters returning from Mamata’s rally and set their bus on fire. Apparently, many passengers (including women) were injured and needed to be hospitalised.

Stopping highway traffic indefinitely has become the normal form of protesting (or making their presence felt) for all people residing near the highways in many parts of India. In West Bengal, people block the highways every now and then – the reason could be anything from a road accident to political agitation. Thousands of trucks and cars get stuck in the middle of nowhere with no food or water (talking of toilet facilities would seem laughable in India) and the resulting jam may take more than a day to clear.

Interestingly, though I was stuck at Lodhashuli for more than an hour, I did not see a single policeman or any govt functionary though the highway blockade had been going on for several hours prior to my arriving at the main hotspot.

Lodhashuli (3)

▲ Activists raising slogans

How I managed to escape from the hotspot after an hour or so is a story worth telling. When I was stopped by the local youth and ordered off the road, I parked my car at a muddy spot about 25 feet away from the road. I kept observing the goings-on at the Lodhashuli road junction – the Trinamool supporters squatting on the road and periodically shouting slogans when some local journalists came. I met the activists and requested them to let us go as there were three women in my car but they were quite inflexible. After about an hour, a neta-type person arrived from the Kolkata direction in an Ambassador car. As soon as he came out of the car, all the activists stood up, started raising slogans and surrounded him (apparently to discuss their issues with him). Seeing the activists distracted in this manner, I started moving my car very slowly and managed to give them the slip. After getting up on the highway towards Jamshedpur, I sped away. I was certainly taking a risk but I considered it better than remaining stuck at Lodhashuli indefinitely.

After a km or so I passed the spot where the road had been blocked the previous night. I stopped the car there for a few seconds and took some pics with my mobile phone without coming out of the car.

Lodhashuli (1)

Lodhashuli (4)

▲ NH6 blocked by trees felled from adjacent forests. No policeman visible even 10 hours after incident.

It took us 7 hours to reach Jamshedpur instead of the usual 5 to 6 hours. After Lodhashuli we made very good progress as ours was the only car speeding down the road.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Close encounter with a rogue elephant in Dalma hills near Jamshedpur

To the North of Jamshedpur lie the Dalma range – a wide swathe of hills and dense forest. A 195 sq. km part of this range which is home to many wild animals has been developed by the Forest Dept. as the Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary. Dalma Hilltop, which is the highest point (about 3000 ft) in the Dalma range, falls inside this sanctuary.

One can either trek up to Dalma Hilltop or drive on a kutcha (unpaved but motorable) road which branches off from NH 33 about 15 km from Jamshedpur. This unpaved road leads right up to the Shiva Temple on Dalma Hilltop – a distance of 20 km from the entrance gate of the Dalma Widlife Sanctuary off NH33. Prior to 03.07.10, I had driven only once to the hilltop – in April 2002, in my Maruti Esteem. However, I have trekked up 3-4 times in recent years.

On 03.07.10 we (my friend Ronald D’Costa, his wife Marian, my elder daughter Debashree, and I) started from Jamshedpur at 5:40 AM in my Suzuki Swift VDi – our destination : Dalma Hilltop. It had rained off and on throughout the night and it was nice and cool early in the morning. As we started, a light drizzle set in. We reached the sanctuary gate around 6:20 AM and bought our tickets (a nominal Rs 20 per head). The person at the ticket counter cautioned us that the road was quite slushy due to rains and some stretches were bad.

We started driving up the Dalma and reached the Forest Rest House (15 km from the gate) around 7 AM. The caretaker permitted us to use the balcony (which has a panoramic view of Jamshedpur) and we had a leisurely breakfast which my wife had packed for us. Luckily, the drizzle stopped just then and we saw a beautiful bright rainbow spanning the entire township of Jamshedpur.


▲ Rainbow seen from Dalma

Dalma 0

▲ Jamshedpur city viewed from Dalma


▲ Ronny, Debashree and Marian

After breakfast we resumed our ascent to Dalma hilltop, about 5 km away. The Swift was taking the climb on the slushy unpaved road quite effortlessly in its stride, we were chatting away merrily and all seemed to be right with the world. Suddenly, about 3 km from the Forest Rest House, we spotted an adult male wild elephant walking towards us in the middle of the road. My immediate reaction was to stop the car and pull over to the side of the road. I expected the elephant to go past us down the road and I thought it prudent to give him as much of the road as possible and make no noise or movement which could alarm or agitate the animal. Ronny too agreed with this course of action and I switched off the ignition.


▲ Don approaching

But the elephant stopped about 40 ft away and kept staring at us silently for several minutes. We had no clue as to its intentions. Nor did we have any contingency plans for ourselves. Making the best of an unpredictable situation, I clicked several photographs of the elephant through my windshield. The elephant had only one tusk – the right one.

Suddenly, the elephant seemed to have thought things over and started moving towards us slowly but haltingly. We thought that it would go past us, but it came straight towards the car. It was frightening to see the huge animal headed directly towards us. After reaching the car, it actually nudged it with its trunk. We were petrified and thought that the animal could violently crush or overturn the car and kill us. Starting the car at this stage could have frightened or agitated the animal and I refrained from doing so.


▲ Don just inches from car

As we were expecting the worst, the animal abruptly backed off. It walked backwards about 20 ft and stopped. Ronny advised that we should start reversing and I started the engine and started moving back slowly. But the elephant again started moving towards us. Driving backwards on that bad and curvy road, that too when my heart was in my mouth, was very difficult. Also, I did not want to block the elephant’s way by bringing the car to the middle of the road.


▲ Don contemplating its next move

Debashree then suggested that we should bail out of the car and take cover in the forest. I stopped the car, taking care to position it as much to the right side as possible. To the right of the road was the hill and the valley was on the left. Mercifully, as I stopped the car, the elephant also stopped. We all came out of the car and started climbing the hill rapidly. The elephant, which was standing about 30 ft away from the car at this time, kept staring at us but made no move to chase us or come towards us.


▲ Passengers escaping to safety

With our hearts palpitating like crazy, we climbed quickly and felt safer behind some large trees and boulders. Debashree decided to get help from the CRPF station (set up to combat Maoist insurgents) about a km up the road and continued trekking up. Ronny, Marian and I hid behind boulders and kept observing the elephant.

The elephant remained stationary for about 10 minutes. Then it approached the car and examined it closely. God alone knows what went on in its mind, but it decided to push the car further to the side of the road. First it pushed the front part of the car to the hill side and the front right wheel went into a shallow ditch. Then it walked to the rear of the car and kept observing the car for several minutes from the rear. Then it approached the car, lifted the rear end by a foot or so with its trunk, pushed it a little to the hill side and lowered it gently. Now both right wheels were in the ditch.

When I saw the elephant lift the rear end of the car, I was almost convinced that he had decided to wreck the car and it would be a matter of seconds before my car turned into scrap metal. I love my car and the prospect of seeing a rogue elephant wrecking my car was horrifying. But surprisingly, both his pushing actions were done very gently and damage to the car was minimal and superficial. It seemed that his intention was to merely push the car to the side of the road. Probably he looked upon the car as an unnecessary impediment on his way (though I had stopped it on one side, leaving most of the road free for him to pass) which needed to be pushed more to the side to prove who is king of the road.


▲ Don stays behind car for a long time

After pushing the car, the elephant went about 20 ft behind it and observed the car intently for 10 minutes or so. He seemed satisfied with whatever he had done and decided that no further action was necessary. Thereafter he stopped looking at the car and started breaking some branches from nearby trees and eating. But he did not move away – as if a predator was guarding its ‘kill’. Only after half an hour or so it started moving downhill away from the car – that too haltingly. More than an hour elapsed before the elephant finally vanished from our sight and I felt bold enough to approach the car to inspect the damage.


▲ Car pushed to hill side by Don. What if I’d left the car on the valley side?

The car appeared pretty much unharmed. The elephant’s tusk had gone right through the car’s rear bumper (plastic) and there was a gaping hole there. The left front fender was slightly damaged, again due to the tusk. That was about all.


▲ Rear bumper pierced by tusk


▲ Tusk mark on front fender and bumper

Of course, both right wheels were in the ditch and due to low ground clearance (170 mm) the rear part of the car bottom was virtually resting on the shoulder of the ditch. Luckily, this part of the shoulder was only earth and mud. If it had been stone, the car would have had to be picked up by a crane because any effort to move the car forward or backward (whether under own power or tow) could have damaged the car’s bottom.

I tried several times to come out of the ditch by using the engine – the car did move forward / backward a foot or so, but then the front wheels would start slipping in the mud. I tried to improve the traction by placing some leaves, twigs, etc. under the front wheels but could not succeed. We needed another vehicle to pull my car out. Ronny and Marian had joined me by this time and he phoned his son to arrange for a SUV to be sent to us.


▲ Cool as a cucumber throughout, Ronny sips hot coffee poured from a thermos we carried

Meanwhile, Debashree had informed the CRPF station and they in turn had sent a message to the Forest Dept. But we were unaware of this and were getting worried about Debashree as she was not carrying her cellphone. Ronny took the trouble of trekking up to the CRPF station and escorted Debashree back to the car where Marian and I waited for help to arrive.

After a couple of hours Forest Range Officer and his staff arrived in a Tata Sumo. I had already fixed the towing eyebolt to the front of my car and was ready with a sturdy nylon rope which I always keep in my car. The Sumo pulled the car on to the road in a few seconds.


▲ Rope attached to towing eyebolt

In spite of the major ordeal we had gone through, we decided to complete our mission of driving to the Dalma Hilltop. We drove the Swift to the hilltop and then started descending after spending some time there. We were advised by the Forest Range Officer to halt at the Rest House on the way down to meet with Mr. S.E.H. Kazmi, Conservator of Forests (Wildlife Circle), Jharkhand who had driven down 120 km from Ranchi and reached the Rest House just then. Apparently, the message that had gone out from the CRPF post was that “a rogue elephant has demolished a car near Dalma hilltop and 3 persons are missing”. Obviously, this had created a lot of consternation in official circles and Mr. Kazmi decided to personally supervise the ‘search and rescue operations’.

Ronny and I met with Mr. Kazmi and other Forest Dept officials at the Rest House. The entire episode was analysed in detail. Following pertinent matters emerged :

  1. Emergency messages sometimes tend to get distorted while being transmitted from person to person. Avoidable panic was created in official circles (Police and Forest) due to a distorted message of distress.
  2. The seasonal migration route of wild Asiatic elephants passes through Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary and one may encounter wild elephants any time.
  3. Wild elephants usually do not attack humans or vehicles unless they feel unduly threatened or a particular elephant has become cranky or roguish due to some reason.
  4. This particular one-tusked elephant (nicknamed Don) apparently lost its left tusk during a fierce fight with another bull elephant some months ago.
  5. A month ago, Don brutally trampled a forest guard to death inside Dalma sanctuary.
  6. Don has been seen living alone (away from the herd).
  7. When the Forest Range Officer and his staff were driving up in their Tata Sumo to render assistance to us, Don (who had moved a few km downhill by then) blocked their way too for about 45 minutes.
  8. The main mistake we committed was switching off our engine. Apparently, when an elephant comes close to a vehicle and hears the purr of the engine, senses the heat and smells the fumes it perceives the vehicle as something alive and dangerous and usually decides not to mess with it. The same elephant (Don) came across two vehicles on the same day but its response was different only because in one car the engine was switched off and in the other it was running.
  9. If one is running away from an elephant, it is better to go downhill rather than uphill because elephants apparently move more slowly and cautiously while going downhill as they may lose their balance.
  10. All visitors to Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary need to be informed of the do’s and dont’s in the event of encountering wild elephants. This could be done through prominent signboards at the entrance gate as well as giving a printed leaflet along with the ticket at the counter.

We expressed our sincere gratitude to Mr. Kazmi and all other Forest officials and staff for their assistance and concern.


▲ Meeting with Mr. Kazmi

Subsequently we drove back to Jamshedpur in the Swift, very very grateful and relieved that all of us had emerged virtually unscathed from this encounter with Don. The encounter could well have ended in disaster. For city-dwellers like us, it was an experience of a lifetime. Personally, I came across a wild elephant for the very first time in my life and it was a close encounter of a terrifying kind which I’m not likely to forget till my dying day.