Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Over 600 km in one day (Home Revs?)

All shippies are familiar with 'home revs' -- when a ship is headed back to home port, engine room boys incredibly manage to add a few extra revs to the propeller RPM to reach home a bit sooner!

I guess the same phenomenon was at work when we started from Kanpur at 6 AM on 12 Nov -- both Jaya and I were keen to reach home after a 3 week absence and when we finally stopped at Barhi for the night, I noted that I had driven 615 km during the day. Taking into account Indian driving conditions, 615 km is a decent distance to cover over a day. This was made possible mainly due to good roads and a good car. Actually, I could have (theoretically) just gone on and reached Jamshedpur during the night of 12 Nov itself but for my self-imposed rule of not driving on Indian roads after dark. Driving on Indian highways after dark (for any vehicle smaller than 5-ton) is suicidal and is best avoided by anyone who has longevity as one of the goals of his / her life.

After spending a night at Barhi (in a seedy hotel -- dreaming about longevity!) we started for Jamshedpur at 6 AM. The roads in Jharkhand are bad and the drive to Hazaribagh and then to Ramgarh was pretty painful. After Ramgarh, the road to Ranchi was reasonably good. The road from Ranchi to Jamshedpur was a mix of bad and good stretches and I had to drive slowly and carefully even on the good stretches because gigantic potholes / craters appeared without warning.

The car took the 'ups and downs' of the road with equal aplomb and I felt satisfied with its design and performance. We reached Jamshedpur by noon. Our first long (over 3500 km) drive in our new Maruti Swift had gone off very well. First impressions do count. Looks like my new car and I are headed for a very satisfying and long-lasting relationship. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Watch this space over the next few years.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Agra to Kanpur in 4 hours

We left Delhi on 10 Nov in the afternoon and reached Agra in the evening. Spent the night at Agra and started for Kanpur at 0430 hrs this morning. Early morning is a good time to start a long drive as the roads are deserted (no jaywalkers or local traffic and also very few trucks move at that time) and it is easy to get out of a city / town. By the time the sun rises one has got nicely tuned to the highway and with increasing visibility one can really step on the gas and enjoy the drive. The picture below shows the sun rising on NH2 this morning.

Whenever I drive in the dark, I try to follow some other driver who is driving at a decent speed. Driver of the leading vehicle does the dirty work of keeping his eyes peeled for perils on the road (and honking to make trucks let him pass). I simply concentrate on following his tail lights and maintaining a reasonable distance. One must always remember not to use high beam while following this strategy. This morning I followed a Scorpio for a considerable distance.

The roads are excellent and I could maintain a range of 100 to 120 kmph throughout. I could do 130 kmph on some stretches and touched 140 a few times. Reached Kanpur in slightly over 4 hours (tea / pee breaks included) -- averaging about 65 kmph overall.

The more I experience this new toy of mine, the more I fall in love with it. At 140 kmph the car was rock steady and smooth and was begging to be pushed harder. I guess the only reason why I haven't pushed the car to its top speed of 160 kmph is that I'm not a young man any more and don't like to like to take any risks on the Indian highways. If I had been driving this same car on the expressways of a civilised country, I would definitely have taken it to top speed as soon as the running-in was completed.

Dead insects stuck on the front licence plate during the drive to Kanpur

Car used extensively at Delhi

We had a great time with family and friends at NCR (the National Capital Region -- comprising Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida and Faridabad) for a few days and also celebrated Diwali there. We were based at Gurgaon and the distances to New Delhi, Noida, etc. being considerable, having the car with us was a real boon. This is one of the things I really like about holidaying with my car. One doesn't have to worry about getting a cab back after a late night with friends.

The (big) city driving experience with my Swift VDi was excellent. Driving in Jamshedpur and Delhi are obviously quite different. Having spent eight years in Delhi earlier I am quite familiar with the challenges Delhi traffic places on a private car driver. I found the diesel Swift adequately agile, both in respect of power and manoeuverability, to meet the challenges of driving in Delhi / Gurgaon / Noida. At no time did I feel handicapped by the low speed 'sluggishness' which older generation diesel engines were notorious for. The Swift also has a very low turning radius and a good power steering which are very useful under city driving conditions.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Kanpur to Delhi

Kanpur to Fatehpur Sikri

On 04 Nov we left Kanpur and hit NH2 again. Roads were good but rural tractor / ‘Tempo’ traffic kept on increasing gradually. I could maintain 90-110 kmph usually. Did 125 kmph on some stretches.

Having seen the Taj Mahal a few times in the past, we decided to skip it this time and head straight towards Fatehpur Sikri. But at Agra we came across the imposing Akbar’s Tomb right adjacent to the highway as we were passing by and stopped to see it. It was well worth the visit. Akbar’s Tomb is huge, spread over hundreds of acres, and the architecture is really grand. The lawns are well maintained with hundreds of deer grazing there. The structures on the higher levels appear truly magnificent but tourists are allowed to visit only the ground floor of the mausoleum. The crypt itself (where the tomb is located) is located deep inside the mausoleum building and is a chamber with an amazing echo effect. I found this design quite different from that of the Taj Mahal and Humayun’s Tomb. Check out some pics I took at http://picasaweb.google.com/debashis1/AkbarSTombAtSikandra

After Agra we sought directions for turning off towards Fatehpur Sikri and 8 km after Akbar’s Tomb we turned left at a prominently marked turn off. But the roads (about 17 km) were very bad till we reached the Agra-Jaipur road. After that, the last 11 km to Fatehpur Sikri on the Agra-Jaipur road was okay. [While returning from Fatehpur Sikri on 05 Nov, we took a little different route which joined NH2 at a place called Farah, 22 km short of Mathura. This route was much better.]

At Fatehpur Sikri we checked into a hotel first and after lunch and some rest we visited the historic monuments there. I was visiting them for the first time and found them very impressive indeed.Check out some pics I took at http://picasaweb.google.com/debashis1/FatehpurSikri.

It was convenient to have the car there as one can drive right up to the monuments of tourist interest.

The last lap to Delhi

After spending the night at Fatehpur Sikri we left for Delhi early on 05 Nov. Roads were very good but due to increasing population density along the highway I had to drive more carefully. We cut across to Gurgaon (a wrong turn at one point added about 30 km to our route) from Faridabad (Bhatkal Chowk) and settled down with a close Naval friend. We had reached NCR (National Capital Region), 8 days after leaving Kolkata.

Fuel Consumption

Ever since I bought the car, it has done about 2200 km and returned a mileage of 21 kmpl over this entire distance which includes city driving, driving on bad roads, etc. I use the AC almost all the time except early in the morning when the ambient temperature is low (winter is approaching). On the highways I have got mileage of 23 kmpl. Don’t forget that the fuel I’m burning is diesel which is about 33% cheaper than petrol in India. I think the mileage is quite amazing and exceeds my expectations at the time of buying the car.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Drive from Kolkata to Kanpur; 1st service;

Drive from Kolkata to Asansol

After seeing off my mother-in-law at Kolkata airport on 28 Oct, Jaya and I drove directly to Asansol, about 225 km from Kolkata,. From the airport we took the Jessore Road, Dum Dum Road and Barrackpore Trunk Road to get into the New Bally Bridge (across the Hooghly) and flyovers leading to the Durgapur expressway.

Roads, flyovers and bridges were superb throughout, comparable to the autobahns / expressways of Europe. The main difference lay in the users, many of whom do not deserve a driving license. It is really frustrating to drive on an international standard dual carriageway where suddenly you see a vehicle headed straight towards you (on the wrong side, on the fast lane) and slow moving heavily loaded trucks moving at a snail’s pace on the fast lane. Only when you slow down and honk they grudgingly let you pass. That IS the NORM in India – almost all heavy vehicles have “AWAZ KARO” or “HORN MARO” painted boldly on their rears!

After spending a night at Asansol, we drove to Bodhgaya in Bihar on 29 Oct. We found it to be a lovely place, clean and well maintained, and the Mahabodhi Temple is quite magnificent. The other Buddhist temples erected by various Buddhist countries like Japan, China, Thailand, Burma, Bhutan, etc., are also worth seeing. The 80 feet high Buddha statue erected by Japan is grand. Some pics I took are at http://picasaweb.google.com/debashis1/VisitToBodhgayaThePlaceOfBuddhaSEnlightenmentOctober2007

Aborted First Service of car at Karlo Automobiles, Bodhgaya

Since the car crossed 1000 km as we reached Bodhgaya, I took it to Karlo Automobiles (Maruti Dealer Workshop) for the mandatory First Service. I was horrified to find that they knew virtually NOTHING about the Swift diesel and its maintenance. They drained my engine oil and were about to pour new oil meant for petrol engines into my engine when I intervened – luckily, I was hanging around my car keeping a close watch on all goings-on like a new grandma at a maternity hospital watching over the newborn infant. Thereafter, they brought a can of Indian Oil Servo Pride 40 meant for ordinary low-tech diesel engines. I pointed out to them that Maruti Udyog specifies SF 15W40 oil meeting specs of API-CG4 and ACEA B3 for the Swift. That sounded like Greek and Latin to them. They informed me that they had put Servo Pride 40 engine oil in several diesel Swifts and they were working fine! God help diesel Swift owners in India. Clearly, Maruti Udyog is introducing high tech cars in India without upgrading its service infrastructure.

I called up a senior official at Maruti Udyog but he was unable to do anything. Finally, I made those Maruti authorized imbeciles pour my drained oil back into my engine (after straining through a clean cloth) and I drove out of Karlo Automobiles without my First Service.

Drive to Gaya and Varanasi

On 30 Oct we first drove to Gaya and then to Varanasi. Came across some pretty bad stretches on NH2 near Aurangabad / Sasaram. But it was heartening to see road construction work going on at full swing at these stretches. The NH2 (new Grand Trunk road, from Kolkata to Delhi) has been upgraded really well with large (and wide) bridges and flyovers and concrete surface has been used for a considerable part of this highway. It was a real pleasure to drive on the good stretches in my new Swift.

First service finally done at Varanasi

I took the car to ‘Varanasi Motors’ (a large Maruti Dealer Workshop) at Varanasi. After the bitter experience with Karlo Motors at Bodhgaya, I was apprehensive about their preparedness to service my car and demanded to be shown the engine oil first. They showed me a can of Mobil Delvac Super 1300 oil (15W40; API CF-4 but certified for CG-4 / SG / SH / SJ applications; ACEA B2). I was glad to see that this oil was meeting almost all the specs laid down for my Swift. I had some reservations about its ACEA B2 Quality Classification as against ACEA B3 laid down for the Swift but the works manager showed me documents and convinced me that Maruti Udyog has indeed recommended the use of this oil in the diesel Swift. I asked Varanasi Motors to go ahead with the First Service and they did a reasonably good job.