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.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Front impact beam in Swift VDi

Recently, I had my front bumper removed and took a good look at what lies behind it. I was very much reassured to see a strong front impact beam protecting the intercooler, condenser and radiator in the event of minor frontal impacts.

The vertically aligned heat exchanger on the left (car's right) is the intercooler -- it cools the hot compressed air (air gets hot when compressed) coming out of the turbocharger before admitting it into the engine. The other large rectangular heat exchanger is the AC condenser -- its job is to cool (and consequently liquefy) the hot compressed refrigerant coming out of the AC compressor. The radiator (a bit bigger in size as compared to the AC condenser) is visible behind the condenser.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Elephantine extortion

Over the last few years I have been noticing a novel and ingenious method of extorting money from vehicles on Indian highways using elephants. Check out these pics I took on NH6 during my recent drive to Kolkata from Jamshedpur :
The elephant's handlers look out for approaching vehicles (trucks, primarily) and quickly position the huge animal on a collision course with the vehicle
The truck is forced to stop by the elephant and its handlers
The truck is finally allowed to move on after the driver parts with some dough

Now you know how the Indian economy is growing by a phenomenal rate of 8%!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Drive to Bhutan and Darjeeling hills

Day 1 (10.04.10)

Jaya and I drove in our Swift VDi to Durgapur (233 km) via Chandil, Purulia and Bankura. Spent the night with my cousin Babluda and his wife Kamala Boudi.

The road from Jamshedpur to Chandil is not too good at present. Chandil to Purulia stretch is quite good. Purulia to Bankura is also quite good but has many curves. Bankura to Durgapur is excellent (though it is not a dual carriageway), with bright white lines in the middle as well as on both sides of the road.

Day 2

Jaya, Babluda, Boudi and I started from Durgapur at 5 AM and reached Siliguri (517 km) at 5 PM.

From Durgapur, we drove via Panagarh, Ilam Bazar, Siuri, Rampurhat and Nalhati to Moregram where the road joins NH34 (Kolkata-Siliguri highway). From Moregram we drove to Siliguri via Farakka, Malda, Dalkhola and Islampur.

Except for a few short stretches, the road was quite good throughout. From Dalkhola to Bagdogra there is an excellent 4-lane dual carriageway (except for a 6 km 2-lane stretch after Islampur and another 12 km stretch just before Bagdogra).

Day 3

From Siliguri, we drove to Phuntsholing (155 km) in Bhutan via the Sevoke Coronation bridge, Binnaguri, Jaldapara and Jaigaon. Our original plan was to spend our entire holiday inside Bhutan in cool high-altitude places like Thimphu, Paro, etc., but at Phuntsholing we got a rude shock when we were told by the Bhutan immigration office that in view of a SAARC meeting at Thimphu, no tourists were allowed beyond the border town of Phuntsholing. I had done extensive homework on the net before coming to Bhutan but even the official website of Bhutan Tourism didn’t mention anything about this tourist ban (throughout the month of April).

We spent some time sightseeing on the streets of Phuntsholing and had an excellent Chinese lunch there. The shops and restaurants of Phuntsholing were of a significantly higher standard than those in the Darjeeling hills. The small town looked clean and well-maintained and local Bhutanese men and women were all attired in their national dress.

We had to replan our entire holiday and we had to do it very quickly. All four of us had looked forward to spending the night of Day-3 in some cool place up in the hills amidst the pines and Phuntsholing definitely did not fit the bill. It was 2 PM by the time we started driving back from Phuntsholing and we wanted to choose a hill destination which we could reach before it got dark. I decided to head for the hill station of Lava in the Darjeeling hills.

First, I drove 99 km back on the same road to Sevoke which I had taken earlier in the morning. Then at Malbazar, I left this road and took a narrow road through tea gardens to Gorubathan (13 km from Malbazar). From Gorubathan, it was a steep 41 km climb to Lava. When we were about 25 km from Lava, we encountered fog which kept getting thicker as we climbed. The sun had set and it got dark very quickly. To make matters worse, a light but persistent drizzle set in. Visibility in the fog was down to a few feet, that too with the help of the Swift’s fog lights. Headlights were useless as they only showed a wall of thick fog. It was very difficult to drive as the road did not have any white line or other markings. But I managed to inch ahead, slowly but steadily, duly aided by my navigator wife who has a better eyesight than me.

Finally, around 6 PM, we reached Lava at 7700 ft. The small town was enveloped in thick fog and we could hardly see anything. Fortunately, I had been to Lava before and vaguely remembered the way to the WBFDC resort there. The first problem we encountered after reaching the resort was to locate an official. The office was closed and we were desperately looking for someone who could confirm whether accommodation was available. Finally, we found a shopkeeper who was some sort of a booking agent – he rang up the WBFDC officials and gave us the good news that two rooms in the most exclusive cottage in the resort were available. This cottage with 3 spacious rooms (all with attached bath) had a large dining hall, a lovely drawing room with cable TV and a kitchen with a khansama exclusively at our service.

So we did get to spend the night of Day-3 up in the hills amidst the pines. Soon after we settled down at the resort, there was a massive hailstorm and the power went off. The clatter of the hailstones on the tin roof of our cottage was deafening. Dinner of our choice by candlelight, prepared and served by our khansama, made us feel very special!

Day 4

At Lava. Visited the Buddhist monastery, did some shopping and soaked in the ambience.

Car Wed 14-04-2010 08-46-34

At the WBFDC resort at Lava

Day 5

Went for a morning walk into the pine forests of Lava. After breakfast, checked out of the resort and drove to nearby Rishyap (about 8000 ft) to get a magnificent panoramic view of Himalayan peaks.

Car Wed 14-04-2010 09-39-39 On the road to Rishyap

After visiting Rishyap we descended to Teesta Bazar via Kalimpong. Then started a steep ascent to Ghoom (near Darjeeling). This stretch from Teesta Bazar to Ghoom is one of the steepest ghat stretches that I have encountered in India. This was my second drive up this stretch and I once again enjoyed the thrill of sharp 360 degree turns that this stretch is famous for.

By late afternoon, we were well ensconced in the DGHC resort at Jorepokhri (about 7000 ft).

Car Thu 15-04-2010 06-43-14 At the resort at Jorepokhri

Day 6

Went for a morning walk into the pine forests of Jorepokhri. Checked out and departed for Mirik at 10 AM. Upon reaching Pashupati Phata (Nepal border) we learnt that there was a bandh in Mirik till 6 PM and no vehicles were allowed into Mirik till then. I rang up the police station at Mirik (after getting their phone number from internet thro’ my mobile phone) and they too confirmed that the bandh was very much on till 6 PM.

What to do now? We decided to kill time and entered Nepal (Pashupati Nagar) for some shopping and lunch. This, incidentally, was the second ‘foreign country’ visited during this holiday!

Car Thu 15-04-2010 14-24-52 Cars at Pashupati Nagar, Nepal

After the Pashupatinagar visit, I decided to take a chance and headed for Mirik around 3 PM. We reached Mirik around 4 PM and though the streets of this small town were pretty much deserted due to the bandh, we did not come across any other problem and checked into a DGHC hotel overlooking the best landmark of Mirik – the Samendu Lake.

There was torrential rain at Mirik accompanied by strong winds, thunder and lightning for about 2 hours soon after we settled down at the hotel. Another lucky break!

Day 7

At Mirik. Spent the day sightseeing, shopping, driving up to the ‘Swiss Cottages’ (DGHC resort) and relaxing.

Car Thu 15-04-2010 15-07-13 Amidst tea gardens near Mirik

Day 8

Started from Mirik at 5 AM and reached Durgapur at 6 PM, covering a distance of 560 km.

Day 9

Returned to Jamshedpur from Durgapur.

More pictures of this trip may be seen at

Performance of the Swift VDi

This 2003 km long trip involved very steep ghat roads and even with the car fully loaded (4 adults+luggage) and the AC running, the engine performed admirably and so did the steering, suspension and brakes. The fog lamps came in very handy while driving through thick fog at night while climbing to Lava. Only at Lava, while climbing to our cottage (situated at the highest point inside the WBFDC resort), did I wish that I had more power. That too because visibility was very poor due to thick fog plus total darkness and I could not maintain the minimum speed in 1st gear and the car came to a standstill on a couple of occasions on the very steep approach road to the cottage. I then had to jettison the 3 passengers to resume the climb.

During this long drive I hit a couple of speed breakers and deep potholes at around 60 – 70 kmph and the suspension took it really well, considering that the car was fully loaded.

And the icing on the cake was the amazing mileage of 20.64 km per litre of ordinary diesel, despite the numerous ghat stretches (including some of the steepest climbs in India), almost continuous AC use in the plains and the car fully loaded with 4 adults and luggage.

Some distances for the benefit of other motorists planning this route

Jamshedpur (Sonari)-Chandil : 32 km

Jamshedpur (Sonari)-Purulia : 93 km

Purulia-Bankura : 88 km

Bankura-Durgapur (DVC more) : 48 km

Jamshedpur (Sonari)-Durgapur (DVC more) : 228 km

Durgapur (Indo American more)-Panagarh (Darjeeling more) : 11 km

Panagarh (Darjeeling more)-Ilam Bazar : 24 km

Ilam Bazar-Rampurhat : 93 km

Rampurhat-Nalhati : 16 km

Nalhati-Moregram (NH 34) : 20 km

Moregram-Dhuliyan : 47 km

Dhuliyan-Farakka bridge : 17 km

Farakka-Malda : 33 km

Malda-Raiganj : 76 km

Raiganj-Dalkhola : 48 km

Dalkhola-Islampur : 57 km (mostly 4-laned)

Islampur-Bagdogra more : 62 km (mostly 4-laned)

Bagdogra-Siliguri (Hotel Appollo) : 11 km

Durgapur (Indo American more)-Siliguri (hotels at Mallguri) : 515 km

Siliguri-Coronation bridge : 22 km

Siliguri-Binnaguri : 97 km

Siliguri-Jaldapara WLS : 125 km

Siliguri-Phuntsholing : 155 km

Phuntsholing-Malbazar : 99 km

Malbazar-Gorubathan : 13 km

Gorubathan-Lava (steep climb): 41 km

Phuntsholing-Lava : 153 km

Lava-Rishyap: 9 km

Lava-Kalimpong : 37 km

Kalimpong-Teesta : 16 km

Teesta-Jorebunglo (very steep climb): 30 km

Jorebunglo-Ghoom : 1 km

Ghoom-Sukhiapokhri : 12 km

Sukhiapokhri-Jorepokhri : 2 km

Lava-Jorepokhri : 97 km

Jorepokhri-Pashupatinagar (Nepal) : 9.4 km

Jorepokhri-Mirik : 24 km

Mirik-Dudhiya : 24 km

Mirik-Matigara : 44 km

Mirik-Bagdogra more : 51 km

Mirik-Durgapur (Indo American more) : 557 km

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Driver getting old – car as good as new!

Kol trip (2)

The dependable Swift on the highway to Kharagpur

Kolkata is just about 300 km from Jamshedpur by road and our usual mode of transport during our not infrequent trips to Kolkata is obviously our car.

During a recent drive to Kolkata Jaya and I decided to spend a day at IIT, Kharagpur. It was great meeting up with some old friends there. Going back to one’s Alma Mater is always a nostalgic and sentimental trip.

Kol trip (1)

The Swift at IIT, Kharagpur

The road between Jamshedpur and Kolkata is in a reasonably good condition at present. The 125 km stretch from Kharagpur to Kolkata is excellent, being a part of the GQ (Golden Quadrilateral) between Kokata and Chennai. Whenever I drive on this stretch, I tend to step on the gas and maintain 100 to 140 kmph. But this time, I decided to take it easy and stuck to 80-90 kmph both while going and returning. I found this new ‘strategy’ very comfortable and much less stressful.  You see, most drivers in India haven’t figured how to drive on expressways and one often finds slow moving vehicles hogging the fast lane. So if one is doing high speeds, one either has to slow down and honk till the slow moving truck or car grudgingly lets you pass or overtake from the wrong side. Either way, a reduction in your speed is required which pisses you off.

But if one sticks to 80-90 kmph, not much reduction in speed is required while overtaking and things are more peaceful.

I’m getting old, I guess!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The fantastic 82 km long Allahabad Bypass on NH2

I have had the good fortune of driving a car on the Autobahnen / Motorways / Expressways of Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, U.K., etc. I have also travelled on many Freeways / Expressways / Interstate / Turnpikes in the USA. I have no hesitation in declaring the Allahabad bypass on NH2 as ‘world-class’.

The Allahabad Bypass is a superb 4-lane dual carriageway, 82 km long, passing mostly through sparsely populated areas or agricultural land. Whereas most of the new NH2 (Golden Quadrilateral) more or less follows the same old route as Sher Shah Suri’s Grand Trunk Road, the Allahabad Bypass follows a completely new route through land newly acquired by NHAI for the purpose. As during my last drive on this stretch, I did not come across a single petrol pump and hardly any dhabas. Toll collection has still not started here and any car or bike enthusiast can enjoy high speed driving here free of cost.

Let me share with you the pluses and minuses (in my opinion) of this wonderful stretch of road :

Pluses :

Ø Excellent construction.

Ø Smooth concrete surface throughout.

Ø Four-lane dual carriageway (like the rest of GQ).

Ø As it is passing through wilderness, there is negligible local traffic (like rikshas, bicycles, motorcycles, hand-carts, bullock-carts, tractors, auto-rikshas, pedestrians, etc.).

Ø Between the two sides of the dual-carriageway, there are very few interconnecting ‘cuts’.

Ø A large percentage of this new stretch is fenced off from both sides – so hardly any stray cattle or stray humans.

Ø The stretch of 82 km through wilderness and negligible local traffic is adequately long to give one a nice thrill for 40 minutes or so.


Ø There are far too many curves on this stretch. This handicap is mitigated to some extent because most curves are gentle.

Ø There are too many culverts on this stretch (necessitated due to the terrain). This handicap is again mitigated to a large extent by the excellent build quality which has ensured that the joints between the road and culverts are smooth and bump-free even at high speeds.

Where is it?

Ø When you are driving from Varanasi, you will find the starting point of the Allahabad Bypass exactly 93 km after crossing the Ganga bridge at Varanasi.

Ø When you are driving from Kanpur, you will find the starting point of the Allahabad Bypass exactly 149 km after the Kanpur city exit point at Chakeri.

I could maintain a steady speed band of 120-140 kmph on this stretch without feeling that I was taking any undue risk.

But the Bombay-Poona road, IMHO, is still the best stretch in India (in my limited personal experience, as I am yet to see many other new highways in India) for high speed driving because :

Ø It has very long straight stretches.

Ø It is much wider (6-lane).

Ø It is much better insulated from stray cattle / humans.

Ø The two sides of the highway are far apart mostly, so there is no question of any ‘cut’ or vehicles moving in the wrong direction.

As I have written in an earlier post on this blog, Bombay-Poona road is the only highway in India where I have done 160 kmph on two occasions – once on a friend’s Hyundai Accent Viva and later on my own Swift VDi.

The burning highway at Kujju (near Ramgarh)

As everyone knows, illegal coal mining is rampant in Jharkhand and is carried out openly with total complicity of govt. officials and politicians. The illegally mined coal is always transported on bicycles because, apparently, there is no law against it!

Coal being transported on bicycles at Chutupalu Ghat near Ramgarh

Here is a statement (published in The Telegraph, Jamshedpur edition, dated 06.01.10) made by the CMD of Central Coalfields Ltd. : “Each cycle carries 300 to 400 kg of illegally mined coal and there are an estimated 18,000 cycles carrying coal all over the state. It translates to 7,200 tonnes of illegal coal entering the markets and some sponge iron units everyday”.

See the quantum of coal in one bicycle!

Illegal mining often leads to collapse of the mined cavities and major underground fires. During mid-2009, a portion of the NH33 near Ramgarh suddenly caved in and massive plumes of smoke started emanating from the fissures. Investigations revealed a huge underground coal fire. Thereafter, crores of Rupees of taxpayers’ money was spent by various govt. agencies and the fire was claimed to have been put off. However, during my recent trip to Kanpur and back I saw smoke still coming out of the fissures in the ground near Kujju (see picture below).

Smoke coming out of the ground adjacent to the bypass at Kujju

As far as the NH33 is concerned, a ‘diversion’ of sorts has been made for small vehicles and heavy vehicles have to take a long detour. This diversion is about a km long and starts 15 km after Ramgarh (at a village called Kujju) when one is going towards Hazaribagh. It is completely unpaved and has some steep slopes. I have driven through this bypass several times over the last 6 months or so. Initially, it wasn’t too bad but is now becoming more treacherous because some heavy vehicles have also started using it (obviously, by bribing the police) and their wheels have cut deep furrows in the unpaved and narrow path making it more problematic for small vehicles. Erosion of the path has also deposited a thick layer of dust on the road which starts flying and creates visibility problems whenever any vehicle passes on this road.

Thick cloud of dust creates visibility problems. Accidents are common. But who gives a damn?

Because there was no elected government in Jharkhand for many months, many projects were on hold. Now that the people of Jharkhand have once again entrusted the ‘governance’ of this state to a convicted murderer, projects (including a new stretch of NH33 between Ramgarh and Hazaribagh away from the underground fire zone) should start soon because projects are one of the best ways to make money!

Jamshedpur to Kanpur and back

My wife and I needed to attend the wedding of a nephew in Kanpur and I, always on the lookout for a long-drive opportunity, deliberately procrastinated on buying the train tickets till the car option became a fait accompli !

Even with an average of 22 km per litre of non-premium diesel in my Swift VDi, AC 2-tier travel by Indian Railways works out cheaper than car travel for two people. Only if three or more people travel together, car travel makes economic sense. Apart from the fuel cost, there are substantial additional expenses on board and lodging (hotels) during road trips involving one or more night halts. The point I’m trying to make here is that my long-drive decisions are not economic ones. It’s simply my passion for driving which makes the additional cost, additional risk and a goodly amount of irritation with the unruly Indian traffic worthwhile.

This was my third visit to Kanpur in my Swift VDi in two years. So why do I treat Kanpur almost as a suburb of Jamshedpur (though these two cities are about 900 km apart) as far as car trips are concerned? Mainly because the road is excellent and driving on it is fun. NH 33 from Jamshedpur to Barhi (via Ranchi, Ramgarh and Hazaribagh) is presently in a reasonably good shape and NH2 from Barhi to Kanpur (part of the Golden Quadrilateral project) is superb.

I could comfortably maintain 80-100 kmph on NH33 and 80-140 kmph on NH2. The best stretch was the Allhabad bypass on NH2 on which I’ll write a separate post. The Swift VDi once again performed admirably without a single problem. I love the torque and power of the Multijet engine, especially at low engine RPM. At anything above 1300 RPM or so, the car lurches forward like a wild beast at the slightest pressure on the gas pedal. Another thing I really like about this car are the powerful brakes, so essential in the badlands of India where any vehicle, animal or sub-human may suddenly decide to get on a collision course with you without any warning.

With the steady improvement of Indian roads, car suspensions are generally subjected to relatively less punishment nowadays. However, even on GQ one suddenly comes across some deep potholes or undulations and if one is doing high speeds there isn’t enough reaction time and the suspension gets subjected to huge impacts. On non-GQ highways it is common to find broken stretches everywhere in India. Another pain in India is speed-breakers – they appear without any warning and some of them are designed to be axle-breakers more than speed-breakers. Often, local people / administration put these up overnight without any signage or markings, usually as a knee-jerk reaction to a fatal road accident. After 26,000 km on my Swift I have no hesitation in saying that its suspension is quite good and far better suited to Indian roads as compared to my earlier cars (Maruti 800, Premier 118NE and Maruti Esteem).

Speed-breakers to watch out for on this route

1) The most horrible speed-breakers (4 of them) are at a place called Mandu on NH33. Mandu is 23 km from Ramgarh (towards Hazaribagh).

2) There are another 4 speed-breakers just after Hazaribagh as one is proceeding towards Barhi.

Let me now furnish some more details of our Kanpur trip for the benefit of others planning a similar trip :

Day 1 (while going) : Drove 476 km from Jamshedpur to Mohania and put up in Hotel Kaimur Vihar (phone : 06187-222822) of BSTDC. Mohania is in Bihar, quite close (24 km) to the U.P. border.

Day 2 (while going) : Drove 407 km from Mohania to Kanpur.

Day 1 (while returning) : Drove 625 km from Kanpur to Barhi (where NH2 joins NH33 in Jharkhand) and put up in hotel Highway Inn (phone : 06543-266319).

Day 2 (while returning) : Drove 260 km from Barhi to Jamshedpur.

Some statistics

1) Total distance clocked during Jamshedpur-Kanpur-Jamshedpur trip: 1796 km

2) Average fuel consumption over the entire distance of about 1800 km: 22.50 kmpl (using non-premium diesel; nil AC use; 2 persons; light luggage; includes about 100 km of city driving; 1700 km of highway driving includes hundreds of km at 100-140 kmph)

The tomb of Sher Shah Suri at Sasaram (Bihar). He made significant contribution to building / renewing the original Grand Trunk Road

Distances measured by car’s odometer :

Jamshedpur (Sonari) to Namkum rly. crossing : 128 km

Jamshedpur (Sonari) to Kantatoli Chowk, Ranchi : 131 km

Jamshedpur (Sonari) to Ramgarh : 172 km

Jamshedpur (Sonari) to Kujju bypass : 187 km (bypass about 1 km long)

Jamshedpur (Sonari) to Mandu (4 huge speed-breakers) : 195 km

Jamshedpur (Sonari) to Hazaribagh (Circuit House) : 223 km

Jamshedpur (Sonari) to Barhi Chowk : 259 km

Jamshedpur (Sonari) to NH2 (Barhi) : 260 km

Jamshedpur (Sonari) to Dobhi : 320 km

Jamshedpur (Sonari) to Aurangabad : 381 km

Jamshedpur (Sonari) to Dehri-on-Sone bridge : 404 to 407.5 km (bridge 3.5 km long)

Jamshedpur (Sonari) to Mohania : 476 km

Jamshedpur (Sonari) to Naubatpur (Bihar / U.P. border) : 500 km

Jamshedpur (Sonari) to Varanasi Ganga bridge : 539 km

Jamshedpur (Sonari) to Allahabad bypass starting point : 632 km

Jamshedpur (Sonari) to Allahabad bypass ending point : 714 km (bypass length : 82 km)

Jamshedpur (Sonari) to Rooma (Toyota showroom) : 861 km

Jamshedpur (Sonari) to Kanpur entry point (“Chakeri Indl Area 2” signboard) : 863 km

Kanpur entry point to Rama Devi chowraha, Kanpur : 5 km

Sunrise near Hazaribagh (Jharkhand)

Some more pics taken during this car trip may be seen at