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 ! !  


RF NERDS said...

Thank you:) Lots of things to learn��

Vincent Bagul said...

Never switch off engine while climbing down the ghats. The brake system may fail.

ashish ashish said...

I have just purchased dsire Vdi Let me know about the engine which istarts in morning should run for few minutes or can go to the ride as istarts did it effect engine anything

Debashis Mukherjee said...

Dear Ashish,

You can start driving immediately after starting the car, but accelerate gradually and spend a little more time than usual at lower gears (1st, 2nd) to allow the engine to warm up. However, if you are in a cold place (temperature below 5 deg C) it is better to idle the engine for 5 minutes before starting driving.