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Old 16th June 2007, 15:21   #1
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Default Nail in the tyre on Pankhabari Road

4.30 am in Darjeeling is not a pleasant time to wake up - any time of the year. Even if you do manage to do this seemingly impossible task, the sleepy hotel boy will just unlock the main gate and let you out but not give you even a cup of tea, let alone breakfast. You are supposed to have settled the bill the previous night. Otherwise they won't let you out also.
But we had to do precisely that because we were going to drive back to Kolkata and that 700 km stretch is an old highway - not GQ. So driving time would be easily more than 14 hours (subsequently it took us 17 hours).
Apart from the less congested road a side benefit of waking up early in Darjeeling is you are more or less assured of a view of the mighty Kanchenjungha rising above the cloud.
So here we were - me, my wife and four year old daughter driving down the pleasant hill road of Darjeeling, with Kanchenjungha as the only witness behind us.
We were driving gingerly down the snaking road. The world was perfectly at peace with itself. We even stopped near a stream to wash the car and in fact Monisha was so excited and happy she offered to do the job while my daughter and I happily pointed out all the dirt on the windscreen.
Just before Kurseong I spotted the narrow Pankhabari Road and took the diversion.
Those who don't know - Pankhabari Road is notorious for being narrow, extremely steep with bad surface. Vehicles are known to stop and slide back near those bends, unable to climb up.
But it goes through a beautiful desolate forest and some of the most well known and picturesque tea gardens in the world like Castleton and Makaibari.
Normal drivers avoid this road. In fact the administration has banned up traffic on this road. You can officially only drive down. Private vehicles do take this road because it cuts the distance to Siliguri by some 20 km. I took it because it goes through beautiful country.
Just after the Makaibari Tea Estate, there is a small grocery shop that also sells warm tea. So we stopped. Parked the car by the side of the road and were enjoying the warm tea when a brilliant idea flashed through my mind - let me check the tyre?
The steering was turned to the right and so the back portion of the front left tyre was quite visible outside the arch. I just had a cursory glance at it and "oh my God - what is that shiny little thing stuck there?"

I realised it was the head of a very small nail. The nail was sitting pretty there, almost smiling at me. Neatly stuck. It's really a small nail. The size that street side cobblers use when your sole needs to be kept in place.

My first reaction was "Monisha give me those pliers. Let me pull it out." The pliers came out in a flash and I was about to start work on pulling it out. Suddenly a voice inside me said "don't". I was too scared to even check the pressure. But the tyre obviously didn't look flat.
Those who don't know - Esteems now come with tubeless tyres and I don't have much experience with tubeless tyres except that last time when I discovered a flat I had to junk the tyre and get a new one.

I thought probably the nail was so small that it has not been able to penetrate the rubber completely. I have no clue how thick the rubber is in these tyres.
Anyway, I kept on driving and enjoyed the road immensely but with that constant prick of the nail at the back of my mind. After reaching the plains I mastered enough courage to look at the pressure. It was about 28. Perfect for the warm tyres. I checked the pressure once again after some distance and it had not gone down one bit. I was fully convinced that the nail was indeed too small to penetrate.
Finally the day after reaching home I called up the Maruti mechanic (my only guide with cars). He said what's the worry ? pull it out and see what happens. So I did.

And hissssssssssssss. All the air came out.

I took out the tubeless repair kit. Smiling. Now is my first chance to use this gadget that I bought the day I took delivery of the car but could never use it. Remembered the advice of the guy who sold it and started to work on making the original hole larger with the needle like thing. It just wouldn't go in. I almost stood on the damn needle in an effort to push it in. It wouldn't budge. So I tried to hammer it in. It was just as useless and the needle started slipping away. I gave up the dream of fixing my own tyre. Certain things are best left to the people who know how to do it, I finally realised.
Later the tyre repair shop owner told me if you see a nail stuck in a tubeless radial let it be there. (Please cross check this with someone you trust before ever actually doing it.)
By the way - one thing I realised. The lever that comes with the jack from Maruti these days is hopeless. It is so small that it is virtually impossible to use it. It took me close to half an hour to raise the vehicle two inches off the ground. Maruti is taking cost cutting to ridiculous heights.
I used to replace tyres in my 2002 Zen in 15 minutes flat (pun intended). The lever with which you turn the jack used to be much longer, giving you better control.
Anyway. I hope you guys enjoyed reading it and learnt a few things about tubeless tyres. I am glad I listened to the inner voice in that desolate place.
Sudipto
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Old 16th June 2007, 19:30   #2
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Good to know you reached home safe. I too am a bit confused with the tubeless tyres I got with my car 3 months ago. I too have bought a repair kit for Rs 400, but so far never had a chance to use it.
I wish other members in this forum educate us on the best approach to follow if a nail gets stuck in a tubeless tyre. I agree that leaving it there can prick your conscience constantly.
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Old 16th June 2007, 20:51   #3
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Nice post Sudipto da, I know a friend of mine did Blr - Mangalore - Blr, 4 times with a embedded nail in his tyre....
And ya u did the right of not playing around with the tyre in the middle of a journey, for tubeless tyres it should be at a tyre repair shop or at home as u rightly did !!

Abhi
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Old 16th June 2007, 23:21   #4
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Sudipto,

Great presence of mind, saved you a lot of trouble.

I am intrigued by this Pankhabari Road - what are the coordinates for the Kurseong end and the Siliguri finish? I have driven to Darjeeling twice before and have a vague understanding of the road.

How was the road to Kolkata - someone had written saying that the GQ section (East-West) road work is on between Dalkola and Siliguri, but how is the rest of the route, especially the good old baddies like Raiganj and Kishanganj?

Kumar
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Old 16th June 2007, 23:36   #5
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I have driven thousands of miles with nails in the tire. Just keep a battery operated inflater handy though. Don't remove the nail until you go to tyre center for fixing the flat.

Couple of years back I found a nail in both the rear tires. You can get it fixed when you time and definitely before a long trip. That's one great advantage of tubeless tyre.
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Old 17th June 2007, 00:25   #6
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for those who have not driven in pankhabari road, if u come to darj plz use this road. its is one of the most demanding roads to drive. i drove on it uphill in 1998 , and to tell you the gradient, i will narrate an incident:

i was driving alone , going uphill, alone in 3k kms old then new shape maruti esteem. at 1 point,, i had to stop because of stupidity of a jeep driver, even though since i was going up hill i had the right of way.
so to resume the journey, iput the car in 1st, pulled hand brake, dropped clutch and put down the handbrake , the car stalled.
then i did it again ., what happened was the front wheels started to spin as i revved giving loads of smoke, and there was no obstruction to any wheels. i admit that the road was mildly wet. that spinning was coz of the gradient. i let the car roll down backwards carefully and started again..whew
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Old 17th June 2007, 07:14   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dr.abhijeet View Post
so to resume the journey, iput the car in 1st, pulled hand brake, dropped clutch and put down the handbrake , the car stalled.
then i did it again ., what happened was the front wheels started to spin as i revved giving loads of smoke, and there was no obstruction to any wheels. i admit that the road was mildly wet. that spinning was coz of the gradient. i let the car roll down backwards carefully and started again..whew
What is the best practice to avoid? Keep 2 brick/stone pieces in the car and put it in the rear end and start off...

Abhi
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Old 17th June 2007, 09:12   #8
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AAh! The infamous PANKABARI Road!! They say its a shortcut to darjeeling... I've been to darjeeling lots of times and mostly via this road as all my drivers would say this is the shortest! Very challenging road and very scenic too from driving through the tea-estates in the beginning till kurseong!
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Old 17th June 2007, 09:24   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by akroy View Post
What is the best practice to avoid? Keep 2 brick/stone pieces in the car and put it in the rear end and start off...

Abhi
Ideally, on a steep slope, the best thing to do is to slide back (however difficult it may be) to less-steep territory and start the climb again. Else you may end up burning up your clutch plate.

Kumar
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Old 17th June 2007, 09:53   #10
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Sudipto, its always enchanting to read a well-worded writeup
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Old 17th June 2007, 10:01   #11
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Sudipto, very involving account!

Quote:
Originally Posted by hvkumar View Post
Ideally, on a steep slope, the best thing to do is to slide back (however difficult it may be) to less-steep territory and start the climb again. Else you may end up burning up your clutch plate.

Kumar
Kumar, when you say slide, do you mean you allow the car to roll back on it's own accord until a less steep section? Or do you mean slide in the literal sense, when even with the brakes on, the car actually slides backwards due to the gradient and/or wet surface?
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Old 17th June 2007, 10:22   #12
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well the idea is to get the vehicle to a less gradient part of the road so that it can get a good start and pickup.
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Old 17th June 2007, 10:47   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hvkumar View Post
Ideally, on a steep slope, the best thing to do is to slide back (however difficult it may be) to less-steep territory and start the climb again. Else you may end up burning up your clutch plate.

Kumar
yeah that is what we do, except we roll rather than slide.. i stay in gangtok , and u cant avoid brutal clutch slipping in hills, even after heavy use of hand brake
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Old 17th June 2007, 13:48   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dr.abhijeet View Post
yeah that is what we do, except we roll rather than slide.. i stay in gangtok , and u cant avoid brutal clutch slipping in hills, even after heavy use of hand brake

Yes, what I meant is to go back down, with engine running, and preferably in reverse gear. This may not be easy in some steep sections, especially where the road is curvy, in which case what I try to do is to swerve the car aross the road so that if possible, I can try the climb again. In such steep climbs - you can encounter many such in Ladakh region - I have my co-passenger get off, ready with stone/wood block to put under the wheel in case I am unable to stop while reversing down.

On a couple of occasions, I had serious trouble on snow slopes (Chang La and Baralacha la, Ladakh region) where the tyres had poor traction - I had to reverse, go back quite a long way (upto 100-200 mtrs) before I could make it up again with fresh power (after 2-3 times, you get it right). I found that going up in a transverse fashion helps get better climbability. Despite all these techniques, I could not climb up the slopes leading to Marismik La (highest pass in the world), had to give up 21 kms before after Phobrang.

Kumar

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Old 17th June 2007, 15:09   #15
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Hi Kumar
Nice meeting you here once again (hungryjack on yahoo group). Pankhabari Road, first of all, is officially one-way now. It's supposed to be for going down only (that is Darjeeling to Sukna). But some private vehicles do disregard this and go up to save 20 km or so. I have no clue how much the fine is if caught.
After Siliguri Darjeeling Morh, you are going straight with the narrow gauge track on your right hand side. Near Sukna you turn left (this road also goes to Mirik). After a few km there is a fork - the left one goes to Mirik and the straight one goes to Pankhabari, Makaibari and then Kurseong.
While coming down from Darjeeling, just before entering Kurseong watch out for a narrow lane going down on your right hand side. That's Pankhabari Road. If in doubt ask anyone for the road to Castleton Tea Estate or even Pankhabari Road.
They had repaired this road in 2005 and made the turning corners slightly wider making it much easier than what it used to be before but it is gradually slipping back to its old shape.
Kumar - if you want some challenging driving opportunities in the Darjeeling hills, try going to any of the tea estates. Some tea estates are now offering guest house facilities for tourists. If you want details and phone numbers do let me know. It's a very different experience to be sure.
Hope your confluence project is progressing.
It was me who last told you about the current state of NH34. The road is reasonable now and we averaged about 50 kmph. About 60-70 km of the East West Corridor is complete (except the bridge sections) - Dalkhola to Islampur (through Kishenganj). Before Bagdogra work is going on. Rest is good old highway. But the old troublesome and notorious spots like Kaliachak or Raiganj are chak a chak now. The road between Baharampur and Farakka (through Dhulian) is pretty bad.
This entire scenario may change after monsoon and floods. Not "may" perhaps. It will.
Sudipto
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