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|24th November 2008, 21:53||#1|
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Ikon 1.6 with weak clutch takes us to Darjeeling and a few forests of North Bengal.
For the records 1900kms over 9 days, but thats hardly the stats to look at.
A few shots to start the story
The Idea was to celebrate my return from exile in the United states of America, a land that many consider a land of umpteen opportunities and hence dreams. Those who personally know me, know how much I actually long for the Indian kind of escapades. Driving through small towns, villages or Hamlets, trying to look for camouflaged speedbreakers, watching out for busses trucks small trucks, mini trucks, all kinds of trucks, then thre are those handcarts, the bicycles, the cycle rickshaws, the dhoti clad village rustic, those chickens, goats that look too delicious even by the side of the road that the idea of knocking one down for dinner is all but too tempting. Then there are those roadside dhaba's, the tea stalls, with sights sounds of various songs flying through the air to reach the ears and ofcourse those fabulous and majestic trucks.
In contrast long drives in US is like selecting a destination, keying it in the GPS, shift to "D" and hold the steering for hours. Just watch out for the "shell" "exxnmobil" logo when you are running low on fuel, look for Denny's, Ihop or MacDonalds when its time to halt to end the monotony or refill the stomach. The land of opportunity cannot provide to me the charms of being and living in India and relishing it the way it is.
So naturally, since I was recently back from my recent deputation from Dallas TX, an excursion had to happen. Destination choice was also a natural choice, it had to be the mountains, it had to include Darjeeling, one of my favourite hillstations apart from Musoorie. Many may argue, that both aren't as good as before, and I will agree with them, but still, I had to go. November-January being the time which does not apeal much to the "Jhalmuri" crowd owing to the lower temperatures, is good for seeing Darjeeling with lesser tourist population. On the otherhand, its a long known fact that Darjeeling presents its best sceneries in this period only. The weather stays generally clear offering the pristine view of the Kanchenjungha.
However, what else other than Darjeeling. My Sister being a forest loving creature, had been longing to visit a few parts of the Gorumora national park. So the trip had to include some forests as well.
So the plan was, to plan as minimum as possible. My father got reservations for the Forest bunglow at Murti on the 19th and 20th of November. Apart from those dates at that point, we decided to take things unplanned. The start date was decided to be the 15th of November, a Saturday.
Coming to my car, Last few weeks that I had started to Use the Ikon regularly, I found the clutch to be a little hard. The clutch was also working at the end of its travel. At 47k it was also time to have the clutch replaced. The Rear shocks were also at the end of its service life. The brakes too aren't upto its maximum efficiency. Braking from triple digits results in a little judder from the pedal, signifying almost the end of the rotor life.
I had decided to postpone the brake replacement, owing to the fact that newer brakes would need time and careful application to let them bed-in properly for a longlife. The shockers too were decided not to be disturbed, given that the harsh roads that we knew the car would encounter inspite of the rosy pictures that people paint about the roads from Howrah/Calcutta to North Bengal (and in North Bengal). We did not want new shockers to be eaten alive by the roads, instead give them the rotten ones!
Baki raha (Left out was), the clutch. On the 12th, I took the car to the Ganges Ford workshop, showed the clutch to the floor manager, he immediately agreed that the clutch was weak. He started advising me that simple bleeding wont help, the clutch assembly with the release bearing has to be replaced. Having told him that I havn't brought the car for a simple bleeding job, asked him to get the job dOne. He gets back to me after 5 mins saying that they dont have the clutch assembly in stock, whoaa. Tell him about my journey to be undertaken. He tells me, he will bleed the clutch and it will hold out fine!!
It also had a small leak at the silencer-inlet pipe interface, the sound of which did not bother me, but the prospect about the metal giving away making the whole silencer assembly kissing the ground did not amuse me. So enquired if a small spot welding job can be done for the time. As they are, he was again advising me as to why I should change the whle silencer assembly with immediate effect. Tell him, I will do it, but after the trip, for the time being, I need a welding job. They, obviously do not do things like those. It hurts their morale. They have fantastic 4-post lifts and all, yet they cant do such lowly acts. Asked them to do a cooling system and electrical checkup.
Result, I just got the exhaust pipe suspenders inspected and drove out from the workshop with as many problems on it, as there were on its way in. Drove out to the mechanic where the 1100d is attended to , and in 10 mins the exhaust was welded and also a support to the body was made to be removed later. He was also very enthusiastic about finding me a clutch assembly from a local shop and get the job done in a day. But this time, I decided to act a spoilsport. Whats life without a little uncertainty.
I knew I had to nurture, the brakes, the suspension, the clutch was an additional item on that list, given the slopes the car would do on full load at Darjeeling (more on that coming later).
But bigger problem was convincing my father that he needs to take a break! Ever since my return, his availability has been very limited. A little marketing about the opportunity to spend quality time with his grand-daughter in the part of the world we really love for all its aspects (from scenery to food), took care of that.
THE DRIVE TO DARJEELING
DAY 1 - Saturday 15th November
15h November 2008 at 4:10am the Ikon 1.6 NXT rolled its wheels from our Howrah home with 5.5 passengers on board and a boot filled to the max. Driving through the empty streets, the weight of the car was making itself felt. To top that, the extra bump and rebound due to the heavy load at the back.
A little glimpse of the sag at the rear.
A closer view
Driving in the wee hours of the morning through, what would be, the busiest portions of the town later in the day was fantastic. It also warned me of the how much lowered the ground clearance was due to the weight, by means of a couple of bumps. Soon we were driving on the Durgapur expressway and we reached Panagarh, 149kms away from our home in just about 2 hours without even making the speedo touch 110kmph once.
Driving in the dark morning hours was great, the Truck drivers saw no issues with keeping to the left lane, as there wasn't any local traffic. A few that were on the right lane needed a little blipping of the lights and they would move over double fast, in a very disciplined manner. But the scenario started changing after the first light of the morning started to appear near Burdwan. A few busses, pickup trucks and Tata Ace's were starting to appear. The Trucks had to move to the right to avoid shredding momentum. The headlight beams were not having much of an effect. However, I am not advocating night travel through the highways. The visibility wasn't great, the roads weren't illuminated, there weren't any reflectors on the central lines. I was just banking on the fact that the surface has been great so far and it will be.
A little flashback into the past, we were once hurtling down an expressway at night only to find at the last moment that the road had ended and there was a diversion to the other flank of the road into the existing 2-way bridge. The Diversion sign we found was actually pointing to the sky. Had we been a little late, we would have been in the river. On another occasion, at the last moment we saw a figure dart across our car, the apparition did not judge our speed well and we needed last moment swerving. He was also wearing dark clothes. So although we have driven many miles int he dark, we do not recommend it, but having said that, we actually enjoy the element of mystique it offers.
We had some breakfast at Panagarh and then left the expressway to head towards Moregram, another 150kms way. The road this time was "khatarnak". There would be camouflaged potholes, each quite deep. My father who was driving on that stretch was able to carefully place the car in a few of those from three digit speeds. Aroung 20kms from Moregram, a place called Nalhati, the road was in shambles. Add to that there were a few speedbreakers, one of which,our car hit at 30kmph (braking from 90). Both me and my father are aware that if we anticipate hitting a speedbreaker at speed, we brake till the last moment and release the brakes just moments before actually hitting it, freeing up the front suspension.
However that 150kms to was done in 2hours 10mins. But after reaching Moregram, my father was able to see why I was adamant about taking the Panagarh route even after being around 50kms longer. The Road from Kolkata to Dalkhola, NH34 was almost non existant. It was surprising how a road of the importance of it being a "NH" was in such a state.
The lowered car wasn't liking it, add to that, my father decided that he would not like to drive from there. We stopped at the BP company owned pump just after the Moregram crossing, had some tea, and we were soon on our way. In the meantime a Truck driver said that the road will be better after 10kms, and abslutely smooth after Malda, around 100kms from there, to be our lunch stop.
The first 10 kms we could only manage a going rate ot 30-40kmph at max through the craters. Sometimes, taking the roadside burm was smoother. From then on the road was indeed smoother but with a lot of Mid-day traffic. The stretch from Farakka to Malda being particularly congested. But 2 hours (exactly) later we were in Malda. Tanked up at an Indianoil pump, 403km's at 26 litres of Petrol. It was amazing, with that load and those roads. At Malda, we lunched at the Purbanchal Hotel and an Hour later we were back on the road, anticipating a good surface and hence my Dad at the wheel. I was like frowning. This happens all the time. I dont get to drive on the best roads. To my joy, the roads did not turn to being nicer.
Malda to Raiganj the roads were in various layers. However there weren't any rattles from the car apart from the rear tyre hitting the rear bumper on the rebound and hence we had to be very careful. Moreover we had a whole trip ahead of us. But Raiganj onwards the road was better somewhat, he decided to use a Qualis as his pilot car. Soon we were at Dalkhola, 120kms from Malda, in around 2 hours (again). Being static at a railway crossing for quite sometime, I got behind the wheel again. But this time, the moment we turned right at Dalkhola, to meet NH31, 4-laned expressway. The Revcounter danced a couple of times to set the speedometer needle to where I love it to be at. Despatched a few Bolero's and Qualis's that earlier almost dispatched us as they treated the bad roads till thereon with utter nonchalance. But before we draw any conclusions from the last statement, let me clarify, we were actually fighting the last rays of light, which just went out with 50kms still left to reach Bagdogra.
We took a small tea-stop and driving got a little tougher due to the countless diversions, and totally unmarked expressway still in the process of being made. But thanks to a Wagon-R that came charging at me like no ones business and took a diversion so confidently, that I decided to use the revs to catch his tail and keep ourselves there. He was touching 120-130 at places and I was just behind him. Seeing how easily I was catching him up all the time, he decided to let me overtake, a little blip of the headlights and he knew I was asking him to carry on ahead of me and not racing him. Similar experiences continued through the whole trip where the torquey engine helped us in many ways.
The confident Wagon R despatched everything in its path. Towards the end of it he was also indicating diversions. One of the first signs of the helpful people of North Bengal. We reached Bagdogra at 6:25pm, a total travel duration of 14hours and 15 minutes including stops (3hours) and holdups (around 20 minutes). My Daugher not feeling too well, she refused to take any food for some reason was also developing a little temperature. Dad decided that we stop at Bagdogra itself for the night. We would start early morning for Darjeeling, a great decision as we were to find later.
Drove to Hotel Marina's (With a Glenary's bakery attached to it), but they were full that night. Someone recomended a Hotel City Plaza. The rooms were quite okay, food too.
cntd...(phew...so much to write!!)
Last edited by 1100D : 24th November 2008 at 21:55.
|The following BHPian Thanks 1100D for this useful post:|
|24th November 2008, 22:26||#2|
Join Date: Aug 2006
Thanked: 23 Times
Wow!!! @1100: a very nite write....Im waiting for more and yeah, some more pics definately.
The rear suspension on your car really needs a change...the look of the car lowered so low, scares the hell out of me.
|24th November 2008, 22:48||#4|
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Bangalore (the city of modded cars) !!
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There is something about wild animals that always leaves me speechless. Been planning to get into the wild for a while now. Loved the pic of the elephant, would like to experience the excitement atleast once in a lifetime and live to tell the tale .
Eagerly awaiting for the rest of the travelogue. But I must admit, traveling such dangerous sections with a weal clutch was not a wise choice IMO. You could have gotten stranded in the middle of nowhere, that too with family on board. I have been there, its not something I would want to experience again.
|24th November 2008, 22:52||#5|
Senior - BHPian
Join Date: Dec 2006
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Oh boy those are definitley some really nice pictures and amazing write up my friend i will wait for the rest of the story and whats the deal with the wild tusker on the road ? where did you encounter that and you seem to be pretty close ....
|24th November 2008, 23:08||#6|
Senior - BHPian
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hey man! nice write up. i am very excited when somebody visits my hometown and enjoys it. but next time do give me a call atleast before comming.
please this thread deserves more images.
I guess you took the rohini hill climb. Now the older pankhabari climb is for down traffic only.
I prefer the old hill cart road though, 25 kms more but very nostalgic with railway tracks beside.
|24th November 2008, 23:11||#7|
Join Date: Nov 2006
Thanked: 3,480 Times
Anirban, nice pics and write-up.
The car's really squatting quite low with the heavy load!
|24th November 2008, 23:46||#8|
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However, the boot was filled to the brim with luggage, toolkit, footpump etc. Since there were 9 days through diverse climates and practically, luggage-wise, 6 people on board, the luggage factor was bigger than we anticipated. To our family it was just a nostalgia of an old time when we used to head out the highway at the drop of a hat, that made it.
The stance of the unladen car does not indicate any sag and thats what gave a false impression.
But then, we did not bottom out, the bumper never touched the ground.
Then got used to the weight in a couple of kms. Now I am having to readjust my driving style with an over enthusiastic car!! (Which still thinks its carrying load and needs to run long!!!)
Infact, visiting a forest itself is overpowering. One always needs to be reminded within, that Man isn't part of the normal food chain of any predators!!
On the otherhand since we were seeing this as an opportunity as a family event after a long long time, we decided to go for it. If it gets stuck there was always an option of hiring something to get people to comfort while the problems are sorted. As the story will unfold you'll know, nothing was actually left to chance. Doesn't the story now seem a little damp, given that there was always a "plan B"!
Infact, since my Dad was accompanying us, he was our "Plan B" the previously mentioned "Plan B" being the "Plan C".
Last edited by 1100D : 24th November 2008 at 23:48.
|24th November 2008, 23:52||#9|
Join Date: May 2007
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The moregram stretch is bad due to the heavy load of the lorry with stones. They always drive over loaded trucks and after moregram again they will take right and go toward Kolkata. so the whole route spoiled.
|25th November 2008, 10:04||#11|
Senior - BHPian
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: San Francisco, CA, USA
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Excellent Start Anirban. Eager to see more soon. nice pics as well. I know there are better in store.
It was a bold decision with a hard clutch. I recently had a clutch overhaul and I detected that just when I was leaving for a TBHP meet.
|25th November 2008, 12:45||#12|
Join Date: Dec 2007
Thanked: 42 Times
Very nice travelogue and even better pictures of your handsome car.
The side skirts look good on the car.Were they purchased from the ford dealer??
Please let me know the tyre size you are currently using on you Ikon and the make.
|25th November 2008, 13:28||#15|
Join Date: May 2008
Location: LKO MUM HYD
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I particularly like the close up on the red panda ( have seen them only in pics till date) and your black beauty with the rail bridge in the back drop...
I m sure there would be more pics to follow! Thanks for sharing!
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