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Old 7th March 2009, 01:18   #1
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Default Danny-The Zen Mechanic Of The Champavat Hills

A travel story with a difference: In my novice days of hill driving in 2003, I take off on a trip to Champavat and Pithoragarh in Uttaranchal right after the rainy season, with wife and parents in tow. Instead of going the usual way via Bhowali...We (It should actually be I ) decide to take another route via Tanakpur which seems shorter on the map. The first part of the road is smooth and it seems like a great decision...until the road emerges from a forest onto a river side with only one half of a bridge across the raging river. The rest has been washed away.

Some trucks are parked on the side, and a few are wading through the torrential water with difficulty. In my bravado and unwillingness to turn back, I take the car into the river and am half way through when it lurches in the middle with water flowing on all sides...and the wheels keep spinning on the smooth rocks below. I keep gunning the engine to no avail. After a few minutes, some truck drivers come in and help me push/navigate out. Again the mood is upbeat and I ignore the slight burnt smell dismissing it as rubber meeting the road! Unfortunately there is almost no road after that and for many kilometers I am riding in first gear with a full car load of family members, car inclined sideways at 45 degrees, one set of wheels in the ruts left by truck wheels and the other on the raised part to avoid wiping out my undercarriage..

Landslide ridden hills

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A 'very good' section of the road. The bad parts were 100% worse than this

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I can feel the car lose some power so I park it for a while to cool it down. Restart again, everything feels fine and we reach Champavat and check into a hotel. Next morning half way to Lohaghat I feel the loss of power again and then the car refuses to pull anymore. Putting wife and mom in a bus back to Champavat, my dad and me head to Lohaghat where we get hold of the only tow truck guy in town, who comes out with us and tows us to the local mechanics 'garage' on the outskirts of town. There I am introduced to 'Danny', a scrawny taciturn Nepali with a bidi dangling from his lips.

Tow Truck

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The 'Garage'

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The old fiat and the half open motorcycle parked outside do not inspire much confidence especially since my Ford Ikon Zxi was a 'modern' car, not seen too much in those hills. However as Danny gets to work I quickly realise that I am in the presence of a master. Skillfully he disassembles parts with his bag of ancient tools and diagonises it as a burnt out clutch plate and specified the parts needed. (even though he has never worked on a ford before).

Danny with his bag of tools

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I head back to Lohaghat to find an STD booth and call my driver (and man friday) in Delhi. The driver contacts Ford service and gets onto a bus in the evening with the replacement parts and a ford mechanic with the promise of reaching us the next morning. Given the road conditions that turns out to be not the next afternoon! I spend the rest of the day hanging out with Danny in his garage watching him diagnose a Maruti Omni just by listening to the engine and fix a motorcycle brake with the ease of a master crafstman. We talk about nature and people, the beauty of the hills in winter and how modern times are changing life in the hills. We chat away till sunset and I quietly appreciate my time with this wise soul.

The next morning Danny and Raman (a hotshot cocky ford factory trained youngster) get started on the car. Raman though talented soon realises who is the boss and it evolves into a beautiful session of a master and apprentice at work. They improvise on tools when they cant find any, hammer two tools to create the right one when needed and in a few hours the car is ready and humming.

Forging tools

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Draining Pan

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There is an air of elation all around but Danny is not done yet. Unsolicited, he takes the car to the side of the garage, switches on his pressure pump (I am quite sure it was a diesel water pump ) and soaps and cleans the car until it is sparkling in the mountain sun.

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I ask Danny about his fees and he looks up and says "200 rupees". I smile, give him what I feel is his real due and we continue on our ways after a firm handshake.

Since that day, I have driven many more kilometers and navigated many more and much worse mountain roads and streams...but always in my heart are fond memories of Champavat and Danny, the Zen Master Mechanic of the hills.
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Old 7th March 2009, 11:18   #2
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Excellant Genesis. I doff my hat to Danny. Shall remember this name when I plan to go to Pithorgarh/Lohaghat, where my man friday's village is located. He has invited me to a wedding. I know who to look for if and when my Scorpio plays up in the hills...
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Old 7th March 2009, 11:40   #3
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@genesis :Thats a nice travel story. Wish we can find such hardworking Dannys in other parts of the country too. There may be a debate on this later. But I have personally not experienced such humble guys in my place (have changed 7 mechanics). So hats off to Mr.Danny, MAY YOUR TRIBE INCREASE. Thanks genesis for bringing such a nice person to our notice (Even though some of us may not travel to that part of the country in our vehicles).

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Old 7th March 2009, 19:51   #4
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Loved this story. Beautiful country, beautiful people! It's really difficult to find honest and diligent people like Danny these days.
I'd love to visit Uttaranchal / Garhwal sometime. Just read about its beauty in books.
The picture with the rusted Padmini and Jeep does it for me. Brings back memories of my childhood when big garages were few and far between.
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Old 24th March 2009, 17:10   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gd1418 View Post
Excellant Genesis. I doff my hat to Danny. Shall remember this name when I plan to go to Pithorgarh/Lohaghat, where my man friday's village is located. He has invited me to a wedding. I know who to look for if and when my Scorpio plays up in the hills...
I too will be visiting Lohaghat soon; wifey spent three years of her childhood here, and wants to re-visit those days. I will meet Danny and tell him that you still remember him :-)

\N
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Old 24th March 2009, 17:29   #6
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Lovely story. Hardwork and honesty still dwelves in small towns and villages. I miss my childhood days of growing up in smaller towns across Rajasthan. Mumbai is so mechanical.

We should in fact have thread listing good mechanics across locations. What say mods? And who better than Genesis to start the thread. He has introduced us to Danny.

Last edited by dushmish : 24th March 2009 at 17:31. Reason: Added a line
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Old 24th March 2009, 17:33   #7
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Kudos for Danny and thank you for reminding us to appreciate that knowledge from experience is more important than degrees.
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Old 25th March 2009, 10:34   #8
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Thank you Genesis for the lovely tribute to Danny! Was such a pleasant read!
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Old 25th March 2009, 23:53   #9
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@ntomer: If you visit Lohaghat please do stop the workshop if you drive there. (There is only one road in and out ).

It is actually on my list to go there again. Almost went there from Munisiyari a year later, but there was a landslide on the way (calls for another story).

Now I am no longer in Delhi but Mumbai...so slightly tougher...but I know that one day destiny will prevail
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Old 26th March 2009, 13:35   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aditya View Post
Loved this story. Beautiful country, beautiful people! It's really difficult to find honest and diligent people like Danny these days.
I'd love to visit Uttaranchal / Garhwal sometime. Just read about its beauty in books.
I wish Danny has a access to read this thread. Natural Beautiful word/item are vanishing day by day...
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Old 26th March 2009, 14:38   #11
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Originally Posted by Aditya View Post
The picture with the rusted Padmini and Jeep does it for me.
Just the same for me too. That picture talks! But for the butt of the Ikon there, this shot could have been taken anytime in the seventies.

The setting is right out of an old hindi movie.
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Old 26th March 2009, 15:47   #12
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Very entertaining read. It reminds me of a day in 1986 when we were somewhere in Punjab in our 1966 Fiat and the rear right axle came off from the differential with the tyre. We had a local tractor machanic do some jugaad and fix the car so we could reach Delhi and find appropriate parts. We then drove all the way to Delhi. It took 2 days to fix the differential. But thanks to the local jugaad mechanic who used some tractor bearings and some modified mechanism to get the car moving.
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Old 26th March 2009, 16:12   #13
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Now that was a really nice travelogue with a difference, really enjoyed it & thanks for sharing. Alas, Danny is part of a rare & dying breed, wish there were more of him around. Oh - and not to forget the Ikon 1.6 ZXI which spurred us on with confidence to take all in our stride!

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Old 26th March 2009, 18:53   #14
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The condition of the road(if you can call it that) in the second pic made me

Hats-off to danny. This is the best tribute one can give to such a simple & honest guy who knows & does his job!
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