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From India to Myanmar by Mahindra Scorpio celebrating Mahatma Gandhi’s legend

POSTED BY Yamin Vong ON 29 May 2019

Celebrating Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th anniversary with an adventure drive from India to Myanmar

By Zaini Shaarani.

 

When you travel, one of the gifts are lifelong bonds of friendship. It was thus that I was invited by some old friends to join a join a once-in-a-lifetime expedition.

 

“It’s an expedition across Northern India , Bangladesh and Myanmar. Twenty three days on the road to celebrate the 150th  anniversary of Mahatma Ghandi,” said Captain (rtd) Raaj, this great old friend of mine.

 

“It’s organised by the Kalinga Motor Sports Club of Orissa and the sponsorship deal is that we’ll be using 10 new 4×4 Mahindra Scorpio and staying in OYO hotels, added Surpaal Singh.

 

Captain Raaj and Surpal are comrade-in arms who operate a tour company with two specialities.

 

Surpal takes charge of the more traditional tours like visiting famous places, temples and historical sites while Raaj does the outdoor adventure trips, – overland expeditions with 4×4 and motorbikes.

 

Both of them regularly come to Malaysia. Surpal has even taken part in an off road competition, the Port Dickson Sand Challenge. Raaj had followed my overland group from KL to Cambodia. And I had borrowed Raaj’s Enfield to do a solo bike trip tp Rajasthan two yrs ago.

 

The influential Kalinga Motor Sports ClubInvolving also got the  Ministry of Transport, India (Highway Department – much like our JPJ) to celebrate their month-long road safety campaign in conjunction with the 150th year Mahatma Gandhi Anniversary expedition.

 

We were given MOT escorts, especially in busy cities and were excluded from paying tolls. Although this gesture was greatly appreciated, the “downside” was that we had to stop at each and every toll booth for a small reception, with tea and cookies and some speeches and lots of garlands and handshakes. It is something we Malaysians are not used to in our expeditions. In bigger cities we were invited to the state or regional MOT headquarters. Often for lunch.

 

The exedition flagged off from New Delhi on 4th of Februari 2019 and we drove to locations where Gandhi had his peaceful demonstrations, to his ashrams where he planned his strategies, places where he was imprisoned by the british, his birthplace and the place where he was finally assasinated.

 

Our exedition vehicle was the very capable and powerful Mahindra Scorpio. The engine is the new Hawk 2.2 commonrail turbo diesel mated to a 5-speed manual or a 6 speed auto gearbox. Both are made in-house by Mahindra which is the world’s largest maker of tractors. By the way, the Mahindra Scorpio is also India’s top selling SUV.

 

A humourous turn of events

 

Our convoy was in disarray coming out of the jam and entering the toll gate where (as usual) there will be a small reception. I look forward to the free tea and cookies, but did not expect a funny turn of events.

I was in car number 7 – the camera / video car. Sunny the cameraman was out taking pictures and as the convow moved slowly, he would jump into whatever car that  has space for him. In this mess car no.7 became the lead car and was followed by the others. The official lead car no.1 with the convoy leader was somewhere behind. As we entered the toll booth, with car 7 in the lead, there were groups of toll workers bearing garlands.

Lady driver Pangkaja was driving. Sunny’s seat next to her was empty and I was seated in the back seat alone.

As we entered the toll gate, the garland-bearing staff all congregated to my car.

Here is a lady driver and the “big Boss” in the back seat. So dozens of people were clamouring to garland “the Boss”. They heaped garlands over my head and I was screaming to Pangkaja, who by this time had gotten out of the car,  to tell them that I’m not  the boss. She’s completely no help as she was completely doubled over laughing on the sidewalk.

Finally car no. 1 arrived and they had no more garlands. So the staff had to come back to me, hands clasped together in apology to take back the garlands.

 

Because the troad transport dept came along as escorts in the convoy, we had these garlanding and tea ceremonies at each toll gate we come to. Sometimes there would be speeches, if a senior official is present. There would always be tea and cookies and the ever present garlands.

 

WORST TRAFFIC JAM

Pune ke Wardha, Maharashtra state . 631 km, 15 hours.

11/2   Wardha – Jabalpur, Madya Pradesh state. 353km 8 hrs.

Worst traffic jam I have ever seeen anywhere: from Pune to Wadha to Jabalpur. Four hours to clear a line of  (mostly) trucks that stretched 27 km. This despite having a JPJ escort. I see truckers camping and coooking by the roadside.

 

I have been on many expeditions previously. With the Petronas adventure team, I did             10 years of overland expeditions, one of them (Istanbul-KL) on a motorbike. This one in                 India, although of a different type to that of PAT, was still a gem. Being able to see the                 countryside and best of all to make such fantastic great friends.

Adventure by train

 

I left for India on Jan 27 by the cheapest flight I could find, which happens to be from KL to Kochi. Kerala, return. From Kochi I took a local flight to Delhi. I had intented to take the train, of which I am very familiar with. But tickets were all sold out. However, I managed to get  train tickets from Kolkata to Kochi to catch the flight back to KL.

Direct train tickets from Kolkata to Kochi was not available. I had to transit in Bangalore. A 39 hour journey.

From Bangalore, another train to Kochi. 20 hours.

All the hours does not bother me. I wanted to see the countryside.

Many cities in India had their names changed. For example Madras became Chennai, Bangalore became Bengaluru, Culcutta is now Kolkata and Cochin became Kochi. I had been to india numerous times before, but that was in the 90’s. Indian cities of the 21st century is  now 10 or 20 times bigger. As such, many cities have multiple airports and multiple train ststions.

I got to Bengaluru (which had 3 train stations) with no mishap. The next stage was to Kochi.

After 20 hours the train stopped at a big station called Ernakullam city. Then it went on to Ernakullam west. Then Ernakullam South. I tried to check with Mr. Google, but Mr. Ananda Krishna had cancelled my Maxis line for late payment. So no help there. And none of the Indians around me can speak english.

Train must be late. No Kochi station yet.

2 hours later a conductor did his rounds to check tickets. He saw mine and asked, sirrr, why you still on this train? I told him I’m going to Kochi. Then the entire cabin erupted and started pointing back to where the train had come from. Ernakullam is Kochi. I had to get off at Ernakullam City!

So add another one hour to the next station. Wait another 2 hours for the naxt train going to Ernakullam. Another 2 hours on the train. And so ended my epic train ride.

 

Dandi Beach. Gujerat, Historical site

1930, India was under the Br. Rule. England had imposed upon all citizens of India,the SALT TAX.

Gandhi planned and started his protest march from Sabarmayhi Ashram in Ahmedabad where he was staying with a group of 78 people, with the intension of marching to the sea. The march started  on 12 March 1930 towards Navsari Dandi Beach, 384 kms away. They arrived on 5 April after 24 days. On the way, and by the time they reached Dandi Beach,  the entourage of 78 had swelled to 60,000.

In a symbolic move, Gandhi told the gathering that salt belongs to India and the Indians and it is free. He then walked to the sea, scooped water in his hand and drank it

On that day Gandhi was arrested together with 60,000 people who clamoured to go to jail with him.

Gandhi was released a year later but the salt protest continued while he was in jail with tens of thousands all over India.

Thus with Satyagraha began the downfall of british India after 190 years of coloniazation.

 

 

I ended my expedition in Kolkata, since I do not possess visas for both Bangladesh and Myanmar. It was with great sadness that I took my leave from all the magnificent characters in the expedition.

 

Officials of the expedition:

Presiden Kalinga motor sports club, Orissa Mr. Ramesh

Convoy leader                                            Mr. Bahtia

Chief Marshal convoy control                      Mr. Amit

Expedition mechanic                                   Mr. Badaruddin from Mahindra

Exhibition doctor                                         Dr. Siroha

Participants: (many names forgotten) Colonel Jeddi  & Mrs jeddi, Pangkaja (super driver), Col. Atul Pratab Singh (my roommate) who snored as loud as a broken locomotive, Col. Vijeet, Lulu, Rocky, Rajesh, Air Commodore Hiremayh, Abishek (Sunny) cameraman, Dennis Lobo, Ejji (President, Madras motor club), Capt. Anirudha, Rukhmani,

 

 

 

SOME SPECIAL PERSONALITIES IN THE CONVOY

 

  1. Pangkaja

In car no.7 I started calling her the super driver, and all others followed suit.

Its not easy driving in India. Especially 12 to 15 hours straight. Some distances are not that far – around 500km but we are not thinking about the Autobahn or even the Plus Highway. 12 hour drives are commonplace. The Indian toll roads are not closed like ours. Any vehicle can go on it. Plus carts, plus animals plus herds of cattle. Anything goes. And Pangkaja can take all this 10, 15 hours straight.

A mother of 2 girls, she is also an expert in the Indian epic the Mahabaratha. In the month I was with her (Sunny the cameraman is also well versed) I was schooled in the Mahabaratha. Occationally at lunch stops, the other members of the expedition would ask me questions about what I had learned. I am fortunate to have such a good and dedicated teacher.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Atul Pratab Singh

 

Many of the participants are ex-army. My room mate Atul is one of them. I nicknamed him “the broken locomotive” because his snores can bring down a building.

Every night he talks long periods with his wife aand daughters. I commented that in the entire month I only called my wife once.

Atul told me about nis job in the army. He is one of those rare Indians who are stationed at the Himalayan peaks to guard the border between India nad Pakistan. 3 years he was there in sub zero weather with no telephone and very minimal radio communications so as not to give away their location.

 

Capt. RORO

 

I don’t remember his name but we all called him Capt. RORO.

A RORO ship captain plying european waters carrying 3,000 vehicles of all kinds. He is from Chennai and is on 4 months leave.

 

  1. Jeddi & wife

 

A most congenial couple, always smiling, always helpful. He makes sure everyone will have thei meal before he starts eating. Constantly bringing me water, tea and biscuits.

He was a commander of the Tank Atillery brigade.

 

  1. Air Commodore Hieramat

 

When I was first introduced to Commander Hieramat, I was a bit afraid of him – with his bushy sideburns and moustache. Being an Air Commander, I thought he might be aloof since he holds the highest rank of all the other army officers.

He happens to be one of the most low profile person in the group. Not beneath him to bring us tea and help carry our luggage.

This man has MIG squadrons under him.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Lulu

 

Another very low profile person whom I had mistaken for just an errand boy since he is always unloading our cars and carrying everybody’s bags.

Until in Kolkata I became his room mate.

We discussed about motorcycles and he wanted to come to Malaysia to do a bike trip and asked if he can rent a Harley. Then he showed me a picture of his bike at a big house in the background. Upon questioning I found out hes a big successful businessman and a people’s representative in Congress (like our Adun).

 

  1. Abishek

Abishek atau Sunny the expedition cameraman. Never seen him tired. Cameraman by day and picture editor at night till 3 or 4 in the morning.

 

  1. Vijeet

 

I know Vijeet through Capt. Raaj. He has also been to Malaysia and is not seconded to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While serving in the army, I went with him overland in the Himalayas to Ladakh and Zanskar. He was the Brigade Commander at Kargil

 

 

  1. Kalianam

 

A most extra ordinary man. 97 years old and he came on the expedition with us. Assisted by his daughter Nalini.

One of the most important man in our group – being the personal secretary and companion to The Mahatma for 6 years from 1942 to his death at the hands of an assasin in 1948. He was at Gandhi’s side when Gandhi was shot.

I was very previledged to be able to sit and spend many hours with him.

Born in August 1922, he was with the expedition till Pune. Its an inspiration to see this man walk just with a cane, go up on stage and give talks without reading any text. Answers all questions fluently and steadyly without faltering. Very clear minded.

He was the first to inform Nehru that Gandhi has been assisinated.

He was never given any special treatment in the expedition. Ate the same food at the same table. Stayed in the same hotel

Talks about philosophy, social issues and gives upinions on current matters.

What surprised me is that, other than me, not many of the participants spend time talking with him. I count myself fortunate to have had him mostly to myself.