TOY­OTA RIVER DRIVE

In the fourth edi­tion of our River Drive se­ries, we work our way up from Al­la­habad on the eve of the Maha Kumbh to­wards Gan­gotri along the Ganga. This time in the hot-sell­ing For­tuner

Evo India - - CONTENTS - WORDS by SUVRAT KOTHARI PHO­TOG­RA­PHY by ROHIT G MANE

Gan­gotri in win­ter? We just had to go any­way for that’s the only way to dis­cover the story of the Ganga as it flows up from Praya­graj

THE SEC­TION OF THE NH 7 CON­NECT­ING Rishikesh and Devprayag is ab­so­lutely hor­rid. A paced-up road widen­ing project has left the ex­ist­ing patch of tar­mac with a mil­lion pot­holes, un­even sur­faces and gravel along the length and breadth of the road. Truly, till the time that the road project is com­pleted it’s an ‘all pain and lit­tle gain’ sit­u­a­tion. I saw ve­hi­cles strug­gle to get past. And then there was our Toy­ota For­tuner 4x4, surg­ing past the traf­fic with dom­i­nance. It was un­stop­pable and in­dif­fer­ent to the bad roads as we headed north and up the Hi­malayas along the tu­mul­tuous Ganga. We reached Devprayag cov­er­ing a dis­tance of 75km in just un­der two hours. And wel­com­ing us was the breath­tak­ing sight of the Bha­gi­rathi-Alak­nanda con­flu­ence. From here on, the Bha­gi­rathi be­comes the Ganga.

Last month we drove the won­der­fully calm and so­phis­ti­cated Toy­ota Corolla Altis all the way from South Ben­gal where the Ganga flows into the Bay of Ben­gal to the Triveni Sangam in Al­la­habad where she swells with the trib­ute of the Ya­muna. This month, we start our jour­ney from that same con­flu­ence and head to the Hi­malayas, trac­ing her route as we at­tempt to reach Gan­gotri. At 3,415m (11,204ft) above mean sea level, it is where the road ends. If you wish to con­tinue to the very spot where the Ganga emerges from un­der the Gan­gotri Glacier, you will need to walk the last treach­er­ous 18km to Gau­mukh. Gan­gotri is also well above the snow line, so try­ing to get there without 4WD is ask­ing for trou­ble. In fact there is so much of the white stuff at Gan­gotri that the Ganga tem­ple in fact is ac­tu­ally moved down south to a placed called Mukhba in win­ter.

With the Toy­ota For­tuner 4x4, with all its go any­where abil­i­ties and Toy­ota’s leg­endary re­li­a­bil­ity, as our choice of wheels we were sorted at least on that count.

Three days be­fore we reached Devprayag how­ever we were at Al­la­habad, now Praya­graj, on the eve of the Maha Kumbh that hap­pens once ev­ery dozen years. I had been here just a few weeks ago but now teem­ing with mil­lions of devo­tees, pil­grims, tourists, pho­tog­ra­phers, se­cu­rity per­son­nel and what have you, the city was un­recog­nis­able. Also, some­what dis­ori­ent­ing from the sheer num­ber of tent cities that had sprung up like mush­rooms to ac­com­mo­date the 15 crore hu­man souls who had de­scended on the Sangam City in search of sal­va­tion.

Leg­end tells us that 2,000 years ago, when the gods and de­mons fought for a pot of Am­rut (nec­tar of im­mor­tal­ity) for 12 years, four drops fell at Uj­jain, Nashik, Harid­war and Praya­graj where we were bat­tling traf­fic and a bur­geon­ing hu­man sea.

Thank­fully, half the bat­tle is won by the For­tuner’s sheer size and pres­ence, while the other half you don’t re­ally care about be­cause you’re too damn com­fort­able in that spa­cious and well-ap­pointed cabin. Be­sides, when the roads were blocked off we just drove on to the sand­bank as we headed for the con­flu­ence for our photo op.

Photo done, we were keen to get out of Praya­graj, be­fore it got any more crowded and were soon on the high­way to Kan­pur. At Kan­pur we dis­cov­ered a shock­ing re­al­ity. In spite of all the wor­ship­ping and re­li­gious and cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance of the river, The Leather City of the World – Kan­pur, dumps mil­lions of litres of pol­lut­ing ef­flu­ents into the Ganga each year. So acute is the prob­lem, a lo­cal we met told us that tan­ner­ies and meat fac­to­ries are forced by the govern­ment to shut down for the du­ra­tion of the Kumbh. Hope­fully, with in­creas­ing aware­ness about the detri­men­tal en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact, devel­op­ment au­thor­i­ties will re­alise sooner than later that con­ser­va­tion is needed through the year.

The fol­low­ing day we reached Harid­war af­ter a 650km jour­ney. We passed through the bril­liant Agra-Luc­know ex­press­way when happy snap­per Rohit be­came sleepy snap­per Rohit and had one of his best, and prob­a­bly long­est, naps on the drive. While we al­ready knew that the For­tuner was su­per com­fort­able, Rohit’s gen­tle snores an­nounced to the world, more us ac­tu­ally, that we were right. At the same time the 175bhp and 420Nm from that 2.8-litre turbo-diesel en­sured un­in­ter­rupted power sup­ply for our pur­pose­ful mile munch­ing.

As soon as we reached Harid­war, we vis­ited the Har ki Pauri ghat. It’s be­lieved that Lord Shiva re­leased the Ganga from the locks of his hair at this spot. The name as a mat­ter of fact lit­er­ally trans­lates into ‘Lord Shiva’s foot­steps’. Those not in­ter­ested in the mythol­ogy will find so­lace in the fact that the Ganga ex­its the rough Hi­malayan re­gion at this spot and en­ters the plains.

The next morn­ing, we were to meet a bunch of ad­ven­ture driven Toy­ota For­tuner cus­tomers in Dehradun. So off we went, cov­er­ing the 51km in just about an hour to ren­dezvous with as­sis­tant ed Aninda. A quick ses­sion on Bet­ter Driv­ing and Off-road­ing fol­lowed post which we, and the cus­tomers, headed to Malde­vta, a small town on the banks of the Song river, a trib­u­tary of the Ganga. Its dried-up river bed makes for an ex­cel­lent off-road­ing venue and a per­fect place to flaunt the For­tuner’s off-road­ing prow­ess. A left­ward nose­dive onto our trail was tricky and re­quired spot­ting. Eas­ing its way through this rocky patch, our con­voy of For­tuners then crossed the river which was filled with slip­pery rocks, peb­bles and plenty of large stones. With 4WD high mode switched on, our con­voy crossed the river and also eased through the sandy trail on the

op­po­site side. “I al­ways wanted a strong 4X4 SUV and the Toy­ota For­tuner is a per­fect choice,” said R K Joshi, a cap­tain in the mer­chant navy and a fan of big and stylish SUVs like the For­tuner.

Af­ter a night spent in Rishikesh, here we were in Devprayag. Stand­ing there at the wa­ter’s edge it is hard to imag­ine the wide and placid river of the plains that I had seen last month as this, a roar­ing jump­ing tide of wa­ter rush­ing down the Hi­malayas. I could have stood there for hours, but a word of cau­tion. Win­ter is just about peak­ing and tem­per­a­tures fall dras­ti­cally af­ter sun­down. So if you have no great de­sire to form a new glacier at Devprayag, it’s best to head to the safety of Ut­tarkashi, the next big town where you will find de­cent ac­com­mo­da­tion.

With the mer­cury plum­met­ing, we couldn’t be more thank­ful for the For­tuner’s ex­cel­lent cli­mate con­trol that kept us toasty. Be­fore we reached Ut­tarkashi how­ever, there was one more stop. The mas­sive dam at Tehri. The dam’s reser­voir spans a mas­sive 52sq km while the dam it­self is the largest, tallest and the high­est in In­dia. From then on there would be noth­ing but treach­er­ous nar­row roads main­tained by the brave souls of the Bor­der Roads Or­gan­i­sa­tion (BRO).

At 1,165m (4,436ft) above mean sea level, it’s at Ut­tarkashi that things be­gin to get re­ally in­ter­est­ing The first thing that shocked us

hardy ad­ven­tur­ers was the sheer de­vo­tion of the peo­ple who live in this town lit­er­ally named Kashi (an­other name for Varanasi) of the North. Our ho­tel re­cep­tion­ist, for in­stance, left us gob­s­macked as he went off to take a dip in the freez­ing Bha­gi­rathi. It was seven in the morn­ing, the out­side tem­per­a­ture was -2 de­grees Cel­sius, we were dy­ing for a cup of hot tea but no. The man had to have his dip first! Pri­or­i­ties I tell you.

Ad­mir­ing the man’s for­ti­tude, and shiv­er­ing from the cold like a bunch of epilep­tics, we clam­bered into the fa­mil­iar cosi­ness of our For­tuner. To­day was go­ing to be the big day when we would make the fi­nal climb to Gan­gotri. We had driven the SUV on seam­less high­ways, taken it off-road­ing and bashed the bad roads of the NH 7 with all its ea­ger­ness. But now it was time to drive it on snow!

Soon enough, we found our­selves in 4H with trac­tion dis­ap­pear­ing faster than smoke on a windy day. But the For­tuner in­spires so much of con­fi­dence that my ini­tial gin­ger­ness gave way to a cau­tious but con­fi­dent style. The tyres gripped hard and the heft of the SUV helped at­tain more trac­tion, crush­ing snow, black-ice, peb­bles, what­ever came be­neath, pro­gress­ing with poise and au­thor­ity. We even helped a few un­for­tu­nate souls who had brought their front-wheel drive hatch­backs on these snow-cov­ered roads.

Our smooth and steady progress how­ever came to a grind­ing, or per­haps crunch­ing, halt at Har­sil. Eighty kilo­me­tres north of Ut­tarkashi, at 7,860ft (2,620m) the gods de­cided that we would go no fur­ther. With mas­sive snow­fall hav­ing blocked the road ahead, the In­dian Army and its BRO re­fused to let us carry on. So there we were, less than 20km from our des­ti­na­tion, with Gan­gotri al­most shim­mer­ing like a tan­ta­lis­ing haze in our imag­i­na­tion, hav­ing lit­er­ally run out of road. A clas­sic case of man pro­poses, god dis­poses. But it does give me an­other great rea­son to come back here, don’t you think? ⌧

Above: Flaunt­ing the go-any­h­were at­ti­tude onthe dry riverbed of the Song river. Fac­ing page,top: The Bha­gi­rathiAlak­nanda con­flu­ence in Devprayag. Cen­tre, left:Comfy er­gonomics means Vishal didn’t need breaks.Right: Have For­tuner, will hit trails. Bot­tom left Glimpse of the world’s largest tem­po­rary tent city. Right: For­tunermeets Tehri dam

Above: Fun in a For­tuner is when you’re flat out on a dirt trail. Bot­tom: Har kiPauri ghat in Harid­war, where Lord Shiva re­leased the Ganga from the locks of his hair. Fac­ing page: The For­tuner basks in the re­flected glory of its off-road prow­ess

Above, top to bot­tom: As­sis­tant ed Aninda’s ses­sion on Bet­ter Driv­ing; quick photo opp with Cap­tain Sa­maresh Singh, dealer prin­ci­pal of Trust Toy­ota, Dehradun, be­fore flag off; For­tuner own­ers learn to make their own road

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