Driving in the Himalayan Mountains
We get many queries on People wanting to drive in the Himalayas and asking for Tips and advice on the same.
Here are the basic things you need to keep in your mind while driving in the Mountains
First and Foremost give way to Uphill traffic or the Vehicle which is climbing. When you are coming downhill always stop to give way to the Vehicles coming Uphill. Even on the toughest Roads there are points two Vehicles can pass so keep a mental note of such points that you see on the way. And learn how to reverse by using all the three rear view mirrors.
On the winding Roads always try and anticipate by looking at the Road as far as you can see as to when there is a vehicle coming especially when going downhill as reversing a Car uphill on a narrow Road with a steep fall on one side can become somewhat of a task. It's better to just stop at a broader part of the Road to let the Vehicle Pass.
I personally prefer driving at Night in the Hills as you can anticipate much better as you can see the headlights gleaming from afar. But this holds true only for the Metalled/ Semi Metalled / Kucha type drivable Roads. However if its a tough Mountain Road like the ones we get while crossing one of the Passes its recommended to drive only in the daylight hours.
Never ever overtake anything on a blind curve until and unless 100% sure that nothing will come from the other side. Since none of us can see the future hence we cant be 100% sure its better to be late than never.
And of course you need to follow the regular Traffic Rules especially wear your seat belts, use low beam if there is oncoming traffic, use rear view Mirrors on both wings and blow horn when you see a sign telling you to do so.
Besides these basic Rules there are certain points I would like to mention which are especially pertinent when you are driving a Hatchback or a Sedan and have Ground clearance issues. Having driven all kinds of vehicles in the Mountains ranging from a Maruti 800 to a Subaru Forester AWD I have developed certain techniques which I use while driving on these Roads
The basic Rule if your Car has low Ground Clearance try and keep one side of the wheels on the highest elevated point on the Road. This point usually lies right in the center of the Road. This lets you use the topography of the Road to overcome your lack of Ground Clearance.
Always use 2nd Gear while ascending and going up as it gives enough low end grunt to the Car to get you almost over most inclines and you still have the option of going to First gear if the need arises and you need more Power.
While descending again use the 2nd or the 3rd Gear as you will have a better control of the Vehicle and Engine braking will be on your side if you ever need to come to a sudden halt. Also remember the most sensitive part of your Car the Chamber or the Sump needs to kept away from the nasty stones and bumps on the Road. Most Sumps/ Chambers get busted while going down Hill as the speeds are higher and hence the impacts are stronger. Keeping control of your vehicle while descending is a very crucial part of completing your Journey without any damage.
Whenever you think that something has hit the Chamber be sure to stop and check. In case you dont all the Oil will leak from your Car and you will end up with a seized Engine. In case its leaking there are certain Jugaads that can be done like applying M Seal or something similar. People have also used Chewing Gum and Soap for the same. But its a serious issue and needs to be treated as such.
Always carry some water and eatables as back up just in case. A good tool kit also makes sense and make sure that the spare tyre is ready for action.
Having said that always take your decisions wisely while going on a Road trip in tough Mountain terrain. Even people who give a lot of Gyaan on the Mountains like me can find themselves in quite a sticky situation as recently happened with me on a Trip to Chansal Pass.
I was staying in Rohru and decided to drive upto Dodra Kwar via Chansal Pass. The only issue was that I was in a VW Polo. To me smaller Cars are quite handy on narrow Mountain Roads especially when going to Orchards as they are easier to maneuver. I asked people about the Road and they said you can have a go. I always think of it this way that if I see the Road is too much for the Vehicle I just turn back. So I took the stupid decision (in hindsight) to have a go. Stupid mostly because I just had my wife and little Daughter with me.
The drive was beautiful and Road was kinda manageable and before Larot the first incident took place. A Bolero pickup coming down at some speed caused me to take the Vehicle too close to the Mountain and both tyres on the passenger side went into a drain and I was stuck. I managed to gather a few guys working in the Orchards around. They pushed and all but the Vehicle was stuck. And then came another Bolero pickup on its way to Dodra Kwar to deliver Gas Cylinders. Three young guys in the pick up. I hailed them down, they assessed the situation, reversed their Bolero, took out a tow Rope and in the next 5 minutes the Car was out. I thanked them and gave them Apricots and Plums as a reward :). They told me that they will follow me and take me all the way to Doda. I laughed and said please dont bother and be on your way.
Anyways after a very bone shaking drive I reached Chansal with the Mrs not in the best of moods as she isnt very fond of steep mountain cliffs. She told me to turn back. But i did a deal. Lets go till Dodra. Kwar can wait. And on our way we started. It was then that I realised the other side was even rougher and steeper and I would have a tough time driving up especially if dusk fell. I was thinking what to do and suddenly I saw mud which was a good one foot thick. Ok thats it and I decided to turn back.
While on the way back I had just got down to Larot and had a lapse of concentration while driving. I went over a stone too fast and it hit the chamber. And I had a leak. I didnt realise and kept driving till I reached Shiladesh where I stopped to take some pics. Some guys behind me in a pick up stopped and told me about the leak. Damn I thought. And it was around 5 o clock and the weather was cloudy.
Soon a mini crowd gathered and I parked my Car at the Tempo stand. But of course the people were extremely helpful. They called up the Village mechanic and also a local Homestay and within 15 minutes a lady drove down in a Bolero and took my wife and kid to the Homestay while I waited at the Car as the Mechanic and his team had also arrived. With the team we proceeded to open the Chamber and get it off and it was to be sent to Rohru next morning for repair. I went to the Homestay.
Next day in the afternoon around 3 PM the Chamber came back after being repaired in Rohru and the Car got fixed and we were on our way back. Not much of an ordeal but I was lucky this happened in the Village and not somewhere near the Pass or on the other side of it.
In the end it was my stupidity which landed us in this Soup. Lesson learnt. Learnt very well.