This is a guest blog by a Travel writer Muhnochwa, who dwells in the laps of the Himalayas in Kumaon, Uttrakhand, India. The views expressed are that of the writer’s.
Muhnochwa brings to us the advice given to him by his uncle who he suspects might have been a hundred years old or more. Maybe less. Maybe fifty. Who knows. But he certainly had the gravitas of a man carrying the wisdom of a century and here is a gist of his teachings of driving on Indian roads in Hills.
As a kid, I had two dreams – to become a fighter pilot or a truck driver.
[Nobody cares… Skip to the real thing ]
If you care for my backstory, read on:-
Both my dreams were based on how I saw the world sitting in the front seat of a bus, winding up and down and right and left on the Himalayan roads.
When 15, I clearly remember the day I was filling up the form for class XI subjects – Physics, Chemistry, Maths – with my glasses on. It was at that moment I had realized the dream was, sort of, over.
Then at 18, I started driving, in an open field to start with, then on a straight road, and then in the hills.
My life was back on track. “Dreams do come true,” I thought to myself.
En route to Bhimtal from Kathgodam, I turned left and then right (I was on a high at this stage), then on the first hairpin bend going up, I came to a dead stop. And all the excitement turned to embarrassment when instead of going forwards, the car rolled backward.
The roads were empty, so I managed to march ahead after a minor struggle with the clutch and accelerator. Unfortunately, there were no phone cameras back then to share the #drivingfail.
Later that month, I sought help from an uncle who had driven around these hills since eternity.
He must have been a hundred or more. Maybe less. Maybe fifty. Who knows.
But he certainly had the gravitas of a man carrying the wisdom of a century. And he drove a Fiat with the gear shift on the steering column.
He said, “o chela [in a Kumaoni accent] if you want to become a good driver in the hills, you need to observe the truck drivers. Many times, one wheel of the truck is in the air, but the driver stays grounded all the time” (Truck drivers? My ears were glued in. But uncle wasn’t making much sense).
“In the plains,” he continued, “it’s the vehicle that drives you. But in the hills, you drive the vehicle. And that is why, it’s so reinvigorating despite being tiring” (“Ooookaaay,” I thought, not really sure what to make out of it).
Then the uncle shared some more volumes of philosophical ‘gyaan’ for about an hour, about being one with the machine, the spirituality of windy roads and the etiquette to be followed. It felt educational.
Eighteen years later, I have many travel gadgets but I still remember my Uncle’s advice, though in bullet points (and I am still not a truck driver). So behold.
Here is uncle’s guide to driving safely in the hills. I have heard kids love these tips. I sure did when I was young.
- As far as possible, stick to your side of the road, a bit like sharing a half-and-half pizza with a vegetarian. Uncle was a hardcore meat-eater, but aunty wasn’t. He still remembers the day he veered to the other side and a moment later his pizza slice was slapped on his face.
- Speed: “Anything below 60 kph is safe. Simple.”
- Braking: I have found the uncle’s gyaan on braking extremely useful. He used to say that while going up, taking your foot off the accelerator works like a brake. But while going down, “try not to hard-brake. The roads are banked; they help you go around bends.” #unclejichhagaye (Ahem – #uncleyouaretoocool)
Horn please: “Let the vehicle on the other side of a blind bend know of your presence. Honk once and listen for an answer, like a bird in the mating season,” uncle, who was an avid ornithologist, often said. “Now don’t go on and on like a peacock.” Me, I hate peacocks.
- Stopping to take a selfie: pick a spot. “Back in the days, people used to stop to puke. Now, these kids, they want to take pictures while puking. Just find a good wide section where you are out of the road and visible to everyone,” uncle never forgot to reiterate this point.
- Keep your headlights on, all day: Uncle used to say you show up in the peripheral vision of the oncoming traffic better when you glow like a star.
- Hill start – use of handbrake: Old-timers have been passing this skill to their grandchildren over many generations, but it’s a secret no more. “When stalled on an incline, pull the handbrake,” uncle used to say. “First do the normal clutch and accelerate routine, then release the handbrake slowly.” #toptip.
Watch this video by Paynosfor Pro-Tips:-
Truck driver’s etiquettes for well-being in the hills
- Look around the bend. “When you can, scan the bends up ahead to prepare for oncoming vehicles. This helps in planning in advance.” Balbir Ji used to say it is a useful technique for any vehicle. And ask your navigator to warn you too. “Navigator, sir ji, is very important in the hills,” he added.
Give way to vehicles that are climbing. “When going down, if you know space is tight on the road, stop at a wide section and let the car/bus coming up through. Upar chadhte time rukna bhaari parhta hai sir ji,” Balbir ji always said. #toptip
- Overtaking. “Trucks and buses let you know when it’s safe to overtake. Let them know of your presence, then wait for their signal.” For Balbir ji it was dangerous “to overtake on a bend”. Balbir ji’s mantra for cars was – “jagah milne par pass diya jaayega”. He had even got it painted on the back of his truck.
- Give a pass to others; don’t hold up traffic: Balbir ji had more to say: “Jinko jaldi hai, unhein jaane do. You might need to slow down to allow people to pass.”
Uncle’s tips for smooth driving in Hills
- Night driving. Uncle used to say he preferred driving at the night time. “The roads have no traffic and the blind corners are not blind anymore because you know someone’s coming.” He had a protip to share: “On windy roads, low beam works the best. It lights up the road and not the walls of the hill, meaning your eyes do not get dazzled by your own reflected light.”
- Stick to third gear: “Going up, it gives you enough power. Going down, it controls your speed” – uncle’s tip has worked for me over the last two decades. It also means you can drive your manual car like an automatic. #noclutchneeded.
- Using both sides of the road: Uncle’s Fiat had a heavy steering, so he used to cut down his work by going wide before a bend and steering through the inside. This, he used to say, he only did when he knew there is no oncoming traffic.
There are many such tips that make driving in the hills not only safe but also more enjoyable. Share these with kids and they too get involved in spotting that oncoming bus in a distance, or the best place for that important family selfie.
I never realized my dream of becoming a truck driver. Maybe with all these tips, maybe the next generation will.
How has your experience been on the Hills? Don’t forget to write about your experience in the comments 🙂