Team Motoroids recently visited the Jim Corbett National Park in the Ford Endeavour TDCi 3.0 AT.
A picture gallery of the roadtrip can be seen at the end of the writeup, on the last page
Our journey to Corbett National Park started yesterday at approximately 2 AM. I even posted a few updates early on regarding the trip, but given the nature in which GSM providers operate in India, it was getting difficult finding a stable GPRS connection. But what was even more difficult was the on road traffic. We had planned our route and the timings for over two weeks now, but guess what it all went down the drain! ‘Traffic jams and eighteen-wheelers’ seemed to be the flavour of the day. From the tolls on the Pune-Mumbai Expressway to the entrance of Gujarat all we could see were endless rows of trucks piling up behind each other. The whole traffic jam debacle cost us a good four hours right at the start of our journey!
Like I updated last morning, we took a break at Kamat’s. Since the cops took quite some time to clear the tanker that had collapsed (and which we never saw), we decided to gulp down a heavy breakfast and not stop for lunch later to save time. Like I said, after a four hour burden added to our schedule, we ended up getting back on an open highway by as late as 10 AM. Once there, the Gujarat highway seemed like bliss. But as we moved on, tons of diversions were waiting for us, thanks to under-construction highway stretches, fly-overs etc. Manoeuvring a large SUV like the Ford Endeavour through traffic around the tight bottlenecks of the diversions, is a real pain in the you-know-what, especially when the truckers want to act bullish.
Speaking of which, we were comfortably cruising and gobbling up kilometers on the rest of the highway stretches, trying to make up for the time we had lost early on. But as we approached the Vadodara exit, (which we had to evade by the way, and head straight for Ahmedabad) a group of truckers pushed us from the right most lane to the left most one. What mixed a hint of confusion to this situation was a board that asked us to take a diversion for Ahmedabad, to which we fell for. Within a kilometre we understood that this new road we got onto was in fact the National Highway (No. 8), which was a puny two-laner and the faster and bigger E-way was running parallel to us. But there was no scope to make a U-turn again since the flavour of the day I mentioned earlier was spread far and wide across the other side of the road and we had had enough of it already! We continued down NH8, evading oncoming trucks & tractors and pesky Zen Estilos in a manner similar to the good ol’ Road Racer video game on an Atari. But believe me, it wasn’t one bit exciting. We finally did manage to get back on to the Expressway and were up to god speed again! But alas, the stretch lasted for a few tens of kilometres and got us back on to the National Highway soon enough.
The Ford Endeavour needed a third tank up here, which we filled up at a Reliance fuel pump, a little short of Gandhinagar. Back to Road Racer mode again for the next 50-odd kilomters! By now, it was 7:30 PM and the idli – wadas from Kamat were completely absorbed into our blood streams by now. A re-fill was desperately needed. But we had this urge for some authentic non-commercialised dhaba food and so the search for such a place began. We did find a couple of them early on, but we were still in Gujrat. What that means is, it is hard to find anything other than Dal-Bhati. We wanted more options, preferably the ones that could silence the ‘devil’ in us. We cruised on, and the search added a few more valuable minutes to our already off-schedule journey.
About 100 kilometers short of Udaipur, we finally found a place that met our expectations. There were a dozen trucks parked out there, a few khatias lined up below dim blubs and smoke rising out from the small kitchen’s burning choolha. There were only a few dishes to choose from, but they were exactly what we would have ordered even if they had a menu card. Dal Makahani, Rajma, Chicken Fry, Chicken Masala, Makke-di-roti and Chaas – sounds tempting doesn’t it? Believe me, it tasted way better than what it sounds! I’m typing these words approximately 9 hours after we had that food, and I do not have any sort of upset organs yet, so I guess the food was safe too for all those who care…
After downing the food and gulping endless amount of chass, we got back on to the highway. Within 10 kilometres of driving, I understood the reason behind truckers acting so groggy all the time. After such tasty food and the addition of alcohol in the equation for some of them, the poor truckers are bound to feel sleepy, especially on the monotonous highway stretches. The same happened to us – the food had us wanting for more but the greed had led to heavy bellies that needed the body to rest. Sleep was slowly creeping onto our eyes, and believe me, such a situation is more dangerous than drunk driving itself! Udaipur was still quite a distance away. We decided to take a break, a power nap in fact, before continuing further. And so we did, a 30 minute nap should have ideally done the trick. But it did not. Even after the power nap sleep started coming back soon enough. The glaring lights of the on-coming traffic made things worse. Thankfully though, Udaipur was just a few kilometres away. Tiptoeing safely on the left most lane, we somehow passed the Udaipur border.
A noble friend had advised us about some hotels managed by the Rajasthan Tourism, were supposedly cheap, clean and decent places to spend the night at. But they were as hard to find as they sound. But within a couple of kilometres of crossing the Udaipur border, we found this oddly lit place on the other side of the road. With red, green and blue lights illuminating a fort-like structure, this hotel looked more like a brothel than a lodge. But since we had limited choices and sleep was catching up faster than the trucks around, we thought of checking out the place from inside before jumping on to conclusions. The entrance opened into a restaurant with one corner acting as the billing counter as well as the reception. A well built Rajasthani by the name of, Jawahar, stood there to welcome us. We told him what the situation was and he smiled and said, “Aap jaise bahut saare tourist rukte hain yahan. Aap don’t worry karo, will help you.” The two bracelets in his wrists banged repeatedly against the table as he uttered his words. He led us through a narrow corridor and showed us the rooms. While the rest of the setting did look like a brothel early on, the rooms were actually decent sized and clean! And at Rs. 600 for a day’s stay, they sounded like a steal! We booked them, got our stuff into our respective rooms and dropped onto the beds like lifeless rag-dolls. After a sound sleep, that hardly had any dreams in it, I’m back up now, writing this piece as I wait for the bucket of hot water to come. Yes, we are in Rajasthan, here water in itself is a luxury, so hot water is a precious item that is served to the room only against order. We’ll resume journey in a bit now and I shall try once again to bring you the updates.
We got to the exit of Udaipur today and reached an intersection that pointed right for Chittorgarh and straight for Jaipur. I remember taking the Chittorgarh exit last time around, but thought it would be safe to ask around. But unexpectedly, we got mixed responses from people. We decided to head straight and I’m glad we made that choice. Within a few kilometres of making an exit from the Udaipur city, we were greeted by twisties! I wouldn’t have been so excited about twisties in an SUV if it were some of the other loathes that I have driven. But after experiencing how the Endeavour was holding the road when making high speed lane changes on the expressways, I was eager to see what it could do around the corners. The ghat section that we got on to had phenomenal views, huge mountains on one side, deep valleys on the other and clear view of at least three next corners. The setting was perfect for the Endeavour to prove its mettle. The Endeavour exhibited some of the best road holding capabilities that you could expect from a brute of this size. There was slight amount of squeal from the tyres when pushed hard around the corners, but the Endeavour never lost its composure.
As the twisties got over, we got onto some crowded village stretches. A cell phone GPS may not be the best help every time so we decided to take advice of the locals from time to time. While talking to an old Rajasthani bloke on a tractor, we were warned about the road that was about to unfold itself on the way to Jaipur. He told us that the road is often deserted and help is hard to get. He also told us that fuel stations may be a rarity hence filling up in one of the villages was a better option and so we got yet another tank up then and there.
What the oldie mentioned was true, the road that unfolded was deserted, but boy, what a road it is! If you are a petrol hold who loves the combination of long straights and fast corners, then this is one road that you have to ride or drive on, no matter what. The tarmac is grainy, the Rajasthan heat keeps it sticky throughout the day and is insanely fast flowing. The other vehicle travelling with me is a FIAT Palio 1.6 which is owned and driven by our performance tester Kiran Kadaba. It was surprising for me to see how the Ford Endeavour stayed on the Palio’s tail for majority of this stretch. I did have to drop speed when it came to corner carving, but most of the stretch was high speed action for us and tons of fun nevertheless!
After burning a lot of diesel through these bends, we got on to the boring highway stretches again. Jaipur came through in about 2 hours. Thankfully, a little shy of the Jaipur city, there is a bypass that directly takes you on to the New Delhi highway. The road surface is bumpy and though the road apparently is newly constructed, it looks as it if hasn’t been mended for decades. After around 15 kilometers of driving on this bypass, we got on to NH8 and were headed for Delhi. The highway passes through Haryana and though it is called a ‘national highway’ is a little bigger than your average city street road. There are tons of eateries and vehicle repair workshops throughout this stretch. Here we meet our nemesis once again – traffic jams! These were bigger and badder than ones we met in Gujarat. The Gujarat highway had trucks and cars, this one had eighteen wheelers and MUVs with half-wit drivers at the wheel. We are lucky to have sustained the entire five hours and 60 kms of the traffic jam without any scratches on our vehicles. On the way, we passed the Hero Honda plant at Dharuhera, after which the roads opened up a bit. Manesar again had some smaller jams, but those were over within an hour. We crossed the Gurgaon toll, but by now, I had lost the Palio somewhere in the jams. While I was checking my rear view mirrors for the Palio, I heard a loud bang. A truck, a few meters ahead of me, had suddenly blown two of its tyres. I did not know what caused it, so to be on the safer side, I quickly changed lanes to avoid the patch. A few kilometres ahead, I pulled over into a defunct Assam Oil fuel station, advised the others about my location and waited for them to arrive. The traffic jams had led to a lot of fatigue and within moments I fell asleep inside the Endeavour. After about half an hour the Palio reached. They were stuck in a jam that was caused due the truck which had blown its tyres. We were fed up already. The road trip was getting ruined because of these endless jams. While we discussed this unnecessarily long journey so far, we decided to eat at this small dhaba which was set up at the corner of the defunct fuel station.
We were too tired too. Still the food did refresh us to an extent and we continued to Delhi. It was 2 AM already and we wanted some cheap accommodation. After turning down places that were asking for stupid amounts of money even for a 3-4 hour wait, we decided to spend the night at a fuel station. We pulled in to a BPCL pump close to Sardar Bazaar in Delhi and told the bloke at the fuel station about our trip and our plan to park the cars at his pump for the night. He agreed and the noble soul that he was, he even offered us blankets for the night. We spent the night in the cars itself. Keeping the windows half open gave us enough ventilation and the cold weather outside provided enough cooling inside the cabin eliminating the need to keep the blowers running.
We left from New Delhi early in the morning to avoid the typical traffic of a metro. Initially the roads were very confusing – small lanes full of Indian spices, trucks unloading the daily commodities everywhere, vendors getting their shops ready for the day – Delhi has its own way of getting congested early in the morning. While being stuck in one such lane, we pulled out Google Maps again and this time zoomed in quite a bit to see if there were any small by-lanes that we could use to avoid the market rush. That is when we found out that there were in fact a lot of cheap places we could have stayed in for the night had we zoomed into the map when we were looking for directions the prior night. There was a Ginger outfit right behind the petrol pump we slept at, a couple of cheap lodges a lane parallel to the pump and a lot of other places too. But bygones be bygones, we found the easiest way out to Gaziabad which in turn would put us on route to the Corbett National park.
These sections of the national highway look inviting, but are, again, quite dangerous to drive on. There are a lot of unofficial intersections that the locals have dug up in the highway dividers. This not only helps them make sudden appearances onto the road when you least expect it, but also helps them in proving the theory that humans evolved from a bunch of rogue monkeys!
Speaking of monkeys, the highway after Ghaziabad is infested with many of them sitting on the side of the road, eagerly waiting for tourists to offer them some food. We continued our march on this highway until the road signs for the Corbett National park finally started showing up. A few diversions later, we reached Muradabad. From here, our next destination was Kashipur. Once you get on the road between these two, you are hound to fall in love with your city road once again, no matter how they are. The road from Muraadabad to Kashipur is the very definition of ‘bad Indian roads’. Volkswagen claims to have tested and optimised the Polo for the fabled Indian roads? I bet they never came here, else they would have launched the Touran instead of the Polo in India. After crawling at speeds of 10km/h to give the Palio company, we were fed up yet again. We asked around to somehow find out how long this bad patch would last and prepare our minds accordingly. But everyone who met, only kept telling this patch is bad only till a certain petrol pump and when asked about the distance, all that they could say was ‘yehi kuch dus menut duur hai (just about ten minutes away)’. We continued crawling at a snail’s pace. And they, suddenly, on the exit of a small turn, hidden behind a few shrubs was the fabled petrol pump! Since we were not sure what lay for us up ahead, we tanked up both the cars here and continued to Ramnagar – a little town that would be our resource bunker for the next few days…
Ramnagar is a small town with one tiny two lane road acting as the backbone for logistics, shops, government offices etc. The traffic jam diarrhoea was still not over. Blocking this two lane road were a lot of trucks. After about an hour of waiting in a circular traffic jam, the trucks finally moved out and somehow made enough space for the Palio and the Endeavour to squeeze out. We moved on till we reached a barricade with a few cops around. They were stopping each and every vehicle and checking all documents and stuff inside the car. Fortunately they weren’t too nagging and got done with their routine in a jiffy. Later we found out that such a police checking is never done in this area, more on that later. We proceeded into what looked like a jungle safari – huge trees and vegetation on both the sides, lots of warning signs about animals, safety, speed limits etc. It was in fact a stretch of the highway that passes through the jungles. A lot of resorts have been set up against this highway stretch. Our Mahindra Club Resort was one such property. Since this Mahindra property, called ‘Nature Trails’, is a fairly new one, it still doesn’t exist on most mapping devices/softwares. But we knew we were close, thanks to all the hoardings around. A few kilometres later, we managed to find the gates for the resort. By the time we checked in, it was already evening time. The view behind our studio apartment was breathtaking. There was a blue river calmly flowing against the white pebbled shore. The sun was heading for the horizon and had painted the sky orange making the overall scene absolutely mind blowing! There were a couple of peacocks on the shore and moved around gracefully as if they guarded the entrance to the jungle. We had arrived to the right destination…
I woke up from one of the best sleep ever. The soothing sound of the river was strong enough to put even the worst insomniac to sleep, so for a sleepy-head like me it was like a sweet frosting on an already delicious cake. It was time for some serious business though. And so I got ready and headed to the breakfast room. While I spent time trying out the varieties at the buffet breakfast, my noble friends, Kiran and Ninad, went back to Ramnagar to figure out the formalities for getting into the Corbett reserve. After a heavy breakfast, I went to the parking to get the car cleaned. Since this a new Mahindra property, they did not have all the facilities in place just yet and the car wash was one of them. I requested the guards to provide me with a water hose the clean the Endeavour.
When you look at the Endeavour on the road, all you see is the huge hulk sprinting down the road. But take a pause from your regular routine and spend some time gazing at the SUV and you see how well designed this Ford is. The process of washing the Endeavour did just that for me. The classic three box look of the Endeavour makes the SUV look like rugged and hardcore. Though however, I like the frontal design of the previous Endeavour more than the new one. The curved headlights, to me, look out of place on the boxy body. The flared wheel arches and the side cladding are finished in the same silver/grey colour as the rest of the body and hence they totally gel with the rest of the body work. In any other body colour option though, the same silver cladding and arches make for a two tone colour combination and character to the Endeavour’s styling. The tailgate still maintains a classic SUV look with the spare wheel housing still bolted to the fifth door instead of stowing it away below the vehicle like most modern SUV. Frankly, it adds to the butch stance of any SUV and doesn’t end up making the tail a drab, van-like architecture like the one seen on the Tata Aria. The spare wheel cover has an embossed illustration of a mountain on it. This illustration isn’t there because this vehicle is meant to scale mountains, instead it depicts the ‘Mount Everest’, since outside India, the Endeavour is sold as a ‘Ford Everest’. Personally, I feel that the name ‘Everest’ would have worked better for Ford India than the current ‘Endeavour’, but probably the marketing surveys showed different results.
Inside the Endeavour, there is nothing too fancy apart from the two entertainment systems. The centre console on the top end model gets a Kenwood player that supports most audio formats and plays video DVDs and DivX encoded AVI files. It is also mated to a sat-nav system but frankly, I relied on the Google maps on my iPhone most of the time, as I am more accustomed to that. The other entertainment system is Nippon branded and is roof mounted for entertaining the passengers in the second and third row. This one down looks out of place though and doesn’t look as plush as the otherwise plush interiors of the Endeavour. The interiors have top notch fit and finish and throughout the 2,200 kms I had done so far, I did not experience any vibrating panels or any plastic bits coming off. The leather upholstery is top notch too and even with 28,000-odd thousand kilometres on the odo and thirteen months since the date of manufacturing, there were no wrinkles or loose ends on the upholstery whatsoever. Cleaning the interiors wasn’t too difficult either since there are hardly any nooks and corners in the vehicle which one can’t reach out to.
After the cleanup and gave the others a call to find out what was in store for us. We had gotten access to entry from one of the north-eastern gates of the Corbett park. This gate would lead us to the river where some animals were expected to be seen. The plan was scheduled for the afternoon and the authorities agreed to let the Endeavour go in provided it is led with another authorised Maruti Suzuki Gypsy and the necessary security personnel. As planned we entered the gates at 3:30 PM. We followed a white Gypsy through narrow path that was paved through the jungle. It was a descent trailing down into the forest area. The further we went, the sunlight became scarcer and probably that explained why the pathway was surrounded with ridiculously tall trees. We were moving at 10pm/h again – almost the same kind of speed that we were restricted to in all those traffic jams and bad road conditions, but here the same speed felt so much more different, so much more soothing. The Endeavour was tackling the undulating pathway with utmost ease, without discomforting any disc in our spines. The high floorboard makes you feel as if you are sitting in a regular car and hence, even though you sit high up, it somehow manages to prevent motion sickness better than most other vehicles in its class. Kiran continued crawling behind the leading vehicle while the rest gazed at the sheer beauty of the forest. The Gypsy suddenly stopped and the guard indicated us to switch off the engine. He had spotted some animal. Our friends in the open top Gypsy were pointing at something and smiling. From the Endeavour though, it was hard to see what was attracting all the attention. Then we got a small peek, it was a spotted deer sitting near a tree. We didn’t have enough clearance to get a snap though. The guide indicated to move on and the moment we started brought the 3.0-litre engine back to life, the deer got up and fled! We continued through the forest, stooping a couple of times again in-between when the guide spotted a few more deer. A while later we reached the river. The look of the river was similar to the one flowing behind my hotel room. Blue water, white pebbles on the shore, tall trees in the backdrop – it all looked familiar. But the moment we stepped down the feeling was different! There was a cold breeze blowing, the water’s sound was a lot more aggressive as tried to dominate the endless and priorly unheard-of sounds coming from the birds and animals. The two vehicles and us bunch of 6-7 people were the only animate objects visible all the way to the horizon, but it still felt that we were surrounded by many more. In fact there were so many sounds exchanging waves with each other, that the guide wouldn’t let us move more than 7-8 feet away from the vehicles.
Since flashes and lights are not allowed to be used within the jungle trail and since the jungle trail itself was too dark to take any steady photos, we requested the guide to let us take a few snaps of the vehicle near the river. There was a small pathway paved through the pebbled shore and that was the only place where we were allowed to set a foot on. The rest of the shore is infested with reptiles and so we were to stay away from it. We agreed. The journey from the gate to this river was hardly 13 kms but it had taken us over an hour to reach this destination. Hence it was imperative for us to move back and clear the gates before sunset. So far we had only spotted a deer or two, nothing more. We were hoping to see something more exciting on the way back. We took a slightly different exit route this time around to give our luck another chance, but this time around all we could see was a big langoor and the same deer we had seen at the start, again in the same place. Slightly disappointed, we headed back to the gates. Once at the gates, we checked out the map to find a more exciting place to visit the next day and hopefully spot a tiger or a leopard. The map told us that we were not even close to the entrance of the core area, no wonder we did not spot anything exciting. All along we kept blaming the engine, for we thought the sound might have driven the animals away. Disappointed, we headed back to the resort. On the way back we spotted a few camouflage painted trucks heading up the highway. Looked like army trucks were headed up north. Those trucks gave Ninad a chance to start jabbering about his friends in the army and how difficult the training is and how an army man lives a tough life to give us a secured one. Before long, we were already at the resort to conclude the day. The Endeavour needed some rest too after its faithful duty through the safari drive.
After a disappointing day at the safari, our spirits were low. We had a very light dinner sitting by the fence that overlooked the river behind the hotel room. It was 11 PM. A wild thought then crossed our mind – why not drive around on the highway section that passes through the jungle? Probably we could spot animals…and so we wrapped up the dinner and headed straight for the car park. The Endeavour stood there shining under the moonlight ready for its duties yet again. We drove out of the resort and followed into the highway. There was a layer of thin fog that had settled over the road. No street lights, hardly any reflective strips around the road edges and the only things making sounds were the insects and the Endeavour’s 3.0-litre engine. As the bulk of the SUV moved through the woods, the fog would cut across as if we were testing the Ford’s aerodynamics in a wind tunnel. Like the update I sent from this night to Motoroids.com, the whole environment looked like a setting from the thriller Xbox game, Alan Wake. It was spooky nevertheless. A few curves after the resort, Ninad, who was sitting in the front seat, suddenly shouted, ‘wait, I see something!’. A cow-like silhouette stood in the woods. The fog was making it unclear to see what it was. Ninad tried to get focus on it with his cam, but the moment the flash flickered to track the subject, the silhouette jumped back into the thicket and disappeared into the darkness. It was a Sambar we guessed. Since we lost the animal, we decided to move ahead and see if we could spot more.
The moment we turned on the lights again, we saw a couple of deer staring right in front of the vehicle! Innocent animals? Sure. But when they make a sudden appearance like this, they send a less-than zero-degree-chill down your spine! Kiran revved the engine to shoo the deer away, but that infuriated Ninad since he lost a golden opportunity to take a snap of the deer from such a close distance. We assured him though there would be more such chances up ahead and hence we moved on. The road was silent. Slowly the fog disappeared and we could see some light at a distance. It was one of the many gates that can be used to enter the jungle. There was a small building next to the gate but we couldn’t see any civilisation. A few huts lay around this area. Everything was shut tight, no open windows either. Behind the gate, we saw a small herd of deer again. The leader had large antlers and when he heard us he put the entire herd behind his back. Don’t know if it was coincidence or the actual way in which a deer herd operates. We moved further down the road and on multiple instances we came across more deer, spotted ones, or another variety called the ‘barking deer’ they were all there, enjoying the beauty of the night. The fog was settling in again and was a hint that we move back before we lose our way.
On the way back we saw a section of the road being lit up by a campfire. We didn’t remember seeing this setup when we had moved into the woods. What stood near the camp fire was a small truck with camouflage paint on it – something similar to what we had seen on our way back from the safari. We slowed down over there. A man in camouflage uniform and a rifle clung on his shoulder got up from the campfire and asked us to stop. He walked up to Ninad’s window and started questioning us on where we were from and what we doing in the jungle in the middle of the night. After answering his questions he made us open the fifth door and check out the Endeavour from the inside to make sure we were just tourists and not poachers. After getting over with his verifications, he warned us to head back to our resort. Upon asking him if it was illegal to drive on a national highway at night, he revealed that the problem was something different. These men were deployed in this area because a man eater was on the prowl! A day prior to our arrival, a woman had gone missing from one of the small villages around the jungle. A search party was later sent into the jungle. Unfortunately, the woman’s dead body was found in the morning, in half-eaten condition. We were further told that the suspected animal was either a 3 year old tigress or a 12 year old male tiger. The latter was reportedly the oldest tiger in the reserve and had gone missing from the jungle for over two weeks. There were no traces of his death either and hence some believe that he could have turned into a man eater due to old age and could be lurking around near the villages itself. Though the story sounded scary and interesting at the same time, we didn’t know how true it was. We headed back to the resort, discussing the same thing…
Since various deer were the only animals we saw in the jungle on the safari and the night drive, we decided to book ourself a ride for a safari in the core area of the jungle. However, to get to the core area, it is imperative to get all the documentation signed and ready before 5AM, yes, that’s even before the good ol’ sun makes an entry on to the scene. Our friend Ninad did not sleep the whole night thinking about the man eater. In fact he was so consumed by the thought that he got ready early in the morning and drive down to the jungle safari office to book a ride into the core area. Probably this one of the very few government funded offices in India that work even at 4AM. However, Ninad couldn’t get what we wanted. Since the access to the core area was limited, more so because of the man eater probability, we couldn’t get a seat on the safari. However, it kind of confirmed the man eater story. Frustrated, Ninad came back to the room and went off to sleep. Later in the day we all met up for lunch and discussed what we had heard about the man eaters. By now, the word was spreading across the resorts and some people were even cancelling their bookings due to the fear. We had no clue of what we could do for the remainder of the day. Our friendly waiter suggested we make a quick trip to Nainital. Sounded like a good idea. We had heard that the roads to Nainital are amazing and the place in itself is a beautiful hill station to visit. And we decided to head to Nainital. By the time everyone was ready to move out, it was 3:45PM…
The road to Nainital is indeed a beautiful one with a lot of twists and turns. There is oncoming traffic too but it’s quite scarce. Since we were to drive on this beautiful road, we took both the vehicles – the Endeavour as well as the Palio. I was at the wheel of the Endeavour throughout the twisties. However, about 10 kilometres before the end of the ghats, one of the wheels on the Endeavour started emitting a metallic sound. I pulled over to inspect it and what we had was a large bolt sticking its neck out of the rear left tyre. We parked both the cars to the side of the road to put the spare wheel on. But after removing the deceased tyre and then bring out the spare wheel from its housing, we realised that even the spare wheel was flat! Without wasting a minute, we bolted the punctured wheel back on the vehicle since it still had a tad bit of life left in it. Our aim was to reach Nainital before sunset and get both the gyres fixed. However, as fate would have it, 3 kms shy of Nainital, the tyre gave up and lost air completely. I some how tried to pull the car off the road but couldn’t manage it. A meter more and the tyre could come off the wheel. We had two wheels off the road and two wheels on it. The battle wasn’t lost yet. Kiran and I decided to take the spare wheel to Nainital, get it fixed and put it onto the Endeavour to make it drivable.
We removed the spare wheel and entered Nainital. At the entrance you need to pay a sum of Rs. 100, and you need to keep repaying it every time you enter, the same ticket ain’t valid again. Right after the entrance was a petrol pump which was shut already (7PM) and bang opposite the pump was a mechanic who too had shut shop for the day. This was just a hint of things to come. We entered the city and asked around for puncture repair shops. But after a lot of asking around, the only answer we got was, ‘Aaj Eid hai saab, sab mechanic aur pumture wali dukane band hai (today is Eid so all service centres and puncture repair shops are closed). Like most puncture repair shops in the western region of India are owned by Annas, the same shops in Nanital are owned by Muslims. We tried calling a few friends for help, but in vain. When the shops themselves were closed, what could our friends do anyway. Finally, with no other option in hand, we called up the Ford 24-hour helpline. I explained the whole situation to the guy on the call to which he agreed to help. A few minute later he called me back and told me that help would arrive but would take time since the closest Ford dealership was in Haldwani – an industrial town that was 50 kilometres away from where we were stuck. By the time all this jazz happened, it was already 9 PM. We headed back to where the Endeavour was stranded and waited for the Ford guys to arrive. A couple of hours later, the support vehicle arrived. Without wasting any time, our friend Trilok from Ford got the punctured wheel off the vehicle and put in another spare wheel that his team had brought along. Within minutes the Endeavour was back on four wheels that had somewhat similar air pressures. We were set to move and it was decided that we would head back for Corbett and chuck the Nainital plans altogether. But while the Palio eagerly cranked up, the Ford Endeavour posed was reluctant!
Since we had two wheels off the roads and two wheels on the road, we were switching on the hazard lights every time we would see a vehicle approaching. These lights had led to the battery draining out significantly and now the Endeavour wouldn’t start. Though not advisable, a normal car would still be push started in such a scenario. But the same can’t be achieved with an automatic transmission. So we had a new problem on our hands now. The guys from Ford got out their tools yet again and tried to give the battery a boost with the Figo’s battery. But the huge Endeavour engine needs an equally big battery to draw enough power from and hence the Figo’s unit wasn’t enough. By now all of us were frustrated, hungry and tired. But there were limited options. The Ford team even went to Nainital to look for help, but there was nothing to be found at 11:30 in the night. The whole valley was fast asleep already. We asked to Ford guys to go home since there was nothing that could be done until the next day morning. We spent the night sleeping in the cars again. As the day was about to break, we were woken up by the chatter of monkeys who had gathered around our vehicles. We managed to shoo them away without much drama and headed for Nainital again. The pump and the mechanic was still shut, obviously. We headed into town and spoke to a few truckers about our problem. They were eager to help but it was time for them to deliver their goods to various Market places and only agreed to come back later in the day. We didn’t know what to do, so we started heading back to the petrol pump and wait for the pump or the mechanic to open shop. Once we were there, we took a shot at our luck and called up the mobile no. that was scribbled on the shutter of the workshop. The person who picked up apparently ran a motor driving school in the morning hours and ran the service station during the day. Fortunately for us, he was close by and came around immediately to render help. Since we had explained him the situation, he brought along a Tempo Traxx to make the job easier. Within no time, the vehicle was fixed. After handing him a 500 rupee note, we started our return journey to Corbett.
Once back at Ramnagar, we got the spare wheel fixed, headed to the resort, packed our bags and started our return journey to Pune. It seemed like all the inconveniences were finally over. The roads were empty, no traffic jams whatsoever. Since I had to return the spare wheel at Haldwani and collect my repaired one, I had to take an alternative route which totally eliminated the bad patch of road we had experienced earlier. By night, we were already in Delhi. The next day we left early in the morning at hit Udaipur by nightfall. We halted at the same place where we had stayed at earlier. Himmat Singh treated us to a sumptuous dinner. After a brief sleep worth five hours we were rolling again. At Gujarat, we experienced some heavy rainfall which only lasted a few minutes, after which it was business as usual. After crossing the usual Mumbai traffic, we reached Pune by 11:30 at night. Next day morning we washed the Endeavour and returned in back to Bhavana Ford in Mumbai to conclude the trip.
Overall, we travelled more than 5,000 kms on this trip. Rarely do we get a chance to test a vehicle for such a long distance, across varying conditions. If we go to look at it, if the spare wheel was in proper shape we wouldn’t have encountered the chain of problems that we experienced in Nainital. The Endeavour delivered what was expected out of it and more. Overall, the Ford returned us a fuel efficiency between 8-10 kmpl which is slightly on the lower side, but we blame the auto box for it. But the same auto box extracts the power from the 3.0-litre engine in a very smooth manner and the combo has the ability to turn the objects in your rear view mirror to a mere spec in no time. In spite of driving around for the hours at a stretch, none of us experienced any sort of back or knee pain. The driver/passenger as well as the second row seating has phenomenal comfort and justifies the price tag. The third row seating is only good enough for kids, but in our case, it was folded away to make space for luggage. Enough has been said and written about the Endeavour by many experts already. But it can only be experienced once you spend some quality time with the vehicle like we did. After letting the Endeavour loose in all sorts of environment, like an obedient child, it highlights the facts as to what makes Ford an expert with SUVs the world over. We can’t wait to see what the new Endeavour will have in store for us with a lot of new creature comforts, better performance and all new styling which will present the new face of the Ford Motor Co.
Out heartfelt thanks to Ford India for giving us this fab vehicle for more than a week, and for helping us out when we were stuck at Nainital.
Go to next page for an image gallery of all the pictures from the trip>>>