Rajasthan, at this time of the year, is a bit of a wanderer’s paradise. The somewhat post-apocalyptic, barren lands of India’s westernmost state are best enjoyed from the cool, air-conditioned confines of a car in the summers. However, it becomes a pleasant weathered hinterland during the days the earth distances itself from the sun. So the moment Honda invited us for the sixth instalment of their Drive to Discover event that was happening in Rajasthan, I packed my bags and flew to Jodhpur.
The Drive to Discover initiative has been conceptualized and organized by HCIL (Honda Cars India Limited), which aims to showcase the durability, quality and reliability of the Honda cars. The sixth edition of the rally saw the participation of 20 auto enthusiasts from leading automobile portals, magazines and publications, including us. The drive started from Jodhpur on the 9th of January, moved through Jaisalmer, the heart of Thar desert also known as the Golden City and concluded on 12th of January at Jodhpur after crossing Barmer. The rally would encompass a journey of more than 700 kilometres. As you’d know by the time you end reading this, we covered even more.
As the descent to Rajasthan initiated, I fixed my gaze at the massive state’s arid topography below. Arrow straight roads cut across the primordial landscape, which seemed to be speckled with sparse vegetation, and the odd farm or the rocky hillock. Sandy trails branched off from the well-paved roads and ran deep into the annals of the sun-baked terrain. The perfect props for an epic road-trip – yes sir!
Jodhpur – Day 1
We touched down Jodhpur just before sunset, with the pilot announcing a very pleasant 24 degrees outside. As we checked into our hotel, the very sumptuous Hari Mahal by Taj Vivanta, the sun was crackling off its final embers over the blue city’s enchanting 15th-century Mehrangarh Fort. Curious, I went to the hotel’s parking lot to see our designated wares that we’d be traversing through Rajasthan with, starting the next day.
Cars from Honda India’s entire line-up, expect the Mobilio and the Amaze greeted me at the parking lot. Our whole troupe, which included fellow motoring scribes and photographers, apart from Honda’s representatives would be embarking on this road-trip in ten cars. There were six units of the Jazz hatchback, two units of the City sedan, and two units of the CR-V soft-roader. Apart from that, Honda also wanted us to sample their new app, called the Honda Connect (more on that later).
Anyways, I freshened up at the hotel, and decided to explore the city with a couple of fellow journalists from other publications. We called for an Uber (yes, they’re alive and romping even out there) cab, and headed over to Jodhpur’s main shopping destination; Sardar Market. I’m not much of a shopaholic, but since the fort was shut after sundown, immersing oneself amidst the local colors and flavors seemed to be the right idea. Sardar Market is sprawling mélange of thick Rajasthani culture centered around a Clock Towers that dates back to..one of the centuries that don’t start with a twenty.
One walk around the bustling market got our city slicken senses pasteurized by the potpourri of spices, leather goods, street food, traditional garments, local handicrafts and antiques. Being a foodie, we quickly ordered a plate of kachori and gaajar ka halwa from a small shop. The kachori was cut into shreds using a pair of scciccors and dipped in mouth-watering, heavenly gravy, while the gaajar ka halwa came with a fresh coating of malai. I still have the taste stuck to my tongue, and still smack my lips, in case morsels of that kachori soggy with one of the best gravies I’ve ever tasted still linger on.
We even had some hot, thick milk sprinkled with kesar to counter the rapidly dropping temperatures. Content with the snack, we headed back to the hotel to attend the official dinner and cocktail party. By the time we reached the hotel, I was glad I was carrying a jacket that I bought from Manali. The pool side soiree went well, and we were greeted with a traditional performance from local artists.
Jaisalmer – Day Two
The next day, we were flagged off to Jaisalmer, some 250 odd kilometres away. I was in the Honda CR-V, and drove for the latter half of the journey. Getting out of Jodhpur’s hustle and bustle in a matter of minutes, we hit the highway. Driving in Rajasthan, as I was about to find out, is as blissful as it is dangerous. The roads, mostly single carriageways, are usually spotless, sparsely trafficked and straight. However, patches of road work suddenly come at you without warning, and suddenly the surfaces give way to gravel and dust. Especially at night, these road works are to watch out for as barrelling down the good patches at three digit speeds becomes the norm.
Then there are the animals. Most of these highways, like the one which we were on (NH14) pass through uncharted territory, where animals roam around freely in the middle of the road. Species commonly loitering around are cattle, goats, sheep, camels, dogs, donkeys and the occasional, suicidal nilgai that doesn’t give two hoots about darting across the roads from nowhere. Luckily, during the day, the arrow straight roads cutting across the plains, coupled with the pristine blue of the skies and mellow sunlight meant that visibility wasn’t an issue. At night, however, things can get tricky.
Back to the road from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer, we made good time. The road opened up into an arrow straight rib of tarmac, and the scenes outside were quintessential Rajasthan, replete with camels, sunshine and sand. Though desert-like landscaping had started appearing, there were still no signs of the famous dunes. We stopped for lunch at a resort that served lip smacking laal maas, post which I took over the wheel.
The CR-V that I was piloting was powered by a 2.0-litre petrol engine strapped to a manual transmission. On roads like these, the CR-V was completely at home, as I massaged its naturally aspirated motor for some nice tunes and rowed the awkwardly placed, but slick shifting gear lever. The soft-roader lapped up the roads without a sweat, and also posed against the setting sun as we neared Jaisalmer. We reached the historic city just before sundown, and checked into The Gateway Hotel on the outskirts.
The setting sun’s last rays had smeared a part of the enchanting Jaisalmer Fort in red, as it towered above the “Golden City”. I quickly freshened up, and headed out to explore the city. But this time, we took the Jazz. It’s 1.5-litre diesel motor proved to immensely tractable, while the relatively compact dimensions were a boon in the tight by lanes of the ancient city. Jaisalmer is beautiful, every nook and corner of it. We parked the car and set off deeper into the city’s archaic by lanes on foot.
Period architecture loomed above us as the lanes got narrower and squelchy. Brooding pigeons made guttural noises as they sat on top of the buildings that seemed to have frozen in time. And of course, the cows just stood like statues, silhouetted against the darkness, and unhindered by society that still continues to worship them. The brief walk down the well of time led us to a local, government authorized bhang shop. Yes, bhang is legal in Rajasthan, and can be consumed in many forms. After having a lassi or two, we headed back to the car, and drove back to the hotel, but not before getting lost in the maze of streets and loitering cattle.
Laungewala – Day 3
The next day was by far, the most interesting of the entire strip. I stuck to the Jazz, and along with a City in tow went to this place called Laungewala, some 120 kilometres away from Jaisalmer. The road to Laungewala from Jaisalmer is a ribbon of untainted asphalt that cuts straight across spectacular, ochre yellow landscapes juxtaposed against one of the bluest skies I’d ever seen.
Then there are the windmills – thousands of them; spiking up against the blue and relentlessly chopping the air. We stopped for a rather long photo shoot on a deserted stretch of the arrow straight highway and sped off towards Laungewala.
For the uninitiated, Laungewala, situated barely 17 km from the Indo-Pak border is where the Pakistanis attacked us in 1971.
One of the two antiquated tanks which were captured from the Pakistani forces has been turned into an exhibit.
After Laungewala, we encountered the majestic sand dunes; the real ones with just sand and no traces of vegetation – what a sight it was! Obviously, we had to ditch the cars and climb these massive, towering dunes on foot, which proved to be quite the task, given my nicotine stained lungs. However, the digging into the lukewarm sand and getting up on top on all fours proved to worth every breath of it, as the view was simply mesmerizing.
By the time we were done exploring, the evening was starting to creep in, so we decided to head to the village of Kuldhara, some 17 km from Jaisalmer. Now Kuldhara is one of the many deserted and haunted villages that speckle the vast, dry lands of Rajasthan. Folklore has it that the entire village had disappeared one day, giving in to the angst spread by one tyrant king. Nobody knows where the villagers went, except for the fact that they had left over the ruins of a village where, to this day, their souls reportedly wander in the dead of night.
The gates to Kuldhara stay open till late at night, and word has it that nobody has been able to spend an entire night there. Ever. We weren’t doing that for sure, but as we entered through the gates and saw the ruins that lay in front of us, the spectacle sent small chills down our spines. Against the orange of the setting sun, the remains of the stone houses seemed almost surreal. As the sun went down, we waited for supernatural forces to come and rip our hearts out, but nothing of that sort happened. But the ruins had that mystic, enigmatic charm about them that I’ll never forget.
When we spoke to the guard later, he stated that paranormal activities do take place, but only after 11’o clock at night. Well, it seems that ghosts have their time too. Too tired (and scared) to wait for them, we drove back to the hotel in Jaisalmer completely famished, had a hearty dinner and went off to bed.
Barmer to Jodhpur – Day Four
The fourth and final day saw us drive back to Jodhpur via Barmer. This was a longer route and promised better scenes along the way. By lunchtime, we reached Barmer, and post that, my fellow journalist and myself, who were in a Jazz, lost ourselves. Without feeling the need to check our maps, we decided to bludgeon ahead at full speed. Little did we know that we were heading towards Gujarat, and NOT Jodhpur.
After a couple of hours later, we saw the landscape change from semi-arid to partly green, while the roads became more populated. Bewildered, we saw that most of the vehicles sharing the road bore GJ registration. The truth sank in, and we were about to begin our little (mis)adventure. We realized that we had come more than 100 km the wrong way, and finally starting consulting our maps.
The night was falling and it was getting really chilly outside. We took turns at driving, because the maps said Jodhpur was more than 300 km away! As the sun completely left us in the dark, driving on those dual carriageways was becoming increasingly taxing on the eyes, as truckers barreled at our little Jazz with their full headlight beams aimed straight at our exhausted corneas. After that, even our maps started misbehaving.
We chose a detour on the map that promised to chop off 50-odd km. Glad from the fact that we were finally settling into our course towards Jodhpur, we bumped off onto the detour, which was not more than a car length wide. As we drove further into that road, we started getting the creeps. Not a single living being was in sight, and pitch darkness enveloped everything outside. Images of bandits and dacoits started flashing in our minds, and kid you not; these kinds of deserted, forgotten Rajasthani roads are infamous for miscreants like them, especially at night.
Suddenly, the Jazz’s headlamps picked up three people just standing by the road. We panicked for a while, but realized that they were harmless. What were they up to in such a place after sunset; we never bothered stopping and asking. But that was enough; we wanted to get off this road. But the map indicated something else – this particular road had to be followed for the next 150 km.
We stopped and checked the map once again. To our relief, we found that this road branched off to one of the highways which we had initially planned to take before coming across this godforsaken detour. Every minute of that night drive on that bumpy, single lane, evil infested road was accompanied with bated breath from the both of us. We heaved sighs of relief as the Jazz’s tortured tires finally kissed the highway. But wait, it wasn’t over yet!
As we trundled along the dual carriageway, it stuck us that we were heading in the wrong direction – again! The map failed to re-route itself and kept showing us the wrong way. Luckily, we hadn’t come too far off, and had to trace back our steps. Somehow we hung on, and after carefully planning the route back all the way to the hotel in Jodhpur, we embarked on the last leg of our journey. Small roads were a big no-no and we stuck to the main highways this time around.
On the outskirts of Jodhpur, the roads started worsening. Stretches of construction work riddled the last 70-80 km, and the poor, tired Jazz had had enough. Its front skid plate gave way, and started kissing the ground all the time. A Good Samaritan at a petrol bunk used a piece of string to temporarily patch us up and we were on our way again. It was way past midnight when we reached the hotel in Jodhpur, and by then, we were completely fagged out. But nothing that good dinner and a good bed can’t amend.
The next day, we woke up fresh as daisies, bid our goodbyes, recollected our little misadventure and headed back to Mumbai. A chunk of January well spent!
All the cars used in Drive to Discover came equipped with connected device supported by ‘Honda connect’. ‘Honda Connect’ is an information platform which provides convenient access and detailed information about the vehicles and other services.
Using smartphones, the Honda Connect app’s diverse features provide convenient access to detailed information about Honda vehicles and other services. It also supports Connected Car features enabled by a “Connected Device” easily integrated with the car. The feature will give customers important information about their car even when they are not with it and provide a sense of safety and security.
The My Car’s Health section shows engine health, battery life, and even records the smallest of impacts the car is inflicted with.
The Trips section conveniently remembers and records the last few trips made by the car.
If your beloved Honda gets stolen, then fear not. Honda Connect will locate it for you.
Honda Connect also shows the complete details of your car, including service history and when the next service is due. One can even book the next due service online.
Both petrol pumps and the nearest Honda dealership en route are highlighted by Honda Connect.
The service is being offered at Honda dealerships exclusively to all new customers of Honda Jazz, Honda City and Honda CR-V at an introductory price by Honda’s subsidiary for accessory business.