Saturday, October 26, 2013

Driving through Ghats – Hill Driving in India

Driving through Ghats – Hill Driving in India 

I don’t consider myself to be an expert in driving, even after thousands of kilometeres I still feel I have a lot to learn.  However, during these thousands of kilometers I have driven in many different situations including several different terrains. Undoubtedly driving through the Ghats section of India, is definitely a challenging task. Be it driving through the Western Ghats or driving through the hills of Kumaon, each has its own set of challenges and excitement. I will list down my experiences, learning and some driving tips that might help other enthusiastic drivers. 

I will try to list down my instances of hill driving in India here below, 

Simple tips to drive through the ghats: 

  1. Drive unhurried – it’s the first lesson to be learned. Any haste, rash or fast driving in the ghats section should be completely avoided. 
  2. Always stick to the left side of the road – Even if you find the roads completely traffic free, still maintain the discipline of holding the left side. This will avoid all possible accident causes that happen on the blind turns. 
  3. The right to move on the hills always goes to the upcoming vehicle – if you are driving downhill always allow the upcoming vehicle to pass, even if that requires you to stop. 
  4. Honking in that serene environment is not always acceptable, unless it is a completely blind turn and you don’t see anything on the other side. In some turns it is mandatory to honk, they even have placed symbols to honk there, but people carry this habit in the entire ghats section and try to honk in every turn. Somehow that is not required and is very irritating as well. 
  5. During the night however honking is never needed since headlamps give clear indication regarding vehicle approaching each other. 
  6. It is not advisable to use high beam on the hills as the glare and blinding effect can be very dangerous for the oncoming vehicles, always maintain dipper. 
  7. Always drive at the maximum possible gear, only when the car isn’t able to hold then downshift – this will give you enough power when required on some steep climbs and will significantly improve your fuel economy. 
  8. If the roads are too narrow for two vehicles to pass simultaneously, the same rule applies as to who goes first – it’s always the upcoming vehicle that gets the preference. 
  9. For people or co-passengers who have motion sickness – it’s advisable for them to sit in the front seat and watch the road ahead. Sitting at the back seat and looking out of the window gives the impression to your mind that you are still however your body is actually moving. However sitting in the front seat and watching the road ahead will keep your mind occupied in thinking that everything is in motion, hence there won’t be any conflict. (Have you ever noticed that drivers in the ghats section never suffer from motion sickness – the reason is very simple – there’s no conflict between their mind and body) So sit in the front seat, watch the road ahead and you will be surprised to see that you wont suffer any motion sickness 
  10. Always carry Ginger Ale drink with you – it’s a remedy of motion sickness during the hilly terrain 
  11. If you have to stop and park your vehicle in the hills on the roadside, ensure you don’t do that immediately before or after a turn. Always try to park outside the road and so that your car is visible from a long distance from both ends of the road. 
  12. When going downhill, never ever switch off your ignition thinking that your car will be able to roll downhill without any effort. Most modern cars have their electronics linked to the ignition, once the ignition is turned off all these gizmos turn off as well.  For instance, without ignition the power steering won’t work and the steering wheel will get locked in certain cars. In some cars even the brakes stop functioning properly when the ignition is off. So to avoid all possible accidents, never switch off your engine when rolling downhill. 
  13. It’s okay to let your car roll downhill in neutral gear. Just ensure the engine is on. This will ensure all electrical systems are running and since the engine will be at its lowest RPM, so the fuel consumption will also be minimal.  
  14. Always anticipate the turns and keep a watch on the signboards along the road 
  15. If you are driving with windows open, then be cautious in foggy conditions. As the fog may mist your windscreen resulting in hazardous situation. It is advisable to roll up windows in the hilly terrain and keep the AC on. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Advantage of ABS in cars – Anti-lock braking system

Anti-lock braking system


We all know ABS is a better braking technology but only 1-2% of the driving community actually knows what that technology is all about. I have always maintained that we Indians are really ill-equipped as far as knowledge is concerned. And to state the facts, it’s not our fault entirely. Even the sales person prefers to portray how good is his car than the competitor, instead of showcasing and educating the customer on ABS – EBD – BA and stuff. 

I can say from my personal experience that if I was explained about ABS while purchasing the car, then I would have surely given a second thought on buying the base model without these features. 

After being 73,000 km old in my car, after putting in some R & D on ABS, after watching videos of ABS on youtube, now I realise how significant is ABS and that it’s literally a gamble with your life, to not have ABS in your car and venturing out on the road. (unless of course you never drive above 40 kmph). 

Earlier it was only ABS (Antilock braking system), now they even have gone a step ahead with EBD (Electronic Brake force distribution) and BA (Brake Assist). ABS however works on a very simple concept. We all have noticed those long black tyre marks on the road, both in the cities as well as highways. We immediately know that somebody tried to apply the brakes with full force and because of that the rotation of the tyre stopped but the vehicle skid and kept on moving because of the sheer inertia, hence those black tyre marks on the road. The vehicle ultimately stops but it’s not effective. First it’s risky as the driver has no control on the vehicle when it is skidding and second is obviously the wear and tear of the tyre. 

What is ABS

In simple terms ABS is a technology that restricts the skidding of the tyre. Technically ABS is a sensor installed in the tyres that checks whether the rotation of tyres has stopped or not while the vehicle is moving. If the rotation has stopped because of the sudden application of brakes then ABS immediately releases the brakes and initiates the rotation so that the vehicle doesn’t skid. Once set in motion it again jams the wheel by applying the brakes. This entire process of jamming and releasing happens for multiple times in every second. Effectively, it increases the friction of the tyre with the road by keeping the wheels moving and also avoids skidding by stopping it immediately once set in motion. 

Hence, if you apply sudden brakes in ABS vehicles then you wont find that long black stretch mark on the road behind the vehicle rather there would be small intermittent black marks suggesting that ABS was working during the application of brakes. 

Advantages of ABS

  • Lesser stopping distance 
  • No skidding of tyres (even on wet road condition) 
  • Control is always available on the steering wheel for manoeuvring left or right 
  • Less wear and tear of the tyres 

What is EBD – Electronic Brake Force Distribution

EBD or electronic brake force distribution is the next level of technology that goes alongwith ABS. With the help of EBD the braking pressure is distributed onto the 4 wheels of the vehicle based on the weight that falls on that particular wheel. Hence if during the braking the car is not straight on the road then some wheels will have more pressure to brake than the others. EBD simply understands the requirement of braking pressure distribution and applies the brakes in all 4 wheels based on the force, hence obviously more effective. 

What is BA – Brake Assist 

Brake Assist is a second step over and above ABS and EBD. The idea behind BA is that when we apply brakes in an emergency situation, sometimes we might not be putting in all the effort to brake completely. Hence Brake Assist is a technology that recognises a emergency situation with the force with which we press the brake pedal and in such a situation if there is any remaining braking power available, then it completes the full force of braking by assisting the driver, hence, helping in emergency situations. 

So much for braking effectively. A lesser known mortal would just add his few cents here saying, why drive so fast at all? To be precise, it’s not about driving fast, it’s about braking more effectively. Even at 40 kmph if the roads are completely wet, ABS can significantly reduce your stopping distance and avoid any skidding of the vehicle. 

So next time you go into that car showroom, don’t get loaded with the competitive blabber which the salesperson gives you. Rather, take an informed decision and go for the model with ABS + EBD + BA, Sometimes that might also mean spending a little bit extra. But the peace of mind will surely be yours. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Drive from Hyderabad to Pondicherry

Drive from Hyderabad to Pondicherry

My quest for driving seems to be increasing day by day. After every long drive, I feel the next time I can possibly do an even bigger one. When I managed to complete the Hyderabad – Gir stretch, I realised that Hyderabad to Pondicherry road trip won’t be that difficult. Being the first vacation with my dog Eins, the road trip had its own fun and challenges. 

Due to the expected political disturbances on 02-Oct, we preponed our trip to 01-Oct. Little we knew that we would get stuck while coming back. 


Total kms driven: 2200 km from door to door 
Onward Route: Hyderabad – Vijayawada – Chennai – Pondicherry 
Onward Time: 16 hours 
Return Route: Pondicherry – Vellore – Bangalore –Penukonda – Bangalore – Hyderabad 
Return Time: Journey break – political disturbance 
Car: Ford Fiesta Petrol (2006) 
Passengers: 5 (Both of my parents, my wife Supriya and my dog Eins) 
Conditions: Hot weather with car AC on for the entire length of the trip 
Average Mileage: 12+ km/lit 
Total Cost of Fuel: Approx Rs. 14500 
Total Toll: Approx Rs. 1000 (Both ways) 
Driving Objective: Safe and Secure (no genuine rush with proper pit-stops for fuelling, breakfast and lunch) 
Maximum Driving Speed: 170 km/hr (occasionally on expressways when the roads were too inviting)

Day 1: 01-Oct 2013 (Tuesday) – Drive from Hyderabad to Pondicherry 

The plan was to leave Hyderabad by 5 AM, but by the time we could set-off it was 5-45 AM. Straightaway took the Outer Ring Road and went towards the Vijayawada (VWD) highway. The stretch till VWD was beautiful, newly laid bitumen surface was really a treat to drive. Before the journey I did some research on the route to be selected, there were 2 options, one via VWD and second via Bangalore which is a little longer one. I chose the VWD route thinking I will catch the golden quadrilateral (GQ) from VWD to Chennai. 

The road condition from VWD to Chennai was not as I expected it to be. The GQ work is still under progress and there are umpteen diversions to be taken all the way along. Most of the times you have to drive on the service road. Although you don’t face any oncoming traffic, yet driving on the service road one can never increase their driving speed beyond 100 kmph. Precisely the reason why it took more than 16 hours for us to cover that 950 km. 950 km was also the distance between Gir and Mumbai which I covered in 13 hours, however this was a different story.  

This time we were travelling with our dog and it was very important for us to stop after every 2 hours to give him a break, make him walk and relieve himself during the journey. Since the car was packed with 5 passengers so all the luggage had to go in the boot, even the refreshments and the snacks. I was really surprised to see the 7 year old car running absolutely perfect carrying all that weight on its back. Kudos to my first love. 

Somehow before evening stuck, we reached Chennai, but unfortunately it was Monday and we got stuck in the Chennai traffic for almost 2 hours before we could finally catch hold of the Pondicherry highway. After that it was cool and we managed to reach Pondicherry by 10 PM. It was an extended drive of 16 hours however I did share some of the driving distance with my dad. 

A debatable topic comes forth here, self driving vs shared driving. I will probably write about it in a separate post, but the fact remains true – for me shared driving is too difficult to manage. I will prefer to get tired and drive on my own rather sharing the car with some other driver – even if it is my dad. The peril of sharing the driving seat is that I hardly get any rest. Even when I’m not driving virtually I keep watching the road and that keeps my mind occupied. My foot automatically goes to the brake pedal on watching a possible obstruction; hence I don’t find it to be a good idea to let somebody else drive the car with me taking a back seat. 

Day 2: 02-Oct (Wednesday) – Resort stay 

No driving, just relaxing on the sea beach. 

Day 3: 03-Oct (Thursday) – City tour 

Went on a city tour to cover some of the prominent tourist attractions in and around Pondicherry.

Day 4: 04-Oct (Friday) – Resort stay 

No driving, just relaxing on the sea beach. 

Day 5: 05-Oct (Saturday) – Drive from Pondicherry to Bangalore 

After all the fulfilling days of enjoyment, now was the time to go back. Considering the traffic of Chennai, and not so good road condition of GQ, I decided to go to Hyderabad via Bangalore. Now the usual route from Pondicherry to Bangalore was under construction hence people were driving through vellore. We did the same and reached hosur by 12 noon. The road condition from vellore to hosur was just awesome. Till vellore it was good enough with very little traffic through Arni which runs a state highway. From hosur we took a right turn and plan was to skip the city and join the Hyderabad road at the new airport. After a lot of effort through the so called bypass, we managed to reach the bang-hyd highway. We stopped at BP Ghar which had a Kamat dhaba. Had our lunch and started for our onward journey to Hyderabad. Minutes after entering Andhra we got to know from a toll booth that the roads were blocked by seemandhra agitators and we couldn’t move ahead.  

Now Bangalore was 150 km behind us, but with family I couldn’t take a chance of going forward. Hence went back to Bangalore and stayed at my childhood friend’s place. This was the second time I went to Prabhat’s place in Bangalore; he was too kind to offer us a place to stay for the night. 

Day 6: 06-Oct (Sunday) – Drive from Bangalore to Hyderabad 

Today, we planned that we would leave after dark and drive through the night till Hyderabad to avoid the disturbances during the day time. Left Bangalore city around 5 PM and entered Andhra border by around 7 PM, things were cool along the way and we reached Hyderabad safely around 1 AM. I always avoid night driving, this was a deliberate one hence learned a lot about driving in the night. Will write a different post on the pros and cons of day driving vs night driving

Hyderabad Bangalore stretch is heavenly as always. This was the third time I was driving from Bangalore to Hyderabad and the roads are still as beautiful as they were a few years ago. I restricted my speed under 100 kmph and under 3K RPM mark all through the journey from Bangalore to Hyderabad, and surprisingly my car gave a mileage of 17+ kmpl. Being a 7 year old petrol sedan, with 5 passengers on board, boot filled to the brim and AC always on, I think it was a remarkable achievement. 

GO FIDA once again!