Saturday, August 5, 2017

Tawang x 2 : Sumo Singh, Road King

It only took about 10 seconds for our Sumo driver to regret his decision.

For the past 6 days, our hired driver Mr. V had been driving his Tata Sumo with the expertise needed to negotiate the treacherous roads in and around Tawang. The steep broken roads winding through mountains, which were in equal measures beautiful and deadly, requiring a combination of the Buddha and Mad Max in the driver to make it both safely and on time.

No wonder then, that I was reasonably surprised when he said “Abhi aap chalao! [Now… you’ll drive]” Though on really friendly terms with him, I did not ever ask to drive.

I joked “Ab takk aap daraa rahein the humko, abb meri baari hai. [So far it was you who were scaring us on these roads. Now it’s payback time.]”

Mr. V shrugged “Mujhe koi darr warr nahin lagtaa. [I ain’t afraid.]”.

A worried voice, one from our group of 7, chimed in “Aurr bhi chhe log hai iss gaddi mein, please yaad rakhnaa. [Please remember that there are 6 more people who don’t feel that way]”

Everywhere you look in NW Arunachal, there is a view... and a chance of falling
I did mention that I was reasonably surprised. Did I mention that I was absolutely overjoyed as well?

This, as it happened, was my second trip to Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang area. Having made my previous trip exactly one year ago, I had fallen in love with the scenic valleys, towering mountains and remoteness, which in a strange way, were actually protected from popularity by the scary nature of these very roads. Being able to drive here was an unexpected bonus!

Yes, lovely it is!
I smiled… a “is this really happening” kind of a smile and put the vehicle into gear. We headed south on our way to Bomdila from the riverside at Dirang.

Mr. I-Ain’t-Afraid lasted all of 10 seconds. Then he said “Yeh gaon mein thodaa aaraam se… yahan ke log bahut danger hai! [Take it easy… in this village. These folks are very short tempered.]”

But Mr. V… he was trapped in the third row. There was nothing he could do. This was EPIC!

I’d be lying if I said that I was fully comfortable with the vehicle.

For starters, I was struggling to find first gear and had to make do with second. This struggle, only because it was an old vehicle (I swear), may have caused some rudder shudder in my passengers. Also, the sheer size and weight of the Sumo made handling it a significantly different challenge from the dinky little Maruti 800 that I usually drive in Kolkata.

One of my "passengers" asked me to check the brakes. I replied “Haan, hain! [Yes, they exist]”. Strangely enough, not everyone found this funny.

But about 4 minutes in, the Road King symptom, as I like to call it, began to manifest. When a vehicle is significantly larger than its fellow transportation on the road, it makes its driver feel slightly pompous. “Make way”, in his mind he is thinking, “the King is coming.”

Old and shaky and beaten half to death by these rough roads, this baby was still a powerful beast. Seated like an emperor on my extra cushion, I watched, with detachment, the road ahead and charged on.

Corners? No problem, I spun the steering like a Pokeball, this way and that. Other vehicles? Chal hatt peechey [See you later]! Broken sections of the road? At least I didn’t feel any bumpiness in my driver’s seat.

It was evening and I may have driven only 4-5 kilometres of this heavenly green mountain road before Mr. V took the wheel again. The *official* reason given by him was the incoming fog which had started obscuring the road to Bomdila. When I requested feedback from our group, some of them even said “Haan! Haan! Accha chaleye! [Yes, yes, you drove well]”

But the real feedback was already received when after only those few minutes of my driving, Mr. V asked from the third row “Abb main chalau phirse? [Shall I take the wheel again?]”

Before & After
Before I could even process the question, 6 voices, none of which were mine, shouted in chorus “Haaaaan! [Yes]”. 

Outvoted 7 to 1, I had to give in to democracy.

He lived briefly but gloriously. Sumo Singh, Road King.

Road King urf Sumo Singh :P
[This is part of my blog series, Tawang x 2, on what possibly is my favourite part of India, north western Arunachal Pradesh]

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