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A few must-have travel companions

Freewheeling cross country is an experience that has no parallel. You can have grand, adventurous holidays, provided you have a tough, well-maintained vehicle and are prepared to handle uncomfortable surprises.

health and fitness Updated: Nov 30, 2009 20:47 IST
Mike Pandey

Freewheeling cross country is an experience that has no parallel. You can have grand, adventurous holidays, provided you have a tough, well-maintained vehicle and are prepared to handle uncomfortable surprises. In fact, people come up with inventive solutions when they are away from help.

This was best demonstrated when I spent over six weeks in the Himalayan ranges following India’s master road builders — the Border Roads Organisation. They work miles from civilisation, where accommodation is non existent, and we spent most of our time at the road construction sites.

Into the warrens
When the weather was good, we rigged up the large roof rack of the Landcruiser into a tent. Sometimes, the seats doubled as beds since proper accommodation was many kilometres away. But the severe high altitude winters with the bone-chilling winds freeze everything up. Tents couldn’t be used during these times and we would spend the night huddled inside the jeep, covered in heavy blankets.

But what about the BRO jawans and roadbuilders? Most of them finished work before dark and drove over a hundred miles to the nearest base camp or habitation. Some, however, had to remain behind. How did they live? They’d dug pits in the ground and lined them with wood, grass and straw. A trapdoor fashioned from bitumen barrels covered the top. Its inside was like a rabbit’s warren, warm and cosy, and far more comfortable than the jeep.

For the next few days, we spent our nights in the improvised warrens — a strange throwback to Stone Age days !

Putting gravity to work
A few days later, we travelled to a remote part of the mountain region, stumbling across huge boulders to reach the road building site. BRO officers had placed explosive charges to gouge out a channel in the sheer mountain face. We took cover.

The ground shuddered as the explosion tore out the hard rock. The mountain reverberated for a long time after the explosion. Clouds of dust and debris rained down. No one spoke for a time. Work done, we decided to leave early the next day. It was an extremely cold and foggy morning and the engine spluttered to life, then suddenly died. The fuel pump lever had shattered!

Forced to be inventive, I decided to put the spare jerry can of fuel on the roof rack to use. I removed the carburettor feed pipe and replaced it with a plastic pipe fixed into the jerry can. Gravity did the rest. The jeep started without a hiccup.

Apart from a sturdy vehicle, experience, knowledge and common sense are your most reliable companions. A cool mind and basic mechanics can help you out of most tricky situations.