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Zip, zap, zoom

Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu | Updated on July 03, 2020

Wheels of time: Self-driven holidays are being viewed as the safest   -  ISTOCK.COM

A drive to the hills has to wait, but the highway and a clutch of destinations are still all yours

Remember the time when we simply did as we pleased — before a certain virus rode roughshod all over us and brought our lives to a screeching halt? I have had to bid goodbye to the road in general, and a Himalayan summer in particular — an otherwise annual affair that had long coincided with rising mercury levels. Prepping the car and whizzing off to mountain adventures had almost always been a part of my life.

The summer of 2020, however, was largely expended in vicarious travel, nostalgic reminiscences, and the hope that the monsoon would usher in a further easing in inter-state travel regulations. After all, rain-drenched drives along mountain curves (and almost everywhere) are just as memorable as sun-soaked ones — be it in the Himalayas; the Nilgiris in South India, dotted with pretty tea-estate towns and biosphere reserves; or the moss-green Sahyadris in the West, with lakes and abandoned forts. The charm of stopping by villages — where one can find the warmth of no-frills hospitality and beverages — makes the rainy-day drive even more enticing.

As we cautiously steer ourselves towards feel-good activities, self-driven holidays are being viewed as the safest and most Covid-19-appropriate. With intra-state movement being permitted, exploring or rediscovering the backyard is increasingly catching the fancy of the activity-challenged, and is by and large being enjoyed as a day excursion.

 

The relatively intrepid are zooming off further afield, to destinations employing less stringent border-crossings; Rajasthan, for instance, for those based in Delhi NCR and nearby towns and cities such as Chandigarh. Which is why — coupled with effective communication of safety standards — Jaipur’s The Tree of Life resort has found family-filled cars drawing up to its porch since mid-June. Not as often as they’d like, I suppose, but the irresistible allure of the Aravalis bathed in monsoon showers is likely to change that.

The open spaces of Punjab, at the end of a six- to eight-hour drive from Delhi NCR, beckon just as invitingly. Slicing through its vast countryside, as the rain beats down to rejuvenate the land, is a delight. One never tires of the sight of dexterous farmhands, shin-high in water, transplanting saplings from paddy nurseries.

The once-frantic highways have begun to breathe again, allowing for acceleration that matches Eddie Rabbitt’s I Love A Rainy Night on the CD player. I found that Citrus County Firdaus, a farm stay in Hoshiarpur, ensures physically distanced parking for guests’ cars, alongside sanitised private cottages and appropriately attired staff.

Ready, steady, go
  • Timely car service is important.
  • Tank up a day prior to departure.
  • Check tyre pressure and tread.
  • Ensure electrics — lights, indicators, wipers et al — are in working condition.
  • Seatbelts should be in peak condition.
  • Stack the glove compartment with relevant documents (insurance, pollution check, registration), charged flashlight, hand-wash/sanitiser, face masks and a first-aid kit.
  • Keep handy an Eicher road map or/and a GPS.
  • Complement the tool-kit with an electric pump and puncture sealant for tubeless tyres.
  • Plug in a car converter to charge devices.
  • Stock up on trash bags to avoid littering.

As we eagerly wait for the Himalayan states to let us cruise up to their remotely located villages and rain-washed valleys, let’s veer towards the atmospheric ravines of the Chambal. Reached in under a couple of hours from Agra, these lend themselves to memorable off-piste excursions. Besides, there is a certain je ne sais quoi quality to the petrichor that emanates, and lingers long, from its sandy floodplains. And although river safaris will be off the charts — watercourses are in spate during monsoons — the temples of Bateshwar, banked on the Yamuna less than a half-hour drive from Mela Kothi in Jarar, Agra district, are more than worth a visit. It is time now, don’t you think, to slap on that mask, get behind the wheel, and step on it?

(Please look up state-specific travel advisories and stay options ahead of planning a visit)

Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu is a freelance writer based in Chandigarh

Prepare for the splash-dash
  • First-timers, non-experts and those unfamiliar with terrains to be visited are advised against going down this slippery road. Even dyed-in-the-wool drivers need to keep several pointers in mind while planning a self-driven monsoon holiday, regardless of topography.
  • Ensuring the roadworthiness of vehicles is of paramount importance.
  • Should you be placing confidence in cab companies, hire only experienced drivers knowledgeable about the lay of the land.
  • Remember to check road conditions before setting out; it will help plan your timelines. Your intended destination hosts will have the latest updates.
  • Ignore local wisdom and advice at your peril.
  • Keep a close eye on the weather forecast; avoid travel on days when heavy rains are expected.
  • It never hurts to leave early — and drive slowly — to reach your destination with daylight on your side.
  • Be prepared for uncertainty and delays due to landslips, roadblocks, detours and other eventualities.
  • Pack long-sleeved, warm clothes as temperatures tend to drop with the rain.
  • Carry quick-dry towels, raingear, and waterproof shoes.
  • Reusable water bottles, prescribed medicines, and insect/leech repellents are best kept handy.
  • Secure devices in waterproof wraps; zip-locks work wonderfully well.

Published on July 03, 2020

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