Honda high | Drive To Discover- Northeast

A trip to Northeast India for the 12th edition of Honda’s Drive to Discover confirms an old office adage
Honda Drive To Discover- Northeast
Honda Drive To Discover- Northeast

Turn back the clock few weeks you would find me in the office, shivering with excitement and desperately trying to calm my racing heart. Why, you ask? I received a notification from the Ed that I have been chosen to represent evo India at the 12th edition of the Honda Drive to Discover expedition. I skimmed the itinerary and saw that the 500km journey would begin in Siliguri and would take me through some of the most picturesque parts of Sikkim, including Gangtok, the 14,140ft high (and snow-laden) Nathu La pass, the town of Pelling at the foothills of Kanchenjunga, and the pleasant town of Kalimpong. Now, I drive cars every day but this would be my first time driving on mountain roads for five days. Anxiety set in, but a few colleagues reassured me, saying, “Is there anything a Honda cannot do?”

Tickets booked, bags packed and goodbyes said in the office, I set out on what would be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure story for me. In a matter of hours, I touched down at the Bagdogra airport and before I could breathe in a lungful of fresh mountain air, I was whisked away in a cab to Siliguri, the journey’s starting point.

 After some paperwork in Siliguri, I noticed a convoy of Honda vehicles, including the Honda Elevate, City (including the hybrid!), and Amaze, and my anxiety returned as I wondered which car I would get to drive on the first day. A delectable meal calmed the butterflies before I was handed the keys to the Honda City hybrid for the trip to Gangtok. Siliguri is a city with a plethora of roads in various stages of construction. But I did have a strong hybrid variant of the City nameplate that has been on Indian roads for 25 years and boy, it did not let me down! It sped through traffic and dropped me right onto what I was looking forward to — the mountains and the roads that lead through them. In typical sedan fashion, it carved up sharp corners while remaining composed even at high speeds. The handling did not come at the expense of comfort, as the suspension absorbed the bumps and potholes that littere mountain roads. However, this was not all; a two-hour traffic jam just before Gangtok added to the difficulty. But the hybrid powertrain shone through, delivering an impressive 19kmpl even in stop-and-go traffic. Finally, as dusk fell, I arrived in Gangtok, marvelling at the ease with which the City hybrid had overcome the day’s challenges.

On the second day, there was a sense of urgency in getting to Nathu La before 1pm, a critical entry deadline into the region. But I had the Honda Amaze to rely on in this race against the clock. The 1.2-litre engine surprised me with its impressive power, particularly in hairpin turns, as it handled the treacherous twists and turns of NH 310 with grace and agility. The Amaze felt more like a go-kart, responding to every move with pinpoint accuracy, which was essential for maintaining control on the treacherous roads. The journey led me to the snow covered roads of Nathu La, which marked a watershed moment for the Drive to Discover expedition. For the first time a Drive to Discover edition drove through snow and I was there. To commemorate the occasion, tour guide Shankar distributed hot jalebis, which tasted divine in the chill of 1 degree Celsius. Later that evening, I returned to Gangtok, writing a tearful entry in my journal about my first experience with snow.

Drove through snow covered roads of Nathu La
Drove through snow covered roads of Nathu La

 I knew the road ahead would be more difficult than I had anticipated and reports of rougher roads from the locals forced a change of plans. The two sedans had served well but I decided to try the Elevate SUV with 200mm of ground clearance and all the comfort of the City. With broken tarmac and breathtaking bends, the 128km road to Pelling lived up to my newfound expectations. The Elevate, on the other hand, smoothened out everything. The suspension absorbed potholes, and the engine’s eagerness to continue pulling past 6000rpm kept the enthusiast in me happy. The hours passed into twilight but the breathtaking views of Kanchenjunga in Pelling made me realise that the day was about more than just getting somewhere; it was about the drive itself.

Keeping with the tradition of swapping cars every day, I then climbed into the naturally aspirated Honda City with a manual transmission and headed for the most difficult roads I would encounter on the trip. Darjeeling, perched atop the Himalayas, felt akin to the Everest. A few hairpins later, I began to have doubts: could this city car, designed for grace, handle these rough, broken roads? But the City caught me off guard. The 119bhp and 145Nm proved useful on the climb, and I was never out of power, even on the steepest and muddiest hairpins. When I arrived in Darjeeling, I was surprised to see that I was the first of the Honda convoy. This elegant vehicle had just ascended the mountains and my narrow judgement of judging a book by its cover. The road from Darjeeling to Kalimpong was not much nicer but I did not blink. I drove with renewed zeal, knowing that I was in the hands of a warrior.

 My mind wished for a gentler farewell to the drive, while the adrenaline from the previous day’s mountain challenges was still pumping. But true to the #ThrillOfDriving spirit, I could not help but choose the agile Amaze again. As though the mountains were bidding a peaceful farewell, the roads of the day were a comforting balm. The 1.2-litre iVTEC engine of the Amaze also purred in unison, allowing me to take in the scenery – a last taste of freedom before the grip of city life tightened. I thoroughly enjoyed the 65km return trip to Siliguri, where the well-known urban chaos was waiting. The under-construction roads turned into a playground, with the Amaze weaving through traffic with a playfulness that I adored once more. As I settled into my seat on the flight back to Pune, a bittersweet pang washed over me – the road had come to an end but memories, like mountain peaks, would stand tall in my heart forever. However, as I sit down to write, I feel like just another officemate confirming the adage, “Is there anything a Honda cannot do?”

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