Tata SOUL | Northeast road trip with the Harrier and Safari
Mystical, magical, virgin, so many adjectives are thrown around about the Northeast of India, and especially Arunachal Pradesh. Their true meaning can only be understood to the fullest when you spend a week up in the mountains there. It was my first time on those mighty mountains, but I’d say it’s a good start for a 20-year-old! So many of the 10 participants and their companions were also there for the first time, eager to soak in the plains of Assam and the mountains of Arunachal on the Tata SOUL Iconic North East Drive with the Tata Harrier and Tata Safari SUVs.
Tata SOUL, short for SUV Owners United League, is a community of like-minded SUV owners who love to go on adventures together. These adventures help one find the car’s true capabilities, explore new places and ease planning the whole logistics of a vacation since it is professionally curated. The aim of these drives is to bring Tata SUV owners together and celebrate the Safari and Harrier by taking them on an adventure.
While the option to rent out cars was open, many chose to drive their own SUVs, even if it meant driving from wherever they are based, to Guwahati which was the start point of our drive. On this drive, several participants had driven down from places such as Bhubaneswar, Nagpur, Bangalore, Ghaziabad and even Chennai. This only meant one thing — we were with a bunch of proper enthusiasts. Some of the participants had already been on previous Tata SOUL drives while most of them were new, travelling with their friends and family, with ages ranging from six to sixty-five.
The first step of our journey was to Kaziranga in Assam. The road to Kaziranga was an uneventful four-lane highway with a few twists and turns along the way. The Tata Safari and the Harrier have always been excellent mile munchers — brilliant ride quality and dynamics without compromising on comfort levels. Just as we passed the ‘Welcome to Kaziranga’ archway at dusk, in the rearview mirror I saw the golden light kissing the front end of the Kaziranga Edition Harrier in our fleet.
Unfortunately, a safari in the Safari could not be arranged at the Kaziranga National Park as private vehicles aren’t allowed. Nonetheless, we witnessed the famous one-horned rhinos on the lush green plains with mountains in the background. Various other animals such as elephants, water buffaloes, swamp deer and a variety of birds were also spotted. The jungle safari was followed by an authentic Assamese lunch. With our stomachs full, everyone was energised and raring to go exploring; a plan was made to visit a waterfall in the vicinity. And what a route it was to the waterfall! Country roads with multiple stream crossings and boy, did we smash through all of them! The Safari and the Harrier with their high ground clearance and punchy engines went through all of these crossings without skipping a beat. As the light began to fade, we made our way back to the hotel.
The next day, crossing the 3km-long Kaliabhomora bridge built on the river Brahmaputra, to reach Nameri was the main highlight. The roads were consistently smooth with a few less-than-ideal patches along the way but our convoy glided over all of them. When I was in the office at Pune, preparing to leave for the drive, a colleague had warned me about landslides in this area. I had dismissed it, thinking they were being overly cautious, but that is exactly what happened on the route from Nameri to Dirang. A landslide had blocked the usual route and this meant a long drive the next day with a detour back to Assam before turning right for Arunachal.
An alternate route was mapped to reach Dirang which extended our drive time by four hours. You would expect at least some people to be late when you tell them to wake up at the crack of dawn but to my surprise, everybody was on time and excited about the ten-hour drive. The BRO-maintained roads turned out to be pretty good for the most part with a few patches where the road simply ceased to exist but neither the Safari nor the Harrier had any issues. These SUVs are tough and built for terrain such as this, even with all the unpredictability. One thing you can bank on is these Tata SUVs taking you to your destination despite all the challenges thrown at them. As we climbed up the mountains, I looked to the right and saw a valley filled with clouds at eye level and it was then that I realised how quickly we were climbing. After a long drive, we finally reached Dirang for a riverside lunch near Sangti valley and the beauty of the landscape just kept getting better at every stop.
The drive up to Tawang via Sela pass was when things started getting serious and where we got the first taste of high altitude. Sela pass is one of the higher motorable roads in India standing at a tall 13,700 feet and acts as an entry point into Tawang. A really simple yet fascinating indicator I found of being in a high altitude zone was when I reached out to take some chips, and found the packet all bubbled up due to low air pressure. Until then, the mountains covered in a blanket of lush greenery were fairly visible. However as we got near Sela pass, thick fog began to appear and visibility dropped exponentially. As we navigated through the fog, a colourful gate appeared saying ‘Welcome to Tawang’. Moreover, we also visited Paradise lake along the way and the participants were left speechless by the beauty of the place. The wind chill coupled with altitude can be a challenge for people who haven’t experienced it before, so before altitude sickness could kick in, we continued down the mountain.
We spent the next day in Tawang to visit Bum La, which is situated at an altitude of 15,200ft. It is one of the four border personnel meeting points between the Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army of China. Usually, civilian vehicles are not allowed here but we were very lucky to have gotten permission from the Indian Army to take the whole convoy of 13 SUVs to Bum La. We did not encounter any snow on the way but peaks draped in snow were visible on the Chinese side. As we got out of the car near Bum La, we experienced the mind-numbing cold of sub-zero temperatures. It’s a chilling experience to watch Chinese soldiers wearing full PPE kits standing just 20 metres away, that’s how close we were to the border.
Our chests swelled with pride at the bravery of the Indian armed forces to hold the fort in such treacherous conditions all through the year. It was an otherworldly experience for all the participants and I am sure, no one will forget it. The convoy then took the next three days to head back from Tawang to Guwahati. On the way back, we stopped at a monastery where we donated stationery supplies to kids from various age groups. It was immensely fulfilling to end the trip seeing smiles on the kids’ faces. The nine days made friends of strangers; many already making future travel plans together. While the route and the drive was beautiful, it was made memorable by the Harrier and the Safari. Adventures need capable steeds such as these, just so you can go that little bit further, and you know the car has got your back.
The Tata SOUL Iconic North East Drive started from Guwahati and took us to Tawang through Kaziranga, Nameri and Dirang. Throughout the journey, we visited monasteries, war memorials, and mountain passes. The temperatures varied with the altitude, the road surfaces changed and challenged us everywhere but for those nine days, we were in a different world, far from the worries of the city, making memories that will last a lifetime.