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The Nano Expedition

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Never underestimate anybody in life. It’s a popular moral piece of advice. But most of us never learn our lessons unless we experience it firsthand and the same happened to us ignorant ones at AutoLife only recently. Tata Nepal had approached us to do a road trip and that did get us mighty excited about the offer. But frankly, we were a little skeptical when we learnt that we had to drive to Jiri on two Tata Nanos. This roadtrip would see the Nanos cruising through all sorts of terrains like cities, highways, hills, off road, etc and this was going to be a challenge, no doubt. So we weren’t really sure about our well being on this nearly 200km stretch of treacherous and winding uphill road to Jiri from Kathmandu. But boy, were we proved wrong! Here is the story of how the Nano turned things around for us, shattering almost every myth and proving that the Nano is as drivable, capable and reliable as any other car.

 

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First of all, it was amazing to see the response and celebrity level attention that the Nano garnered on the streets during our trial runs in Kathmandu. The level of anticipation for the Nano was surprising; especially among mid-aged motorcyclists who inspect the Nano inside-out and kids who lust for it as if it was some toy. Now, the funny thing was that almost every person that noticed the Nano would blurt out the word ‘NANO’, as we passed by. Well, it isn’t called the people’s car for nothing. Anyways, we were told that the Nano, powered by a 624cc single cylinder engine, was capable of a top speed of 105km/hr. So the morning we set out for our trip, as the highway to Bhaktapur was relatively empty, we gave it the pedal to the metal. We were dubious about crossing that ton mark, but the expressions on our faces were actually worth capturing rather than the photograph of the speedometer achieving the same with the yellow top speed warning light blinking furiously. The car did take some time getting there, but the amazing fact was that it still felt rock stable. With a wide grin across our faces, we moved on towards Dhulikhel where we were beginning to know the Nano in the twisties and loving the prologue to our trip. The car was doing great. The drum brakes complimented the weight and dimensions of the petite Nano. It was a delight gunning the little toddler down towards Dolalghat, as we drove in tandem managing good cruising speeds. And, since nothing beats the joy of hot tea by the roadside on a cold winter morning, we finally stopped by for some at Dolalghat, pushing the Nano further down the road. Driving by the riverside is always fun and it’s much more exciting when you realize you can actually get down to the river and relax for some time by the sandy banks of the river. The lazy bums that we are, instead of walking, we drove the Nano along the stony and sandy path towards the river at Sukute. We were glad that the car did not mind our stubbornness at all and took us near the river without scraping its belly or getting stuck. Why we dared to do that? Well even if we got ourselves stuck in the mud, the Nano weighing in at just 600kgs, could be easily pushed out by the well-built five of us that were comfortably seated in the two Nanos.

 

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We then lunched at Khadichour on the regular highway fare and took the diversion towards Charikot. The road from Khadichour till Charikot boasts of some of the most infamous winding uphill roads in the country and this was one of those points where we were precarious for our well being aboard the Nano. But again, the car comfortably tip toed ahead in 2nd gear even with four full grown adults on board. Even the lack of power steering was hardly felt with the car easily maneuvering due to its light weight. After our frequent photo stops, we finally made it to the foggy town of Mudhey and climbed higher towards Kharidhunga. Kharidhunga is home to one of the best Magnesite deposits in the world and with all those burned Magnesite lying around the limestone surfaced field, the place provides a visual treat to any passer-by. As soon as you reach here, the vista suddenly opens up to a dramatic view of sky and land. The nearly 5km public road passing across the site is always in very bad condition and at roughly 2700m above sea level, this is one of the highest road pass in Nepal. Thankfully, the Nano with its soft sprung suspension ensured that we were comfortably planted on our seats during the entire bumpy ride. By the time we reached Charikot, it was already 6pm and we still had a good 55kms of another set of winding roads to complete. As the sun finally disappeared behind the horizon and the roads illuminated by our headlights alone, sharing spooky stories came about pretty naturally. First off were the chilling stories of countless unsuspecting drivers who fall prey to the seductions of sultry damsels that dwell the barren tarmac. Another particular thriller was the unsettled souls of faceless toddlers, playing in the roads in the dead of night. While our minds played vicious pranks on us with shrill laughs and visions of bodiless arms tapping at the side window to accompany the demented fairy tales, a stray stump appeared unexpectedly in the middle of the road. As we swerved to avoid the obstruction, a deafening silence spread and our stories petered out into the night. To our relief, we finally made it to Jiri at 8pm and surprisingly almost the entire town had already gone to sleep.

 

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Jiri is a small bustling village located at a road distance of roughly 190km from Kathmandu and situated at an altitude of about 1900m. Earlier Jiri used to known as ‘The Gateway to Everest’; since people used to start the trek to Everest from here before the airstrip at Lukla came into existence. The drive to Jiri took us through some fine sections of narrow and winding roads that were built in assistance from the Swiss Government. We checked in at the Hotel Jirel Gabela, which was probably the only hotel that had safe parking facilities for our two Nanos. After a tasty dinner, we passed away the night sharing stories and jokes in our Shisha smoke filled room, and sipping away the local specialty Tongba to beat the extreme chill. With clean rooms, good food and very hospitable owners this hotel is definitely the place to stay the next time you are at Jiri. The next morning we caught up on breakfast with fine fresh cheese and toast before checking out. After a roam around town, we drove towards the Alpacas farm, some 8kms on the way back from Jiri. The Alpacas are strange animals that look like a hybrid of sheep and camel. These animals were imported from South America and are bred at a private farm here for business purposes. They sure look strange but their wool easily fetches around Rs.1.5 Lakhs for a kilo. Yes, if the Tata Nano had more space, we would have definitely hijacked a couple of those animals from the isolated farm.
The return journey proved more fun as we were more confident with the Nano and literally sped our way through the empty road in the morning. This is not an exaggeration but at some fine stretches of road, we did feel like as if we were driving through some rally stages. Yes, the Nano was that good! Also, its small road presence made sure that we had a safer margin for other vehicles to pass considering that we stuck on to our side. Every one of you who thought that the Tata Nano is an underpowered, small city car, please do take note. The Tata Nano did drive home a point that it is as good as any other car and handled the highways without any pain. Though it’s surely lacking on features but in terms of speed, space, comfort, pickup, 18kmpl fuel economy and value for money, we only have praises to say about Nano. Despite of limited engine capacity, the Nano does tend to out-perform itself at times. Of course would have done more wonders had it been available at least below the 5 Lakhs price range which is sadly impossible due to our absurd taxation policy of nearly 240% and showroom prices in India already starting from roughly IC 1.5 Lakhs. But what the heck? It’s still the most affordable brand new car that you can drive out of the showroom in Nepal with prices starting from roughly Rs.8 Lakhs.

 

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So getting back to our story, we then lunched at Mudhey on the return leg of the trip. Those delicious mutton curries served at the local eatery could definitely give some of the restaurants in Kathmandu a run for their money. But taking second helpings of gravilicious mutton curry did not turn out to be really the brightest of ideas on one of the Nanos. It is very difficult to play the blame game in a car with just two people when one of us lets a stinky one loose. Nevertheless we beared it all. With most of us braying like donkeys to the tunes being played in our Nanos, our ear drums were at the brink of shattering. It was a good thing we were maintaining a steady speed, else a few rotten tomatoes definitely had our names on them. Finally after countless conversations on almost every topic under the sun, we made it back to Kathmandu safe and sound with zero technical glitches and not one bit tired.

 

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Jiri is indeed the place to visit if you want to unwind yourself in the countryside with a couple of holidays to spare. So get your motors running and head out on the highway…

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