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The Retreat To The Hills

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“I hope you guys know how to ski!”,said Ayush Dai with a straight face that belied his shamming intentions, as the four of us drove out of Kathmandu towards Daman in the Tata Sumo Grande. Two of us had never been to Daman before and the only thing we had heard about the place was that it occasionally snowed here sometimes during the winter. Though Sachin and I found it hard to believe, we did have some hope and imagined ourselves to be learning some ice skiing, of course under the guidance of Ayush Dai. Saurav on the other hand had been here before and played the perfect wingman by not spilling the beans. And it didn’t stop here. “We definitely shouldn’t miss out the deer farm too when we get there.” There he went again as he kept on raining a barrage of fibs upon the two of us who had never been to Daman before. Somehow, the fact that we were not totally buying his preposterous ramblings did not seem to deter him from his absurd ambition of making us believe that Daman was the closest thing to Switzerland we could get in Nepal. Imagining to be skiing past deer farms wasn’t a bad thought after all. That is exactly what you would expect when four guys set out on the road to unwind and relax.

 

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A sunny day and with the i-pod compatible 6 speaker Alpine stereo system on full blast, we were soon easily winding down from Nagdhunga 25kms towards Naubise on the Tata Sumo Grande. Its massive stance made it much easier to hold our ground against the monstrous trucks and buses that have a tyrannical grasp over smaller cars in the highways of Nepal. As Saurav continuously bombarded us with his thorough knowledge of “Did you know?” facts, the two of us lazed on the spacious second row seats like spineless slugs with our belongings flung on the other seats further back. Before we knew it, we reached Naubise and stopped for a late lunch. We started off with a couple of plates of Nepali style fried chicken, mutton, spicy potatoes, fried chicken intestines and beaten rice. I would like to warn our readers that all four of us are heavy eaters, and pretty adventurous when it comes to food. After we polished off the plates, we took maybe a 30second break and called for another round. Just then we realized that the ‘world famous in Nepal’ Rainbow Trout fish was available here too and to round off our feast, we ordered half a kg of that famous thing. Sadly the cook completely managed to destroy the specialty dish by deep frying the extremely frozen trout. So what we had on our plates was debris of dried out fish with hardly any flavour and that didn’t really look like it weighed half a kilo. When questioned why it was prepared so badly, out came the rather lame reply that this was how it was prepared there and we didn’t find a reason to argue further. So next time you are here, never waste your money on these. However, there was nothing left on the plates except for inedible fish scales.

 

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Drowsiness usually follows a late lunch, especially when you’re on the road. But of course unless you have three pesky friends who will not stop braying along to ‘Riders on the Storm’ and ‘Born to be Wild’. So as the absurdly expensive meal fermented in our bellies, the Tata Sumo nonchalantly climbed up the uphill loops to Daman. The 2.2 litre VTT Dicor engine on the Grande had enough torque to climb up the route and rarely required a downshift. As we ascended higher, the sun shone brighter and the air cleared out with hardly any trace of the city life we had left behind. Hasty pedestrians and annoying motorists were replaced by men and women chopping up wood for the night’s dinner and children lazily herding goats beside the roads. At one point the conversation even steered to the size of a goat’s testicles and one of us constantly claiming about its amazing taste when fried. I won’t tell who but I guess by now you already know who it was. And let us leave it at that. With our frequent photography breaks along the route, the 55kms to Daman from Naubise still seemed a long distance away. However, once we reached the village of Palung, Daman felt like it was just around the corner. As we ascended even higher and climbed through dizzying hairpin bends, the weather took a different turn.

 

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A misty fog slowly veiled the bright sun that had shown throughout the day and the mercury dropped a couple of notches. We were then greeted by a tall white sign that read “Daman-2320m” and yes, not an ounce of snow in sight. As we got out of the warm and cosy confines of the Grande that was blessed with Dual A/C even had integrated roof mounted ducts for the rear, we realized how chillingly cold it was outside. We stretched ourselves, put on an extra layer of clothes and breathed in a lung full of fresh cool air. We had a quick browse around and decided that going a little higher up towards Simbhanjyang would be worth it. As we did so, the misty atmosphere had us popping out of the dense fog in our Sumo Grande like Shahrukh Khan from the scenes of “Main Hoon Na”. It was almost 4 hours since our last feast and our stomachs were already grumbling with hunger. We returned back to Daman and decided to check in at the famous Everest Panorama Resort, from where one can get a panoramic view of various mountain ranges on a clear day. We parked the Grande besides the road and made the long walk to the resort on foot. But suddenly the weather gods had a mood swing. Out of nowhere, we were pelted with tiny hail stones and had to scramble for shelter. Eventually, we scampered into the restaurant a little soggy and within a breath ordered our meal. It took them some time to get our food ready and it was disappointing that the food didn’t live up to the standard the luxurious resort boasted of. But still we cleared the plates like ravaging animals while the hailstones ricocheted off the window panes.  After wiping our faces with a satisfied grin, we raced back to the Grande while the hail died out.

 

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It was already dark and we checked into a cosy hotel couple of kilometres downhill for the night. It was a chilly night and we were in deep slumber in no time, cocooned in our warm blankets. Sadly, the next morning too we didn’t get any view of the mountains as the weather was still foggy. So after some sightseeing around the vicinity, we headed back home after a heavy lunch at the hotel. It was going to be a long way down. Again we descended at a slow pace due to the frequent photo stops. But after a while we had to stow the camera away as it started to rain. We then got a bit enthusiastic on the Sumo Grande and raced it non-stop down the deserted winding roads. Despite of its heavy stance, the Grande flung out of the corners with little struggle and was enjoyable. On the way back, we came across a couple who were stranded because their car broke down. Despite the fact that they could be murderous hitchhikers waiting to rip out our intestines, we decided to be good Samaritans and gave them a lift as the Sumo Grande easily had the space to accommodate four more extras. But it was like they weren’t even there as we continuously chatted along the way. A quiet couple indeed! We though had to censor our conversations, now that there was a woman present. Somehow, with the non-stop drive, the trip back seemed much shorter and the taxing uphill the previous day seemed a breeze when going back down. We reached Naubise by dusk and gradually climbed towards Kathmandu behind a lot of sluggish trucks. There are few things that could be improved in the Tata Sumo Grande but for its segment it proved to be a formidable and comfortable tourer. The power steering does feel on the heavier side and it might seem too huge a vehicle initially. But that should be the last of your worries as the engine packs enough power to move this huge mass, offers good visibility all around and has an imposing road presence which is a must need on our highways. The Tata Sumo Grande delivered a good experience with optimum performance, decent interior features and suitable fuel economy.

 

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All in all, it was a great road trip, despite being a short one. Daman is the place to be especially in the summers, if you are looking for a respite from the heat and humidity at a short distance from the valley. On a clear day you can have a fine grandeur view of the Himalayan Range extending from Dhaulagiri in the west to Everest in the east. The Tribhuvan Highway is also one of the most adventurous highways in Nepal if you love corner carving on wheels. And, when it snows here during the winter you might just be able to ski provided you bring your own skiing gear and know the tricks of the trade!

 

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