Adventurous couple restart their ‘borderline drive’ despite near fatal accident
Not even a brush with death has dampened the spirit of the driving couple from Chennai, Harsha Koda and Prabha, who have resumed a journey from the very spot it was cut short 7 months back when their Xylo ran off the coastal road in Orissa. Harsha tells the story
Prabha and I bought our first car in 2000 and we have been 'on the road' ever since. For the first 10 years we did not take public transport at all, be it a wedding or a meeting or a holiday, we drove, be it Bangalore, or Pondy or Mumbai or Delhi, we drove.
Driving is a passion. We have always loved the 'freedom' it brings to our schedule. I guess it is an extension of the lifestyle we have.
Nothing, not even a near fatal accident, can keep Harsha and Prabha from the roads
We work on our own and make our own schedules, so why would our travel be any different.
As far as The Borderline Drive is concerned, it started off as just another 'theme'. We have done drives where we have explored one state at a time - like the Kerala Drive of 2002, Karnataka in 2003, Valley of Flowers and Himalayas in 2008 or more recently the Homestays drive in 2010.
In the homestays drive we explored the unique aspect of staying at homes and experiencing the lives of the locals in Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa, Himachal, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttaranchal.
So, for us Borderline was just another theme, but with a lot of challenges and interesting aspects.
The unique aspect was that the path or the drive would pass through almost each one of India's states. Also there were so many areas that were un-reachable and sensitive because of the militancy, political unrest and also due to enemy occupation.
But we decided it had to be done. It would be one long and difficult drive and we decided if anyone can do it, we can!
Prabha is the 'official' navigator and she always comes up with the most interesting routes.
If you have to get from point A to point B you can be sure she will take us via point C one way and via point D on the way back and en-route you are sure to have the A-to-Z of entertainment, sights, experiences and what not!
I just follow the directions and drive. My task is simple.
Another aspect that has always interested us, and was instrumental in forming the idea behind the Borderline Drive was that we never really understood the basic concept of 'conflict over land'.
We have always wondered how and why two sets of people who speak the same language, eat the same food are today 'enemies' because of a line that separates them - a line that was drawn by some political act.
It was interesting to see, on this drive, the emotions behind the 'existence' of people, especially those on the borders with Pakistan. The locals are so 'sandwiched' between the army and the 'terrorists’, they have lost their identity in the bargain.
In any other part of India, when we stop at a chai shop we are greeted with questions galore. Where are you from? Driving... so far? Mad or what? How is the weather in Chennai? Where is Chennai? Near Mumbai, eh? How does the sea look?
But in Jammu and Kashmir there is no conversation. They give you the chai, you drink, you pay, you leave. They don't want to socialize with you. They do not know if you are an informant to the army or to the terrorists, so better to avoid talking!
There were 'pleasant' borders too, like Nepal and Bhutan. Not too much of a hassle getting to the border or crossing over for a few miles. Peace and quiet here was a refreshing change.
The north-east was another experience. For starters, it should honestly have another time zone.
It has no similarity with the schedule that the rest of India follows. Sunrise at 3:30 am and by 4:30pm it's pitch dark
But unfortunately they have to follow IST. So kids get home from school only at dusk and hardly have time to play. The government offices however open at 10 and close at 3- "because it is getting dark, we have to go home.”
The whole area is unexplored and has immense tourism potential. The Brahmaputra for one really blows the mind!
When people usually say 'we went to the north east for holiday' they are essentially referring to Sikkim, Kaziranga and Shillong. These are just at the mouth of the region.
There are many amazing places there that are just waiting to be explored. If the 'ethnic unrest' between the various tribes could be resolved, this region has so much to offer - from the Rhinos to the Gibbons to the beautiful Eastern Himalayas and the wonderful tribals who inhabit there places.
When we spoke to our friends about this idea a lot of them came out in support of this. Mahindra & Mahindra offered to support us with service backup, Max Lubricants from Bharat Petroleum came forward as a sponsor, Michellin gave us tyres, Red Bull 'gave us wings' and Hammock Holidays helped us in the hospitality.
The Social Cause
We have been working with Jeevan Blood Bank for about 15 years creating awareness on blood donation, be it by designing the publicity material or organizing blood donation camps at offices where our friends worked.
When Jeevan stepped into Public StemCell banking, naturally we were a part of the whole concept and how better to take a message all over the country than to talk to people about it.
We were surprised to find that old tribal traditions in Rajasthan, Gujarat and even in Arunachal Pradesh understood the importance of the umbilical cord and it had significance in the life of the newborn. It was kept tied to the cradle of the child till it was a year old. They believed that it protected the child from diseases.
We did not address meetings. We did not go and meet doctors. We just spoke to everyone we met about the importance of donating the umbilical cord and storing the cord blood because 'only Indians can save Indians' as far as stem cell treatments are concerned.
Our aim was to get people thinking, talking about it and make them aware that such an option exists.
We had conquered the highest passes on the toughest roads of the Himalayas, cruised some notorious roads of the north east, and barely escaped a few militants and bandits in Bihar and Kashmir.
Just the day we thought that life is going to be easy thereon, as we entered the four-lane highway on the Orissa coast.
I had to swerve to avoid a fish cart (motorized rickshaw) full of people who suddenly moved towards us and while we saved those 5 people from colliding with us, our Xylo toppled over several times and landed in a paddy field some 30 feet from the highway.
Miraculously, I was able to unfasten my seat belt after the vehicle landed. I had to get out via the back door before pulling out Prabha. She was badly injured because the door on her side had opened during the roll-over and she was half outside the car with her face in the mud.
By the time I got her out of the mud a few villagers came over and helped us. Someone called an ambulance.
Some others went around and picked up all our belongings that were scattered all over the fields. The good thing was that both of us were conscious through this entire period.
During those few days after the accident, we were amazed by the support we got from friends like Arif Rizwy and people who were strangers to us till then, including Sanjay, Bijay, Subashish, Jillu, the local Bharat Petroleum managers, staff, and dealers.
When we share the story of our miraculous escape and the gratitude of strangers, most people tell us things like "good things happen to good people", you have helped many and "you are getting back your share", etc.
But we are totally convinced about the universal goodness that is inherent all around us. We believe that we tapped, just a wee bit, into the amazing powers that life and universe has to offer
Over the last 7 months we have been at Chennai nursing our wounds and trying the get our energy back.
In fact, on the third day after the accident, as she lay on the hospital bed in Cuttack with IV tubes on both hands and barely able to open her eyes Prabha said, "Call me stupid, or mad or whatever, but can we finish the borderline drive, as soon as I can travel, 2 months, 3 months, 6 months or whenever!"
Back on the Road
We will be restarting the drive on 8th June from the very spot that the accident occurred. 21.77N & 87.2E
We will be driving down the east coast up to Kanyakumari and up the west coast to Mumbai - to finish the loop at the exact spot we started - The Gateway of India.
On the last leg we had done about 17,000 km. This leg will be about 7,000, not too much, but considering that the monsoon has just hit Kerala, it is going to be tough none the less.
Without the support of our friends at Mahindra & Mahindra, we wouldn't be re-starting The Borderline Drive. We thank Bharat Petroleum too for extending their support to the drive.
The new avatar Haliaetus (our Mahindra Xylo) is waiting for us at Balasore, where the guys at Basanti Auto have done a fantastic job of reviving our vaahan.
Ask any trekker about the pain and torment of the climb, and he will undoubtedly tell you that the 'bliss' and 'silence' at the summit was worth every step up the mountain.
We believe in enjoying the journey as much as we enjoy the destination.