Travelogue #4 - Chennai to Yercaud

What do you usually do to beat the heat of summer? Chances are, like many others, you would head to one of the popular hill-stations nearby. For most people in Tamil Nadu, this choice inevitably narrows down to Ooty or Kodaikanal. But if you are looking for a calm and peaceful vacation over a weekend, take those two destinations off your list right away. Both of them have reached the peak of popularity and are bearing the brunt of excessive commercialism. If you are thinking what would be your next best bet, think no further. Yercaud, it is.

Yercaud has all that is there in Ooty and Kodaikanal, but in a smaller scale. At just around 1500 meters above sea level, it is not as taller and so much less cooler than the other two destinations. But, more importantly, it is also not as popular as the other two and hence is calmer, cleaner, less polluted and less congested. The terrific ghat roads with those 20 hairpin bends make sure that you cover the 35 odd km from Salem in no time. So, without waiting any further, pack your bags and head out to Yercaud for a short and refreshing break.

The entire town of Yercaud is so small that the best way to explore it is by foot. Taking prime place in the center is an artificial lake with boating facilities which is the major tourist attraction of the town. All the roads surrounding the lake are lined with shops and roadside stalls that are so typical of an hill-station. Grilled corn, homemade chocolates and an assortment of scented oils that are available in plenty provide the local flavor to the visitors that is not to be missed.

There are a couple of temples and quite a few view-points with peculiar names like Pagoda Point, Gents Seat and Ladies Seat that are worth paying a visit for the splendid views that they offer. The roads diverging from the lake will take you to one or the other spots mentioned above. Follow the sign-boards and you will not go wrong. The roads leading to and from and in and around Yercaud are comparatively narrow but are superbly surfaced, making them a driver’s delight. They can be tempting at times, so exercise caution.



* Total No of Days: 2 (28.05.2011 - 29.05.2011)
* Vehicle Make & Model: Tata Safari
* Odometer Start Reading: 146140 km
* Odometer End Reading: 146987 km
* Total Distance traveled: 847 km
* Total Quantity of Fuel filled: 83.45 l
* Average Fuel Consumption: 10.15 km/l
* Net Worth of Fuel filled: Rs 3550
* Destinations Covered: Yercaud
* Route Followed: Chennai-Villupuram-Salem-Yercaud
* Best Stretch of Road in Plains: Chennai-Villupuram
* Worst Stretch of Road in Plains: Kallakurichi-Salem
* Best Stretch of Road in Ghats: Salem-Yercaud
* Worst Stretch of Road in Ghats: None



For obvious reasons, Yercaud has started gaining popularity and in a few years down the line, would probably not remain as much beautiful or peaceful as it is right now. Enjoy the virgin beauty of this place before it goes the Ooty and Kodaikanal way. And, as in any hill-station, please do not litter and strictly avoid using plastic bags. I did and I am urging you to do the same. Happy motoring!


BharatBenz (Daimler) Trucks spotted testing near Chennai

The Germans are invading big-time in all sectors of the Indian automobile industry. As part of that invasion, the German auto major Daimler’s commercial-vehicle division has set up its base at Oragadam near Chennai and is building up its manufacturing facility there. The company even unveiled a huge, first-of-its-kind oval test-track at Oragadam and launched its specific-for-India brand ‘BharatBenz’ along with its logo a few months back.

While the first model launch from BharatBenz is still a few months away, the trucks have started venturing out onto public roads for undergoing real-world testing. A couple of those trucks were spotted testing last weekend in the NH4 (Chennai-Bangalore Highway). There are fair chances that these are the clearest spy shots yet of the BharatBenz trucks in India. There was no doubt that these trucks belong to BharatBenz as design similarities with Mercedes-Benz’s international models were clearly visible.

Both the trucks were medium to heavy duty haulers and had two axles at the rear. Most of the design elements in both the trucks were similar except for some exceptions like the taillights and the rear crash guard. At first glance, you can immediately notice the solid build quality in the body of these trucks and everything looked fit enough to withstand abuse on our roads. Also impressive was the truck’s amazing stability in an emergency braking situation that was encountered. The price is expected to be on the higher side too.   

The front end of the trucks were partially camouflaged hiding most parts of the grille and the bumper with integrated headlights. The overall design bears strong resemblance to the other popular global models of Mercedes-Benz like the Actros. In one of the trucks, the slotted grille and positioning of the round BharatBenz logo can also be seen. The rear had nothing noteworthy except for the horizontal slotted taillights in one of them. No other details of these trucks like the name, the payload capacity and the power-train options have been officially released.


Tata Military Vehicle seen testing in Pune

We all know that Tata Motors makes an enviable line-up of vehicles starting from the little car Nano to the heavy duty truck Prima. Some of us also know that some of Tata’s vehicles are being heavily modified for military purposes and are sold to the Indian Army. What we didn’t know or atleast, I didn’t know till now, was that Tata is developing a full-blown and dedicated military vehicle on its own. That is why I was startled to see the Tata logo in this vehicle while it was passing in the opposite direction near Talegaon in Pune.

It is so obvious that this vehicle is intended for military usage and not for us civilians. The military green camouflage paint just makes sure that doubts, if any, about its target audience are put to rest. At first glance, the massive size of the vehicle strikes you immediately and commands your respect. In fact, the passenger compartment is set so high that small ladders are provided in the sides to climb onto them. Also attracting attention were the peculiar-looking muffler and the big, rugged tires.

With ‘Temp’ registration plates on it, it seems that the vehicle is being tested. All in all, it looked all set to serve the Indian Army by conquering the rocky mountains and the snowy peaks. As nothing more about this vehicle could be inferred, it would be nice if someone can throw some light on the proposed name, power-train and other details of this vehicle. Once again, the same question that had come up a hundred times before and went unanswered comes up again – Is there anything that Tata can’t do? Apparently, 'none' it seems.

Tata Motors - Truly, a trend-setter

Tata Motors has this rare ability of splitting opinions whenever it comes for discussion in any forum. One complaint that almost everybody seems to have against Tata is the poor fit and finish and the sub-par level of quality in their cars. Agreed, Tata models are at the bottom of their segments as far as quality is concerned and in most cases, a one year old Tata will have more squeaks and rattles than a five year old competitor. But, let’s also not forget that Tata came into the business of making cars only in late nineties and they have made remarkable progress since then, the flagship Aria being a case in point. But, there is still a long way to go.

As much as we loathe the company for this, we ought to love Tata for a different reason – for being a trendsetter, not just in the Indian stage but on the global stage. When every other company and their bosses said that it is not possible to make and sell a car at that price, Tata proved them all wrong and launched the Nano to a stunned audience. Now, there are already news of an improved, feature-rich version and a common-rail diesel variant of the Nano hitting the market. I bet that, going into the future, the Nano platform would give rise to a number of models that are sure to succeed big-time. The Pixel Concept, based on the Nano platform, was a stunner and quite obviously, vowed the global audience.

Talking about platforms, how can we ever forget what Tata did with its Ace mini truck? They set a precedent, succeeded in their attempt, extracted every penny of investment that they made, maximized the utilization of the platform and more than anything else, forced every other competitor to follow them into that segment for survival. The Ace killed the three-wheeler load-carriers and went on to become a huge success. Tata did not sit still. Instead, they launched so many other variants in the same platform starting from the Super Ace and Ace Magic to the recent Venture, Ace Zip and Magic Iris. Even after launch, a lot of these models are still being tested hinting that more is in store for us.

By any chance, if you happen to visit Pune where one of the main manufacturing plants of Tata Motors is located, keep your eyes wide open. You can see every vehicle in the Tata stable from the diminutive Ace Zip to Indica to Aria to buses to heavy-duty trucks continuously being tested for various reasons. These are signs of a company that is not sitting still but working hard to improve with every subsequent model. The fact is, apart from Mahindra to a lesser extent, only Tata Motors has the real potential to become a world-class automobile manufacturer from India and they are well on track for becoming one. All they need is a little more time, a lot more new models and loads of belief and loyalty from us Indians. Go Tata, go!


What do I call this weird three-wheeler? EDIT: It's a Bajaj PTV

Look at what I saw in Pune a couple of days back. Jostling for space among the ‘big’ cars and ‘huge’ auto-rickshaws, this tiny cute thingy was attracting stares from everybody around. Going by the adjectives that I gave for cars and auto-rickshaws, you would have guessed the size of this. Yes, it was just about half the size of an auto-rickshaw. Luckily, the attached snap also has a Bajaj RE auto-rickshaw, from which this seems to be conceived.

I was shocked and surprised to see this toy-like vehicle moving around comfortably in the hustle and bustle of Pune city traffic. If I had noticed right in the few seconds that I got to see it, it looked like it can accommodate two people. Unlike in two-wheelers, the good thing is that the occupants can remain protected from the elements. But, it was so unusually small that, for a moment, I thought it would go right underneath our buses and trucks.

Jokes apart, this seems to be a nice idea for commuting in thickly congested areas. Imagine how much fuel and space could be saved if this is widely used instead of cars for short commutes inside the city? Don’t ask me about its safety though. Then again, compared to our two-wheelers, this should be more than a match. To whoever conceived this for whatever reason, I just have a message to say - though a little weird, the idea is nice, very nice!

EDIT: Apparently, it seems that the above nice idea is a concept by Bajaj in the 1980's and it was christened 'PTV - Personal Transport Vehicle'. It's quite a feat by Bajaj in that time period to have found out a mobility solution for a small family in our thickly congested cities. For whatsoever reasons, this didn't make it to production which is a pity as this could have easily done what the Tata Nano intended to but couldn't, that is, made a whole lot of families upgrade to a safer and more comfortable mode of transport. Thanks to the popular Team-BHP website for bringing this fact into light. Great going Bajaj, now we know where your R&D abilities came from! 

Force Motors SUV seen testing again

Now, this is turning out to be a regular affair. Once again, the new SUV from Force Motors was spotted testing near Pune. The huge size of the vehicle makes sure that you don’t miss it even when going in the opposite direction. Even after so many spy-shots doing rounds in the internet over the past year or so, there seems to be absolutely no firm date from Force Motors about the launch of this SUV. Given the rigorous testing that it is undergoing, we can only assume that the model, when launched, would be worth the long wait.

All we know about the vehicle is that it is closely based on the Chinese Guangdong Foday Explorer III, not quite a benchmark in the first place. Just google the name and what you see will be a big, outdated looking Chinese SUV. The interiors, though not bad, are not too impressive either. But, it is definitely much better than any of the current models from Force Motors. Another much-publicized fact is that the power-train and drive-train of this new SUV is from Mercedes-Benz and it’s handling was tuned with the help of experts from Lotus.

There are widespread rumors going around that the company is planning to position this SUV as a premium lifestyle vehicle. But, will the exteriors and interiors be given some significant tweaks to make it look like one? Will the much-touted power-train, drive-train and handling of this SUV be in line with what we expect from such stalwarts like Mercedes-Benz and Lotus? Only Force Motors can answer these questions by launching this SUV as soon as possible. Let the wait continue!


Bajaj launches Kawasaki Ninja 650R in India

If there ever was a better time to 'Go Green', it is right now, as Bajaj has launched the Kawasaki Ninja 650R in India at an astonishing price of Rs 4.57 Lakhs. At this price, the Ninja 650R will not just blow away the competition from the likes of Hyosung GT650R, but will also cannibalize the sales of the smaller Ninja 250R.

This internationally-acclaimed bike is powered by a 649cc, liquid cooled, parallel twin engine with a power output of 72 PS and a torque rating of 66 Nm. The stand-out features of the Ninja 650R include twin petal discs upfront, digital instrument console (which was shockingly missing in the Ninja 250R) and an unique-looking shorter exhaust that ends before the pillion rider's leg-rest.

The bike is available in India in only the Kawasaki Racing Green color. But, I don't see people complaining for this as the Ninja lovers will go for nothing but green anyway. The gorgeous looking twin headlamps, the side fairing, the contoured seats, the long grab-rails and the small but powerful taillamps together ensure that the bike turns heads whereever you go.

The Ninja 650R is the perfect transition for a rider from 220 cc bikes before going in for the liter class super bikes. And at just Rs 4.57 Lakh, Bajaj has brought a truly international sports bike experience with full sales and service backup within the reach of a majority of young Indians. Way to go Bajaj! Now, start saving to go green!


Audi celebrates 40 Years of Vorsprung durch Technik

Let us be clear. This is not an usual milestone that we get to see often like a 'n' millionth number of a particular car being produced by a particular company. But this is no less significant either. This is about an ad caption that was created way back to signify the common values of a brand that was having a diverse line-up of models and trying to grow beyond its German horizons.

In 2011, 40 years down the line, the caption still takes prime place in the company's ads and signifies the value of the brand just as perfectly as it did in 1971 when it was first created. The brand in question is Audi and it's caption 'Vorsprung Durch Technik'. Translated in English, the phrase means 'Advancement Through Technology' which is precisely what Audi is doing in its models.

That the caption was formed in its native German language did not make it any less popular outside Germany. In fact, in India where anything foreign catches the attention of the public, it became a style statement whenever someone has to refer to the brand. When Audi was introduced in our market, the caption was as much of a rage as the cars themselves.

With a global lineup extending from the sub-compact A1 to the R8 supercar, some of the recent technological innovations of Audi include aluminium spaceframe construction, all-LED lighting, the award-winning 2.5-liter 5-cylinder TFSI engine and the MMI Interface with Google mapping functionality. I just have a humble request to Audi - Lassen Sie die Innovationen weiter!