Breaking for the hills
A well oiled machine is a good running one. While engine oil is the bloodline of the car’s engine, making a good choice often makes all the difference. But then, most of the brands offer both mineral oil, which is your regular multi-grade oil and synthetic oil, which is 100% synthetic base stock. The regular mineral oil is recommended for normal driving conditions and the synthetic oil promises maximum protection even in extreme hot or cold conditions. And like most of you, we were confused too. Do they really make any difference? To try finding an answer, we planned a road trip with Maruti Suzuki Ertiga Diesel and Yamaha R15 V2.0 representing the four-wheeler and two-wheeler segment respectively.
After promising to start early to beat the Delhi traffic and failing to do that, we were struck in the traffic till we reached Azadpur. From there, it was pretty simple as the Grand Trunk Road was open to take us straight to Jalandhar without a break. Or so we thought. Though the road was in pretty good condition initially, the highways work, which has been started and left unattended now for the plant kingdom to spread its boundary, spoiled our joy. With over a million diversions, the road was neither smooth nor straight. And things worsened once we neared Ludhiana as the diversions increased in frequency and the road went from bad to ugly. Be it the more-stop-than-go traffic of the Delhi roads or the smooth stretches of the Grand Trunk road, the Maruti Suzuki Ertiga behaved nicely. While the light steering helped tackle heavy traffic conditions, we would have liked more information from the tyres when the car reaches highway speeds.
Once we reached Jalandhar, it was not just the road that took a turn to right but the quality too. The final stretch to Pathankot, though a narrow two lane road, was well laid and smooth. We were pretty amused to see a blissful looking guy standing atop his Bullet with his arms folded, and yes, he was on the move! With fields and brick factories painting a pleasant looking landscape on either side, we covered the distance to Pathankot easily. After checking in at the hotel, we went out to have some dinner and found a really good place, KHD, serving tasty Punjabi food. Scrumptious Kadai Paneer and some butter-oozing Tandoori Rotis later, we decided to call it a day.
The morning next, we packed our things and started to Kajjiar, with the drive promising some excitement with the route winding around the hills. After entering Himachal Pradesh, the scenery suddenly took a contrasting change. The road started winding around the hills soon and the Ertiga easily wound itself with the twists and turns. The light steering was easy to use and the car-like behaviour of Ertiga really helped masking its size.
If you have time, you can visit the Nurpur Fort on the way. Just look out for the sign as you have to take a sharp right for the fort. The fort, or what is left of it, attracts mainly the college students from around the area and some tourists also. The sculptures on the walls looked beautiful even though most of them were eroded. After a short stop, the Ertiga started taking on the turns without a sweat with its front wheel drive with the only sore point being the thick A-pillars, which made it hard to look ahead around the turns. And the turns turned sharper as we snaked up and down our way to Kajjiar. While there were signs saying to honk around every corner, many seemed go ignore it.
The journey to Kajjiar was a slow one but slow and steady is the way to go in the hills. The roads were narrow, sometimes narrower than a size-zero model and we had to backup a couple of times to find a wider road for the oncoming vehicles to pass by. As you enter Kajjiar, a majestic Lord Shiva statue welcomes you, where the wide grasslands mesmerize with their beautiful setting nestling neatly in the middle, with Devdar trees surrounding them all around and mountains painting a foggy picture beyond. As the dusk closed on us, we took a stroll around the grasslands which was earlier a lake now dried up. Though there were hoardings warning the tourists of the penalty for throwing away thrash around, it was saddening to see the place peppered with plastic bottles and bags.
There are quite a few resorts in Kajjiar offering lodging facilities and the one we stayed at offered a great view of the hills and snow-capped mountains. After another early morning, we headed out to Dalhousie. The way up and down to Dalhousie again was narrow while the visibility at times dropped to just around ten feet. Dalhousie is around 22 kms from Kajjiar and acts as a major tourist attraction along with the Dalhousie Lake, which is another 30 kms away from the town.
From Dalhousie, the road to Dharamshala was quite good and we made double time to the residence of the Dalai Lama. Dharamshala has become famous ever since His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama took exile here in 1960 after the 1959 Tibetan Uprising. The city attracts both domestic and foreign tourists alike and there are quite a lot of hotels and resorts crowding it, especially around the McLeodGanj, where the Dalai Lama’s residence and monastery is located.
Already having a magical ring to it, Dharamshala also offers spectacular views of the Kangra valley, shadowed by mountains. The road to the McLeodGanj monastery is lined by shops on both sides selling mostly handicraft items of Tibetan culture and textile shops selling cashmere shawls and stoles.
There are several places to visit in and around Dharmashala to visit and most of them act as a delight for trekking enthusiasts. Places that might amuse you include Triund, Naddi, Dal Lake, Dharamshala Cricket Stadium etc.
As we prepared to get back to Delhi, we planned to reach Ludhiana via Hoshiarpur and Pagwaada, which is a much easier route to drive with roads that are wider and well maintained, still offering fun around the way down. Maruti Suzuki Ertiga has proved to be a great company for the long hauls with its space, good driving dynamics and returned an average of 16 km to a litre. The diesel engine felt wonderfully refined and the NVH levels were also well contained.
While on the way up, we used Shell’s fully synthetic motor oil, Shell Helix Ultra 5W-40 for the Ertiga that is recommended for high-performance vehicles for extreme conditions. In the distance and temperatures we covered, the car never had any problem starting up nor were there any engine overheating hassles. On our way back, we employed the services of the regular multi-grade Shell Helix HX5 15W-40 oil which is the majority here. Though the difference between the two oils is nothing dramatic, we found that the Ultra 5W-40 to be a better choice in the drive as it promises longer life and better protection. And the reason Ferrari uses it only adds more weight to it. Whichever oil you choose to use in your car, be sure to check it and change regularly.