VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN EXPERIENTIAL DRIVE

The last week of October took me to an area and location I hadn’t visited in quite a while. I was driving out early on Saturday morning to the Volkswagen Tiguan Experiential Drive being held at Mukesh Mills in Colaba. For anybody who’s grown up watching movies, music videos in the 90’s Mukesh Mills is immediately recognisable. Countless films and videos have been shot there. Every part of this defunct mill has been used in films to depict all sorts of locations and situations.

Experiencing the Tiguan in such an environment would be interesting!

After the usual registration process, we were briefed by Dr. Tejas Kothari a well-known off-roading expert of what we would experience on the course.

The first obstacle that was created was the terrapod. This would get us to gauge the Tiguan’s ability to handle different alterations in height. How it manages to stay stable and clear this obstacle successfully. I went about doing this activity with the usual sense of caution. Tejas who was the instructor, goaded me on, making corrections when I was veering off. Being on 2 wheels in a moving car is always exciting. This was no different!

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The next obstacle we experienced was the axle breakers. Here one got to see first-hand, the ability of the Tiguan to transfer the requisite amount of torque between the wheels, while they were struggling to find traction. Tejas instructed me to go easy and slow on the throttle, that being the key to clearing this activity smoothly. I did just that.

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Now we moved to the final activity of the drive.
The last activity was to test the ABS of the Tiguan. How it reacts during sudden braking at fast speeds, while attempting a lane change. Tejas told me to step hard on the throttle and slam the brakes the moment we reach the braking marker. The Tiguan managed this activity with ease, showcasing how well the ABS works in such situations.

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At the end of this experiential drive one got a different appreciation of the Tiguan.

A SUV which I have spent lots of time driving in the recent past.

Can you stay silent for ten days?

Ten days of silence, bar optional evening question sessions with the teacher. “I didn’t speak at all,” Shona tells me. “Day two, I thought I’d have to leave, but it suddenly got easier.”

Meera Dattani

Meera Dattani – Travel Writer Reposted from her blog on trvl.com

I’ve just met Shona in a café in the former Thai capital and Unesco city of Ayutthaya, about fifty miles from Bangkok. We’re near Wat Mahatat, a temple complex most famous for the stone Buddha head in the roots of a bodhi tree. But this temple also has Thailand’s oldest higher education institute for monks, Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University, and the Vipassana Meditation Center.

Vipassana is, according to its teachings, about seeing things as they really are. And it requires serious meditation. No talking, writing, reading, physical contact of any kind. Not even any praying or yoga, and no food after midday. For ten days.

“I can’t quite explain it,” says Shona, “but I feel serene. Like I’m in control of my emotions.”

Ten days is difficult to contemplate. I visit the center and discover they run three-hour meditation classes in English. It’s a start. There’s no clock but the first 20 minutes, at least it feels like 20, are relaxing. After perhaps an hour, a mind-body struggle ensues, the brain determined to continue, the body desperate to walk, move, anything. But when three hours come to an end, I feel unexpectedly calm. But ten days? Hats off.

A Thai woman prays at a temple in Chinatown on the first day of the Chinese New Year. There are about 8million Chinese in Thailand, making up 12 percent of the total population – although up to 40 percent now have mixed Chinese ancestry. It is the second largest Chinese community after Indonesia’s outside China and many have roots going back five generations. – Getty Images (Paula Bronstein)

MONKEYING AROUND IN BALI

Image Courtesy : Pexels

So, there it was.. the Indian Independence week and true to our promises made to each other, our gang of pot-bellied, balding 40 yrs plus college mates set out again to a new destination, something we all have looked forward to every August.. every year, for the past 9 years. Some of us just don’t give up ! Continue reading “MONKEYING AROUND IN BALI”

GOA – Photo Tips by Peter Adams

Use distractions to your advantage

For a travel photographer, it is the expanse of the coastal strip that is one of the key shots to capture in Goa but also often one of the most difficult.

Peter Adams

Peter Adams Travel Photographer

Mention Goa and people think of holidays, relaxation and time spent on long sandy beaches. To capture one of these idyllic locations on film can be harder than you think. Beaches are rarely perfect and, being flat and open, they need scale and depth combined with good light

Fortunately in Goa there are plenty of colorful people wandering the beach selling everything from textiles and jewelry to cold drinks and of course there are the fishermen, who are particularly busy around dawn and dusk.

However, what really fascinates me about this smallest of Indian states is what lies behind the beautiful beaches: the villages surrounded by rice paddies and the small towns with their immaculate, gleaming white churches.

Exploring inland, I came across this elephant handler preparing for a local festival – a wonderful sight (and photographic opportunity) that reinforced my love of India with its surprises around every corner. I asked if he could step back slightly into the dappled light of a nearby tree, which he did.

While making sure he made direct eye contact to connect with the viewer, I was happy that he was distracted by an onlooker – enabling me to capture a more natural editorial shot.

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Although Goa has seven wildlife sanctuaries, none have elephants and animals such as this at a temple are most commonly used to entice money from tourists for photos. The state’s reserves cover a range of habitats from tropical forest to mangroves, with Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary having a population of Bengal tigers. Photo by Peter Adams

Between the Lines

I think I need to author a procrastinator’s handbook because I add so many reminders to my devices and recall things without the reminders. I am afraid the reminder will go off any minute like it’s a real breathing organism. Just like I was constantly worried I didn’t give my ‘2 piece’ article on my 1st stint at track school to Sanjeev (of Rotormouth fame).
What irony eh! Where here it is!

Having tasted motorcycling like a lion cub tastes blood, I was suddenly that person with ‘eyes are bigger than the stomach’ syndrome at the buffet – the buffet in question being everything motorcycling. I wanted to try different styles of bikes, ride every terrain, wear every gear, mess with every template and just dig my paws into it all till I figured what I fancied and what didn’t fancy me back. Track experience, up until a year ago, was something I admired from a distance but didn’t think was possible. I imagined it to be something for the media or elite exclusive or that one needed some serious pizazz in the bank to show up at track school – like that frumpy 1st timer at a huge fashion show.

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Eventually, social media played a key role in nudging me to consider exploring one. It was showcased as cost effective, gear and equipment were arranged if you didn’t have either and it was all in a controlled, safe and learning environment with abled trainers. I went about doing my research, called folks, asked 50000 questions and simultaneously saved ₹₹.

Without naming names, I was keen on attending 1 particular school. Saved the dates and the money for it. Unfortunately, that $%&@ named corporate slavery showed her manipulative face now and again and I didn’t make it to any of the trainings. The good thing about track school is they are all 1- or 2-day programs (L1 and/or L2) over weekends and happen frequently. The usual suspect venues are Kari Motor Speedway (Coimbatore), MMRT (Chennai) or BIC (Noida). There are more tracks in India but these 3 stood out. I would love an opportunity or at least a run at BIC but costs go higher and I definitely wanted to have more experience under my belt to truly tear that track up on a ~1000cc bike.

Somehow, I managed to make time and money for 1 school at the advent of the monsoon season (won an insta-contest for 30% off the whole fee). I was sure that if I didn’t start now this resolution would move to 2019. Unfortunately, said school did not accept my helmet for training even though other academies did. I poured over the FMSCI rule book for the 1st time and it did not have a clause for my helmet. But I respect all academies and when it comes to safety its foolish to argue. So, I let it pass and soon enough through a friendly nudge I signed up at Rajini Academy of Competitive Racing (RACR) for an L1 session. It fit my tiny pockets but was just for a day. Rented the suit and bike from them. Invested in a pretty decent pair of track boots, stole some gloves and got my helmet all set up. Then came the wait for 15 July 2018 at Kari MS.

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I flew in a day earlier, settled in and tried to rest as much as possible. Made a few friends as we all stayed within walking radius of each other and figured a ride together to the speedway the following morning. Folks came all the way from the north and I was able to put faces to the names who had pinged me on WhatsApp once we all signed up and were added to a group a month prior. I was tad nervous but not as wrecked as I imagined myself to be. We skipped breakfast and that was mistake #1. To be fair nothing was available at 6am and the route to the track had not woken up. Last thing I wanted was to go riding dead hungry. As people poured in, we all registered, got our gear, paid the final amount and started becoming a noisy bunch. If you rent a suit, you wont always get the best fitted one and certainly not a sparkly one. Hence, setting the reader’s expectation right. There was gear from BBG, Furygan and Taichi to name a few. We all pretty much fit in. I found my 1st experience with a 1-piece racing suit to be a challenge. It was heavy, bulky and not ‘fit’ although pretty manageable. It did its job. I carried wicking material inners. Even though the day started out cool and breezy, the suit got difficult to keep on as the day progressed. I was fidgety, and the suit felt clingy as morning turned to evening. Let’s just say, thank god it wasn’t summer, and it takes some conditioning to get used to – for me at least. The rest of the gear was perfect.

Walking on the track was a great experience. I finished my registration early and spent my spare hour staring at the track, looking at the bikes (150cc categories), just recceing the space I was to spend the majority part of my day. A trio that had ridden down from Bangalore the night before on their KTMs became fast friends and were super kind enough to make a breakfast run and get us idlis from a local joint. God bless them souls. We all connected and figured out the noobs versus the veterans. Most folks had just come for the experience whilst many asked questions about how to get to the racing bit. I directed all such questions to the RACR team and when asked if I was getting into racing (which apparently seemed like an obvious reason to invest in track sessions), I simply said I had no idea – which is indeed true. Never say never!

 

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The sessions started with introductions to self, team, trainers and the track. We were divided into batches of ~10 or less and assigned instructors. The noobs were separated from those who were back for repeat doses and those who rented bikes versus using their own. A total of 5 classroom sessions followed by 5 track sessions were planned to alternate each other. Basically, classroom instructions, get on track, apply it, get back to the pits, gather your feedback, get into the session again, learn something new and repeat. I won’t break down each session and describe it because it takes away from the actual learning one goes for. But to sum up MY experience here goes:

I started nervous on the track. 1st round involved getting used to bike (Honda 150), the suit (BBG) and mentally regurgitating the instructions. I watched for the instructor, stayed back as much as possible and let the others zoom past me. I was adamant about going slow and easy and not looking to become a total squid in the 1st round. To be honest, I just didn’t want to fall at C3 and C4 (track speak for corners). Through conversations with friends’ months ago, I was quickly able to determine the crosses that indicated entry, exit and apex of the turns and that made me smile under the lid. After round 1, the one and only totally expected feedback was to get my speeds up and increase pace. At this point I informed the instructor that corners were always a problem for me and THAT is exactly what I wanted to focus most on. He was receptive. As the day progressed, with each restriction and instruction, my confidence grew, and I looked forward to getting on the track. I did noticeably 1 or 2 lesser laps than my batchmates. That didn’t bother me at all. Learning and getting my technique right was what mattered. The instructor too figured what I was up to and didn’t push me which I greatly appreciated. Rather he watched out for what I was doing right and was super encouraging when I got corners and technique on point. I noted that at each session after a bunch of laps with the boys, he would fall back a wee bit and give me a thumbs up sign. A positive visual cue works wonders and that just made me pick things up faster.

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We had a lunch break in between (included in the package) wherein we all feverishly discussed our excitement and experiences. I had a brief connect with my instructor who wanted to understand my riding experience and my day so far. I enjoyed the neutral and relatively calm atmosphere. Nothing felt judgemental, pressured or wanting to make me run away. I just kept looking forward to more. The 2nd half of the day moved faster than the morning. It was at that point I realized that 1 day was just not enough – this was my cue to take up a 2-day training in the future. It would be remarkable to test muscle memory from the day before not to mention get additional time on track. This point forward I was less afraid of speeds and had established C8 as my favorite. I did have a near miss at C7 (almost ran off track but managed to recover myself well) and scraped my boots at C8 – this meant I leant enough but also, I needed to correct my footing. During the 3rd or 4th session we did body positioning basics. In theory I was convinced to be failing it, but in practical it was easy. This session highlighted the 1 neglected aspect of my personal self over the past year–health and fitness which were grossly overshadowed by work. Getting on the bike and riding it is just a fraction of the work. What is undermined is sharp vision, good reflexes, a strong core and awareness of your muscles and how to make them work smart. Let the bike work too; its not a stupid machine and engineering counts for something. Together both make for an undeniably smooth flow. I tried it and it felt beautiful. I think I was mentally lost after a few rounds cuz the laps became easier and more natural session 3 onwards. The trainings were fun, interactive and full of laughter. There was a bit of rain but thankfully the track dried up in time and we did 1 or 2 sessions on semi-wet tracks.

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All in all, it was one of the most productive weekends ever. I am always always looking to learn something or gain an experience. I did both on this Sunday. I started with “I’ll just do this 1 track day” and ended up with a plan for an encore. Made some amazing new pals with varied experience and backgrounds. Not to mention our youngest batch mate Kavin (instagram: @kavin_9310) – all of 13 years old asked a zillion questions like a sponge and put us all to shame on the track. Of course, once done, we all looked forward to our certificates and ‘graduating’ the session, making elaborate plans to meet again and hounding the poor fotog Akhil for our “imaginatively” MotoGPesque pictures. I tried speaking to as many folks as possible in this time just to connect and was more relaxed at 6pm than I was at 6am. I know for certain that my next stint will be a more enjoyable one. Rajni was humble, approachable and very organized. He spent most of his time training the aspiring batches and those who had prior track experience (understandably so). But I have to mention that during my 1st gear check, my boot zipper wouldn’t go all the way up over the leather. Rajni sir personally zipped it up for me and that made an impression on me 😊 There was gear and bike check prior to EVERY track session. The helmet clasps, gloves, boots even my braid was checked and tucked in. One wouldn’t feel lost in the crowd is what I gathered.

If one hasn’t done a track session and always wondered how it felt, DO IT SOON. We now have academies, accomplished instructors and the infrastructure to fulfil those wishes. I wish I had done it sooner or all of these opportunities were available a few years ago. Most of the instructors have radiated out of long standing parent schools who’ve been around the block and produced the best of the pool we have AND designed the learning modules. If time and cost aren’t a factor, 1 can even consider the enviable CSS. Heck the biggest question I ask myself is why the $%^@& did it take me so long to start riding. Well… #neversaynever! 😉

 

 

 

 

Driving down memory lane with Srinivas Krishnan

My first memories of cars and bikes in the family starts with trucks, actually. Transportation – cars, trucks, buses and driving – was always in the blood, as I am the third generation of a family which had a business in bulk and passenger transport, with our headquarters in Mettur Dam near Salem, in Tamil Nadu. So, the very first memories are of a GMC truck with our company logo on the doors: the letters MKS stylised in a circle. MDY 3758 was purchased second-hand from Mysore state, sometime around 1958. This historic truck with which my grandfather started the transport business was like the venerable grandpa among the other Tatas and Ashok Leylands. It stood apart even when I was a child – so it’s no wonder that it’s imprinted in my mind. Among cars there was a dark blue Plymouth Savoy which too was purchased second-hand. Exclusively driven by the cantankerous, lungi-clad Abbasbhai, the Plymouth inevitably received a diesel engine transplant in our spacious workshop in Mettur. It was the special car compared to the other chubby Ambassadors around.

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The one we had in Mumbai was a Hindustan Motors Ambassador Mark II, stylishly finished in a green-and-cream dual tone. MMB 4856 was the first one we had in the city. I remember being ferried around in Chembur – where I have been staying all my life – sitting on my dad’s lap while he was driving. Today, when I see other dads doing the same, I dissuade them – it’s so dangerous. But in those days…

I was caught by the cops while learning to drive. Because I didn’t have a learner’s license. And why didn’t I have one? Because I was only thirteen years old. In my defence, I was not driving alone – my driver was teaching me to drive in MMB 4856. It so happened that I couldn’t get the hang of shifting gears and stalled the car on the road near Deonar. It came to the attention of some cops who were passing by. I think they took the driver’s licence away and my father had to pay a fine. I think it was around 750 bucks, which was pretty hefty in those days. My father also told me that I was going to be thrown in jail. I protested, saying that he was the one who allowed me to go! So, the point I am making is that: 1. I was underage, but I was ‘officially’ allowed to learn to drive.
2. As mentioned, it was in our blood. Even if my father didn’t allow me, I would have sneaked out with the car – driver or no driver.

I added the finishing touches to my basic driving skills in the car that replaced the faithful Ambassador. Sorry, not car, but jeep. It was a Mahindra Commander. Which was just as well, because column-shifts were giving way to floor-shifts. And SUVs would eventually become trendy (after two-three decades, of course, but it’s nice to think we were ahead of the curve). Well before the time I turned 18 I was pretty competent in my driving skills and giving the driving test was just a formality. In fact, the RTO officer actually complimented me on my driving and familiarity with all the road signs – unlike academics, it was the one of the few tests I passed with flying colours.

However I would like to add though we may think of ourselves as expert drivers, learning to drive never ends. Each day is different, as driving situations change every single time you get behind the wheel. Though I am lucky to have attended advanced driver training schools as part of my motoring journalism career, one should never take one’s capabilities for granted. Always exercise a sense of caution, especially on the unpredictable conditions of our Indian roads.

My first wife is Miriam, my 1960 Volkswagen Beetle and she is also my first car. I knew it all the while that my first car had to be something special, something different. So Miriam has been part of my life over the last twenty-plus years. I shall shamefacedly admit for half of that time, she was either parked in my building stilts or in a garage. But now she gets out more frequently, at least once a week. Though she is not in great condition, she at least starts quickly and runs on her own power. And she wears the brightest yellow on the planet – a paint scheme that is luminous even after ten-plus years, so she is pretty hard to miss on the roads.

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For a daily driver, I have a 1.3 Suzuki S-Cross. It fits my needs perfectly – it’s of the right height so that my parents find it easy to get in and out. Also it has a massive boot so that Aditya Bengali – that crack photographer – can comfortably take tracking shots of me driving other old cars. While on the inside, three adults can sit comfortably abreast in the rear seat, and with good leg room too. I could have done with some additional torque and horses, but other than that, the S-Cross drives well, build quality is good and it is easily the best Suzuki in the market today when it comes to ride quality.

There is no doubt that, I would give little parts of my body to own a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing. To me, no car comes close to it. It is the pinnacle when it comes to my automotive desires, though I wouldn’t pass up the offer to acquire the legendary Uhlenhaut coupe if it was possible (only two were produced). The Gullwing is like one of God’s creations because everything about it was functional but that’s exactly what made it so visceral in appearance. Like a shark which is designed down to its dermal denticles to be an apex predator, the Gullwing was designed to be the most affordable way to get closest to breaking the speed of sound back in the 1950s. Well, you get what I mean. And here’s my favourite factoid about the 300 SL – the road-going car that customers could buy was even more powerful than the thoroughbred race car it was based on! Other than my Beetle, it has also the best butt in the business. Oh, I could go on and on…

Here’s what’s interesting about my relationship with the Gullwing but, it’s a bit of a soppy and sentimental story, so if you want to skip it, please do…
When I started life as a motoring journalist, I had decided that if I ever get the chance to drive a Gullwing, that would be my acme. I will have no reason to be a motoring journalist anymore because that would be my singular achievement. Well what do you know, it took 15 years to realise that dream. Yes, a decade and a half. So on June 30, 2012, the exact day I completed 15 years at Business Standard, I drove the Gullwing. It happened during the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and I must thank Mercedes-Benz for that. And also Autocar India’s rough diamond Shapur Kotwal – a slightly unhinged but supremely knowledgeable petrolhead (aviationfuelhead and metalhead) – for making it happen for me.

It so happened that in the morning leading up to the drive, I was all excited that my dream was going to become real. But as the day progressed, the chance seemed more and more remote. Several Japanese journalists commandeered the most iconic cars of Mercedes-Benz’s historic fleet and wouldn’t let go of the Museum’s road-worthy Silver Arrow. Seeing me coming close to committing hara-kiri using a sword forged in the hottest flames of disappointment, he decided to take them on to ensure I got around driving the what was arguably world’s first supercar. He abused the Japanese media and the Mercedes-Benz Japan PR in the choicest language only rabid Bawajis can summon and was just about prevented by other media persons from punching them. I do think however that he managed to land a blow or two.

Sometime later, I was drowning my sorrows in scoops of Blackforest cake when a discreet tap on my shoulder indicated I should step outside with Shapur. At a corner of the Goodwood estate, just where all the big rigs were being loaded to take the cars back to Germany, the Gullwing was standing there. It was for me to drive, and the truck was being held back till I finished with it! The instructions being told to me by the car’s caretaker were all a blur as I eased myself inside via that iconic high sill.
It was the quickest minutes of my life (read about it here). I got out of the car and watched it being loaded onto the car carriers. It happened. I think there were two or three people who spotted a grown man sob silently in Goodwood.

I think being a motoring journalist gives you the opportunity to drive on roads others can only dream of. So, I consider myself lucky as a well as been given the privilege to have driven in some of the most fascinating ribbons of tarmac around the world. And in some cases not just tarmac, but packed ice, desert sands, rock-strewn rivers and slippery mud. So rather than tell you where I have already been to, I would like to put out my wishlist: Iceland, the roads of New Zealand, the route of the Carrera Panamericana, Mille Miglia and Targa Florio and of course more of Ladakh, Ladakh and Ladakh.