We travelled 10,000 kms in 2.5 months with our pets — here's our story.

Arun Sekhar with wife Rimjhim and pets resting outside a dhabaArun Sekhar with wife Rimjhim and their pets
Features Blog Thursday, January 14, 2021 - 15:29

With COVID-19 restrictions easing up, I did a bike trip from Bengaluru to Delhi, covering the Central Route (via Nagpur) and returned through the Western Route (via Mumbai) in August 2020. With the weather and the roads being so awesome, I wanted to return as soon as I could but with my wife Rimjhim and kids – our two pet dogs Voxel (a.k.a. Voxy the Golden Retriever) and Pixel (a.k.a. Pixy the Doberdor) and cat Puchki (the rescue kitten who recently came into our lives)– in the car.

Bengaluru to Bhilai – Chattisgarh: 1350 kms, 1.5 days

0 weeks of leaving home

On Saturday, September 19, 2020, we left home thinking it would be a week-long trip to Bhilai. This trip was initially supposed to be a week’s trip to my in-law’s place in Bhilai. Since we'd be gone for a week, we thought of taking along our dogs and kitten as well. This would be the Puchki’s first long trip and we trained her for a few weeks by taking her for some short rides around Bengaluru. We learnt that the kitten was not very keen on travelling and we needed to have her on a leash and harness always.

When our trip started, she turned out to be a BIG cry baby. There was not one second when she would stop mewing. I even thought of returning home when we reached Bagepalli. But somehow, we carried on.

The roads from Bengaluru till Hyderabad are just awesome. My wife had the pleasure of driving on the 8 Lane Hyderabad ORR Expressway, one of the most beautiful expressways of India.

Soon after Hyderabad, we decided that we would not make it in one day. We decided to halt at Kamareddy where we got a nice room with a balcony.

Stay – Hotel Amrutha Grand, Kamareddy

The next day, we started early and reached Nagpur in no time. From then on, it was pothole filled roads till Bhilai.

Unfortunately for us, once we reached Bhilai, the state government imposed a lockdown and we had to sit at home for the next two weeks.

Bhilai to Chitrakote Falls and back to Bhilai, Chhattisgarh: 570 kms, 3 days

2 weeks of leaving home

After two weeks of lockdown, it was a long weekend since Gandhi Jayanti gave us three days off and I had the ambitious plan of covering Chitrakote Falls and Araku Valley along with my wife and in-laws.

However, the roads of Chhattisgarh had a different plan for us. We started at 6 am and managed to reach Chitrakote Falls only by 1 pm.

Unfortunately, once we reached the falls, we realised that it was closed due to COVID-19. Disappointed, we nearly headed back before we realised that we could book a resort near the falls and stay there for the night. My father-in-law had a contact there and we managed to get two beautiful rooms in the Dandami Luxury resort.

Stay - Dandami Luxury Resort

The first view of the falls was mesmerising and we spent a long time sitting on top of the falls and soaking in the view.

The next morning, we trekked down to the falls to have a quick dip in the cold water. After taking in the views as much as we could, it was time to head back.

 

It was a short and picturesque trip, thanks to the amazing countryside of Chhattisgarh. However, the experience would have been all the more surreal if the roads had been good as well.

It was time for us to head back home to Bengaluru when we saw Social media photos and posts of people working from the mountains. We did some calculations and decided to head to the Himalayas with our pets to find a place with good Wi-Fi and work.

The first step was to reach Delhi and camp for a week at my parents’ house. There were many routes to take, but we decided to go via Balaghat. This proved to be the worst decision. There was so much traffic on the pothole ridden roads that we thought it best to stick to the highways. Once we reached Seoni, we stuck to the beautiful NH 44 and drove till 8 pm to reach Jhansi. We booked a pet friendly Airbnb next to the Jhansi fort.

Stay – Hotel Fort View, Jhansi

The next day, since we were passing through Agra, we decided to make a stop-over at the Taj Mahal since my wife had never been there. We had to leave our dogs and kitten in the car, so we quickly booked the ticket on the app, and finished the whole visit in less than half an hour. My wife was truly mesmerised by the view.

The subsequent ride home was fairly blissful thanks to the Yamuna Expressway. We maintained a speed of 120 km/hr throughout. We reached home (R. K. Puram) by 3 pm.

New Delhi - Manali - 552 Kms - 1.5 days

4 weeks of leaving home

Once in Delhi, we had to prepare for our Himalayan odyssey. We bought first aid, winter clothes for the pets and borrowed most of our winter clothes from my parents’.

My brother and cousin also decided to join us for the trip. So it was four people, two dogs and a kitten along with all the luggage in our Tiago! Further, my wife and brother were not comfortable driving on the hills, so it was going to be only me driving on the ghats all along.

We started for Manali, and till Bharatgarh, it was a bliss to drive. Post Bharatgarh till Swarghat, our speed came down drastically in the ghats. The Tiago is definitely not a ghat loving-vehicle, that too when fully loaded with four people. We decided that we will not make it and decided to stay in Ner Chowk.

Post Ner Chowk, we had the option of going to Manali either via the longer highway route through Pandoh, Aut Tunnet or take the shorter, adventurous route through IIT Mandi with narrow roads and steep inclines.

We decided to take the shorter and challenging route. I was a little scared to take reverse when there was oncoming traffic but once I did that a couple of times, I got the hang of it. The more challenging part was reaching the hotel which was on an off-road, a narrow and steep ghat road.

With beautiful views all across, we reached our destination, a small village in Gadherni amidst apple orchards. We could go and pluck apples just outside our hotel.

The views from our room were surreal. The only person who was not feeling well was Voxy as she vomited when we reached Manali due to the ghat roads.

The only drawback was that the WiFi was not working. Hence, we searched for a new room in Airbnb and found another guest house called Pause at Manali.

The four of us had a 2BHK for ourselves. Even though the WiFi was not so strong, we had good mobile signal and we managed to get through WFH (Work From Himalayas) without any issues.

Stay - Pause at Manali

The place was amidst pine trees and apple orchards and it was a dream come true for us to stay there and work.

Manali - Jispa – Leh: 433 kms, 2 days

5 weeks of leaving home

After our stint in Manali, we took one week vacation from work to drive through Ladakh and Kashmir. Driving from Manali to Leh is very tricky owing to the extreme altitude gain.

Ideally, Sarchu is the mid-point of the drive between Manali to Leh. But the problem with Sarchu is that it is located at a much higher altitude compared to Manali and we run the risk of altitude sickness. So we chose Jispa instead of Sarchu to break the journey.

The drive from Manali to Jispa is nothing short of heaven. The mountains are covered in green and there are meadows all around. We even got a chance to drive though the newly inaugurated Atal Tunnel. We refuelled 20 litres of fuel from the Tandi Pump.

The road condition was amazing and there were a lot of shops and tourists till we reached Keylong. Post Keylong, we were able to see the impact of COVID-19. Most of the dhabas and guest houses in Jispa were closed. We did manage to find one beautiful guest house in the middle of a large field. It is by far one of the most amazing places I have ever stayed in.

The next day we started early. I could see frost on my windshield and the mistake I did was to run the wiper which made it further worse. The right way was to park the car in the sun for five mins and that would have melted the ice. Once the visibility was back, we proceeded towards Leh.

All through the route, I was the only driver and having done this stretch on my bicycle in the past, I knew this would not be easy. We reached our first water crossing and experienced black ice on the roads. With the good ground clearance, I was able to safely pass through. However, things were not so smooth up ahead.

We crossed the Baralacha pass and it was too cold and windy for us to get down and take pictures. So we proceeded to ZingZing Bar. After crossing Patsio Lake, we saw a military truck and a goods truck stranded on the road. Unaware, I parked right behind them. When the truck started to move, I started as well only to realise that there was black ice. The throttle was not helpful as the wheels were spinning on ice. I lowered the throttle and in slow speed, I was able to pass through. I learnt an important lesson -- not to tail these trucks as they can easily drive on ice but I have to use the momentum of the car.

We reached Zing Zing Bar and there was only one dhaba which was open. We quickly had Maggi for breakfast and proceeded to Sarchu.

It was in Sarchu when the first time I wished my car car more GC (Ground Clearance). I had to cross one of the tributaries of the Tsarap river and saw that the roads were completely frozen. Further, the trucks had made deep crevasses on both sides making a hump in between. I could not drive in the middle as it was all ice. So, I had no option but to follow the tracks. Suddenly, we felt -

Screeeeeeeeechhhhhhhh

The rubbing of stones in the underbody of the car makes you shudder and the heart comes to the mouth. I could not stop as I needed to use the momentum. Luckily, I found a spot of mud and parked the car to judge the way up ahead. It was a mix of running stream on roads and ice. There was no other option but to ask my brother and cousin to get down and make the car lighter for passing through. Slowly, I was able to navigate through the stream.

The next challenge up ahead was Gata Loops. The car, like I said earlier, is not very good at climbing. 90% of the route was fine and then we reached the most dangerous spot of the whole journey. After reaching the sacred plastic bottle spot, the road turned almost 45 degree steep and it was broken, forming a big step uphill. I used all the momentum I could on the first gear, but the car gave up. It was time to ask the passengers to get down again. But still, when the tyres collided with that step on the road my car would turn off. We were running out of options and the moment was scary as we were too far out to turn back.

The only option for us was to tackle the step on the road in a diagonal way. But the catch was that there was a huge drop on the right side of the road. One mistake and the car would nosedive down the cliff. So, I pointed the steering to the right, pointed towards the cliff, accelerated till 4000 rpm holding the clutch, and left the clutch all of a sudden to get the burst of acceleration. Luckily my left tyre got up the road on top of the step. Now I had to do this with the steering pointed towards the left. With about 20 tries, I was able to get both my front wheels on the road. But the battle was only half won as the rear wheels had tantrums of their own. Even the handbrake didn’t work on that incline. We kept stones behind the wheels and made progress inch by inch when one jolt of acceleration finally pushed the car on top of the step.

This whole episode made me think of the challenges up ahead and if my car would make it all the way. My stress levels were going up and I was having second thoughts about making it to Leh. I knew the roads from Whiskey Nallah to Pang were bad.

The unmissable stone structures in the Ladakh mountains look totally out of the planet. With steady progress, we managed to reach Pang by 4 pm. I heaved a sigh of relief as I knew there was no bad stretch after this. We had lunch at one of the places I knew run by Sonam Aunty who had hosted us the night when we were cycling.

After completing some police formalities in Pang, we proceeded to More Plains.

Once we reached More Plains, I wanted to take a break from all the driving and gave the cockpit to my wife. The More Plains is one of the most scenic parts of the route and she handled the car like a pro.

At the end of More Plains, I was back at the steering to climb the highest point of the route - The Tanglangla Pass.

I knew that the roads to Tanglangla Pass were good, so I was not worried about climbing it. The only concern was the ice/snow. Luckily, it was clear and there wasn’t much ice. But the challenge was far from over. We experienced a new issue in the car's fuel pump. On the ghat roads, once I was decelerating/changing gears, the car would lose power and die. And post that, it would not even start. All four of us were really scared. En route to Tanglangla at 6 pm with the onset of night was the last place where we wished to be deserted. We gave the car a couple of minutes of rest and then I tried starting it with my foot on the throttle. I was able to keep it on. Now, I could not let the rpm below 2000 as it would die. So my right foot would always be on the gas. Even while going through the bad roads, I couldn’t brake as I had to keep the engine running.

With this makeshift arrangement, we somehow reached the top of Tanglangla. I parked the car at the point when the road started to descend from the pass. I heaved a big sigh of relief as I knew that this was the end of climbing in the whole journey and now we just had to descend.

We stepped outside to quickly take a few photos, amidst the raging wind and frost. The altitude was 17,800 ft with the temperature between -5 to -10 degrees Celsius and with winds over 50 kmph. Luckily, the car did not have any issues while descending. My guess was that the fuel pump was faulty and had started acting up in higher altitudes.

Darkness soon crept in and we decided to stay in Lato where we had stayed last year while cycling. En route, the kitten couldn’t take it anymore and peed on Rimjhim. However, when we reached Lato, it was a ghost town with all the guest houses shut. Rimjhim quickly went out to change as the cat piss was stinky and freezing. We decided we didn’t have any other option but to move on to Leh.

While entering Upshi, the police stopped us for COVID-19 checking. We spent almost an hour paying the green tax and getting our COVID test done and getting the certificate. Tired and exhausted, we finally reached Leh around 9 pm at our guest house called Dimbir Residency where we would stay for the next four days.

The ride from Jispa to Leh was one of the most challenging rides for me. Once in Leh, I learnt the most important lesson, with a positive frame of mind and attitude, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

Leh Tour, Khardungla, Shey, Thiksey

6 weeks of leaving home

Stay - Dimbir Resort, Leh

Since we had taken the week off, we decided to get the permits for Nubra and Dah Anu. We were quite optimistic. However, while we were getting the permit, we saw the snowflakes dropping one by one. Slowly, we could see the surrounding mountains go from brown to white. The snowfall would be an additional challenge for us to reach Nubra.

The next day, the four of us started in the morning to Nubra, leaving the dogs and kitten in the hotel and aiming to be back by the evening. Just 2 kms before South Pullu, we couldn’t proceed any more as the road was completely covered in snow. Not willing to take the risk, we played in the snow around the road and decided to head back.

For the remaining part of the day, we wanted to get our dogs to see snow, so we went down and again attempted to climb Khardungla in the afternoon. Post 2 pm, much of the snow had melted and I could easily reach South Pullu. After that, the roads were completely covered in snow.

The ideal way to ride uphill in snow is to keep the acceleration low, otherwise the wheels can spin. I learnt this looking at the other cars. We proceeded like this towards Khardungla.

Just as we were around 5 kms from the Khardungla Pass, the fuel pump Issue started again. I couldn’t go slow or the engine would shut off. If I managed to keep the rpm high and the engine alive, the wheels would spin on ice, making it impossible for me to carry on.

We had to accept the reality that this was pushing the car too much. So, my wife, pets and I decided to turn back 5 kms from Khardungla. We were not disappointed as the whole journey was so eventful.

Leh - Kargil - Dras – Srinagar: 430 kms, 2 days

6 weeks of leaving home

After roaming around Leh for four days, we decided to move on and return via the Srinagar route. I knew covering the 430 kms will definitely take two days. So, we decided to stay between Lamaiyru or Kargil or Dras based on our progress.

Unlike the Manali-Leh stretch, the roads from Leh to Srinagar are fantastic. We passed the Magnetic Hill, the moonscapes of Lamaiyuru, Fotula Pass with good speed. The only delay we saw en route was at Kargil which was due to a traffic jam. Since we were able to cross Kargil before 4, we decided to push for Dras.

After a whole week of barren brown mountains, we witnessed colorful meadows for the first time in Dras. We realised why India and Pakistan are fighting over this beautiful land. Dras is the second coldest inhabitable place on earth where the temperature once dipped to -60 degrees Celsius. With snow covered mountains, pine trees, red and yellow coloured trees, green grass, and huts, it was like being on the sets of a movie.

It was getting dark by the time we reached Dras and we managed to find a cheap stay for the night. It was -10 degrees when we stayed in Dras.

The next morning, we headed to Srinagar and after taking multiple wrong routes, we covered a simple four hour journey in eight hours.

Stay - Dak Bungalow in Dras

Upon reaching Srinagar, we realised that it was Friday and the roads to Jammu were closed. The highways from Srinagar to Jammu operate in one-ways every day, with traffic from either side released every alternate day. So, we had to stay an extra day in Srinagar. Since we were in Srinagar, we thought of staying in the middle of the Dal Lake in a boat house.

Stay - Hotel New Green View, Dal Lake

Srinagar to New Delhi: 825 kms, 2 days

6 weeks of leaving home

For the next leg of our journey, we had ambitious plans. I wanted to cover Amritsar, Bikaner, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur on the way back. But then reality struck us. All of us had run out of fresh clothes. Voxy, Rimjhim and I had a bad stomach. Keeping all this in mind, we decided to head back home to Delhi.

Starting from Srinagar, we crossed Jawahar Tunnel post which the roads turned from bad to worse. Till Udhampur, there was some construction going on, because of which the entire stretch had intermittent bad roads.

We were too tired to move on and decided to stay in Udhampur for the night.

Stay - Hotel Highway, Udhampur

The next day was a long one and we knew we had to minimise the breaks to reach Delhi in time. With a whole day of driving, we managed to cover this 625 kms stretch in around 12 hours and we reached my parents’ home at 10.30 pm.

The next two days were Diwali festival time and we would spend them in Delhi while working from there.

New Delhi to Bhilai: 1,277 kms, 1.5 days

8 weeks of leaving home

On the day of Diwali, we decided to trace back our route home with a couple of week stop-over in Bhilai. We managed to travel at a good speed till Agra and continued until Sagar where we halted for the night. Since it was the night of Diwali, we took a hotel which was away from the city so as to keep our pets comfortable.

Stay – Hotel Jai Shree Ram, Gopalpur, Madhya Pradesh

The next day, we avoided the Balaghat route suggested by Google and went to Nagpur instead through the Pench National Park. The roads were under construction, but it felt good to be driving through the National Park.

We reached Bhilai in the evening where the festive season was in full bloom.

The next two weeks, we stayed and worked out of Bhilai. In the weekend, we went on a 250 km ride to a dam nearby to take the dogs for a swim.

It was almost three months since we had left home and we were turning homesick. Bengaluru was calling us and we had to go!

Bhilai to Bengaluru: 1349 kms, 1.5 days

10 weeks of leaving home

We traced our way back from from Bhilai through the same Nagpur-Hyderabad route with a night halt at Sri Raghavendra Lodge in Shadnagar. It was our final night halt before we go home and we were so excited to go back

Stay - Sri Raghavendra Lodge in Shadnagar

Finally, on Sunday, November 29, 2020, around 6 pm, after travelling more than 10,000 kms in 2.5 months, we returned home.

I never thought that I would be able to complete this feat on my Tiago. Never did I imagine that my dogs and kitten would adapt to this travelling lifestyle and survive the sub-zero weather in Ladakh. On this trip, I got to learn more about myself, my wife, dogs, kitten and of course, my car - Tiago. The car had its fair share of niggles, but it never gave up on us. It’s not the most ideal car but it carried on even at 18000 ft, -10 C, snow, ice, even with 4 people, two dogs and a kitten on board. Finally, all of us could rest after a journey that will be cherished for life!

Arun Sekhar is a resident of Bengaluru and works in the IT Industry. He has been a regular weekend traveler for over nine years now. He loves exploring new things, places and hobbies. He has been travelling with his wife and pets for the past four years and wants to explore the whole of India with them.

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