Automobile/travel enthusiast and digital content creator Emil George says he did not research too much when he embarked on a road trip that covered 28 States and six Union Territories, which comprises mainland India. It came with its surprises and rude shocks too. “We landed in Tripura at night, little realising there was a night curfew in the State. We were suddenly surrounded by cops asking us why we were out so late. Apparently, robberies are common during the night. We spent the whole night in the car waiting at their camp for daybreak!” says Emil, the India Book of Records for the Fastest Solo Car Expedition across the mainland of India record holder.
As part of his ‘Discover India’ trip, he traversed 19,426 kilometres in 97 days, setting out on September 20, 2022, and returning to Kochi on December. 26, 2022 He was awarded the certificate in late-April this year.
The experience in Tripura was one of the many he collected as he drove through the country. “I drove all the way, I had a friend who was there to give me company,” he clarifies. The intention of the drive was not a record, “it was only after a friend suggested that I apply for one, I realised I may have set a record!” As a digital creator of travel-based content, since 2018-19, he is not new to driving long distances. He once went more than 1,000 kilometres from Patna to Meerut, on the Purvanchal Expressway over 20-odd hours, “driving gives me immeasurable happiness” says the 35 year-old.
Driving through changing landscapes where temperatures soared and dipped are experiences he cherishes. “I gathered a bunch of experiences related to food, people, driving styles and road etiquette and sometimes the absence of it. Mizoram has easily the ‘quietest’ roads in the country with zero honking and disciplined drivers. Sikkim too, to a large extent. Driving in Mizoram is like driving in Europe, sensibility-wise!” His share of aggressive driving came thanks to encounters on the Pune-Vapi highway, where truck drivers “show no mercy.”
Bitten by the travel bug
Emil traces the beginning of his love for automobiles, driving and travelling to growing up in the hilly parts of Kannur, where “driving a jeep is a way of life.” He learnt driving early and by the time he turned 18, came to Sacred Heart College, Kochi, where he found “freedom and my driving license.” On his first trip he rode to the different states in South India, that bike trip whetted his appetite to travel more.
“There is no ideal time to drive through India weather-wise. It is either going to be too hot or too cold”, Emil says when asked about the time he chose to make the journey. He made the journey in his SUV, a Tata Harrier, and is relieved to have returned ‘without a scratch’. The minor vehicle troubles were sorted by the company. “We could not have done it without them,” he quips. Driving on terrain that was sometimes hostile, he had equipment such as anti-skid snow chains, gadgets to check tyre pressure, lights etc ready, just in case. Since he has a vehicle detailing business these trips are ideal for him to test equipment.
Had the going been smoother and he had driven continuously, Emil says he would have made it back quicker. For instance, he lost 12-odd days due to landslides in Sikkim and Ladakh. The forced halt at Ladakh was more adventurous than he had bargained for. Ladakh does not get many travellers let alone people on road trips, like Emil, during winter. Those that get there, need special permits to access certain parts of Ladakh. Permits are required for States in the Northeast such as Manipur where checking is stringent.
“However due to the impact of climate change among other factors, snowfall was delayed and we were able to get as far as Demchok, 250 kilometres from Leh, close to the Tibetan border,” he says. A landslide forced them to stay in Dras and Kargil for 10 days in sub-zero temperatures. Tourists cover the Ladakh-Hanle-Umingla-Demchok-Hanle-Ladakh route over four days but Emil did it in one day.
Understanding the machine
“Temperatures dipped to -25 degrees Celsius, and these conditions are a strain on the vehicle as well. The temperature even under testing conditions [for this SUV] did not go below -10 degrees Celsius. The engine was constantly on, I could not have the other oils and fluids in it freeze…this is where your ‘relationship’ with the machine comes into play. You have to understand the machine, especially when you are pushing it to extremes. You have to keep your ears open and pay close attention to every noise your vehicle makes, the wheel alignment, tyre pressure…every little thing!”
Emil had to contend with the high altitudes for which he was prepared, he says. Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) makes breathing difficult at high altitudes when air pressure decreases as do oxygen levels. “Drowsiness creeps in on you. You could nod off without realising it, you have to be very careful. I would take a break every 45 minutes, wash my face, drink something, do some very light stretches to warm up a bit and start driving.”
Since he has driven through most States on the Indian mainland, which has the slowest moving traffic?
“Kerala! The average speed of vehicles on the road is 35kmph, has the slowest moving traffic in the country. We started planning the Kerala stretch, on return, from Gujarat. Travelling 50 kilometres here takes so much time!”