Honda Cars India organised their 12th edition of Drive to Discover, and unlike ever before, they decided to explore scenic mountainscapes of east India, including Sikkim and West Bengal. Honda bought their entire arsenal of cars sold in India on freshly carved roads, or so we thought! We were scheduled in batches to experience the best of Honda Cars India's portfolio with the Honda City, Honda City E-HEV, Honda Amaze and the most comfortable car made for these environments, the Honda Elevate. All these cars were available in their CVT and MT variants. The invite was straightforward: a road trip through the lengths and breaths of east India, exploring all the significant places in a neatly stacked itinerary, including driving 500+ Kms through tight spaces, elevations, and curvy fresh roads of east Indian mountains. We operate from Mumbai, Maharashtra. A place that acts as Gandalf yelling at winters - you shall not pass! The invite was a breath of fresh air in a city with AQI levels worsening each year. Our trip had us driving through single-digit temperatures, serene mountain ranges, humble people, incredible sceneries and AQI levels way below 50, detoxing our senses with visuals and clean air pleasure.
Catching flights and naps, we arrived at Bagdogra airport, boarding a fleet of taxis to our hotel in Siliguri for lunch and refreshments. After posing ear to ear for Honda Cars India’s flag-off, the drive began in all its glory post-noon. Our first companion of the trip was the Honda City E-HEV. The unease of roads under construction quickly matched the ease of driving this car. Two-lane highways were soon single-lane bottlenecks controlled by authorities, allowing either-way traffic to pass through challenging obstacles. The beauty of this region during December is the way the sun vanishes way before your brain can contemplate time.
The temperatures were dropping, and so were the roads under construction, but the spirits, cars and altitude were climbing. We were soon pinged our stop for refreshments. What seemed like midnight was nothing but early evening darkness in the mountains. The jackets were on, and so was the vibe to continue exploring ahead towards Mayfair Resorts and Spa, Gangtok. Honda Sensing ADAS maintained an impressive sense of things around the car, warning about pedestrians and cars, and also allowed us to drive like experts with some customisable settings. The beautiful tail sections of the Honda fleet and staring at large trucks and large 4x4 vehicles around us through a sedan made us feel sportier and puny. Through our ever-developing nation, the Honda City E-HEV proved its mettle by scraping its underbelly only once, that too slightly over extremely uneven slush and rock-filled terrain, soon to become a smooth road. Mayfair, Gangtok welcomed us into a refreshing and cosy abode, all ready to prepare us for the next day.
The morning at Gangtok was a glimpse of things to come. The mountain range opposite our hotel was disseminating clouds covering the entire region in a cloudy dream. Our weapon on wheels for the day was the Honda Elevate MT, and what a brilliant machine this one proved to be through some of the highest roads on planet Earth! Working through the gears felt like living in a Fast and Furious movie with unlimited up-shifts followed by down-shifts. BRO-made roads have transformed the terrain onward Nathu La Pass. I visited this place a decade ago, and the only vehicles allowed in this region were strictly 4x4 capable vehicles with insane driving skills from daredevils on off-road slush trails. More vehicles can access the region with freshly carved roads, and the Honda Elevate was a joy to ascend and descend through these winding roads. The engine and transmission work in perfect harmony to create a driving symphony.
The scenic views brought back memories, but the roads refreshed and created new ones to cherish. At 14000+ feet, Nathu La Pass is a borderline between India and China with official gates. One could trek into China from an adjacent mountain range if one desired authentic Chinese delicacies. Though breathing thin and clean air is an intoxicating experience while viewing snow-covered mountain peaks in a panoramic view, one should make it a part of the bucket list. Driving downhill, hypoxia effects had me handing over the steering wheel to my comrades from the industry, and we made it out alive. People who drive know how it feels to hand over the steering wheel, especially in the mountains! Drive to Discover had us exploring our senses, places, snow peaks, cars, roads, valleys and trust. The soft touch of everything inside the Honda Elevate makes it as comfortable as the City—nap time.
Honda transmissions are a joy, and when we boarded the City MT, it was simply like the elevate to drive, albeit a bit more engaging; sedans are bae! The roads were a challenge; the Honda City was a game. Working through the gears, clenching behinds on the uneven tarmac, landslide rumble and creeks flowing through the middle of nowhere on carved paths, the Honda City shone each mile. Google Maps went for a toss, misrouting the fleet, some arriving from opposite directions of each other to settle at The Elgin, some resort which was once an abode for Lord Elgin, British controlled era. We were welcomed with cherry brandy, and soon, we sang through the early nights of the mountains around a bonfire, only to wake up to the most mesmerising view of the Kanchenjunga mountain range, the third tallest range on our planet.
After an early start sipping coffee and viewing the fantastic snow peaks of the Kanchenjunga mountain range, our fleet headed to Pelling Skywalk, made entirely of glass floor. Our companion on this day was the Honda City CVT. Pelling Skywalk also houses a 137-ft tall statue of the bodhisattva Chenrezig, the tallest Chenrezig statue in the world. After admiring some high statues and east Indian Medusas’, we headed to our Ging Tea Gardens, Darjeeling. NH510 was a pain to manoeuvre, with broken patches, narrow roads and loads of reversing to allow the oncoming traffic to pass. 57 Kms in the mountains took us a good 2.5+ hours. After posing for some drone shots, we headed to Kalimpong.
We were warned that the roads are steep descent, and there were reports of brake failures during the week. The Honda City CVT pedal shifters came in handy, dropping gears and increasing revs at our will as we almost had a good few seconds of air time as the roads sank under the tires instantly. Driving through mountains with no cellphone range, downloaded maps, and endless detours had us entering Kalimpong and smiling, looking back at the Honda City in admiration. This sedan proved its mettle through some challenging roads, and despite owning a sedan from another manufacturer, I was left overawed.
The last day of Honda Drive to Discover 12 was simply driving back to Bagdogra airport for our flights back home. The roads were good, and we were back in the Honda Elevate MT. Fast and Furious gear shifts, tight lane town driving, open mountain roads, beautiful views of Teesta River, scenic valleys and the comfort of this car were a settling goodbye to the beautiful memories created on this journey to the East. Apart from a puncture on the Honda City E-HEV, there were no other hiccups on any other cars from the Honda fleet.
Kudos to Honda Cars India for bringing their entire fleet on such a challenging journey and leaving us attested that these cars can perform at high altitudes and do it in style. Drive to Discover 12 was a fun time with the entire Honda fleet and people from the industry. Our journey was memorable, driving the best versions of Honda Cars India on some of the best roads, weather and views from east India.