A road trip to Kashmir and Ladakh from Kerala with friends - a dream-come true journey for three youths from Kollam. But it was no XUV that climbed the steep and arduous rocky terrain but the good old ambassador.
The 89 model black ambassador had effortlessly completed the 12,000-km journey in less than a month. However, it is not about the wonderful journey to the scenic land or the veteran car that makes this trip special.
The timing of the journey changed the whole purpose of the trip - they kicked off on September 6, 2018. Yes, barely two weeks after the great August floods ravaged the God's own state and claimed the lives of several hundreds.
What was to be a pleasure trip of three care-free youths now turned into a campaign to help rebuild their state. They were able to raise funds to the tune of Rs 8 lakh for the Chief Minister's Disaster Relief Fund.
How it all began
"A trip to Kashmir was always on my bucket list," recounted Kollam native and engineer Niyas Khan. His friends Abdul Nisar and J Muhammed Shafi, students of Azeezia Medical College in Kollam, too shared the same dream. About three years ago, they began making plans for the same and started saving money. However, it just didn’t happen.
Finally, when they were all set to go, it rained like anything in Kerala, drowning the small state in a never-before-experienced misery. The trip had to be postponed again. Two weeks later, they decided to resume the journey.
"But this time around, there was a purpose for the trip. It was time to do something for our flood-hit state. And we decided to make the trip a campaign for collecting money for the CM's relief find," narrated Niyas.
"What about the mode of travel? We also wanted to go in a vehicle that was not usually used for such trips. If not XUV500, then what else? And the good old ambassador came to our minds,” he added.
The veteran was once owned by the grandfather of Mohammed Shafi and now belonged to him. The trio took assurance from the fact that the car had earlier undertaken long trips to Goa, Mumbai, and Bengaluru without a hitch.
Aboard the ambassador
The journey was flagged off from Thiruvananthapuram on September 6. The purpose of the trip was written all over the car and they took along around 10,000 notices to distribute during the course of the journey. As they put more miles behind them, they realised the love and affection people have for our land.
They stopped at engineering colleges, medical colleges and malls, and narrated the plight of the flood-ravaged state that was struggling to recover. Several people, including foreigners, donated money. Whenever possible, they made people transfer the money online to the relief fund.
The trio believed that the old car was one reason that attracted people to the car and prompted them to donate.
The youth had saved up money for the trip but they desisted from spending too much on the journey. As stay at hotel rooms could turn expensive, they mainly slept in the car itself. Only five days did they sleep in the comforts of a hotel.
When they began their journey, the destination they had in mind was Kashmir. However, they went on till Ladakh in the veteran car. A landslide tried to derail their journey, but they continued unperturbed.
A black ambassador in the Valley caught the attention of the security personnel and they ordered for inspections. However, the soldiers showed them the green signal on coming to know of the Keralites’ mission.
The trio returned triumphant, completing both the journey and their mission, on October2.
Not many would dare attempt such an arduous road trip, that too in an old ambassador. However, Niyas merely brushed off the concerns. “You just need to be careful to ensure the car's safety,” he pointed out.
The ambassador has an 1800CC amplifier, DNC engine and four gears. It was not air-conditioned either.
Compared to other cars, ambassador is more on the heavier side. So the first task was to reduce weight by removing unnecessary fittings. For the engine to get direct air circulation, they removed the grills and left the bonnet partially opened. They maintained 65-70km speed throughout and gave ample rest for the vehicle. These helped in preventing the car from getting heated up.
And ambassador stood up to the challenge of climbing the Himalayas. Apart from an oil change and tyre change, there were no major hassles created by the veteran car during the trip.
The trio are making plans for their next trip and that too in the same ambassador. But where to? Well, wait and watch was the answer.