Tarmac Trouble: A Guide To Working Around Common Road-Trip Woes

Pre-trip checks, motion sickness hacks, and more.  
Bike Mountain
Having learnt his lesson the hard way, the author installed carriers for fuel jerrycans at the back of the bike for his next road trip to Ladakh. Photo: Rishad Saam Mehta

One of the joys of a driving holiday in India is the unpredictability. A road trip is a fabulous way to escape the humdrum routine of daily life. While adventures are fun and something most people look forward to, misadventures can ruin a holiday. Here’s an expert guide to sidestepping possible problems so your road trip doesn’t turn into a driving disaster.

Ooops, a flat

The sound of escaping air jars the sublime opening chords of Deep Purple’s “Soldier of Fortune”. The juddering steering wheel indicates a flat tyre. It is 4 a.m. and I’ve just driven past the Masinagudi elephant corridor on the lonely road from Mudumalai to Ooty. I pull out the spare and discover it has almost no air. I curse in frustration and hear furious trumpeting in reply. Mountainous black shapes start crossing the road barely 10 feet from me; eyes and tusks gleam in the starlight. I hide inside the car until daybreak and hitch a ride to the nearest tyre repair shop in the morning.

Road sign

It’s quite common to see elephants. Photo: itsmejust/shutterstock

During the pre-road trip check of tyre pressure, oil and water levels, and fuel top-off, don’t forget to check the air pressure in the spare too. Make sure that the jack, spanner, and other tools are all in the boot. Carry a spare tube that can be put in the tyre should the puncture be irreparable. If you’re running tubeless tyres, carry a puncture repair kit and if you want to be extra careful, then a compact air compressor that can run off the car battery. There are a few variants on the market, from smaller units that plug into the car’s 12V lighter socket to heavy-duty compressors that run off the car’s battery and get the job done faster.

At places where the road is being repaired, avoid going on to the shoulder since there are invariably nails and other sharp objects there. If you encounter freshly-laid tar, drive across it quickly to avoid damage to the tyres from heat. If there’s traffic, wait on the side for a gap.


And it all spewed forth

My car was crawling at 10 kph up the road leading to the beautiful Jalori Pass in Himachal Pradesh—a route that I have rallied on, sliding around corners at high speeds. This time around my co-passenger has turned a shade of green and is trying desperately to keep his breakfast in. He’d eaten a whopping dinner the previous night and a hearty breakfast before we left. Popping an anti-motion sickness tablet after he started feeling nauseous didn’t help. We had to pull over 18 times during that drive.

Those who are prone to motion sickness should avoid alcohol the night before a trip. Breakfast should be light, a simple toast and boiled egg, and coffee or tea. Most motion sickness medicines are defensive measures—they prevent motion sickness but can’t stop it once it has set in—so have a pill before the curvy roads start. Motion sickness acupressure bands (available for ₹450/300 on amazon) are also effective. If you can’t find them, try this trick. Press a small pebble to the pulse point of your wrist and tape it there with medical plaster. Do the same for the other wrist. If you do it right, it really works.

The person prone to motion sickness should sit in the front passenger seat and keep their eyes on the road. Avoid using the phone, reading a map, or taking pictures. The driver also needs to be considerate and not slide around corners, accelerate rapidly to overtake, or brake suddenly. Smooth driving greatly reduces car sickness.


Doing the paperwork

I’d been driving for seven hours from Manali and we were just a few kilometres from Chandigarh. A portly policeman noticed that my car is registered in Karnataka and whistles at me. I promptly put my fingers in my mouth and whistle back, give him a cheery wave, and carry on. He furiously whistles some more, his cheeks ballooning, eyes almost popping out, and vehemently indicates that I should pull over. He asks to see my licence and papers. Everything is in order but the PUC (pollution under control) certificate is missing. He levies a ₹1,000 fine.

It is essential to carry all your documents, including an up-to-date PUC certificate. You can keep photocopies in the car, but carry originals as well in a safe place. As a precaution, scan documents and upload them to the cloud so that you can access them from anywhere, should you need to. Cops often do random checks on outstation cars, and it’s important to have everything in place. Do some research about the requirements in the states you will be driving through. For example, in Gujarat, it is mandatory to have a yellow vertical line on the right headlight. When you do pay a fine, make sure you take the receipt. If the car you’re driving is not registered in your name then carry a letter from the owner stating that you are using the car legally.

Masinagudi Deer Road Crossing

Watch out for deer when driving through Masinagudi. Photo: Rishad Saam Mehta

The ill-timed sputter

I’m in Nainital on my first ever motorcycle touring trip. The bike is low on fuel but some hasty mental calculations convince me that I have just enough to get to Kaladhungi, 35 km away. But as the sun sets, my bike sputters and dies. I’m still around 20 km from my destination, on a heavily-forested road running along the outskirts of Corbett National Park. As I push the bike, heavy with my voluminous saddlebags, a magnificent tigress steps on to the road 40 feet ahead of me, followed by two cubs. The three give me the once over and start ambling toward me. I drop the bike and frantically look for the nearest tree to scurry up when she stops and emits a low mournful call. It’s answered by another and an incredibly large tiger steps out of the jungle and joins her. They all stare at me for a bit and then nonchalantly walk back into the jungle.

As a thumb rule, start looking for fuel stations when the fuel gauge drops below half and always fill the tank full. Keep in mind that in remote areas pumps are few and far between and they often run out of their weekly quota of fuel. So that next pump that you’re banking on may just be dry. Remember to keep a generous margin of error when calculating the range of your car on a full tank. If you think you might run out before the next pump, carry additional fuel in a can. For this, it’s wise to always have a 20 litre can handy in the boot, so you can fill it up when in doubt. At small pumps in rural areas, the fuel might sometimes not be very clean and it’s best to add an amount of injector cleaning fluid when you fill up.

Appeared in the March 2013 issue as “Tarmac Troubles”.

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    Rishad Saam Mehta is a travel writer and photographer. He is the author of two books, the latest being "Fast Cars and Fidgety Feet" (Tranquebar, 2016).

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