Honda Elevate price, City hybrid drive, Amaze, Elevate features

This year’s drive took us to the scenic Nathu La pass and Darjeeling, with sightings of the mighty Kangchenjunga along the way.

Published On Dec 17, 2023 01:29:00 PM

It was on a hot and humid Mumbai afternoon that I was informed I’d be travelling to Sikkim and West Bengal for the 12th edition of Honda’s Drive to Discover. Needless to say, the idea of escaping the Mumbai weather was as exciting as getting to drive a Honda car across mountainous terrain. The itinerary stated that the drive would start from Siliguri in West Bengal and pass through Gangtok, Pelling and Darjeeling, and that we’ll visit tea estates, spot the Kangchenjunga and much more. Join me as I take you through this near-600km drive.

Day 1: Siliguri to Gangtok (112km)

We were a big group of journalists from Mumbai who landed at the Bagdogra International Airport around noon, and were immediately whisked away to a hotel for lunch. This is also where we’d meet the cars we’d be driving over the next few days: the Elevate manual and CVT; City manual, CVT and hybrid; and the Amaze manual and CVT. Following lunch and a briefing, I was handed the Elevate CVT’s keys, and met my partner, whom I would be sharing the car with.

Honda Elevate price, City hybrid drive, Amaze, Elevate features

Teesta river brought in a sense of calm, just before traffic played spoilsport.

After the flag-off, we began our journey and were quickly in the thick of Siliguri’s rush-hour traffic, which was worsened by potholes and cattle blocking the highway every 200m. The Elevate dealt with all this with aplomb, but what dulled things a bit was the CVT gearbox: more sound, less go seemed to be its motto. As the roads opened, I immediately shifted the gear level to Sports mode, which helped things quite a bit, and the aforementioned irritation of having gotten the CVT washed away as soon as we entered Sikkim and started our climb to Gangtok. Landslides in the monsoons led to parts of the two-lane highway becoming single lanes, and this, in turn, caused the biggest traffic jam I had ever witnessed, and this is coming from someone who lives in Mumbai. Not having to deal with three pedals over steep inclines at 2kph for close to two hours is something I was very thankful for.

Honda Elevate price, City hybrid drive, Amaze, Elevate features

A two hour traffic jam on the very first day enroute Gangtok.

Once past this bottleneck, we stopped for a tea break. ‘Tea at night?’ I wondered, but it was just 5:30pm – the early sunset and our watch telling us it’s ‘daytime’ felt like our brain was playing tricks on us. Tea and snacks done, and drivers swapped, we continued onwards to our stay for the night. This is where we discovered a useful feature of Honda Sensing (ADAS in Honda speak) – auto high beam. There were no streetlights between villages and just when we thought of using the high beam, the sensors said “Let there be light” and switched them on automatically. And the best part is that it dims the lights as soon as it spots oncoming traffic. All was not good with the LED headlamps and fog lamps though (we’ll come to that later).

Soon after reaching the hotel, the exhaustion from having sat in traffic for two hours took over and it took me no time to fall asleep.

Day 2: Gangtok to Nathu La pass (58km)

I got up early the next morning as the drive to Nathu La was over three hours long. But more importantly, with temperatures at our destination pegged to be around minus 2 degrees Celsius, I was looking forward to seeing snow and enjoying the chill, fresh mountain breeze.

We were assigned the Elevate manual. After the CVT, we were sure this would make a mountain of difference (pun intended). And boy, were we right! Being able to downshift and remain in the engine’s power band was a huge plus while climbing up to heights of over 14,000ft. However, we found the going tough because the fog was thick and the LED headlamps and fog lamps weren’t up to the mark. And this meant that every time a cloud came over the valley and covered the road, we had to drastically reduce our speeds.

Honda Elevate price, City hybrid drive, Amaze, Elevate features

The view of the snow and mountains from Nathu La pass was worth the long and tiring drive.

All this was soon forgotten when we started seeing snow on the side of the road. And it was there that we used the sunroof as it was really intended to be used. As we climbed higher, the skies cleared and having the sun streaming into the cabin was worth it. We drove up to an Army checkpost and got into taxis to cover the last couple of kilometres as private cars aren’t allowed on top.

Once at the top, the final few metres had to be covered by foot and some of us suffered from altitude sickness. The views from the top though made it all worth it – a gorgeous view of the valley and snow-capped mountains. What gave us the chills, more than the wind, was the fact that we were inches away from the Chinese border.

Honda Elevate price, City hybrid drive, Amaze, Elevate features

(Left) Tsong Mo Lake and its surroundings are a pleasure to one’s senses; (Right) India’s highest altitude passenger ropeway that’s right beside the lake.

Post lunch – read stuffing ourselves with momos – at a quaint dhaba, we stopped to click pictures at Tsong Mo Lake, and right beside it is India’s highest altitude passenger ropeway. On our way back to Gangtok, we could finally enjoy the manual as the fog had cleared, and oh, what a drive that was on the twisties!

Day 3: Gangtok to Pelling (128km)

The third day was supposed to be a bit relaxing. All we had to do was drive from our hotel in Gangtok to our hotel in Pelling, with a quick stop for lunch on the way. Once we dropped our bags in Pelling, we were supposed to visit the Pelling Skywalk to catch a glimpse of the Kangchenjunga before sunset. I say supposed to because nothing went as planned.

We had the Honda City e:HEV (hybrid) to drive, and we were a bit worried about its ground clearance. Our fears came true as we had to slow down to crawling speeds for every pothole. And by potholes, I mean gaping holes the size of a crater, and this was a recurring affair for the remainder of the journey. It involved a lot of criss-cross driving, driving over stones the size of a human head and small streams of water, and in many instances, the bottom of the car hit the ground.

Honda Elevate price, City hybrid drive, Amaze, Elevate features

The elusive Kangchenjunga was finally spotted one morning from our hotel.

Then, just when we thought we could gun it on the last stretch to our hotel, we had a flat tyre. My partner and I did a quick rally style tyre change and managed to reach the hotel around sunset.

Day 4: Pelling to Kalimpong (91km)

Day four was again an early start as we had to cover quite a few things, starting off with Pelling Skywalk, which we missed the previous evening and was a 10-minute drive from the hotel. Our ride for the day was the Amaze manual and, to be honest, I was quite happy initially. The roads were bad, but nothing the Amaze could not handle. We only spotted bits of the Himalayan range from the Skywalk as fog had set in, but there was a Buddhist monastery too, so we clicked a couple of pictures and made a dash for the tea estate in Darjeeling.

Honda Elevate price, City hybrid drive, Amaze, Elevate features

The tea estate at Ging Tea House was our lunch stop for the day.

Now, though Maps said it was just over three hours, the roads had a different story to tell: potholes as bad as the ones we encountered the previous day, sharp hairpin bends with potholes right in the middle of the curve and bits where the tarmac had caved in. To top it all, the climb was so steep, we struggled to get past the first gear in the Amaze.

We finally arrived at Ging Tea House just in time for lunch, and were also given a quick tour on how tea leaves are picked and sorted, before they’re packaged for sale. After a sumptuous meal, all of us hurried out of Darjeeling fearing rush-hour traffic, but the moment we spotted the famous toy train on our way out, the whole convoy stopped to click pictures.

Honda Elevate price, City hybrid drive, Amaze, Elevate features

Spotting the famed toy train in Darjeeling warranted a quick photo session.

We then had to climb down a set of steep hills and reached our hotel in Kalimpong just after sunset. As this was the last day of the trip (the fifth day just involved a drive back to Bagdogra airport), we shared all our experiences along the way and drank away our sorrow of leaving this beautiful state.

Day 5: Kalimpong to Siliguri (68km)

All good things must come to an end, and this four-day workcation did too. We were asked to pick a car of our choice to drive back to Siliguri, and I opted for the City hybrid. My partner nodded in agreement. The roads – we were told – were good, and the car had enough oomph to munch those miles quickly.

Honda Elevate price, City hybrid drive, Amaze, Elevate features

The powerful City hybrid made sense on the last day as the roads were good.

As I was driving back the final stretch, I surmised that though I’ve driven on mountain roads before, Sikkim was a whole different ball game. We were headed back with a longing for the mountains and, to my colleagues’ envy, a gallery full of memories.

And as we were about to wrap up the adventure, we were met with the chief minister’s convoy, halting the traffic. Sigh! A reminder of the city life I was headed back to.

Copyright (c) Autocar India. All rights reserved.

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