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The trip began in Guwahati, the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the state, from where a convoy of 11 5th Generation CR-Vs & the Iconic All-New 10th Generation Civics (and uber-comfortable ones as we’ll discover through the course of our trip) were to be our rides.
Nested on the south bank of the Brahmaputra, Guwahati - despite being the largest urban area in the North East - retains much of its character (make time for a visit to the Kamakhya Temple), but it wasn’t the city, rather the interior of the state that we drove into; setting off for Majuli, a river island - described as ‘a unique geographical occurrence’ by UNESCO - in the Brahmaputra.
The drive is smooth; you hit the Asian Highway and it has patches of both a 4-lane road and a single-lane one - however, be wary of cattle that lurk along the route. Thankfully for us, the drive, through small cities and on roads crowded by cows and goats, was made much simpler and safer thanks to the cars’ ‘lane-watch camera’ feature.
Another thing that the course of the over-300 km drive will leave you with is a bright, fresh hue of green (missing from even the biggest crayon collection), that will always remind you of the Assamese monsoon.
To get to Majuli, you have to take a ferry, operated by the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), from Nimati ghat. There’s no way of pre-booking one and they operate on a first-come first-served basis (they will also ship your vehicles across the river). Depending on the tide, the ferries operate till around 4 pm in the evening, so it’s advisable to reach on time.
Regardless of the number of rivers you’ve crossed before, nothing can prepare you for the magic that is an orange candy sunset on the Brahmaputra. Grey clouds play hide-and-seek, as the sky merges with the river, a resplendent green Majuli over the horizon.
One of the largest river islands in the world (it is shrinking due to erosion) and the first in India to be made a district, Majuli is spread over approximately 352 kilometres and is a hub of culture, dominated by the Mising tribe - known for their culinary expertise and knowledge of herbs.
Coming here is a little like going back in time, you’ll be hard-pressed to find accommodation with air-conditioning and TVs. The roads, often, without warning, turn into dirt paths through vegetation, for which not just the CR-V (which has been introduced in a Diesel variant for the first time) but even the lower Civic turned out to be apt companions, making the bumpy ride almost smooth.
I could spend hours extolling the beauty of this river island with wildflowers in wetlands, accentuated by wooden, stilt houses and 22 Vaishnavite monasteries - but even that won’t suffice.
Leaving the island on a 209-km journey to Arunachal Pradesh’s Pasighat, took us through pothole-riddled country roads before we hit the highway, a journey that would have otherwise been backbreaking was made surprisingly comfortable in the cars, making me appreciate their spacious interiors.
The CR-V’s ‘driver attention monitor’, a feature that detects drowsy driving behaviour and warn the driver to take a break, was a boon for the long drives.
*Pro tip: The car you pick for a road trip - features, engine, comfort - can make all the difference to your journey. Vistas of picturesque rice fields were replaced by mist-covered mountains as we crossed the Pasighat Bridge, and made our way to the headquarters of East Siang district.
It’s a day for crossing bridges as the route to Dibrugrah from Pasighat takes us to Asia’s second longest rail-cum-road bridge. The 4.9 km-long Bogibeel bridge, across the Brahmaputra, built at a cost of Rs 5,900, crore has reduced the travel distance between Dibrugarh and Itanagar by 150 kilometres.
Since no trip to Assam can be complete without a stop at Kaziranga, that’s how we conclude ours too. And while the National Park is closed during the monsoon, if you’re lucky enough - like we were - you might see a rhino (or two) grazing in the fields, and on another glance also spot a wild Asiatic buffalo, ticking two of the ‘Big Five’ (Tiger, Hog Deer, Eastern Swamp Deer, Rhino, Wild Asiatic Buffalo) off your must-see list for the park.
And, at the end, as the country roads give way to city streets leading back to Guwahati airport, Assam leaves you with Louis Daniel Armstrong on loop in your head.
“I see trees of green, red roses too..I see skies of blue and clouds of white..The colours of the rainbow so pretty in the sky...”
Honda’s Drive to Discover is a thoughtfully conceptualized motoring initiative to explore India’s incredible diversity in the latest cars from Honda’s stable. Over the past 8 editions, Drive to Discover traversed the length and breadth of India and even crossed the borders to Bhutan in 2017. In its ninth edition, we drove along and across the Brahmaputra for over 1000 kilometres, exploring the cultural, culinary and natural wonders of the North-East India. The fleet included multiple variants of Honda’s latest offerings — the Civic and the CR-V.
After the flag-off from Guwahati in the morning, we had to reach Nimati Ghat to catch the last ferry to Majuli island. The well-paved four-lane highway turned narrower, twisty and scenic as we entered the Kaziranga region. There was some respite from the sweltering humidity of Assam and we opened the panoramic sunroof of the CR-V to enjoy the tea-tinged fresh air from the sprawling tea plantations of Assam.
As we slowed down the pace in the Kaziranga National Park, I started appreciating the many niceties of the CR-V. The long-awaited addition of the diesel engine has made the CR-V a desirable car for road tripping. The healthy 300Nm of torque is a blessing and it suits the SUV’s cruiser nature. Having driven more than 200 kilometres already, I felt as fresh as I could have been after waking up from a good night’s rest. The cabin is very well-isolated from the external noises and I was surprised by how little noise from the 1.6L 4-cylinder unit made it into the cabin.
A cruise across the Brahmaputra can transform your idea of a river. Spreading out up to 26 kilometres wide in the summer and 36 kilometres during the monsoons, Brahmaputra is the widest river in the Asian sub continent, so much so that the ferry took over an hour to reach the Kamalabari Ghat in Majuli island. Spanning 880 square kilometres, Majuli is the world’s largest river island and home to quaint villages, neo-Vaishnavite culture and ethnic tribes such as Mishing and Deori. We spent a night in Majuli, savoring the tribal food, rice beer and enjoying cultural performances by the Mishing tribe.
The next day I was offered the Civic diesel and even though it shares the engine with the CR-V, the differences were obvious. Being much lighter than the CR-V, it felt much quicker and faster during the drive from Majuli island to Pasighat in Arunachal Pradesh. The CR-V gets a 9-speed automatic gearbox, which is quick and smooth to respond to throttle inputs, while the Civic gets only a six speed manual transmission. The manual gearbox helps you keep things in better control, and the pin sharp handling and precise steering of the Civic allow some fun at wheel. However, two things that really impressed me were the premiumness of the cabin and the ride comfort it offers. The well-appointed interiors, supportive and spacious seats and brilliant suspension set up ensure you keep munching miles in style and absolute comfort.
Entering Arunachal Pradesh requires an Inner Line Permit for Indian nationals since it’s a sensitive location bordering Bhutan, China, and Myanmar. The event management team had already obtained the permits, which allowed a seamless entry into Arunachal. We stopped at Donyi Hango Homestay for lunch, where quintessential Arunachal cuisine prepared from organically grown ingredients was served. Boiled rice wrapped in banana leaf, smoked pork, homegrown pumpkin and bitter gourd and a variety of hot chutneys were the highlights. I even tried a slice of ‘Bhut jolokia’ – one of the hottest chillies in the world – and saw all my five senses coming to a sudden halt.
After a gratifying lunch experience, we drove the Ranaghat Bridge which is 763.5m long across the Siang River in Arunachal Pradesh. Dark clouds loomed over the blue-tinted mountains and the lush green forest. The red Civic looked absolutely gorgeous in the dramatic setting.
We crossed the famous, 4.9 kilometre-long Bogibeel bridge on the way back to Dibrugarh and it looked stunning, bathed in white light from the Civic’s LED headlamps.
After driving the diesel variants of both the CR-V and the Civic, it was time for me to try out the petrol variants. The Civic petrol CVT was my companion on the third day from Dibrugarh to Kaziranga and the smooth, tractable and happily revving 1.8 litre i-VTEC engine was a pleasure to drive. And if you’re not aggressive on the pedal, the smoothness and comfort of the CVT transmission will eventually grow on you. Trundling along the famous tea gardens of Dibrugarh and Jorhat for around 250 kilometres, I mastered the art of driving a CVT and eventually fell in love with it.
After the overnight halt in Kaziranga, we visited Honda’s dealership in Tezpur, the first of its kind with the new corporate identity. According to Honda, the new experience at the dealerships will amplify the ‘Joy of Buying’ for customers while enhancing the ‘Joy of Selling’ for the dealership staff. After experiencing the new ‘digital’ experience at the sales and service sections, we continued our journey back to Guwahati.
Although the National Park was closed for visitors as the roads have become unfit for travelling after incessant rains, we were lucky to spot a few rhinos at a distance from the highway.
As we handed over the keys and left for the airport, another fulfilling edition of Drive to Discover came to an end. The culture, the landscape, food, people, everything makes the North-East truly a magical region. And what made the experience even more special were the Civic and the CR-V, two absolutely brilliant machines for a comfortable road trip. While the CR-V’s suspension offered a magic carpet ride, what really took me by surprise was the capabilities of the Civic, which despite a low ground clearance, never scraped its belly and kept the ride calm and composed over some of the most ravaged roads in Assam.
You haven’t however, seen or experienced the North East until you move farther away into the rural setting. So when I was offered a chance to explore Assam and a bit of Arunachal Pradesh as a part of the ninth edition of Honda’s Drive to Discover, I couldn’t muster the will to refuse, despite having an indescribably busy month with automakers having gone nuts with their respective launch and drive events. So here it is then, my experience of the North East, put in words as concisely as I could, based on the unforgettable ninth edition of Honda‘s immersive, exploratory motoring initiative, namely Drive to Discover.
We had a 10:00 am flight to Guwahati from Mumbai to board. The Mumbai-Guwahati sector is one of the longest in the country, with an effective flight time of about 3 hours. The flight itself was quite eventful, with one of the passengers getting an epileptic seizure. One of our journo friends who also happens to be a dentist, along with another paediatrician who was on-board saved the day and helped stabilize the patient.
We were welcomed in Guwahati by a light drizzle. Now, Assam weather doesn’t get too hot and summer stays for a relatively shorter time spanning from March to June. The highest level the temperature reaches is about 37 degrees though it rains as soon as it gets too hot. June is a good time to witness Assam, draped in a lush green robe and we looked forward to it, as during the drive we were to visit some very beautiful places like Kaziranga National Park, Jorhat, Majuli, Dibrugarh and many others.
A one and a half hour-long drive took us to our hotel, and we spent the evening settling in, followed by a short briefing about what to expect over the course of the next four days. The fun-filled evening, where a local artist beautifully played some Hindi and English numbers to perfection, made the evening a memorable one. Another highlight of the evening was the presence of Mr Rajesh Goel, Honda Car India’s VP For Sales and Marketing, who invited the entire pack of the journos to ‘Use and Abuse’ the brand’s cars and test them to the fullest during the course of the journey. Duly noted, sire!
The day looked promising with only the top-of-the-line Honda cars having been offered to us for the drive. We had the very capable CR-V and the legendary Civic as the media vehicles. The CR-V with its 1.6-litre diesel and a beautiful 9-speed auto seemed like the ideal choice for this kind of a trip which would traverse through rural areas with broken roads, big potholes and lashing rains.
We looked at the Civic with a bit of apprehension, which had lower ground clearance and a very sporty lineage. The sexy looking sedan, however, was about to astonish us with its strength and ability to take bad roads in its stride over the next few days. More on that later, though.
We had to make an early start to the day, as we had to reach a jetty at Jorhat on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra river, board a ferry and reach Majuli, a beautiful island which is currently the largest river island in the world and a nomination has been sent to UNESCO to list it as a world heritage site.
We traversed through the streets of Guwahati to get out of the urban hustle and bustle, and in a matter of a couple of hours found ourselves passing through the lush green forests of Kaziranga. The Animal Corridor flanking the National Highway has numerous signboards for animal crossings, although the park itself is shut for tourists until October to allow Rhinos some peace and solitude during their breeding season.
This was a drive-intensive day as we had to reach the jetty before 3:30 pm, the last one to Majuli Island. The operations are shut thereafter as the sun goes down early in the North East and the Brahmaputra can be quite a handful to deal with in the dark. We drove at a fast clip with only a couple of stops along the way, soaking in the refreshing sights of lush green forests, vast paddy fields expanding into clusters of trees on the horizon, forest fields and swamps, which gave us a glimpse of the abundance of natural beauty we were to experience over the next few days.
We took a short tea break along the way and stopped at the famous Wild Grass resort for lunch. The beautiful British-era building warps you back in time and is surrounded by tall trees, bamboo clusters which were the tallest I have ever seen, ponds where farmers do organic fishing and of course, vast expanses of wild grass, as the name suggests.
Beautiful wooden windows in a row have a disarming old-worldly charm about them. And as you get inside, they show you their functional side, by letting enough air and light. The main hall of the building features an almost 20 feet tall ceiling, with tastefully appointed wooden furniture, deer head taxidermies, traditional paintings featuring animals like elephants and tigers, rhino figurines and other forms of local handicrafts.
Apart from the beautiful ambience, the absolute highlight of the place is the food, which represents the local Assamese cuisine. The food cooked here is organically grown and prepared in the most authentic manner possible. The Assamese cuisine isn’t very spicy by itself, though it does have an assortment of hot chutneys offered on the side – some of them featuring the world-famous Bhoot Jholakiya, or ghost chilly, known to be the hottest chilly in the world.
With our bellies full, we headed towards the jetty for Majuli at Jorhat, and upon reaching there, saw the vast expanse of the Brahmaputra. The raging, powerful river that carries stupendously high volumes of water is quite an overwhelming sight to behold. Had the other bank not been visible, far away in the horizon, almost 10km away, it wouldn’t have been too improbable for one to have mistaken it for a sea. The currents are pretty strong, and with that enormous volume of water, one could only imagine the force that this river notorious for being violent carries.
With all the cars aboard, we waited for some time as the ferry was fully loaded with other local passengers and vehicles. Thereon, it took about an hour’s time before we reached the jetty on the other side at Majuli Island. The journos on board, including myself thoroughly relished the visuals of the forests in the distance, the tiny islands that merge while the river is not overflowing and the different hues of the sky and the ever-changing cloud patterns with the setting sun adding to the visual charm.
At Majuli, the CR-Vs, the Civics and the rest of the crew cars lined up to drive towards our abode for the night – the Dekasang Resort. The half an hour drive felt refreshing, as it took us through the hutments of the tribal Assamese population, still largely unaffected by the invasion of technology.
These folk live peacefully, fully in tune with nature, in their houses which are still made largely of bamboos – they live off the land and can be seen dressed in their traditional attire. It was a beautiful experience driving to DekaSang, a quaint, beautiful little resort situated on the banks of a small, but a fast-flowing tributary of the Brahmaputra.
Tribal dancers, most of whom were school kids, delivered a fantastic performance in the evening before the journo bunch. This slightly different offshoot of the famous Assamese Bihu dance gave us a glimpse of their rich culture and their strong connection with their traditions. The happy bunch of these young dancers delighted everyone with their stamina, energy, fine movements and impeccable synchronization.
My drive for the day was the Honda Civic 1.6 diesel manual. And from a driver’s perspective, I couldn’t have asked for anything more exciting from the bunch. Sure, there’s the 1.8 i-VTEC too, but with a slick-shifting manual transmission thrown in, and being more of a diesel guy, I absolutely loved my time with the slick-shifting diesel Civic. What really stood out was its impeccable build quality, and the absolutely amazing suspension, tuned and raised beautifully for the Indian conditions. Despite appearing as a low slung machine, the Civic took every hardship the broken roads could throw at it with aplomb, and delighted us to the core with its comfort, cabin space and a thoroughly enjoyable and involving drive.
With an action-packed day and about 380 km behind us, we retired in our traditionally built rooms, looking forward to the next day, which would take us to Dibrugarh.
We looked forward to Day 3 with great anticipation, with our itinerary promising to take us to Arunachal Pradesh, give us a taste of Arunachali Cuisine, and take us over two really iconic road bridges. Most of all, driving through the bucolic beauty of Majuli was a great incentive in itself.
The day started off on a great note with representatives of the Mising Tribe gifting the journalist a traditional scarf. Humbled and deeply thankful, we commenced our journey for the day. Powering us in our quest to explore today was the extremely comfortable Honda CR-V 1.6 diesel, with a 9-speed auto ensuring that there won’t be any signs of fatigue even if the day lasted long, which, as we were to realize later, it would.
Now, Majuli, as mentioned before is a river island. It currently holds the world record as the largest inland island formed by a river. It is also the first island to be made a district in India. Majuli Island is formed over the Brahmaputra. A section of the river, called the Kherkutia Xuti breaks out from the Brahmaputra and joins it again via Subansiri River in the north forming the Majuli Island.
When it was first formed, Majuli Island was rather huge with an area of about 880 square km, at the beginning of the 20th century to be precise. The raging Brahmaputra river, however, has been eroding it consistently, and now it has shrunk to about 352 square kilometres.
Majuli is a beauty to behold, as we realized traversing it. Vast expanses of picture-perfect fields, with tribal folk working them, offer a refreshing visual delight. There are tons of beautiful green swamps flanking the narrow roads, with water peeking out as a large puddle from them in the middle, reflecting the dull sunlight dimmed down by the dark clouds in June.
With a sensational display of light and shade, thanks to the constantly changing light conditions, we witnessed some incredible landscapes and tried to capture them all, though no pictures could do justice to the beauty of the bucolic charm of the place.
Our next destination was an Eco Resort namely Donyi Hango, where we would sample some authentic Arunachali Cuisine for lunch, before driving towards the Pasighat Bridge. Driving towards Arunachal Pradesh, we saw the beautiful Himalayan Range drenched in clouds running parallel to the road on our left, offering some spectacular views. Wide bridges over rivers descending down from the mountains appeared as a garnish to this sumptuous North Eastern visual delicacy we were being treated to.
By the time we reached Donyi Hango, most journos were quite hungry and looked forward to a different, delightful culinary experience. And boy, did the Eco Resort oblige with food which was authentic not just in terms of preparation, ingredients and taste, but also in terms of presentation. We were offered boiled rice wrapped in banana leaf, with local leafy vegetables, a local variety of pumpkin, pork, chicken and many other dishes to be savoured. A highlight here was a small plate which had chopped Bhut Jolokia on offer if anyone had the heart to sample it. Few amongst us who threw caution to the wind and popped a small piece in their mouths were seen scrambling for water almost immediately.
On my part, I smashed it with a spoon, and picked a really teeny, hardly visible speck on another spoon and touched it with my tongue to gauge its potency. And potent it was, with even that tiny atom, sending a clear warning to my brain not to act too adventurous. Making a wise decision, I withdrew, but not before having sampled the potency of the much-feared spice.
After the delightful lunch, we were off to the Pasighat Bridge which is 763.5m long and built over the Siang River in Arunachal Pradesh. It was arguably the most breathtaking view of the trip. From one end, the bridge appeared like a gateway to the beautiful Himalayas, all lush green and covered in beautiful elongated dark puffs of clouds offering a heavenly view.
Once over the bridge, one could see the exotic mountains in the distance, and the wide expanse of the quiet river with fog hanging low over its surface, giving it an appearance which looked too beautiful to be real. After spending some time at the edge of the bridge soaking in the beautiful views, we started our journey towards Dibrugarh. We passed the famous Bogibeel Bridge on our way back and stopped for some images.
On the way back, we enjoyed some of the most beautiful roads to drive on, with the fantastic surfacing. The Honda CR-V showed us what has made it such a legendary nameplate amongst all urban SUVs. The high ground clearance, fabulously set up suspension, and a fantastic engine-transmission combo ensured we were fresh as a daisy when we stepped down from it at our hotel in Dibrugarh. What came as an icing on the cake was that despite having driven it with a heavy foot, the fuel efficiency was amazing.
It was time for me to switch to the Civic petrol today, the 1.8 VTEC powered car, mated with a CVT. Our target today was to experience the tea gardens surrounding Dibrugarh, the tea capital of Assam, take a halt within the Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary and finally, end our day in one of the resorts situated in the Kaziranga National Park.
After filling up the cars in the convoy, we quickly started our journey towards Kaziranga. On our way, we witnessed the beautiful tea estates of Assam in abundance. The tea estates in this part of the world are mostly on flatlands, unlike the estates in Darjeeling and Munnar where you’ll find them on the hills.
We ventured into a couple of these tea estates and breathed in the fresh aromatic air. The health-conscious ones amongst us also bought their respective supply of Assamese green teas, feeling sure that teas don’t come fresher than the ones they’ve procured from the estate itself.
Our lunch halt was at the famous Gibbon Homestay, situated in the midst of the Gibbon wildlife sanctuary – home to, you guessed it, Gibbon, a rare primate, native to the land. The small homestay is known for its simple, home-like ambience and for serving food which is true to the region’s tradition. After having our fill of the simple, yet sumptuous food, we headed for our final destination for the Day – Kaziranga.
The group headed for the IORA Resort in Kaziranga. Later in the night, the members of the media contingent were welcomed by local dance groups performing Bihu and other Assamese dance forms, and inviting the journos to join them, who duly obliged and brought the eventful day to a fun-filled end.
This was the day when we would make a Dash to Guwahati and catch our respective flights back to our cities. We were still in Kaziranga, though, and this trip won’t be complete until we spotted a Rhino. On our way back, we passed through open wild grass-fields where wild buffalos could be spotted aplenty. The animal corridor has been beautifully maintained, and speed limit signs are prominently displayed to ensure a safe passage for the animals. During this time of the year, rhino sightings are not very easy, as the inner parts of the National park are closed for visitors. The mighty one-horned rhino, the very identity of Assam in many ways, had been eluding us all this while. Eventually, however, a few amongst us managed to spot a couple of them, basking in a pond in the grasslands, even posing for cameras.
With this essential item ticked off our wishlist, we started our journey towards Tezpur, where North East Honda, a leading dealership for Honda in the region is one of the first to adopt a new, more customer-centric layout, cutting edge facilities and practices for the brand.
The dealership offers the best in terms of customer service and convenience. Inside the dealership, there is a dedicated lounge area for customers with TV screens, sofas and a cafe which serves authentic coffees and refreshments. There’s also a digital wall, with a huge screen where the customers can digitally configure their cars. One can check all the features and functions of the cars like sunroof, infotainment system etc, in action with a mere press of a button. And it’s not just the welcoming, open, and airy environs of the customer area which has witnessed an overhaul. Even the service facilities have gone paperless with the entire process of car service, job card creation and the delivery is taken care of through easy to use digital tabs.
Our final pitstop for lunch was at Maihang, a restaurant which specializes in the North Eastern cuisine. As we experienced throughout the trip, the food here was quite amazing and we ensured that we had our fill of the North Eastern food to our heart’s contentment before we left. The latter part of the day saw us charging towards Honda’s stockyard in Guwahati where we would drop our respective cars. Our five days with these beauties were extremely exciting, and the way these machines took all the abuse we threw at them was quite incredible. A special mention needs to be made of the Civic here, which despite its sporty stance, never, even once scraped its belly and managed to take some of the most ravaged streets in its stride without a whimper – keeping us cocooned and comfortable at all times. It also shattered the perception that many had that it’s a car which is meant only for the well-paved streets – if the Civic can handle what it handled during this journey, it can handle everything the streets of India can throw at it.
With some unforgettable experiences, great memories and some new friendships, we bid adieu to the beautiful North Easter of India. The fun times we had, the vistas we explored, and the scenes we witnessed will be etched forever in our memories. We discovered a lot, not just about the geography and landscape of this beautiful part of the country, but about its wonderful people, their strong connection with their land and their lively, inspiring ways. In its ninth edition, Honda’s Drive to Discover lived up to its name and reputation and gave us an experience which won’t ever be forgotten.
But then there is the Honda Drive to Discover, a drive which is primarily for us to experience their fleet of vehicles, taking them to places and well...having a good time. And that is what we did at the ninth edition of this drive. Honda got the latest addition to their portfolio, the sleek Civic sedan along with its premium soldier, the CR-V, at one of the most picturesque locations of India, the North East.
After a three and a half hour flight from Mumbai, we landed in Guwahati. If you have been to the North East, you would agree that this part of the country has a distinct appeal. Be it for the simplistic lifestyle or the aroma of freshness. As soon as we landed in Guwahati, there was a bus waiting for us to take us to our hotel followed by a nice laid-back place where we experienced a musical performance by a popular local band, Naaz.
The next morning was a buzzing one as the convoy of CR-Vs and Civics were being prepped for the journey ahead. I understand why the CR-V was brought, but then who in the sane mind would bring the Civic on a journey like this, especially when you know that the roads are going to be broken, there will be under construction sections, potholes, craters, aliens guess that's stretching it too much. When I shared this thought with the Honda team, they volleyed back. "What's wrong in getting the Civic at a place like this?" Ok then. But first, the Honda CR-V.
The way the Honda CR-V looks, really works for me, especially those sleek all-LED headlights, the massive diamond cut alloys and the overall muscular contours. In terms of space, the CR-V is right there among the best in the business. Comfortable leather seats, CarPlay compatible infotainment system with navigation and automatic climate control, exactly what you need on a trip like this. After settling in the CR-V, we were off to our first destination of the day, Majuli which is essentially a river island. To get there, we had to get all our vehicles abode the famous MV-Bhupen Hazarika Ferry which, like the CR-V, was generous in storage. A bit too generous actually, for it can carry 25 small vehicles as well as 500 passengers.
With our convoy nicely parked, we took a 45-minute ferry ride across the river and reached Majuli. Unlike the buzz that you see in metro cities, life at such places is pretty laid-back. You will not find the convenience of stores and malls here but instead there is the calmness and serenity that you miss in the city. We reached our destination for the evening, Dekasang Resort. As the sun had decided to call it a day and we were too busy capturing the CR-V against the backdrop of the beautiful river side, it had become quite dark before we settled in at this resort. The owner of this place had very tastefully done up the place with a strong influence from nature. We got to experience performances of locals residing in nearby areas on folk music, and their enthusiasm was truly remarkable.
It was time for us to swap our trusty Honda CR-V with the sleek Civic. While I was really comfortable in the CR-V as it is a spacious offering and is an SUV, a vehicle type meant to go on such terrains, the Civic should be driven only on an amazing stretch of tarmac. Right? Got myself the best seat, the driver's, made sure my journo friend had paired his phone to the Civic's infotainment and we were off to our next destination.
The Honda Civic, that we were driving was the diesel model. While I do prefer the petrol Hondas for they are smooth, the diesels, on the other hand, are nice and torque-y. They are an ideal choice when you are planning on covering long stretches of highways. From Assam we entered Arunachal and drove down to Pasighat. The roads just kept on getting more and more scenic as every kilometre passed by. We grabbed a quick lunch at a natural eco-resort called Donyi Hango and then continued our journey to Pasighat.
Though we could not spend much time here, we did witness one of the most beautiful sights with mountains, Brahmaputra and hints of greenery everywhere. It was then time to continue our journey to Dibrugarh. The roads were perfect to unleash all the ponies of the Civic and let its suspension iron out the uneven surfaces. As we closed on Dibrugarh, we drove on the new Bogibeel bridge, a combined road and rail bridge over the Brahmaputra river. It is Asia's second longest rail-cum-road bridge and is crucial for its ability to transport troops and supplies to its border with Tibet in Arunachal Pradesh. We then decided to call it a day at Dibrugarh.
The next morning, the plan was to drive from Dibrugarh to Kaziranga through the Gibbon wildlife sanctuary. Instead of switching the Civic with the CR-V again, we decided to retain the Civic and drive in it. Partly because I was enjoying the sedan. Also, this is real-world condition, the best way to experience the true mettle of the Civic. Long story short, the suspension set-up of the Civic did an impressive job of just gulping down whatever we threw at it. Some unintentional while others were intentional. Not once did the ride get disturbing or produce any redundant noise for us to get worried. On our drive to Kaziranga, we crossed multiple tea plantations. The luscious green of nature was the perfect contrast for our Civic, and thus we quickly got a couple of captures. We finally retired for the evening at our beautiful stay in Kaziranga.
The Kaziranga sanctuary that hosts two-thirds of the world's great one-horned rhinoceroses, is a World Heritage Site. This very fact had got me excited as I had not seen a rhino up-close and personal. With our curious eyes glued to the window, I was all eager to sight one. As my journo friend was behind the wheel, I had to get one capture of the rhino, after all it is not every day that you see one. After missing a couple of them, we finally managed to sight one at a great distance. Finally. And with all the happy memories, it was time to head back to the city from where we had started this journey, Guwahati.
Our drive began from the Assamese city of Guwahati, which is the most accessible of all the places in North East. We were a group of 26 journalists from different parts of India and were given a brief on what locations we would be visiting. The winding roads took us out of the main city as we settled in the CR-V's roomy cabin with a high quality interior. This 152bhp and 188Nm of torque producing 2.0-litre petrol 2WD SUV is known for its smooth drivetrain and car-like handling. Paired with a CVT gearbox, we just put it in drive mode and enjoyed the scenery outside. The journey was a mix of straight highways, diversions, countryside terrain, narrow roads and bridges. Most traffic was only in the form of cattle out on the road. We also drove through Kaziranga sanctuary, which is a world heritage site and home to two-third of the world's entire population of one-horned rhinoceroses. With no luck in spotting one, we took our first break for lunch at an old rustic place called Wild Grass.
From there, we moved on towards Neimati ghat to enter Majuli. We had to ferry our cars on the great MV Bhupen Hazarika across the mighty Brahmaputra river. This river passes through many different regions and often floods the villages during monsoons. This is the main reason why the locals mostly stay in Borneo-style stilted houses.
Majuli is the world's largest inhabited freshwater river island and it attracts tourists from across the world. It is also the first island in India to be given the status of a district. Here we were welcomed with hand-made scarves by the Mising Tribe, an indigenous tribal community and the original inhabitants. They are known for their culinary expertise, knowledge of herbs and the local Ooinitam dance. After all, this island has always been at heart of Assamese culture and is home to a number of old traditions.
The next day we had the petrol powered Civic with us to drive from Majuli to Dibrugarh. We spent some time with the local kids taking a dip in the river. It was quite a refresher, especially in the heat. Once we were out of Majuli, the roads widened and gave us chance to sprint with the automatic Civic and make use of the 140bhp, 174Nm of torque from its 1.8-litre engine. Complementing it is its automatic gearbox and a planted ride, good enough for the car to be a long-distance runner.
And before we headed to our destination, we decided to cross the Assam-Arunachal border and drive to Pasighat. On the route was Jonai, a small town on this border that connects to the rest of the country through NH-52. Also, it has the last railway station that stretches to the east. We continued cruising comfortably till our lunch halt at an ecotourism resort - Donyi Hango. We were served a spicy Arunachali meal that was prepared in a home-style kitchen. Thanks to this regional experience, we also got an idea of what else this place is famous for. Bhut Jolokia, the world's most pungent chilly.
As we reached Pasighat, the Brahmaputra made its appearance yet again, but here it was called the siang or dihang. The clouds floating on the river stream was a delight to watch. Then the drive from Pasighat to Dibrugarh was comfortable with good roads all the way. However, the best part was the new Bogibeel bridge, which is a rail-cum-road bridge over a river and it is not only the largest in India, but also the second largest in the world. Earlier it used to take two hours to cross the river on a ferry, but now it takes only about 10 to 15 minutes. This bridge is also the third of its kind, a long-pending demand of the army and locals. Since we reached late, it was dark with no view of the river. But, thankfully the bridge was all lit up giving us a different perspective. We sprinted across to reach Dibrugarh from where more than 50 per cent of Assam’s tea production comes. No wonder it's also called the tea city of India!
Our departure from Dibrugarh to Kaziranga was via the Gibbon wildlife sanctuary. Here we were looking at the second most famous topography of the north east - the forests. This time we had the automatic diesel CR-V. The absence of a parking brake lever meant a lot of space in the lower centre console. We loaded it up with chip packets, chocolates and cookies, to gear up for the long journey. Though we didn't use the third row of seats, the second row was even more comfortable thanks to the roof mounted vents apart from the floor mounted air-con vents. The panoramic sunroof added to the delight for better sense of space while we could relax and notice the trees and clouds passing by.
Soon after, it started raining cats and dogs and we could hardly see a thing, but it just added to the entire experience. I was glad we were in this SUV with bigger 18-inch wheels. Most of the potholes were taken care of. Also, this is powered by the 1.6-litre diesel motor. With so much of torque, we were making most of its mid-range grunt. And it was fun to drive along those narrow roads. Then, at our stay at Kaziranga, we were again treated to a few local dances and souvenirs that we could take back home.
On our last leg of the journey to Guwahati, we were hoping for some wildlife sightings! And while we were slowly starting to lose interest after not spotting anything for so long, the turbocharged diesel manual Civic kept us engaged in driving. Nonetheless, we kept driving through Kaziranga sanctuary and eventually it didn't disappoint us. Though at a distance, the one-horned Rhinocerous made its appearance twice. This was one of the best highlights of this drive! We were then back on our way to the Guwahati airport where our four-day drive would culminate after covering a distance of more than 1,300km.
This annual drive event turned out to be an exceptional experiential drive. Not only did we explore the exotic destinations, lush countryside, flat highways and even congested town roads; but also the cars for their quality, durability and reliability during this long journey. So there it is, if you are the kind of traveller who likes to spend time with the locals, try local cuisine and yet have an intimate quiet vacation far away from the crowd - Assam-Arunachal are the places to visit. Such nice off-beat non-touristy places displaying vivid colours of these states that you can just slow down and appreciate the the smallest things in life that bring you joy. I'm glad I've watched more of sunrises and sunsets this year than episodes on Netflix.