Super. Awesome. Fantastic. Special. These are some of the words that were used by the participants after they completed the Mercedes Destination Anywhere Drive. What was so ‘super - awesome - fantastic - special’ about the Mercedes Destination Anywhere Drive? Let’s take you through the journey.
It all began when four young men from different parts of the country landed at Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati. Jeet Gadiya from Bengaluru, Aaditya Mistri from Pune, Vaibhav Singh from New Delhi and Murali Krishna from Chennai. They had been chosen to drive the Mercedes GLC to the ‘abode of the clouds’ Meghalaya. Mercedes cars are thought to spend their time cantering between 5-star hotels, swanky office edifices and designer homes. But can a Mercedes take the cut and thrust of mofussil India? The Destination Anywhere drive was Mercedes’ answer to the question. And it was these four men who would be the judge.
The drive is flagged off by Manish Himatsingka, CEO of Mercedes-Benz Axom Motors. The 110km drive from Guwahati to Shillong is a breeze, with a four-lane highway connecting the two cities. Climbing up from about 190ft above sea level to Shillong at 5,000ft, the road snakes its way up, whizzing past small villages and tall pinewood trees. This is no challenge for the GLC 220d 4MATIC, but it is nearly dusk by the time the team reaches Shillong. The drive that normally takes about three hours has taken nearly double the time. The reason? The many stops on the way to take pictures, and there is a photo around every bend.
Day two. This is the day everyone is waiting for. The drive to Cherrapunjee is less than 60km, but if you love to drive, this is one of the roads you will bookmark in your life. It’s not the GLC’s 170hp engine that makes the drive as fun as the car’s handling. The GLC’s steering really stands out for its very progressive and linear feel. Mercedes has got the on-centre feel spot on; there’s no dead zone around the straight ahead position and neither is it too quick off centre to make the GLC nervous at speed. It makes for relaxed, yet fast driving and instils a lot of confidence, especially even at high speeds in the rain. It’s raining hard, which is no surprise since Cherrapunjee claims that it is the wettest place on earth, though neighbouring Mawsynram may contest that. Driving the sinuous road scything through a picture postcard landscape in a Mercedes GLC is about as good as it gets. And then it gets even better.
This journey begins in Tyrna village in Cherrapunjee. But this time it’s on foot. And we are going to see something so unique that it’s the only one of its kind in the entire world. We are going to the Umshiang Double Decker Root Bridge. Now what’s special about this bridge is that it uses no steel or concrete. It’s not even built, it’s grown. This is done by directing the tender roots of the Indian Rubber Tree through hollowed betel nut tree trunks placed across the rivers and streams. When they reach the other end, they take root in the soil. Over two or three decades, a bridge is formed that is strong enough to take the weight of 50 people. There are other living root bridges in Meghalaya, but this is the only one that’s a double decker.
It’s a steep climb down 3,000 steps and it’s not for the faint-hearted or the unfit. We meet very few people on the way, apart from villagers carrying a heavy load of dried bay leaves on their way to the market. It takes about two to three hours each way and should not be attempted unless you have a strong pair of lungs and knees. But once we reach it, every laboured breath and aching joint is immediately banished. This was our virgin paradise. Eating our packed lunch here, the food tastes better than in any Michelin-rated restaurant.
The climb back to the GLCs through pouring rain and gathering darkness is one of those things that are hell in reality, but in your memories transform itself into one of your life’s most treasured moments. Then the ride back to the hotel in plush comfort of the climate-controlled GLC makes everyone fall in love with the Mercedes. Our tired bodies really appreciate the super comfortable seats, hushed interiors and the supple ride over rough roads as the car carries us back to a hot bath and a soft bed.
Itinerary for day three involved a relaxing boat ride at Dawki which is at the border of India and Bangladesh. Though populated by tourists and all accompanying pitfalls, it is one of the cleanest rivers we have come across.
Our next stop is the village of Mawlynnong. Home to about 500-600 people, the villagers here subsist on farming. Areca nuts or supari, black pepper, bay leaves and pineapple are some of the crops grown here. This small village’s claim to fame is that Mawlynnong has been named Asia’s Cleanest Village by National Geographic, UNESCO and BBC, amongst others. You only have to see the paved roads and colourful houses to know why. If a small village in Meghalaya can be kept so clean without any government interjection, what’s our excuse?
As the Destination Anywhere drive comes to an end, it’s time for Jeet, Aditya, Vaibhav and Murali to decide if the Mercedes GLC has lived up to their expectations. Their verdict – a big thumbs up.