In Nagaland, author and motorcar enthusiast Thomas Chacko visited the Kohima War Cemetery. It contains the graves of 1,200 Indian soldiers who had fought against Japan and died during World War II. This was during the decisive Battle of Kohima which was later known as the Battle of the Tennis Court.
Apparently, the concluding part had been fought on the tennis court of the District Commissioner’s bungalow. “It was there that the Japanese advance through Burma was stopped,” says Chacko. “Some of the soldiers were as young as 16-year-old Ghulam Muhammed. I was drawn to the poignant words on a monument... ‘When you go home, tell them of us, and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today’.”
This incident was recounted in the book, Atop the World, written by Chacko, after the conclusion of his 26,500-km journey in a Nano car to all the state capitals, as well as the Union Territories, and the far corners of India. The journey, which began on May 3, 2012, concluded on July 20, last year.
In January, last year, Chacko—a former company secretary and interim chief executive of Harrisons Malayalam Pvt. Ltd, had written a letter to Ratan Tata, the then chairman of Tata Sons, outlining his plans. He wrote, “I want to prove that the Nano—in spite of it being the lightest and cheapest car, and having the smallest engine in current production in the world—can take on every kind of road that India has to offer, especially with its clearance of 180mm.” Chacko also added that it would negate the adverse publicity which accrued when a few Nanos caught fire. Within a month, Chacko got the go-ahead for an all-expenses-paid trip by the Tatas.
On the journey, the 63-year-old adventurer was accompanied, at different times, by his wife Geetha, daughter Miriam, son Rahul, brother Abraham, sister Rebecca and brother-in-law Bejoy.
In his fluent style, Chacko recounts the various stages of the journey: the couple of minor accidents; meals he had; press meets; different roads he traversed on; traffic jams; rude as well as cooperative drivers; hot, cool and cold weather; lunches and dinners with friends, and strangers, and the eminent.
General JJ Singh, the former army chief and the governor of Arunachal Pradesh provided a sumptuous lunch. Chacko wrote about revisiting the St. Paul’s Cathedral in Kolkata where he got married, as well as his traversing the highest motorable pass in the world: the Khardung -la, at 18,380 feet. Asked about his biggest achievement, Chacko says, “Taking a tiny car to Khardung-la.”
The one place which impressed him the most was the Kailasa temple at Ellora. “Nothing I had read had prepared me for just how marvellous a creation the Kailasa Temple is,” says Chacko. Within the structure are halls, balconies, a free standing pavilion, a pair of elephants and ornate columns. “All this had been created from one single rock,” he says. “One can imagine the effort it took to chip and cut with hammer and chisel, and to clear away a quarter of a billion tonnes of rock.”
Another place which surprised Chacko was Mahatma Gandhi’s house at Porbandar, Gujarat. “It is a 22-room mansion with a large marble floored inner courtyard,” says Chacko. “I then realised that Gandhiji’s father had been the equivalent of a prime minister to the ruler of Porbander and therefore a well-to-do man.” Thankfully, the place was well-maintained and open to the public free of charge.
Every night, Chacko would key in his impressions of the day on his laptop and send it to his Bangalore-based son Rahul who would upload it on the blog: www. manoetnano.com. The book, which took four months to write, is an enlarged version of the blog. Chacko’s one inescapable conclusion: “The Nano performed wonderfully and I faced no problems whatsoever.”
What was most amusing to read were the various road signs all over India, giving all sorts of tips to travellers. This has been placed at the end of every chapter. But Chacko was not entirely amused. “The signs on many Indian highways are more for promoting the achievements of the National Highway Authority of India or the Public Works Department than for helping travellers,” he says.
Asked to identify the unique nature of India, he says, “Only one other country can compare with India, in terms of terrain, and that is the USA,” says Chacko who has been to many countries. “We have beaches, mountains, hills, forests, deserts, swamps and canyons. You don’t have to go out of India to see and experience all this. Apart from that, no country has as many languages or communities. India is unique.”