Electric vehicles could improve the air in cities. But They Can Certainly Help Preserve Our Pristine Places

E. V. Improves Air Quality

Recently, I got the opportunity to drive Mercedes-Benz India’s latest electric vehicle, the EQE SUV, in and around Gulmarg, the famous skiing destination in Kashmir. Though I have been to Gulmarg several times before, this time too, I was overwhelmed by its immense natural beauty and spectacular landscapes. The Mercedes-Benz EQE also proved in more ways (some wholly unexpected) than one, to be the ideal partner to explore this pristine and still unspoiled region.

Electric vehicles could improve the air in cities. But They Can Certainly Help Preserve Our Pristine Places

Driving the Mercedes-Benz EQE in the verdant valleys, meadows and hills around Gulmurg was both enchanting and rewarding.

Driving the Mercedes-Benz EQE in the verdant valleys, meadows and hills around Gulmurg was both enchanting and rewarding.

The EQE is nicely styled, has good range, excellent performance and is loaded with lots of features to indulge the driver and pamper the occupants. All these qualities of the Mercedes-Benz EQE obviously helped make the drive enjoyable and comfortable. But there were few realizations and pleasant surprises that emerged purely due to the route and I compliment Mercedes-Benz for choosing Gulmarg as the destination for this media drive event.

Electric vehicles could improve the air in cities. But They Can Certainly Help Preserve Our Pristine Places

This is where you can experience the -Sound of Silence- and the fact that the almost soundless EQE did not create any commotion, felt so very good.

Until this drive, like most people I also looked at EVs as a possible solution for reducing pollution and improving the air quality in our congested cities. But my mindset changed when I drove the Mercedes-Benz EQE SUV from Gulmarg to near our LOC (Line of Control). The almost completely traffic free narrow tarmac road wove its way through some amazingly pretty forests and meadows, where one could stop and smell the flowers and hear the wind rustling through the tall green pine and fir trees.  This is where you can listen to nature’s version of the “Sound of Silence” and it was thanks to this total absence of any machine or man-made sound, that I realized how good it felt to be driving through this “Land of Silence and Serenity” in the almost soundless EQE.

Electric vehicles could improve the air in cities. But They Can Certainly Help Preserve Our Pristine Places

The Mercedes-Benz EQE is an impressive performer and smart-looking too. It also has many features and luxurious comforts that pamper and all this also makes it a delight to drive.

While going from Srinagar airport to Gulmarg the previous day, I had came across many diesel powered buses and commercial vehicles making a loud din with the noise echoing across the hills. Given this, I was able to appreciate the silent movement of the Mercedes-Benz EQE even more and it felt really good that I was not doing anything to disturb the calm and peace.

Electric vehicles could improve the air in cities. But They Can Certainly Help Preserve Our Pristine Places

In the hills you are either ascending or descending. And therefore electric vehicles with their instant torque and regenerative braking are ideally suited for hilly regions.

Another thing I realized when I got out to enjoy the landscape and breathe in the crisp mountain air laced with the rich fragrance of flowers and trees was the total absence of any emissions or fumes coming from the EQE. Normally most IC (internal combustion) vehicles, especially diesel ones discharge fumes with an unpleasant odour, which one does not normally notice in our anyways smelly cities. But out in the wilderness such fumes are even fouler and the fact that the EQE was not releasing any fumes whatsoever enhanced my feel good quotient.

And it’s due to these factors that I am now convinced that EVs must be used in our unpolluted and peaceful places. It remains to be seen if EVs actually assist in cleaning the air in our highly polluted cities. But what I have just seen and experienced is that they certainly can contribute in not spoiling and preserving our unblemished abodes.

Electric vehicles could improve the air in cities. But They Can Certainly Help Preserve Our Pristine Places

I stopped several times to breathe the clean and crisp air enhanced by the lofty fragrance of pine trees and mountain flowers. And it was gratifying that the zero emissions EQE was not spewing any fumes or pollutants into this unspoiled environment.

One more thing I ascertained on this drive is how suited EVs are for driving on the twisty and constantly curving roads in the hilly regions of our country. In the mountains you are either climbing or descending. While climbing in an IC engine powered vehicle, especially when exiting hairpin bends, one has to shift down and really accelerate hard to ascend and just as the power is building up you arrive at the next turn which requires you to slow down again. So while going up a hill you are either accelerating hard or lifting off the pedal and changing gears. And while coming down you are braking repetitively and also shifting gears. All this puts a lot of strain on the engine, gearbox, brakes and also the driver.

In comparison, an electric vehicle with its instant and constant torque climbs up far more effortlessly. The ever present torque and absence of gears means you just have to smoothly press the accelerator and the power on demand enables the vehicle to easily soar up. And when you approach the next turn, one needs to slightly release the pedal and then gently feed in the power the moment you exit the curve. Believe me in an EV you can gracefully flow up a hill without half the effort or skill that is required in a conventional car.

Electric vehicles could improve the air in cities. But They Can Certainly Help Preserve Our Pristine Places

The sheep too continued to graze without getting disturbed by the silent and odour free EQE.

Descending is also calmer and rewarding too, as the regenerative braking system not only slows the vehicle down progressively, but it also harnesses the kinetic energy and enhances the driving range provided by the batteries. Honestly in my view, electric vehicles are most suited for driving in hilly regions and once the charging network gets properly established in such places, I am sure we will see more and more consumers there opting for EVs.

Electric vehicles could improve the air in cities. But They Can Certainly Help Preserve Our Pristine Places

Now I am convinced that EVs can actually contribute in preserving our pristine places. While how much they clean the air in our horrifically polluted cities, remains to be seen

In Gulmarg we stayed at the Khyber Himalayan Resort, which interestingly has a steep approach road that IC powered vehicles have to ascend in first gear with the engine revving and working hard. So the couple of times I drove up this slope in the Mercedes-Benz EQE, I pushed down a bit on the pedal and thanks to the instant and massive torque raced up the slope in an easy and fluent manner. Looking at this the local Kashmiri watchman said to me, “Yeh gaadi toh jahaz ki tarah hai, udke upar jaati hai”, or “This car is like a plane, it simply flies up”.

How the 1977 London to Sydney Marathon changed my life

Can just one day, chart the course of one’s life? Looking back at 26th August 1977, I think this day (when the London to Sydney Marathon rolled into Bombay), perhaps decided the direction of my life. I was in school then, probably in Class 8. Some local organisers assisting with the running of the Indian leg of the London to Sydney had come to St. Xavier’s High School and put a request on the notice board asking students to volunteer to welcome the rally participants. My late elder brother Gulu, was seriously into cars and as I had also developed quite a liking for them, I volunteered. The fact that my school was just about 3km from the event TC or time control, (the first time I heard that term) at Nariman Point and my residence was also on Marine Drive, just a stone’s throw away, possibly sealed the deal, along with the fact that not many other students had applied. I was selected to be among those who would hand out bouquets of flowers to the participants when they arrived at the time control.

Principal Fr. Joe Aran, sad I needed to be in school uniform and that I would have to leave school early on 26th August, to be in time to welcome the participants. Gulu happily agreed to fetch me at 3:00pm (school ended at 3:45pm) and take me to the TC. The newspapers in Bombay (as it was known back then) were carrying daily reports after the event flagged off from London, with the focus of course being on the progress of our very own Indian team led by Dr. Bomsi Wadia. I followed these reports closely and was familiar with most participants and their cars before they drove into Bombay. My brother Gulu even managed to pick up a copy of a foreign publication that had done a detailed preview of the event with backgrounds of all the leading drivers, their cars, the preparations and modifications, etc. I learnt all about raised and stiffened suspension, sump guards, extra fuel tanks, extra driving lights, free flow exhausts, bull bars or roo bars, which would be needed as a protection from collisions with kangaroos in Australia, and so on.

On the morning of the day the cars were to reach Bombay, I was so excited that all I was talking of in school were the cars and some of my classmates also got enthused and said they wished they had volunteered too. Then suddenly while class was on, Father Joe Aran walked in and asked me to come with him. I looked at the clock; it was only 12:45pm and still early. Father Aran took me to the school office and said my brother would be there soon as the first car was already on the outskirts of Bombay and would reach the TC before time. Father Aran, one of my most favourite teachers, told me to remember that I was representing him and the school, and should behave properly at all times. Then my brother Gulu rushed into the office a little after 1:00pm, and said come on, we got to hurry.


He had come in a 1971 Ford Capri, a used one, which he had persuaded my Dad to buy only a year back. Gulu said he had received a call from the organisers office saying the first car was running very early and we should immediately head to Nariman Point and since our location was closer, we would possibly reach before the time control officials. It was when we were approaching Marine Drive that we heard an awesome engine roar. It was like no engine I had ever heard before. It was pure and powerful and that sound of speed was soon ricocheting off the walls of the art-deco buildings on Marine Drive. The policemen at the junction stopped us, and then as if in a blur we saw a car fly by. It was red and the engine was singing like a star. All my bookish knowledge acquired in the last fortnight came to the fore and I confidently told Gulu that it was Zasada in his Porsche 911 Carrera, powered by a flat six cylinder engine.

My brother was also well aware that since Zasada was leading the event, he would have been the first to be flagged off from Delhi. But nobody could have imagined that he would drive the distance of 1,450km between Delhi and Bombay, in less than 12 hours! After waiting for a few minutes when no other rally car appeared the policemen heeded our requests and let us go. When we reached Nariman Point we saw Zasada waiting on the pavement outside what was then known as the Oberoi Sheraton Hotel (now the Trident). A crowd had already begun to gather around his vehicle. There were also a few people running about putting up a table with chairs, banners, and so on.

This was the time control being set up! They were expecting the first car at 6:00pm, but somehow they still managed to get the control up and running a little after 2:00pm. After a long gap the second car turned up and then the others started coming in soon after. The flowers also arrived and I started to distribute those. Amongst all this whenever I recognised a car, I would proudly rattle off its name trying to impress everybody around with my newly acquired knowledge. Some of the local organisers noticed this and encouraged me to call out the makes and models loudly.
Once the cars had checked into the control, many of the drivers went to their hotels to get some rest, while the mechanics or service teams rushed off with the cars to get some repairs done. We followed a Fiat 131 to the Bombay Cycle workshop at Churchgate, just a kilometer away. Bombay Cycle was an authorised dealer for Premier.

Automobiles, which was making and selling the Fiat or the Premier Padmini in India then. All the Fiat 131s and 132s that had made it to Bombay were now being serviced and repaired there. Someone mentioned that the Mercedes-Benzes were being worked on at the United Motors workshop at Hughes Road, so we went there next. United Motors were Telco (now Tata Motors) dealers and also specialised in servicing the Mercedes-Benz cars of foreign consulates and those that made it to India via the import license route. None of us had ever seen such well prepared rally cars before and I was awestruck by the robust sand plate mounted in place of conventional bumpers, on the Mercedes-Benz 280 Es. I also remember looking into Paddy Hopkirk’s Citroen and being fascinated by the competition seats. Little did I know then, that some years later I would manage to import a set of Paddy Hopkirk seats from England and fit them on my Maruti 800!

That day will always remain etched in my memory, because I also got to know people like the late Nazir Hoosein (celebrated Indian race and rally driver and organiser of the Himalayan Rally). And then one thing led to another and just 3 years later I was standing besides the starting ramp at the Brabourne Stadium in Bombay, watching the participants of the inaugural Himalayan Rally being flagged off. Couple of years later I was more closely associated with the Himalayan, sometimes as part of a service team, or event official, or media. And the love affair that started in 1977 continues even today.