Scaling the Nandi Hills

Petrol was rationed at 2 gallons (about 9 litres) a month for private cars.

Scaling the Nandi hills? Yes, you read it right.  It was indeed an adventurous feat in its own right. Please read on before you are tempted to conclude that I have gone nuts.

Forget for a while about today’s modern cars which can zoom up the Nandi hills in a matter of minutes. I am talking of the vehicles that were plying during early 1940s when petrol and diesel were diverted for defense purposes by the then British Indian government.

Petrol was rationed at 2 gallons (about 9 litres) a month for private cars and a scant quota of diesel for public transport vehicles with the result that many public utility buses were converted to coal gas- operated vehicles equipped with a huge coal gasification unit mounted at the rear. A seat next to the gasification unit was provided on which a helper sat to manually operate the air blower to push air into the unit in order to generate the coal gas to fuel the engine.

It was at this time that a batch of 15 of us boy scouts (all in upper primary classes) of our school set off on an excursion to Nandi hills for a night- camping experience.

Our Scout master arranged for a coal gas bus and we, in our scout uniform, set off with bubbling enthusiasm from Bangalore early morning armed with full camping paraphernalia. It took nearly 3 hours to cover the 50 km distance to reach the foot of the hill. Here the driver explained to us the risk of climbing the hill negotiating the hair-pin bends and, as a precaution, tied two thick log blocks to the rear wheel mud guards much to our great amusement, to prevent the bus from sliding back in the event of engine failure!

True to the Scout promise-“To help other people at all times”, we got down from the bus and one by one took charge of the operation of the blower, giving rest to the  bone-tired helper, while the rest of us, loudly chorusing scout slogans, engaged ourselves in pushing the vehicle to augment the engine power! Fretting and sweating, but nevertheless enjoying the fun of helping the bus to manoeuvre the gradient through the winding 10 km, we finally reached the hill top after an arduous 4 hours!

Pitching two tents at a strategically located scenic spot, we thoroughly enjoyed the evening and the night which was illuminated by our petromax lanterns, cooking our food, playing and frolicking all the way till morning in an incredibly clean ambience replete with verdant greenery--a stark contrast to today’s scenario. 

Next morning, as we set off on our return journey, we had expected a smooth drive down the hill, but it was not to be. Our bus with its ineffective mechanical braking system (hydraulic and air brakes were not common then) needed engine power for safe low-gear drive with the result we, ever-ready scouts, had some more fun till we reached Bangalore. It was indeed a successful and fun-filled expedition, not only for us, but more so for the bus itself!

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