Scaling the hills

Scaling the hills

HUMOUR: How a school trip to Nandi Hills turned out to be a fun and adventurous ride...


Scaling’ Nandi Hills? Yes, you read it right! Forget for a while today’s modern cars that can zoom up Nandi Hills in a matter of minutes. I am talking of the early 1940s when major supplies of petrol and diesel were diverted for defense purposes by the then British Indian government, which had led to the conversion of many public buses to coal gas-operated vehicles. These vehicles were equipped with a compact coal gasification unit mounted at the rear, next to which a metallic seat was provided to seat a helper who manually operated the air blower to produce the coal gas that fuelled the vehicle.

It was at this time that a batch of 25 boy scouts (all of us in upper primary classes) of our school set off on an excursion to Nandi Hills for a night camp. Our Scoutmaster arranged for a coal gas bus and we, in our Scout uniform, set off early morning from Bangalore, bubbling with enthusiasm. As we reached the foot of the hills, the driver explained to us the risk of negotiating the steep hairpin bends and, as a precaution, tied two thick log blocks to the rear wheel mud-guards, to prevent the bus from sliding backwards due to insufficient engine power. It was great fun seeing the vehicle crawling up the gradient with cracking noise till it suddenly stopped, as the helper had grown too tired to continuously rotate the blower to provide requisite fuel to the engine.

True to the Scout promise, “To help others at all times”, we sprang 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 and yet enjoying the fun of helping the bus to manoeuvre the gradient through the winding 10 km, we finally reached the hilltop after a strenuous four hours.

Pitching two tents at a strategically located scenic spot, we thoroughly enjoyed the evening and the night, illuminated by our petromax lights, cooking our food, playing and frolicking raucously all the way till morning in an incredibly refreshing ambience replete with verdant greenery.

Next morning, as we set off on our return journey, we’d 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 did not exist then) needed additional manual power for safe descent! Whenever the vehicle picked up speed at each hairpin bend due to insufficient braking power, the driver would alert us by frantically squeezing the bulb-horn (a rubber bulb attached to a mini-bugle which produced a horrendous noise when the bulb was squeezed) and we, the ever-ready Scouts, would jump down. Clutching the strong hemp rope tied to the rear bumper – in the spirit of a’ tug-of-war’ match - we would prevent the free slide down of the vehicle with all our might, all the while relishing this ‘repeat fun’ till we reached Bangalore. It was indeed a memorable and fun-filled expedition, not just for us, but for the bus, too.