Big wheels across India

It's not everyday that the tractor is the chosen vehicle of transport outside of the wheatfield. Yes, we know of Renuka Chowdhury making her way to Parliament in one, but then who said politicians did normal things? But hold on, here are Jaibir Singh Virk and Amit Chaudhary, and guess how they want to reach Kanyakumari from Baddi in Himachal Pradesh? No points for guessing it will be on a tractor.

The duo put their Indo Farm 75 HP tractor into gear on September 2 and hope to finish the 7,000 km trip in 20 days, criss-crossing 28 cities before idling to a stop at Chandigarh on World Peace Day (September 21). What is more, the tractor is already a household name in parts of India, having featured in the blockbuster Chennai Express.

"It feels almost as if you are in a sports car," chuckles 33-year-old Virk, who dons a lawyer's robe when not doing crazy things like traversing the mountainous gradients of Ladakh on a tractor. Now aiming to set a record and enter the Limca Book of Records for the longest Indian expedition on a tractor, Virk is all enthusiasm. "Our's is an air-conditioned tractor, it is stylish and powerful at the same time. It won't be an easy drive, though, because the route passes through hilly areas, deserts, curvy roads and tight plains."

"In a tractor, the greatest challenge is to overcome fatigue as we will be required to drive for more than 350 km a day at the least," says Chaudhary. "The tractor is a slow vehicle and we have given ourselves 20 days to finish the expedition. So, we are geared to drive up to 18 hours daily to achieve the task."

This is not the first tractor expedition for the farmer-advocate from Tohana in Haryana and the school teacher and fellow adventurer. Says Virk: "I first undertook a solo expedition on a tractor way back in June 2008 and covered 3,175 km in 18 days, crossing nine high passes in the Himalayas, including Khardungla, the world's highest motorable road at 18,380 feet."

During that drive, Virk attached a small trolley to the tractor to carry his luggage, kitchen gear and a tent. Because he knew he would find no filling stations in the remote areas of Zanskar, he had a barrel that could hold 200 litres of diesel on his trolley. He also carried some spare parts and a tool kit for emergencies. "I collected my journey proofs from the police stations on the way and also maintained a log book, including fuel and stay bills, as this was required as proof for the Limca Book of Records," he adds.

No saga on a tractor can be without risks. Virk faced a daunting problem at 14,550 ft in Zanskar when the tractor broke down around 7 in the evening. He was paralysed with fear in the dark mountain remoteness, but roused himself to get his hands dirty. "It took me around two hours to repair the fault," he says.

On another occasion, the trolley with the luggage and fuel suddenly got disconnected from the tractor. Luckily, it did not roll down the steep mountainsides and Virk managed to re-yoke it to the tractor.

Then Virk met Chaudhary and the two embarked on a Himalayan odyssey in May-June 2012, this time covering 3,623 km in 14 days. Ask them why they brave the terrains in an unusual vehicle, and Virk says, "There already were records made by cyclists and motor drivers, so we had to create our uniqe records."

The maverick that he is, Virk continues to seek newer benchmarks to showcase his tractor-driving skills. This year, he again entered the Limca Book by covering 273 km in a tractor in reverse gear in 14 hours and 45 minutes, the longest ever non-stop reverse drive. Is there no looking back for this man with a strange obsession?