Jalgaon (Maharashtra): He's a renowned homeopathic doctor with a penchant for long-distance driving and has logged over half a million kilometres on Indian roads in the 30 years he has been pusuing his passion. Now, Sunildatta Chaudhari, 53, has embarked on a 12,244-km odyssey touching the farthest points of the country's south, east, north and west before returning to the south.
Accompanied by 38-year old Jeetu G. Kukreja, a photographer and technical help, Chaudhari first drove his Maruti SX4-ZXI from Jalgaon to Kanyakumari, the starting point in Tamil Nadu. He set off from Kanyakumari on October 30, for the new 25-day expedition, minutely monitored by the Limca Book of Records, which has previously cited him for his 3,847-km long six-day drive from Kanyakumari to Leh in Ladakh.
Maruti-Suzuki, India's largest family car manufacturer, chipped in by providing a list of all its authorized service stations on the entire route - though Chaudhari is himself an expert mechanic.
"You see, this is not the age at which people undertake such challenging adventures. I have planned for any possible eventuality, taking all precautions, thoroughly studied road maps, checked out all probable licences, permissions, clearances from various authorities. At every major city, I get a Class I government officer to sign my latest details in a log-book, I preserve all food, tolls and petrol bills for the records," Chaudhari told IANS.
The present trip, in fact, was inspired by Chaudhari's son Ramakrishna, a junior college student.
"In May 2009, when I went on the Kanyakumari-Leh drive, Ramkrishna accompanied me and was amazed by what he saw as we sliced through India in a south-north expedition. Later, he suggested it would be better if I did something bigger," Chaudhari said.
A meeting with the unassuming Chaudhari - with a large white 'tilak' on his forehead, a ruffled grey beard, short cropped hair, sporting a comfortable kurta-dhoti, and while driving a lungi, topped off by a small 'achkan' and wearing ordinary rubber slippers - leaves one wondering about his legendary homeopathic and driving skills.
"I drive barefoot. That's the way I feel my vehicle's engine will speak with me and I will manage accordingly," Chaudhari smiled.
En route, the pure vegetarian medico eats at local food stalls and dhabas, going light on the tummy with the local cuisine but enjoys chewing tobacco.
"He takes utmost care to check the hygiene of the tea and food served, and carries three boxes of large (2 litre) mineral water bottles, the stocks being replenished regularly," his spokesman, Tejas Jain, said.
He guards his vehicle personally - sleeping in it mostly near petrol stations, stepping into small hotels for ablutions, bathing, washing both clothes and the vehicle, before embarking on the next leg of the tour.
The vehicle is fitted with a front camera for stills and videos of the changing terrain that it speeds through. There are three mobiles, two GPSs and other necessary paraphernalia.
The Oct 30-Nov 23 adventure will see Chaudhari speeding from Kanyakumari to Tezu in Arunachal Pradesh (3,916 km) and thence to Leh (3,324 km), Koteshwar in Gujarat (2,400 km and back to Kanyakumari (2,700 km).
Along the way, as he averages around 850-1,000 km at speeds of around 60-70 kmph daily, plus around six hour halts, the vehicle is estimated to guzzle around 825 litres of petrol.
"I always pay for everything - no sponsors or ads on my vehicle. Though I have not calculated it yet, the trip may cost me around Rs.150,000. This includes petrol, maintenance, food, board, tolls, taxes and the like," Chaudhari explained.
En route, last week, he made a live radio broadcast on a local FM channel where he urged youth to drive safely and avoid road accidents.
"I have been driving since three decades without a single accident. Life is precious, yours and the opposite person's too. Thank the lord and help everyone, or at least, don't harmy anybody. After all, kindness is a universal language," Chaudhari elaborated.
About his future adventures, Chaudhari, who has visited several countries and treats patients from all over the world, said he would think about this only after completing the current trip.