The Lost Drivers

Abdul is the first driver cum guide, whose name and face I can remember. In the 70s, when I was a kid, he took us daily in his Ambassador taxi, from the Fountain Hotel in Mahabaleshwar, to various sites and points in and around the hill-station. I even have a black and white photograph of him stored somewhere in a shoebox. When we left, we promised to be in touch…but the moment we were back in Mumbai, he was already a distant fading memory. During those five days however, we came to know so much about him…his wife, his children, where he was born, how he came to be a driver in Mahabaleshwar…pretty much the story of his life.

In the semi-sleep trance that comes with dozing off during a long car ride, I suddenly remembered many of the vacation drivers and guides who have been with us through the years. Currently we are driving through some of the most astounding, craggy and raw mountainous landscapes I have ever seen. The vistas hit you in the belly and suck you in…and make you fall in love with this part of our country and its terrain. Dorjee, our driver has taught us more about this region than we would have ever learnt from guide-books and despite all the planning we did, nothing prepared us for the visceral impact of this place. As drivers go, he is among the best we have had in a long time, never driving over 60 kms/hr, with no jerks and no sudden turns and twists.

Ella in South Africa last year was the same. She owned the SUV in which she took us around the southern part of the country. She picked us up at the Cape Town airport and was with us till George…for about 5 days. Her Indian name, given to her by some other Indian tourists, was “champa chameli chapli”…she could talk non-stop and by the time we parted, we knew everything that perhaps was to be known about her. She made that leg of our South Africa experience very interesting and nice.

The one bad experience we had was in Bhutan. Our first driver was a young man in his early 20s, over-exuberant, given to high-speed driving and constant jerks and nausea-inducing sudden turns. It became so bad that I had to call the travel agency for a replacement…amazingly they sent another driver into the interiors of Bhutan overnight, no questions asked. The new driver, whose name I have forgotten, was portly and slow and even-tempered and made the rest of our journey memorable, even coming with us to Tiger’s Nest, along the way helping and sometimes even carrying the children when they got tired during the 3-hours trek.

Santosh, our driver-cum-guide in Sikkim was equally good. Careful and very knowledgeable, he was able to get us to Nathu La Pass much before the hordes arrived. Each time he would make a trip to Bagdogra airport to pick up and drop tourists, he would carry back a sack of potatoes and onions for his house…they cost less in West Bengal than in Sikkim.

All of them, for the few days we spent together on our various trips, became part of our lives. Each had a unique story to tell. These are people we meet for a short time and then we both move on…knowing that it is unlikely our paths will cross again. And yet, these drivers cum guides enrich our lives for those brief few days…and we too, hopefully add to their basket of pleasant experiences.


  • R. Chandrashekar wrote:

    Dear Bhavin

    A very good topic. I was in a construction life and moving from one site to another every 2 0r 3 years. I have had different drivers for my car and invariably found them to be honest and loyal. There were one or two exceptions who stole petrol. I had one Ashraf at Singrauli, who dived and saved me from a murderous assault by Union Goondas. I am alive today because of him. IHe was honest to the core and I will never forget him. I had another driver in Guna(MP)Arif who was loyal to the core and helped in my father getting back my life after found in a death like situation at Lalitpur. I will never forget them and sincerly hope I come across them again. Such mem are rare.

  • Saurabh wrote:

    No. I had recent very bad experience where Delhi thug driver called guruvail sardarji ( come to think of it as I used to trust sardarjis in Delhi once upon a time implicitly as I trust parsis in Mumbai) whom we hired for fifteen days in himachal had no knowledge of the hills and kept giving reasons about why he can’t go to particular place. Also tried to earn more by fixing rate for 250 kms and higher per km rate. But true mumbaikar, I found the ap and he had to accept my logic in the end.
    It’s really painful to travel across the country ( exception Goa) with real comfort and familiarities with service providers. The Far East countries are far better.

  • Armaity wrote:

    Very thoughtful and well chosen topic. They say the some people come in our life for a reason and some for a season. The drivers in our lives come for a reason as we need their services! Good drivers do leave an impact on our lives. Therefore, we should always be thankful to them and encourage and motivate them with a handsome tips. Because they depend on such tips to buy some presents for their children or daily needs of their families.
    We too have come across such good drivers and we do take down their contact numbers but rarely we repeat the journey and their #s lie in our diaries.
    Good going Bhavin, wish you all the best.

  • M R Sundaram wrote:

    Nostalgic memories revived of our driver guide in Mauritius, when our kids were small. They remember him even today! I recall his unbelieving face on receiving a tip (not very big in my view) with wide open eyes, ‘Is it all for me to keep!’. Such experiences stick with you:)

  • sriganesh wrote:

    As usual exceptional.

  • Prakash Nanavati wrote:

    Abdul, Ashraf & Arif from above prove that the community is wrongly perceived most of the times! The number of honest and good drivers outweighs other type. It also depends how we treat them.

  • Janak Sheth wrote:

    Bhavin, Lovely article bringing recognition to the honest and loyal drivers of our tourist vehicles.

  • On our visit to East Africa, drive-cum-guide could locate a lion hiding behind tree branches which was at least one block far from our vehicle- still wonder how he could perform such humanly impossible task!

  • Prabha Vinay wrote:

    A very interesting read. I felt as if I was on a still another long road trip with all the curves and bends, exploring new places at the end……..

    Thank you!!

  • Dipali wrote:

    Well,our experience has been mixed.Like other areas in life,not all drivers are good,and not all are bad.I remember our driver in malaysia who was a replacement to the original one.He was exceptionally polite,courteous and honest.And his family was from undivided India which today is Pakistan!

  • Khushboo wrote:

    Nice topic, untouched subject.
    I had a not so good experience in Hyderabad 2 yrs back. He was a South Indian guy with boundaries of language. Neither he know english nor hindi. We had to ask for a replacement. And the next driver was good one. He knew pretty good stuff about Hyderabad. Recently I had been to US. In San Francisco, we had called for a driver cum tour guide. His name was Jogindar. He knew nothing about the places to visit or the routes. Every other time he used to call to his colleague for routes. We were so pissed with him. Felt like we wasted the day with him. We had to tell him that this particular place is heard to be good. It was crazy.

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