” The greatest part of a road trip is not arriving at the destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens on the highway.”
Khattar family has an insatiable itch – for a road trip. And one needs to scratch when & where it itches the most. Ritika, my sister was working at Bangalore for almost three years when she decided to quit and relocate to Gurgaon. She disposed off her major household items and transported her remaining luggage through courier. However, there were still a few bags, crockery and her i20 car which needed to be brought back to Gurgaon. Back in Jun, when she and myself made a trip to Leh, we promised that whenever she moved back to Gurgaon, we’d drive from Bangalore. The time had come, finally.
Planning the itinerary
My plan was to reach Bangalore on 7th September (Thursday) night and start from Bangalore the next day on 8th September (Friday) morning. We expected reaching Gurgaon on Sunday night (9th September) after three full days of driving. I was in a dilemma about which route to take. The confusion was whether to take Golden Quadrilateral following Bangalore-Pune-Thane-Vadodara-Abu Road – Jaipur- Gurgaon or take Bangalore-Hyderabad – Nagpur – Sagar – Jhansi – Agra – Gurgaon. The former route was longer by 400 km but had better roads. The latter was shorter but driving through dreaded region of M.P was already giving me jitters. Finally, sanity prevailed and we decided to drive along the Golden Quadrilateral. A simple math concluded that we’d be driving around 2500 km in total and atleast 800 km per day, with around 12 hrs behind the wheel everyday, or more. It looked tough, but both Ritika and myself were determined. The tentative night stops were Pune on day 1 and Ahmedabad on day 2. The hotels were zeroed upon but not booked as we needed to be flexible depending upon the driving conditions and our stamina.
The excitement was building up and so was a dilemma, that whether we’d be able to complete this marathon drive in the stipulated time or not? The journey was long, and in India, road trip is usually a nightmare. A dialogue from Lagaan continuously reverberated in my mind “maiee, E beeda uthai ke hum kauno galti toh nahi kiye na”. As the travel day came closer, so came the blocks of doubt and what if scenarios. I once again went through the entire itinerary and chalked out the plan, rechecked the items against the check list -ID card, money in cash, pen drive having lots of songs, map book, back rest and some car tools. Three days looked inadequate but asking for leaves was out of question. So, I pushed our limits further by altering our first night halt at Panvel, instead of Pune, and second day at Abu Road, not Ahmedabad. I had driven my WagonR earlier from Abu Road to Gurgaon in single day way back in 2015, so I was confident covering this distance the last day. Moreover, Abu Road onwards being a known territory, gave me some much needed confidence.
September 7th, 2017 (Gurgaon) 07.30 am : The day of reckoning had come. Since my flight departed Delhi at 19.30 hrs, I had planned to leave office early. Full day, I dreamt about the next three days on road, having delicious street food along the highway, driving on variety of terrains, under different weather conditions on an i20, which I had never driven before ever. In the evening, I left on time for the airport. Clock showed 17.00 hrs. As I was near the airport, I got a message saying that flight is delayed by an hour. Damn. Had this message come early, I could have stayed back at office and completed my full 9 hours of work. Anyway, I was at Delhi’s T-3 early apparently and check-in was a breeze. I had over an hour to explore airport’s facilities. I aimlessly wandered through various shops scattered across the terminal. The book which caught my attention was 1984: In Memory and Imagination – Personal Essays and Stories on the 1984 Anti-Sikh Riots, written by Vikram Kapur. These were memoirs of families and individuals which were torn apart by the unfortunate tragedy which paralyzed Delhi 34 years ago. The ghosts of past still resurface and haunt mankind or the government, sometimes both.
I was overwhelmed by the book and felt in ease amidst the security of airport. Mr. Victor Navorski of The Terminal movie would have been elated to find a companion in me, someone who was enjoying the solace of airport. Soon the boarding was announced and I was inside the aircraft. All I desired was to reach Bangalore quickly and sleep as the day had been long and coming three days would be longer and unforgiving. The car had to be driven and we would have no time to waste. In this turmoil of thoughts, I landed at Bangalore airport. Time read 22.15 hrs.
Since I had no check-in luggage, I was out of airport within no time. The bus too departed on time for HSR layout where my sister stayed. Soon, I reached Yelahanka which was followed by famous Windsor Manor under bridge and MG road. Gosh, Bangalore has changed so much over last 15 years, for worse. The good old memories of my college days of 1998-2002 sans Bangalore traffic flashed across. Soon, I reached Sony circle, where my sister was to pick me up. Time read 23.45 hrs. She asked me to hop in. From where, was all I mustered to ask. The i20 was loaded to the capacity of a Mahindra pick up truck, up to the brim. The rear view was blocked as back seat was loaded fully obstructing the view and the front passenger seat was pushed forward to its limit to accommodate luggage at the back. There were items hanging onto door storage as well. Overall, it resembled countryside tractors packed with luggage and passengers hanging onto anything they can hold. Can’t drive like this for three days, I thought. Indeed, we were shifting, rather relocating. As our friend KT says…”Feel aa gayi”. As I sat in front while Ritika drove, I found the latch where seat belt gets locked was missing…apparently it was crushed under loads of rubble which we were carrying to Gurgaon. I found it eventually crushed under a bag, untangled it and locked the seat belt. As we entered her friend Nitika’s apartments parking, Ritika pressed the brakes…and ‘dhappppp’. I found something fell on my lap. It was her purse. That’s it. How can we drive pan India when everything kept falling while brakes are applied? We needed to rearrange the luggage and unblock the rear view. Soon, three cartons were taken out and car was uncluttered a bit. It gave slight room to push the passenger seat a bit backwards. Nitika suggested she’d courier these cartons as well. Thats so nice of her…finally, it looked sorted.
September 8th, 2017 (Bangalore) : Later around 01.00 hrs, Ankit brought a departing cake and we all celebrated Ritika’s last night in the city. Bangalore bakes delicious cakes, I thought. Well, bakery reminded me of buns which I had asked Ritika to buy. Perhaps she was busy, or she forgot. Either way, buns nahin liye… grr! but she had made bigger mistakes…she had asked me not to bring my camera from Gurgaon as she also had a DSLR. Well, what she didn’t tell me that battery of her DSLR was in one of the bags in the car rubble. So theoretically we had a DSLR, but couldn’t use it on the trip as its battery was missing. We had to depend on our cell phones. Grudgingly, we slept at around 02.00 hrs. I got up way before the alarm disturbed my sleep. Clock showed 06.00 hrs. Hurriedly, we collected all remaining things, bid adieu to friends and hopped on our abode for next three days… Nam’madu i20, our Dhanno. Time read 07.00 hrs.
Ritika drove, while I assumed the role of navigator. Bangalore was already awake by now and it being a working day, traffic was picking up on the roads. We decided to drive up to Tumkur and then halt for breakfast. However, the moment we got out of the city, our hunger pangs drove us crazy. Soon, we stopped at a breakfast joint next to VRL logistics. More than the light dosa, idli, vada breakfast, what I like about South Indian joints is the greenery all around, the fresh flowers at entrance and soft carnatic music at the background. Soon, we ordered ubiquitous idli, vada and filter coffee.
While Ritika was busy exploring the scenery around, I went back to the car and again struggled trying to adjust the falling luggage. It resembled our mundane lives, falling apart at every given opportunity and much time being wasted on just adjusting rather than fixing the problem. Nevertheless, since I was to drive from here, I pushed back the driver’s seat to create room to accommodate my legs. Since luggage could not be further squeezed at the back, I shifted luggage to the back side of passengers seat by moving the passengers’ seat forward (since Ritika would be sitting here now). Soon, we started after having a hearty breakfast. The weather was salubrious, roads were well tarred, music was lively and car was in excellent condition. I must compliment Hyundai for making i20 way better than all other Hyundai cars I have driven. The cabin is very quiet, interior quality is excellent and car is stable at triple digit speed. Dad, if you’re reading it, please skip this paragraph about speed. Thankfully, we never tested the ABS or ESP on this journey. Sooner than we had thought, we were cruising towards Pune. This gave us ample chance of taking small detours and exploring the places on the way. Our first stop was the City of Fort- Chitradurga. Time read 10.30 hrs.
Maneuvering i20 on the bylanes of Chitradurga, we reached the fort. It took us well over ten minutes from the highway. However, the fort didn’t entice us and we decided to give the trek a miss. Instead, we chose to munch on juicy guavas bought from road side which looked fresh. Another 15 mins gone. At around 11.00 am, we finally resumed our journey. We had clicked a few pics from our cell phone but I sorely missed the DSLR. Ritika…it is my blog and I can regret not having DSLR as many times as I want. The weather started getting warmer but inside the car, it was cool as a cucumber. We decided to ditch the lunch and eat only when we were really hungry. Sooner than we had thought, we stopped at a cafe coffee day, Shiggaon. Time read 12.00 noon. Here, we had some sandwich and coffee, considering it to be our lunch. The guy at the counter offered us a danish by paying Rs 10 extra. The blueberry Danish in photo looked fresh and juicy. What is ten bucks after all… we paid up and took our seats and waited patiently for the delicacies to arrive. After waiting for an eternity, when the order finally arrived, we couldn’t decide, what was more pathetic… service or food. The Blueberry Danish was sans blueberry and its size was smaller than that of a Parle-G biscuit. However, on the display photo, it looked like Hulk’s food. All marketing gimmick, after all. Nevertheless, we finished our pocket edition lunch and resumed our journey. This time, I was behind the wheels. Pune was still about 500 km ahead. Google map showed 8 hrs of driving left. It was already about 13.00 hrs. Driving up to Panvel looked difficult. Even reaching Pune would be a daunting task, I thought. We started driving faster. Sooner than we had anticipated, we crossed Belgaum. Clock showed 15.45 hrs. The tolls were taking a toll on us. Everytime we reached a toll, almost a Rs 500 currency note would be broken in change. The loose change, was gobbled up by Ritika’s minion (piggy bank), from which it never came out again.
Finally, day light gave way to head light and we were still about 100 km away from Pune. Time read 19.00 hrs. As we were negotiating the serpentine roads of ghat section, it started to drizzle which soon gave way to heavy rains and soon it felt as if sky had opened its flood gates. Visibility almost dropped to zero and even at maximum wiper speed it struggled to push water away from the wind screen. Night time, sinuous and potholed roads, heavy rains, and a race against time… the pressure while driving was humongous. Maximum car speed almost dropped to 40-50 kmph. Time read 21.00 hrs when we reached outskirts of Pune. Driving further to Panvel was futile. We decided to drive till Pimpri and check in a hotel. Since the rains finally turned into drizzle, we drove faster and soon, we reached our Oyoroom at Pimpri by 22.00 hrs. Since this Oyo had no kitchen of its own, they offered to provide us dinner from a nearby restaurant. After scrutinizing the menu, we decided to have alu-jeera, dal and rotis, oblivious of the fact that this would remain our fixed meal menu for the rest of journey. Around 23.30 hrs, we slept. The day 1 of the journey finally ended. It was a tiring day indeed. every part of my body was aching. I had to rest my body, and mind before we repeat the same story the next day.
The day was eventful. We took a detour to Chitradurga, ate Misal-pav at roadside dhaba nearby Belgaum, had a little tiff with Kohlapur Police over the quantity of luggage we were carrying and finally faced heavy rains near Pune. Road trips made us gain rich experience and I loved it.
September 9th, 2017 (Pune) : 05.00 hrs: I got up way before my cell phone alarm could disturb my sleep anymore. We had to leave early to cross Mumbai before rush hour could rush in. In a jiffy, both me and Ritika got ready to leave. As the clock struck 06.00 hrs, we drove our Dhanno (i20) out of hotel parking. I was behind the wheels. Yesterday’s tiredness was still visible on my face but the journey had just begun for the day. We still had around 1600 km to drive back home. Today’s target was to reach Abu Road, which was about 900 km away. Amidst thoughts and calculations, we never realized that we had lost our way. It took us another half an hour and few turns to reach back to Mumbai Pune expressway. The road was excellent but having driven on Yamuna Expressway, this seemed like Motorola phone pitted against One Plus Five. No comparisons at all. However, the traffic was more disciplined. Soon we reached the highway dhaba on the expressway. We thought of refueling i20 and us both. In spite of being early morning, the joint was full and buzzing with activity. The pav bhaji, poha and vada pav were good but the tea was pathetic, and so were washrooms. It needed some maintenance and cleaning.
The tolls had already taken a toll on our cash reserve. Thankfully, we didn’t drive during demonetization, else, there would have been another angle to worry about. Soon we crossed Panvel. Memories of my days at IPCL Nagothane flooded my mind. Panvel was the last point till which we could breathe fresh mountain air. Soon we crossed Vashi and it was then when real messy Mumbai traffic began. Time showed 08.30 hrs. After so many vehicles, so many people, so many red lights and so many flyovers later, finally we were on the highway to Gujarat.
By the time, we left city traffic behind us, it was already 10.30 am. I was still behind the wheels negotiating traffic. As we reached Vapi, my itch to see sea made me take a detour to Daman. As we left the National Highway, potholed, rather cratered Vapi roads embraced us. Speed dropped from 90 kmph to barely 5 kmph. Our dhanno, squeaked, then grunted and showed us its displeasure to drive on such pathetically ill maintained roads. A journey of 12 km took us approx. an hour. By the time we reached Devka beach time was almost 11.30 noon. As we parked our car at the designated parking and started walking towards beach, we realized there is no beach per se. All we could see was mud and slush and puddle. No sea water at all… everything was brown and dirty. Is this what we came for driving in sheer madness?
We could have continued driving on the highway and could have taken a detour at Vadodara city relishing fried ice-cream at Surya Palace Hotel. We had lost our chance. Grudgingly, we cruised along NH-8. Time showed 13.00 hrs. I was hungry. Just before entering Valsad, on the highway, we saw Ramdev Dhaba serving hot Gujarati meals. We stopped there for lunch. This was the best decision of the day we took. We again ordered alu-jeera, Gujarati kadhi, buttermilk and rotis. The food was awesome and service was lightening. The bill was Rs 230/- , yes, just Rs 230/- How does this guy make profit? We were overwhelmed, really.
Now there was no reason to stop since we were full. Now, Ritika took the wheels while I fiddled with music and maps. The highway was packed with dumpers carrying construction and plant material. They occupied all three lanes which congested the highway and made it difficult to pass. Slowly and gradually we drove past Bharuch and inched towards Vadodara. It was almost 17.00. We did not take a detour to Vadodara city. On the highway, we saw L&T and other smaller engineering units. Gujarat undoubtedly has turned into an engineering hub, specially heavy industries and chemical units. Once upon a time in 2004, I was part of this town. It has been 13 years already. Nostalgia gripped me, tightly.
Amidst my thoughts, we lost our way again and skipped taking Vadodara-Ahmedabad expressway entry ramp. It was almost 18.00 hrs when we took a U-turn and started the expressway drive. Ritika was drive on this stretch. By the time we reached Ahmedabad it was almost 19.30 hrs and city traffic was at its peak. At Ahmedabad, even at our green light, no one bothered to give us the way to drive. Everyone just jumped their lights. It was chaotic. Finally, Ritika got so frustrated that she gave the car to me to drive. Reaching Abu Road by driving at night was out of question. We either had to stay at Ahmedabad or drive till Mehsana. We chose the latter as crossing Ahmedabad in the morning again would have taken some extra time. Highway traffic was unruly though once we reached outside Ahmedabad it got sparse. There was no street light or dhabas in near vicinity. By the time we reached our abode for the night, Saffrony resort, Mehsana, it was almost 21.30 hrs. Today’s long drive from Pune finally had ended at Mehsana. One more day to go, we thought. The taste of today’s lunch at Valsad still lingered in our mouth. So, again for dinner, we ordered alu-jeera, dal, rice and roti. Though this time it wasn’t that tasty. Finally, we slept at around 22.30 hrs.
Highlight of the day was mindless traffic we faced full day, whether it was Mumbai- Bharuch stretch or chaotic driving in Ahmedabad city. Loved the experience. This is what will count whenever we drive next.
September 10th, 2017 (Mehsana) : 04.30 hrs: I got up even before rooster could crow and wake us up. It was still dark outside. Ritika was sleeping oblivious of the fact that it was almost the time to go. We had driven about 1600 km in last two days. This was the third and last stretch of about 900 km, which we had to drive today. We had planned our earlier stops well. Though neither we could reach Panvel, nor Abu Road. Always fell short. We were physically tired and mentally fatigued by now. Didn’t want to drive late night today. Three days on road for more than 14 hrs everyday had taken a toll on us. More than 4 GB of songs but still it felt as if we were merely repeating them. Thinking about all this, I went in shower. Water was cold and my mind wanted me to reconsider my decision of getting wet at this unearthly hour. It gave me quick options – face wash / dry shower / shower at Gurgaon home… I rejected all, as it would be a long day and I needed to remain alert. Ritika too, got ready quickly and we left the resort by 05.30 hrs. I took the wheels since roads were not in excellent shape here and we needed to drive faster in the mornings.
We drove for sometime and then stopped for tea break at Unava. The owner asked us if we needed half cup or full cup..eh, what a weird question we thought, of course full cup, we siblings replied in chorus. Well, the server started filling the cup. He didn’t stop when the level reached High, then High-high. He kept on filling it up to the brim and then tea started overflowing on to the saucer as well… Finally, when the saucer was full too, he said “now its full”. Wow. We had just explored a new definition of full cup. The tea was sugary, under boiled and tasteless. Only saving grace, it was served hot. Grudgingly, we decided to stop for breakfast only if we see a ‘decent’ place. By the way, we saw many ‘Hotel Decent’ but none gave us the confidence to try their menu. By the time clock struck 07.30 hrs, we had crossed Gujarat-Rajasthan border. The quality of road surprisingly improved within a stretch of half a kilometer. Rajasthan undoubtedly has one of the best maintained highways of India. Long stretches without traffic, excellent tarred road, no jaywalkers and beautiful sunny morning weather. What else one wants on a road trip. Our dhanno was already in triple digits, cruising along the highway. For once, I wished it was my XUV. I hate when XUV squeaks and grunts on pot holes. Here, there were none. This was like a test track. I would have loved the experience of a rattle free XUV ride here. Well, not all dreams are fulfilled at once, may be another trip some day on same road…Rann of Kutch, may be? See, I already decided on the next road trip destination.
Jio network in those lonely stretches of Rajasthan was amazing. We could connect a video call back home with spotless clarity, while my airtel even struggled for a gasp of breath (signal), forget data connectivity, its a sin to even ask for it. We covered a lot of distance in very short time. By 12.00 noon, we had safely reached Beawar. As we joined our beloved NH-8, we got to know there was some disturbance in Jaipur and curfew was imposed in parts of the city. We hurriedly made a few calls to our friends at Jaipur to inquire about the situation prevailing in town. We got to know that only old areas of the city were reeling under tension and there was absolutely no problem along the highway. That calmed our nerves, still we thought of taking no chances and decided to have our lunch near Ajmer and then head straight back home. While driving along the highway, we saw a big M of McDonalds waving at us as we crossed Ajmer exit. Soon, we parked our dhanno in the parking of mall and ate our fast food lunch to the fullest. By the time we left McD, clock showed 14.00 hrs. No more scheduled stops, we thought. Soon, our car was back in triple digits cruising along the highway. Traffic was thin and soon we reached Jaipur bypass. There was a lot of Police presence, but traffic was not disrupted. After driving for around 60 km from Jaipur, we soon saw first signboard for GURGAON… it said 162 km. Finally, we were almost home.
Three days of driving was finally reaching its conclusion. As we neared Dharuhera, traffic got heavy and our patience got thin. We just wanted to reach back home. Ritika was driving now. From congested roads of Bangalore to broader roads of Delhi/NCR, we indeed came a long way. She was enjoying fast driving.
We thought of taking the Cyber City exit and come home via Golf Course road. By the time, we reached Udyog Vihar exit, dhanno clocked 2500 km. We stopped on the shoulder, clicked pic of odometer reading and relished the moment.
By the time we reached home, it showed 2510 km. Time read 18.30 hrs. We drove around 900 km on the last day in 13 hrs, including 1-2 breaks. the mammoth epic journey for us, finally ended, in time. Though we were tired, the satisfaction on our face was readable. We spent around Rs 25000/- including fuel, toll, stay at hotels, refreshments and meals…everything. Overall, a reasonable amount.
I don’t know when I’d go with Ritika on next road trip, only the two of us. On this trip I not only stretched my driving limits, but also had fun interacting with my little sister, who used to cling on my bicycle about two decades ago. The memories we created over these three days were precious…priceless.
P.S: The only regret I had on this trip was the unavailability of DSLR camera. All photos and videos were clicked using iPhone and Android phone. Ritika, you better be careful next time when we go for a road trip.