Breakfast is gulped remorselessly in Hotel Pushpa villa revolving restaurant gazing at Taj Mahal with disenchantment from a distance. The mind is furiously racing over the last few necessities for the long elephant ride.
At 0915 hrs on oct 8, 2006 we set sail on our maiden north India to south India voyage. The dilapidated and crowded roads of Agra city delayed our highway driving pleasures by 45minutes. The elephant was on song upto Dholpur (60kms) on a 4 lane road with divider. In the 5th gear at 110kmph it was purring gently and mobile meditation for the occupants was feasible.
Entered MP, NH3 which was smooth as silk and well behaved metamorphosed in a pot hole ridden khacha road. The elephant effortlessly trampled the potholes believing them to be 1 inch cracks. Mobile meditation for the occupants was a trifle difficult but practicing yoga was still a possibility. NH3’s character further deteriorated and it transformed itself into no-road – an very uneven gravel path. The happily-chugging-along@60kmph-average elephant accorded only a semblance of respect to the no-road NH3 and ambled along at 30kmph average.
After Dholpur at a certain point the landscape altered from undulating green cultivated fields to unnaturally shaped sand dunes and dunes which were formed by human excavation. Chambal river bridge generated feelings stepping on the railing of the bridge and taking a plunge into the supposedly pure, clean and cool flow. Atleast about 50-100 lorry’s were devouring their (probably illegal) share of Chambal sand.
Dholpur to Gwalior (60kms) 2 lane road was well metalled. The Scindias city appeared forlorn having lost Mr.Madhav Rao Scindia its protagonist for popularity. The famous Gwalior fort stood its ground and masqueraded charmingly from a distance.
Before we hit Gwalior an ancient narrow gauge railway line was discussed by the occupants. Fundas of meter gauge, broad gauge and narrow gauge were unceremoniously dropped by the civil engineer N on the little suspecting co-travellers. The first citizens of the road, buffalos decided to delay our journey by languidly crossing.
A small chai Dhukaan on Gwalior bye-pass was startled and compelled to entertain the elephant. A constant dread of getting locked out of the elephant hovered menacingly in the minds of the occupants who had foolish forgotten to carry the second key for this long arduous trip. The elephant started out with a clean quartz black coat in Agra was mostly dirty brown in color at this stage.
N passed on the wheel to P here at about 1155hrs
The countryside modified itself to plain dry brown with intermittent sprinkling of shrubs and small trees. At 1330hrs Pujari hotel 10kms sooner than Shivpuri welcomed us with indifference. Yellow dal fry ordered with a lot of reluctance (having eaten the same for the last 7 days in the Himalayas in every meal) was palatable with the gharam phulkas The tomato fry ordered with watering added spice to the satisfactory meal. Some thumbs ups, water, etc tucked into the elephant it chugged along again at 1410hrs.
P passed on the wheet to M at 1410hrs
Thirst finally caught up with the elephant near Shivpuri and before proceeding to Guna where the road displayed bigger, better and more curvy pot holes, the elephant gulped Diesel. The scenery amended itself to dense shrubs interspersed with bigger trees. Parrot green buses startled the elephant now and then. Finally 3 women spotted on the road confirmed the presence of women in MP. Overtaking an aerodynamic lorry with both its sides unusually tall and leaning on to the right at double the degree of leaning tower of Pisa was a frightening experience.
Cultivated fields dotted the setting and the suspected crops were Jowhar. Lorry with PUKARO written in bold was amusing. Bang in the middle of nowhere we found the Statue of liberty albeit green with envy (was painted green) I suppose and of course about 1/100th in size of the original in the lawns of an unknown hotel Royal Palace. It made one contemplate the extent of western influences and its rural reach in India.
Guna arrived in the elephant’s path at 1620hrs and the road became smooth which imprudently led the entourage to believe the end of pot holes. Roads progressed from bad to worse. Tea had to be consumed to share disbelief on the condition of NH3. 1645hrs launched the elephant with zest towards Binaganj where at 18hrs M lost the wheel to N.
The pot holes enroute to Biora were wretched. Many 1km to 3km stretches were completely washed away. The elephant took this fact in its stride and sauntered along without self pity. In the last 5hrs only lorrys, a few buses and exactly 3 cars were spotted on this road. The sunset in a riot of colours mesmerized the elephant as he passed by Biora.
The original plan was to reach Aurangabad (600kms from Indore) by end of day1. Indore seemed to be a viable destination & reachable destination. However the unsolicited warnings thrust upon us by one of the regular drivers in this track whom we had consulted before the start of the trip endlessly looped in our brains. Things like:
· Dewas / Indore night driving is to be avoided because drunken tribals from rock tops beside the highway chuck stones at cars for their personal entertainment,
· Don’t take the by-pass of any major city in the nights, as that is were all the city thieves lie in ambush
Suddenly our mate P a self proclaimed karate blackbelt become an all important personality. We strategized endlessly on diverse situations of attack by tribals and our counter attacks mainly front ended by the blackbelt personality. And when we didn’t stategize we transformed into Swami of Malgudi days conjuring various dangers. There were atleast 3 locations beside the highway were we could see mobile-highway-scene-of-crime police squad at work. We were thankful to almighty that these scenes had happened before we reached there. All our hearts were in our mouths when a phat-phati wala in the middle of a dark deserted highway tried to stops us…….maybe his engine gave up but we did not have the gall to stop, ascertain and help.
By 1050pm after clocking 625km we made it to Hotel president-Indore in one piece. Indore had changed a lot in the last 10yrs from the time N had visited. Some of the malls were 2-3 times the size of the biggest malls in Bangalore. The attitude of Indoris was refreshing in directing the entourage. Single women were roaming the streets freely at 11pm indicating that it was safe a city.
7.17am the elephant set sail after its eyes were wiped clean. P was at the wheel and took her to sea. The road up to Mhow was very busy and the area was full of military buildings and people. The day started off with nostalgic memories catalyzed by songs from Qayamat-se-Qayamat-tak and Maine pyar kiya. Enroute to Gujri the hidden achievements of P were discovered i.e. a national runner up in karate championship. M & N were honoured to be driving along in such august company and were rather glad thinking about the night drive ahead, a national champion should definitely be able to beat up atleast 10goons and that would give N, M & the elephant enough time to vanish from the scene, of course deserting our black belt friend who is capable of fending for himself. A million boards of Su-Kam were displayed in & around Gujri, we guessed that this board on top of every establishment brought good luck…..
Thanks to some school going children who were strangely staring at our rear tyre and trying to draw our attention, we realized the elephant had its first flat tyre of its life at Dhanbad. With P & N huffing and puffing to change the tyre and M at the camera shooting the out of shape men, a small circus scene was created for the passing junta who stood and discussed our predicament with mixture of amusement and bafflement.
On starting again, about 50mts ahead we found a puncture shop and let P manage the punctured tyre when M & N went ahead to fetch some food. As per P these puncture guys were the most hep puncture guys in India and they were dancing to music as they fixed the tyre. The owner looked cool with dark glasses, a sleeveless t-shirt and not a speck of dirt on him. We wondered whether he deliberately planted nails on the road and made a handsome living with the regular assured income from every puncture he created.
The road condition had not improved too much and we hoping to hit Maharastra border and wishfully hoping for better roads. We briefly wondered if we should take a diversion and go towards Nasik-Pune to catch the Golden quadrilateral, it would be about 500Kms more distance. Khalghat, Thikri, Julwania passed by eventlessly except for the slow pace and just before Sendhwa we entered Maharastra. There was collective sigh of relief as the roads vastly improved.
At Sangvi P lost the wheel to M. At Dhule we halted for lunch and the trip meter read 916km at 15.41pm. At 16.49 after a monotonous lunch the elephant chugged along yet again. The landscape changed to lush green shrubs, bathed in slanted beams of evening Sun light which soothed our senses.
Vinchur, Mehunbare, Chalisgaon, Bhamarvadi passed by and the first large ghat of the trip was loomed ahead. The verdant landscape, the evening sun and a clean ghat road made for a pleasurable drive. Midway in the ghat N took wheel to experience ghat driving on the elephant. In 3rd gear the elephant chugged along merrily overtaking crawling trucks. Some of the most spectacular views of the trip were experienced from the ghats in the evening light. It felt like we were climbing onto the Deccan plateau. Passed Ellora town in disappointment for not having seen any caves by the road side and secretly thanked humanity for having progressed to living in civilized dwellings under controlled environments. Aurangabad bypass was a long one and was quite dark. Dinner stop was on a highway hotel beyond Aurangabad at about 2020hrs.
Bid, Vedhsi were left behing to arrive at Solapur (at 1398km on the tripmeter) at 3am next day having experienced multiple sleep invasions was probably the most risky part of the trip. Strangely there were lot of people walking on the highways just before Solarpur whom we guessed were factory shift workers. It was also unnerving to notice people sleeping on the side of the highway in a couple of places. 1.2 billion Indians and this is the value attributed to life by individuals. A very great belief in predetermined destiny could make people act like this. High A/c, loud music were antidotes used to ward off sleep from 1.30pm onwards. The hotelwala at Solapur looked at us in mixture of disbelief and
incredulousness, but quickly checked us in and promptly went back to deep slumber.
The day3 assault was launched by M at 1010hrs. Two wheelers in Solapur swerved on the path of the elephant frequently and it was concluded that the Solarpurians were blessed with a surplus of suicidal genes which they employed with gay abandon.
Unheard of sleepy towns like Hattur, Nanandi, Dhulked, etc whizzed past and just before Zalki we crossed over into our home state Karnataka. A round of celebration occurred spontaneously for achievements to date. Bijapur bypass met us at 1152hrs when the tripmeter said 1498). The world famous great Gol gumbaz was visible from a distance. A state of the art Indian oil company plant beside the old heritage was contrasting. Facts like Asia’s biggest, India’s biggest, Bijapur’s biggest, higways’s biggest, etc were debated and cast aside with no firm conclusions. Chai stop here was for the Bio-break.
The roads were good, the weather great, landscape excellent, the attitude was exuberant and the elephant was on song, completely in its elements, the engine smooth as silk purring away, the road grip was akin to a railway coach on rails at 100 plus kmph, the suspension gently rocked the passengers when the elephant stepped on huge craters, the speedometer was constantly above 120kmph and frequently touching 145 mark, the steering sensitive and optimally tight even at high speeds, the noise levels inside the car encouraged mobile meditation yet again.
Bijapur to hungund (at 1608 kms) happened in 1hr 20min flat. Lunch was consumed with disinterest in a dirty highway hotel amidst a lot of government bus travelers and the highway driving restarted at 1500hrs. At Gudur, Bichkal, etc Sullen sunflowers dotted landscape on either side due to cloudy weather. The CD player gave up and it was time to sing hum honge kam yab, some shayaris about optical illusions were recited by P, N recited the cycle sharayi. The passengers couldn’t differentiate sheep and cows. P had got into reciting old childhood events which incidentally is one of his favorite pastimes.
Almatti dam appeared imposing alongside the highway and the Krishna river gave the impression of being a petite tributary (poor monsoon I guess or where the dam gates shut). A tiny piece of land in the backwaters of the dam evoked delusions of virgin islands, female sunbathers, etc in P.
At hospet (tripmeter-1705 at 16.20) a chai stop was invoked. With a little of fiddling by the so called engineers P & N CD player launched into music again. The ruins of Hampi beckoned, but was dropped due to paucity of time. P grabbed the wheel from M here.
It was frustrating to be penalized for 30minutes at railway gate just beyond Hospet having pulled in 20seconds after the gate slammed shut. The vast expanse of Tungabadra reservoir loomed large wherein two of the shores on sides were invisible and made on wonder if it was a sea.
Hospet to Lakshimsagara (near chitradurga; tripmeter 1838 at 1916hrs) were NH4 (a part of the golden quadrilateral) met the entourage. N to took over from P here . A cutting chai and star gazing in 10minutes, the last leg of the journey commenced. The elephant was constantly above 130kmph often reaching 145 on this 2+2 lane (which often altered itself to 3+3 for small stretches) highway with proper divider and side railings near villages and towns. The road was brand new, markings brand new and every bit of construction was brand new. It was an amazing experience to zip past all kinds of vehicles.
Tumkur was a blur in the bye side at 2130hrs at 1981 kms as the elephant hurried to the final destination. At 2011hrs in Nelamengala & finally at 2220hrs (tripmeter=2036) the elephant triumphantly marched into Yeswantpur, Blr. Hurray, three cheers to Elephant, M, P & N
Of course the entourage were late by just a day with respect to the original plan thanx to the sickening 500km stretch in MP and of course not to forget the 1000km of breakin for the elephant which happened in first leg of this trip were it was restricted to a max of 110km on 5th gear.
Blr air and traffic, blr moon all look inviting, the smooth roads of blr though pothole ridden here and there were too boring for he elephant. With some beer & one no. Andhara meal in Nandhini deluxe the entourage was home at 23.30.
PS: check out the snaps at Drive Photos