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201301 Mar

Photo-12

 

December 25, 2012: 3:30 am

 

I was awake even before the alarm rang. Come to think of that, I don’t think I slept at all that night. A heady cocktail of excitement and nervousness had kept me awake for the better part of the night. It was the day that we were to start on our drive to Allahabad, 850 km away!

 

There were several demons wrestling inside my head for the last two days. What if there was heavy fog on the way? What if we get stuck in a traffic jam? What if there is a flat on the “dangerous stretches” of NH 2? And, as if these doubts were not enough, there was the self - realization that I hadn’t changed a flat tyre since ages nor had given more than a cursory glance in the bonnet of my car. The nervousness that morning was real and palpable!

 

However, I had committed myself and there was no going back, come what may. And notwithstanding the worrisome aspect of my knees, which were recently showing the tendency to lock up in the tiresome stop and go traffic of Kolkata, we were to get ready quickly to keep up with our target departure time of 4:30 am.

 

Thankfully, it seemed I was the only person with doubts on my mind that morning. My wife, who had discouraged me in the past, looked excited. “So what if there is fog, we will stop at a dhaba, and if it gets worse we will spend the night at any highway hotel” she had told me the previous night. She had even volunteered to be the navigator and photographer for the trip.

 

The demons fell down like nine pins!

 

Bags had been packed and kept in Honda’s boot the previous night, tea was to be prepared and kept in thermos as well as poured into driving mugs, and after grabbing a bite we left house at 4:50 am, 20 minutes behind schedule. Not too bad!

 

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December 25, 2012: 4:50 am 

 

The neighbourhood was sound asleep, as we quietly left home on the empty streets towards Vidyasagar Setu. Inside the car, however, there was a raging argument on the music to be played in the car. I put my foot down and played “500 miles away from home”. Perfect to kick start the journey.  

 

NH-2-NHAI

 

December 25, 2012: 4:58 am: Vidyasagar Setu Toll: Rs 10/-

 

The kids had anticipated that they would not have much say on the music, and had readied themselves with their own music on their respective ipods and mobiles, and everything settled down quickly and there was bliss inside. However, outside on the Kona expressway was a different story. It was dark and foggy, with moisture condensing on the windshield, like a light drizzle, which required me to use the wiper frequently. The mist and glaring headlights of oncoming trucks forced me to stay under 60kmph till we crossed Dankuni.

 

Very soon we entered the Durgapur expressway and I realised that the car cabin had become very quiet. A quick glance at the rear view revealed that the kids on the rear seat were fast asleep, strapped to their seats. That’s good.

 

The navigator was not asleep, but was busy in her blackberry on Facebook. “That is Singur on the left”, I said, to get her out of her phone. It was still dark and she could not have seen the blue and white ruins of what was to be the signpost of resurgent Bengal, but it did manage to get her out of FB, and to take up the job of navigation with real earnest.

 

“Would you care for Lancha’s, at Shaktigarh”? I hazarded the question. “No” she said. I had no intention to slow down or stop either. With her stamp of approval on the decision, we zipped past the lancha shops at Shaktigarh, which had anyway yet to lift their shutters. Small vehicular traffic was beginning to show up on the expressway. And rural Bengal was waking up to get about their daily business of getting the fresh produce carted to the markets, feeding the buffalos, tending to the goats, while inside the car Glen Frey was crooning “It is a Tequila Sunrise” strumming on acoustic guitar.

 

December 25, 2012: 6:46 am

 

I was shaken from my reverie by my elder son, who wanted to answer the call of nature. It was so urgent that I was not given the time to drive till we come across a decent looking petrol pump. Hence, with the twilight breaking, I stopped at the road side. We had done 128km so far. My knees and shoulder were in excellent shape. I sipped tea from my driving mug. It was luke warm but felt good. There is still more than 700km to be covered, I thought. “So what “, I told myself, a journey of 1000km, starts with a single step!

 

Back to the car it was, with the dreaded Panagarh yet to be covered.

 

December 25, 2012: 7.23 am

 

Mercifully, Panagarh had not yet woken up to its usual traffic mess, and we could cover this hell hole of a place without any hiccups.

 

Photo-4

 

With one of the dreaded stretch of NH2, behind us, it was time to relax, but the kids were wide awake now and they were close to mutiny about the music. Hence Dido was stopped in the middle of her song “Don’t leave home”, and was replaced by the kids with their music, which was of unknown genre and indistinguishable words. I turned my attention from the music to the road ahead. We had crossed Durgapur and the city traffic was behind us, however, with sleepy villagers crossing the road nonchalantly, the wheel required my full attention. It was not an easy task with the lousy music.

 

Photo-5-L

 

Driving on NH2 has this constant hazard especially near the towns. On one occasion, during this drive near Dumri, we came across a woman who suddenly emerged from the bushes and proceeded to cross the road without looking sideways ever. Even though I nearly took the life out of the car horn, she continued in her ambling manner to cross the road. I could feel the ABS pulsate in as I braked hard and stopped well in time. I paid a silent salute to Honda’s ABS and EBD, as the car never did lose traction or its composure even though I had braked real hard. It is at times such as these that you value these ‘three’ letter words technologies. I recalled some years back, I had a similar need to brake hard while driving my Fiat Palio, and the car responded as if it were skating on ice. My friends, ABS and EBD are life savers!

 

December 25, 2012: 8:48 am

 

Finally, entering into Jharkand, after crossing the river bridge over Damodar, the road opens up. The terrain became greener, though the greenery was marred with a thin dust of coal fines from the coal mining activity in that area. It is time that coal companies get their act in place as far as environment is concerned. Plastic garbage was strewn on both sides of the road. Why do neighbourhood where minerals are mined and which create tremendous wealth for their owners, generally so poor and dirty?

 

Photo-6

 

December 25, 2012: 9:11 am

 

Though the fuel gauge needle was above the midpoint, I still thought that it would be a good idea to pick up some fuel. After missing quite a few, we stopped at one fuel station. “Yes, it has a bathroom at the rear”, I told my wife who proceeded towards the same with some trepidation. She came back after some time. “It is very dirty”, she said, and gave me such a look as if I was personally responsible for its upkeep. “I must tell my friend who is a big shot in Bharat Petroleum”, I made a mental note, and wondered, that if these guys can build a new toilet, why can’t they keep it clean? Why can’t they have a separate place to spit paan instead of using the bathroom floor for the same? Seriously.

 

With refuelling over, money paid to the attendant, money receipt collected, we resumed our journey. I noticed that fuel is cheaper in Jharkhand as compared to Kolkata by about Rs 8 per litre! I should have taken in more than the 20 litres which I took.

 

I was on the lookout for Topchanchi now. That’s one place, where by the roadside, there are stalls which sell all types of swords, daggers, knives and maces. I had been to this place, 22 years ago on a field trip to the coal mines of Tata Steel. I was relieved to notice that the shops are still around and the tradition continues.

 

Topchanchi

 

 

The NH 2 was now on its most beautiful stretch. The road was excellent and the irritating traffic coming from the ‘wrong side’ at Durgapur was past us. The engine in appreciation was on a sweet note, the rpm needle was in the neighbourhood of 3,500rpm and I could feel the iVtech coming alive. The iVtech, transforms the gentle animal under Honda’s hood into a roaring monster and the car responds as if it is on steroids, and makes the driving experience so addictive that one would not like to slow down. Though the speedometer was past 120kmph, there was not the slightest strain on the Honda. Power was being delivered smoothly in a linear manner, and the car felt solid on the road, still I reverted under 100kmph. It was a good decision with gentle mist and fog rolling towards us.

 

Photo-6-A

 

December 25, 2012: 9:45 am

 

The rolling fog ensured that we did not exceed 100kmph. The road though felt like an airstrip. I noticed that at some stretches the road is labelled as AH1 (Asian Highway 1), which connects Istanbul with Tokyo. What a wonderful road trip that would be?

 

Asian_Highway 1

 

Can my three-year-old Honda City do that trip? I wondered. Among all the cars that I have ever owned or driven, I have found the Honda to be the easiest to drive, powerful and ergonomically designed. The car has been amazing so far. Nothing, except poor road surface can mar the driving experience in Honda.

 

December 25, 2012: 9:45 am

 

Parasnath hills appeared first as faint outlines on my right and slowly emerged as gentle green hills covered with thick vegetation and rolling fog. The road was now getting curvier, twisty and undulating. It was a pleasure to drive on this stretch. The only spoiler was the stupid truckers slowly overtaking each other and in that process blocking both the lanes. Such was the pace at which they were overtaking that it was sometimes difficult to make out which truck is overtaking which.

 

 

 

December 25, 2012: 10:10 am

 

The vehicles coming from the other side had their fog lamps on. “That means that there is heavy fog ahead in Bihar” my wife said. While that would not be problem today as by the time we get into Bihar it would be noon, it would be definitely an issue on our return trip, I thought. OK, one issue at a time.

 

Photo-11

 

December 25, 2012: 11:00 am

 

Barhi was quite a let down. I had thought of that place as a decent one with motels and good restaurants, however, I found it dirty. Thank God that I did not have to stopover for the night at Barhi today.

 

December 25, 2012: 11:45 am, at a Dhaba beyond Dobbi Checkpost (Gaya)

 

The dhaba owner was doing “datun” (neem stem toothbrush) and tending to his three buffaloes when we showed up. He hollered to his flunkey to get hot tea prepared which was delivered to us in four glasses resting in a rusted iron glass holder. “I am not drinking tea from this glass”, said my elder son. Others did have any such qualms, and gulped down the thick sugary tea with the vegetable pulao that we had carried from home.

 

Rs 22/- was paid for the three cups of tea. The guy did not have Re 1/- change back. At Rs 7/- per cup, it appeared expensive by dhaba standard. And it was, I discovered later, as everywhere else on NH 2, tea was offered at Rs 5/- per cup only.

 

I hollered to kids and wife to clean their shoes of dust before getting inside the car and started on what would be a non-stop five hour drive to the next dhaba at the outskirts of Allahabad. This wasn’t my type of dhaba anyway. I would any day prefer the ones with wooden cots over this one with red plastic chairs any day. We did not see much of the traditional dhabas on NH 2, since it is a new road. The traditional dhabas are now the preserve of GT Road and state highways.

 

December 25, 2012: 12:10 pm, approaching Sawkala Toll Plaza

 

Road journey in India, is an education, especially as you pick up wise sayings from the rear of trucks. One such nugget of wisdom is depicted below. It says that one should always remember God and Death. That is the ultimate truth. So philosophical!

 

Photo-13

 

December 25, 2012: 12:30 pm Between Aurangabad and Sasaram

 

Old habits die hard. A familiar sight on the new highway. Mind you, the new vehicle - a variant of Tata Ace – they come in various shapes, and appear to be quite popular going by the number of them that you see on this belt.

 

Photo-14

 

December 25, 2012 : 01.13 pm On the Dehri-on-son road bridge

 

This bridge, also known as Jawahar Setu, was at one time the longest bridge in Asia. Unfortunately the railings on the sides, prevent you from getting a good view of the river basin. My younger son who could manage to get a view of the river below, said the river was only a narrow strip.

 

Photo-15

 

December 25, 2012: 01:30 pm Leaving Sasaram

 

The fog had cleared now, revealing lush green mustard fields on either side of the highway.

 

Photo-16

 

The road surface had deteriorated. It was as if heavy vehicles had traversed that stretch, when the tar was still soft, leaving an irregular ridge in the middle of their tracks. It required frequent manoeuvring as I was afraid that the undercarriage of Honda may get scraped.  This stretch is certainly no AH1 material.

 

My brother called, “where are you now?” he wanted to know. He sounded surprised on our quick progress so far.

 

December 25, 2012: 02:00 pm Approaching Mohania Checkpost

 

After I paid the toll at Dhaffi, I felt that I was in familiar territory. I had done innumerable trips between Varanasi and Allahabad in my younger days. And yes, the UPSTRC buses started appearing as well as the mango trees by the sides of the road.

 

December 25, 2012: 6:30 pm

 

Home. As I switched off the ignition, I noticed with satisfaction at the trip meter and fuel efficiency gauges 856km and 20.1 kmpl! Tired? No not at all, it had been an invigorating ride and it was now time for hot samosas and gulab jamuns.

 

At Allahabad

Photo-20

Allahabad at Sangam

 

 

Photo-21

'Two Sadhus'

 

Return Leg:

 

December 31, 2012: Left home at 5:40 am

 

It was cold, dark and foggy when we left home. The deserted roads appeared unfamiliar which made me stop and ask directions for the Shastri Bridge. On such a day it is usually difficult to find any one on road, however, because of the Kumbh Mela, there were small groups of cops at some traffic intersections.

 

Shastri Bridge offered an awesome sight of the lit up tented city on the banks of river Ganges for the Kumbh Mela. In few days there will be nearly a crore of pilgrims here for the holy dip. Nearly a per cent of India!

 

December 31, 2012: 6:30 am Towards Varanasi

 

Spotting a milk man on a cycle, on the road, I slowed down to reconfirm that we were on the right road to Varanasi. (I did not wish to end up at Jaunpur by mistake). The kids had walked in the car straight from the bed and were fast asleep on the pious bhajans on the only FM station which was awake at this hour.

 

Photo-22

 

December 31, 2012: 7:05 am

 

Though we were driving to the East, I had not expected to see the ethereal sunrise, preceded with faint twilight. We were, it seemed the only one on the highway at that time to enjoy the scenery.

 

The Sun – which was like an orange ball, finally appeared bang in front of us on the highway, in its full glory. It had been playing hide and seek with us for the last few minutes by constantly hiding behind the trees, and when it appeared suddenly, we were least expecting it. I slowed down to take in the majestic sight.

 

Photo-24

 

December 31, 2012: 8:24 am, tea stop before Mohania

 

Stopped for P & T at a petrol pump near Mohania. The attendant and truck driver and his helper requested me to take their photos. I was happy to oblige. Anything for hard working people building modern India.

 

Photo-25

 

The pump’s security guard in blue shawl, brought us our tea, and engaged in small talk. “raat bhar duty kiya hai ab ghar jake sounga. Pehle yahan bahut tyre chori hota tha” he said pointing to the parked trucks at the pump, “par jabsey hum duty kar rahen hai, ekdum band ho gaya hai.”

 

Photo-26

 

December 31, 2012: 9:03 am, approaching Mohania Checkpost

 

With trucks parked on left side and truckers on the other lane, looking for a suitable parking slot, it was a frustrating drive for 10 minutes boxed in between trucks. NHAI patrol should ensure that the highway is clear

 

Photo-27

 

Mohania checkpost had the most horrible speed breakers on either side. Meant for truckers, it was impossible for cars, especially a low slung one such as Honda, with mere 160 mm as ground clearance. Patiently, I negotiated the same, amid a cacophony of divergent suggestions given by the navigator and kids as whether I should turn more towards the left or right.

 

December 31, 2012: 9:48 am

 

Leaving Sasaram, we came across a road sign for the Sher Shah Suri’s mausoleum, which was 40 km away. Not now. We would visit it some other time.

 

We were now moving towards Sherghati, a place where Farid became better known as Sher Shah after he killed a tiger in its jungles. Sher Shah Suri went on to build the Grand Trunk Road (GTR) in the 16th century, connecting Chittagong to Kabul. NH2 constitutes a major portion of the historical GT Road. There are no tigers in Sherghati anymore. The Nawabs and Brithishers have killed them all. But there is a new fear that presently resides in the jungles on either side of the road. The fear of violence unleashed by the Maoists. Once darkness descends in this area, the village roads in the neighbourhood are taken over the Maoists, that’s what I had been warned.

 

Photo-28

 

I looked at the simple villagers crowding the ramshackle shops selling the local fish produce. Did they look like Maoists? Certainly not.

 

December 31, 2012: 10:53 am, Aurangabad

 

A traffic jam ahead. A jeep reversing ahead, waved “Agae accident hua hai” . I immediately turned back and started cautiously driving back the way we had come looking for the next cut in the road to get into the right lane. The bolero driver ahead was an expert on such matters and I just simply followed him. I must say it was quite unnerving driving against the oncoming high speed traffic from the other side. It wasn’t an accident, I realized, when we passed the sight. It was probably a breakdown. We were soon back on the left lane.

Photo-31

 

December 31, 2012: 01:15 pm

 

Sugarcane juice near Bagodar. We had seen a group of sugar cane juice sellers on this stretch during our onward trip, so when we came across them, we stopped. The family travelling in Innova ahead of us also stopped at a stall ahead of ours. They were obviously returning from Varanasi. An old mother, wife, 2 kids, maid and a puppy pug came out of the Innova. Back to the sugarcane juice, One cannot get sugar cane juice fresher than this. We had eight glasses of sugar cane juice among the four of us. I hurried up every one, when I noticed the family in Innova was also ready to leave. Resuming our drive, I overtook the Innova with ease on the winding road ahead of us.

 

Photo-32

 

December 31, 2012: 05:15 pm

 

I had been driving four hours non-stop now, and Lancha Kuti made for an attractive stop for a cup of tea. We finished our cups of tea, stretched our backs, admired at a swanky BMW and an Audi Q5 parked there and walked around a bit.  I was in no hurry now as the road ahead was quite familiar to me. After using the ramshackle toilet at the rear of the shop, we got in the car. It was a longest stop in the journey so far, nearly 30 mins.

 

Leaving Langcha kuti, as the sun was setting on Durgapur expressway, we could notice some sort of madness engulf the motorists travelling towards Kolkata. They all seemed to be in a mad rush and were overtaking dangerously from both sides. I had been warned about this phenomenon which strikes this stretch at dusk, and so took a cautious approach and settled down to 70kmph.

 

The peace was short lived, as the Intercity Volvos with their bright headlights and powerful horns, driven by maniacal drivers were on the highway. I wonder how these guys manage to avoid serious accidents. Changing lanes all the time at high speeds with horn blaring, these Volvo drivers are examples of the worst kind of traffic on NH 2. One of the Volvo behind was troubling me for a while. I pressed on the accelerator till the Volvo’s headlights could not be seen any more on the rear view mirror. Good riddance, I thought as I eased on the pedal, and the speedometer needle came down from 130kmph. Alas, in a matter of few minutes, the Volvo was back at the tail with its horn blaring and furiously signaling with its headlights for the way. I let the idiot go and I slid back to the slow lane.

 

 

December 31, 2012: Vidyasagar Setu 07:05 pm

 

The stretch from Dankuni to Vidyasagar Setu was harrowing, especially the section which runs along the Kolkata West township. With trucks, vans and cars squeezing for every inch of space it was bumper to bumper drive with four vehicles squeezed side by side on a 2 lane road. This stretch was nerve racking and the most tiresome in the entire trip.

 

December 31, 2012: Home 07:30 pm

 

The fuel efficiency gauge beamed at 20.3kmpl. It was time to quickly get ready for the New Year’s Eve party at a friend’s place. I would not be short of stories to share tonight!

Trip Logbook

LOG

 

Reflections:

 

NH2 has come out well. It actually takes less time to drive to Allahabad compared to taking the train, if you consider the time that one wastes in going to the railway station and waiting for the train. However, there are still small pockets were the stretch is bad. There are several stretches (Durgapur, Aurangabad, etc.) where one comes across 2 wheelers coming from the wrong side, for which one should be careful. I did not come across many traditional dhabas. Most of them were the ‘new types’ with plastic chairs. The most scenic drive was in Jharkhand and the road was at its amazing best through the undulating area on the Koderma plateau. Leaving early is a must. I saved a lot of time by leaving early and avoiding the day traffic.

 

 

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