As narrated by my dad…
It was on 12th June 2015 that we, my wife and I, under took a long road journey in our old horse, our beloved Maruti Suzuki Dzire. Perhaps it was just for fun or the need for a mini adventure I can’t say but we did venture out on the 2000 km long road trip, cutting across 4 states. Frankly, I am not a classic driver who can strive for such long hauls just for fun that too at the age of 65. However having done, albeit at a much younger age, MP (Korba) to West Bengal (Kolkata), Orissa (Kaniha) to West Bengal (Kolkata) several times, Kolkata to Nepal and a few others I reasoned that I might just be able to make it. What more can the brain say to the heart that loves driving through express highways.
It was a hot summer morning when we left our beds at 3.30am such as to start by 5.30am just as the city was waking up. We crossed Vidyasagar Setu and embarked onto Kona Expressway ultimately leading to NH6. The stretch up to Dhulagarh and beyond was very congested which restricted our speed to below 80 km/h. A short while after that we halted for a quick tea break. By 9am we arrived at the Kharagpur NH junction but could not find a refreshment stall. I knew the surroundings well owing to my multiple trips on this route many years ago (between Kaniha and Kolkata). I have seen the road grow from a single lane to a 6 lane highway and with that the delocation of the various shanty tea stalls but without new shops coming up.
After Kharagpur, we steered our car towards NH60 which is a 4 lane highway but had diversions in several places along the length to provide cross drainage before the impending monsoon. I had last travelled this route in 2004 in my Maruti 800 then, with the roads under construction. By 11am we stopped before a sweetmeat shop in Balasore for break fast. We were extremely hungry and doused our appetite with the hot puris that were landing on our plates straight from the wok. My wife whispered into my ears that the rasagollas were looking fresh and so inviting and that we should buy some for our onward journey. I obeyed her demurely and almost immediately calculated the extra miles I should be walking to get my sugar levels to normal. But then, what can beat the love for rasagollas and one’s wife.
By 12.30pm we were crossing Bhubaneswar where we were slowed down by the construction of fly overs. After lunch we headed for Gopalpur-On-The-Sea as there didn’t seem to be another suitable option within 2-3 hrs drive available for our overnight halt. I had already been driving for about 11 hrs by then so we called it a day at 5pm.
Next morning our journey commenced at 7.30am and we reached NH5 within 25 minutes and drove past Berhampur where we tanked up on diesel before the Andhra Pradesh border. Here the highway was almost empty with an occasional car zipping past and I throttled my car to my limit, crossing the 120km/h. The white road marks over the plain smooth black surface that rapidly vanished under my car reminded me of my childhood memories of writing on my slate. By noon we reached Vizag driving through the sprawling city but the busy and congested roads took most of our precious time.
In AP the NH 5 passes through several big towns slowing down our speed. There was an absence of elevated tracks in this stretch of the highway which is in sharp contrast to NH2 in Kanpur – Allahabad zone. But when you are on the lookout for foodstalls or petrol pumps, these elevated roads become the biggest irritant as they take you right over the city settlement. We reached Vijayawada before 9pm and rested in the house of my daughter’s friend. Next day by 8.30am we took off again, My elder daughter and son-in-law had joined us in Vijayawada. Next day by 8.30am we took off again after relocating the basket full of Himsagars (the sweetest and the juiciest mango that has ever been borne by a tree) from the back seat to the car boot to accommodate for the newest arrivals. Before heading out of town, we paid darshan at the famous Kanak Durga Temple located atop a mountain just beside Krishna River. But by 10am the third leg of our journey had started. By 11.30am we badly wanted to stop for tea and breakfast but the elevated roads made it difficult to find one. Suddenly we saw a group of people huddled near a small shop. Expecting hot idlis we made through the crowd to see bottles of yellow juices. My wife at once cried out saying “Fresh Mango juice” and then a second later, in a more subtler tone “fresh honey perhaps” and finally concluded that it was “fresh liquor” and the men gathered were Sunday morning booze revellers. We never got our tea or breakfast but we managed a roadside dhaba at around 3pm for a late afternoon brunch, savouring on a sumptuous Andhra thali meal. We reached Bangalore by 10.30pm without any major incident.
The journey back
After 5 weeks in Bangalore we hit the road again, at 5.20am on a cloudy July morning. Being a Sunday the roads were rather empty and we connected to NH5 1pm. I have said earlier that I love the highways and true to my spirit just as I met NH5 after negotiating through the country roads my enthusiasm ran high and the speedometer crossed 120km/hr. By 4pm we reached Vijayawada with no intent of stopping and headed towards Rajamundry. Surprisingly we didn’t find any available hotel rooms around Rajamundry. Night was gradually descending on the meadows and a pall of uneasiness upon us. My wife advised me to break our journey as there was no point in continuing further. By 7pm, after having driven 800 kms and more than 13 hrs since we started, we finally made a halt at Tanuku in the W. Godavari distt of AP (you may find egg baskets from Tanuku in Kolkata, as I realised later). Later we realised that we had arrived in the midst of the Godavari Maha Pushkaram a festival which happens every 144 years.
Next morning we started our journey at 8.30am and the highway continued to be congested as we approached Rajamundry. On both side of the banks of the Godavari were thousands of devotees taking the holy dip. The approach to the Godavari bridge was extremely crowded, police personnel were doing their best to control the traffic, loud speakers were blaring and people were carrying dozens of bananas on motorcycle. There were nurseries on both sides of the highway with huge date cultivations which was a strange sight to behold. We reached Vizag by 3pm and decided to stay an extra day to go around town and into Araku Valley and the Bora caves.
All was going well but by midnight my wife developed an acute stomach bug which kept us both awake the entire night. The medicines did bring some relief but kept her drowsy the entire morning. I felt dejected in the morning as there seemed to be little chance of us starting from Vizag. There was a thick pall of rain outside with no sign of letting up. By 12.30pm the rain started to lighten and my wife started feeling better and after a light lunch of curd rice we headed on. Once out of the city, the car was speeding at 120-130 km/hr, the sky was overcast but not raining, and the landscape turned hilly with lush green growth intercepted by lively streams gushing in full steam. It was as if nature was trying to lift my spirits up. With no further mishaps we checked into Rambha, a seaside town in Orissa by 4pm.
The next morning we visited the sea shore and started the last phase of our journey at 9.30am. By 2.30pm we were really hungry but there wasn’t a single restaurant in view. We were nearing Kharagpur but couldn’t wait any longer. We stopped under a tree and lunched on puffed rice and Rasagollas, which we had packed when we were crossing Cuttack. Oh, what a combination!! One thing worth mentioning here is that the road works for cross drainage that we had encountered on our forward journey were all completed and repaired by the NHAI which was a relief for me. Thanks NHAI for the effort!
At around 5.30pm we crossed Kolaghat and stopped at a tea shop and ordered some paneer pakodas and tea. Just when I started munching, something suddenly crossed my mind, I jumped from the chair and looked around and spotted a calendar on the wall. And then I was at ease. The tea was so good that we took another cup. Thanked the shop owner, set off for last round of journey and reached home by 9pm.