Pappan's sister is getting married @ Gwalior and we had to go. Pachu suggested that we take a few day's leave, book flight tickets and check up places around Gwalior. Plan sounded good, since, none of us had been to any places north of Mumbai and this was a good excuse. Well ... the whole picture changed when Shabbo sent us a map of Madhya Pradesh marked Bengaluru / Bangalore - Gwalior = ~ 1700kms ... thro' the heart of Andhra and Madhya Pradesh ... isnt it best to drive ???? wow .... I started jumping up and down.
Good ... Pachu was very receptive to the idea of driving the distance and Vishal also showed a lot of interest. Hence, three of us chalked up a plan ... to drive upto Gwalior, check out Agra and Delhi and drive back .... all these in 10 days, in my Versa. It was time for resistance, from different quarters, citing different reasons. Vishal's suggestions of putting up a fog lamp and changing the tyres, to counter some of the resistance, could not be implemented, partly because of the cost and partly due to lack of time. But, a service was done and the vehicle was assured to be in a condition. Finally, the day arrived. After a few hectic days in the office, everything fell into place and all of us could leave.
We started on a wednesday afternoon, just early enough to escape the city's horrible evening traffic. Part of the road from Hebbal till Devanahalli (Internation Airport site) was already made 4-lane and the remaining was under construction. But, past Devanahalli the road deteriorated all the way to the Karnataka - Andhra Pradesh border, which we reached just after dark. Past, the border, 100kms off Bengaluru, the roads were much better.
Dinner break was about 40kms before Ananthapur at a small dhaba. We had curd, rice and dal, a tasty combination, whenever there are not enough items in the menu :) While, leaving the place we also discovered that the people here have a lot of self respect. When pachu left some money as tip, it was promptly returned. We had similar experiences later at many places in AP, all balances however small it is was returned promptly, which seemed like a sharp contrast to what generally happens in Bengaluru. Apart from people being prompt at returning balances, it seemed, the cost of living is a lot less in AP ... here cost of living shall not be confused with standard of living. The dinner I mentioned earlier, for 3 people cost us about Rs. 60 and later at Ananthapur, where we settled down for the day, the boarding expense turned out to be Rs. 250 for a huge hall with 4 beds!
Well ... next day morning, we were in for more surprises. After getting in to the car, I realized that I forgot my small bag (with a few credit cards and some maps) at the place where we had dinner the previous day. We decided to drive back and check it up and it turned out to be a good decision in the end. The bag was safely kept by the people there and promptly returned the moment they saw us. This time, we were not surprised much, seeing that the people are a nice lot! We could have had breakfast there, if it was a little later. Finally, we bought some snacks from there and pushed off.
We were about 3 hours behind schedule by the time we reached Gooty and the delay worsened with the journey. Breakfast @ Kurnool, lunch near Jadcherla and we hit Hyderabad by about 4. The city ring road was smooth till we reached the intersection for NH9 (Machilipatnam - Pune highway, via Vijayawada and Hyderabad) @ Bowenpally in Secundarabad. After that the road was crowded and almost through the city, till we reached Nagpur highway (NH7 continuing ...). It was about 5, by the time we were out of the city limits. From there, it was a nice 4-lane highway all the way to Medchal.
Next pit stop was planned at Adilabad about 280kms from Hyderabad. There started our race with time, which continued on all other days!!! In this case, we made it without much trouble, located a hotel and had thali meals served at our door step. Btw ... Adilabad is pretty different from the rest of Andhra, home to the great Godavari river and some water falls, it also had a ghat section. Going through all these during the day would have been a good experience, but unfortunately we ended up at this unfamiliar ghat road past 9. Well ... I would've considered this dangerous, but we had to do it consistently during this trip and by the time we reached Adilabad, I was much braver than before ;)
Another half an hours drive in the morning and we entered Maharashtra. The roads were good with trees on both sides and mist all around. It was a nice early morning drive, except for the fact that, there were hardly any towns en route. Infact, Nagpur was the only town we encountered in Maharashtra for this whole stretch. After breakfast (parathas) at a small roadside dhaba, we continued along the almost deserted road, to hit the Nagpur city before noon. The city gave a very nice feel, with very clean, wide roads and some greenery around. It was sad that we were running out of time to catch up with Raghu @ Sagar, otherwise we could've spend some more time at Nagpur.
After lunch @ a restaurant past city limits, we had to speed past Maharashtra, a ghat section @ Seoni in Madhya Pradesh and Seoni town (We took a bypass here and a wrong turn took us back to the town) to get to Lakhnadon, before it was dark. At Lakhnadon, we had to leave the NH7, which served us well till now and enter NH26 (connecting Lakhadon and Jhansi, via Sagar). Expecting to reach Sagar comfortably in about 2-2.5 hrs, we were in for a very rude shock. The highway (which was supposedly going to be upgraded to the national North South corridor as part of NHDP phase II) was a very narrow and deserted, which turned into a mud path soon after!
Next town was Narasinghpur, about 60kms from Lakhnadon and we had to pass through some forest, where the road was non-existent. Luckily, some renovation (guess, North South corridor upgrade as part of NHDP phase II) was going on in these roads, because of which, it was not completely deserted. We were kinda scared intially, but settled into discussions on alternate routes and a nice heated argument on why the National Highways in different states show huge difference in standards? The answer was elusive, but finally, we concluded, the standards of the NH may be a good indication of the corruption levels in the state. Well ... somebody was praying for all of us and we reached Narasinghpur, without any trouble, not even a tyre puncture :) Sagar was still about 120 kms from there but the roads were tarred from there on :) With the exception of a few sections in between, we had a decent ride and caught up with Sagar and Raghu by about 10.30!
Well ... if the stretch from Lakhnadon to Sagar was the most testing, food @ Sagar was easily the best during the whole trip! We hogged on to Parathas and Sabji, both for dinner and breakfast. Catching up with Raghu and his serivce stories after such a long time was an equally exciting exercise, though he showered us with some hopeless "chalus" (or PJs = Poor Jokes), which he had cached up over a long time. We had to suffer Raghu's "chalus" for a few more days as he was ready to come with us all the way to Delhi!
|Lunch break near Jhansi
We started a little late the next day and was soon driving amidst some beautiful mustard fields in full blossom. We entered Uttar Pradesh for a brief duration, went past Lalitpur and Jhansi, entered NH75 @ Jhansi and back to Madhya Pradesh soon after Jhansi. Jhansi to Gwalior was about 100kms and we were in Gwalior by about 6 in the evening and caught up with Pappan there :) He took us to a hotel were we stayed for the next two days. Next was marriage reception and catching up with Pappan's family. Both reception and next days marriage was fun with a lot of dancing, some very energetic people and yummy food!!!
A 1 ton chandlier @ Jai Vilas Palace
Peeping out from the pillars @ Jai Vilas palace
Evening view of the Man Mahal @ Gwalior Fort
After marriage we made a beeline for the splendid Jai Vilas Palace, the home of Sindhia family. We had company and guide, since Raghu's friend Vishwanath, a civil servant @ Gwalior hosted us. The palace was splendid, the standout sight being the few chandliers hanging there, which weighs a few tonnes and had about 250 lamps in it! Our next destination was the Gwalior fort at Gopachal Parvatha, where we reached a little late. Some cajoling from Vishwanath ensured that we got a look at the inside of Man Mahal, albeit a very short one. The best part was the view of Gwalior town in the night from the top of the fort and the "Dhwani Evam Shabd" (Light 'n Sound show) - interesting with some good usage of colors / lights and Big B's voice.
Next day we were out of Gwalior and took the NH3 (Mumbai - Agra highway, via Gwalior) till Agra. We had a small section of Rajasthan to pass through during this journey. And the famous Chambal terrain and river falls at the Uttar Pradesh - Rajasthan border here. Contrary to our initial belief, Chambal is no forest but a stretch of highly uneven fields were a group of people can easily hide.
Past Dhaulpur town it was Uttar Pradesh again. At Agra, we took the NH2 (Kolkota - Delhi Golden Quadrilateral section via Agra) towards Delhi and decided to catch up with Taj Mahal on our way back. Soon we entered Haryana, Faridabad city and then Delhi. Traffic kept growing with every km past Faridabad. By the time, we reached the outskirts of Delhi, we were into some real huge commuter crowd.
We took a ring road which goes to Mayur Vihar, where Raghu's parents stay. Akshardham temple was situated very near to Mayur Vihar, but was closed on mondays and we couldnt get in causing some disappointment. It was already dark and we cancelled all plans for the day and headed to Mayur Vihar. Raghu's parents were out of station and since the keys to the apartment was not working, Raghu's father ended up calling one of his friend's, Mr RR Nair, with whom we finally stayed. His family was off on a tour to Kerala and uncle was alone there. We had a nice time there with uncle's dog and some of his stories. Apart from this, we had a visit to the local Ayyappa temple, where food was served courtesy "Mandala" period (or "Mandalakalam", the period when pilgrims visit Sabarimala temple and hence special for other Ayyappa temples). Well ... somebody had to remind me that I am in Delhi and not in Kerala :)
Vishal @ Qutb Minar Premises
Next day we hired a taxi for site seeing in Delhi. First we dropped of Raghu at the JNU campus where he introduced us to a "very special friend" ;) We handed over Raghu and his "chalus" to his "special friend". He had his train ticket booked to Sagar at about 2 afternoon. We all had breakfast at JNU canteen and then said bye to Raghu. Next on the list was Qutb Minar (or Qutab Minar), followed by the India Gate and an outside look at the Red Fort. Qutb Minar is a handsome tall building with beautifully architected buildings all around it, including the ruins of some Hindu / Jain tmples. Am not saying much about these places since they are already talked about a lot. Afternoon, we said good bye to Delhi and soon we were in its outskirts, lunch at Faridabad and we reached Sikandra before dark. Akbar's tomb, which happens to be one of the many important monuments around Agra, is at Sikandra. It turned out to be a beautiful building, especially so because of the lighting. Vishal clicked on to his heart's content :) Agra was only a few kms from Sikandra. Since, Taj Mahal was not open in the night we settled for some hotel and roamed around the city in the night.
Akbar's Tomb @ Sikandra
The One 'n Only Taj Mahal
Time for one of the most awesome sights of the modern world. The one and only Taj Mahal. Motor vehicles are banned in the Taj premises, except for some VIPs I suppose :) Anyways, we resisted temptation to pay Rs. 75 for a horse cart, to get till the Taj gate, which ultimately cost us only Rs. 12 for a ride in the battery powered vehicle operated by the tourist department. Needless to say, Taj was singly worth all the trouble. People may have told you a lot about this building, you may have seen hundreds of pictures, but the joy of seeing it on your own is unmatched. Well ... am not saying much about Taj here ... its something you got to see!!! After Taj we sent Vishal ahead to take some extra snaps of the Agra Red Fort, while Pachu and myself went to checkout and collect all our luggage. We spent quite some time in Agra Red Fort before saying good bye to Agra.
Delhi - Agra is worth many more visits, ofcourse with few additional destinations like Jaipur, Fathepur Sikhri and Amritsar ... So ... all of us wowed to be back and bid adeau to Agra. Sight seeing portion of our trip was over and it was time to get back home. Decision was already taken not to retrace the same route. This time we went for a li'l longer route via Indore, but with better roads. Atleast we hoped that the jungles and mud roads shall be missing in the NH3 section through MP. At Gwalior bypass we continued along NH3 towards Indore. Past a beautiful sunset near Shivapuri, we reached the city of Guna by about 8 and called it a day.
Scene near Indore
Past Biaora, Shajapur and Dewas, next day's highlight was Indore and the beautiful bypass road they've made around it. It was a very high quality 4/6-line road spanning about 50+ kms. Though, past Indore, traffic was huge. Also hindered by a few ghat sections and busy towns near the MP - Maharashtra border, We took a long time to reach the Maharashtra state - almost till dark. Once the sun went down, it was even more difficult with an unbearable rate of lorry traffic snailing towards Mumbai. Past Dhule, where the NH6 (Kolkota - Surat highway via Nagpur and Dhule) junctions with NH3, traffic doubled. 4-laning was going on in this stretch, which turned out to be a bigger hindrance. Well ... for the record ... we had dinner, somewhere near Malegaon (50 kms past Dhule) and took our day's pitstop at Pimpalgaon (about 30kms before Nashik).
Due to the lack of time, we could not explore Nashik city too .... and ended up bypassing it to get to NH50, which leads to Pune. NH50 traffic was comfortable, though with some family traffic headed to Shirdi. Towards Pune, there was another nice 6 lane highway to take you to the city - my second time in Pune. But, once in the city there were again no bypasses / ring roads. This is a real big disaster for a city competing with Bengaluru, Hyderabad ... etc to become the next IT destination. Well ... atleast I didnt enjoy wriggling through the city traffic when my soul aim was to reach the Satara road. Dont think anybody will enjoy having to deal with big trucks which could have very well bypassed the city. Our ill-fortune continued till we passed the Khatraj ghats at Pune outskirts.
Post lunch and past Khatraj was smooootttthhhhh .... with a beautiful section of Golden Quadrilateral taking us past ghats and plains with equal ease. Satara and Kolhapur were covered in a flash, taking us to the Karnataka border way before dark. Another 80kms through the Belgaum - Maharashtra border section of GQ, we were in Belgaum pretty soon. About 320kms (Pune - Belgaum) in less than 4hrs, it was breeze. Past Belgaum, it was a case of "welcome to the real world". Still, 4 laning is going on in the Belgaum - Dharward section, atleast giving us a firm 2 lane to ride on. Dinner and day's halt at Dharward, the feeling of home coming was already there. Atleast we were in our home network and no roaming charges :) Time to make phone calls!!!
Rest of the journey was pretty straight forward. There was hardly any progress in 4-laning Hubballi / Hubli - Sira stretch. Infact, some flyover construction was stuck at few places like Haveri, Ranibennur ... etc and we used the old road only. The story changed post lunch though, past Sira. Sira - Tumakuru / Tumkur was again a beautiful stretch, with lanes clearly marked and with some fencing around the highway. Tumakuru bypass was also good, with a few flyovers completed since I was there last time. We were back in Bengaluru outskirts by about 4 in the evening. It was 31st evening of 2005 December and the city was getting ready to welcome the new year.
The trip meter read an all time high of 4900kms this time. Should say it was proportionate to the excitment of the trip. Just a crazy thought came to my mind - having done Bengaluru - Mumbai, Bengaluru - Delhi and Bengaluru - Chennai, the next one had to be Bengaluru - Kolkota .... or considering that Bengaluru - Chennai is so miniscule compared to the other trips, I shud call it a Chennai - Kolkota trip ;) ... any companions??? Looked like most people were ready :)) May be just a question of getting enough leaves!!!