India Road Trip
We’ve been lazing in Thane over the last one week. After Diwali, once my siblings returned to their regular lives, things quietened down at home. Madhu and I used this opportunity to unwind and relax.
We wanted to get to Gurgaon by the 23rd (Madhu’s niece’s birthday) but no train tickets were available at such short notice. Apparently, Mumbai-Delhi route is one of the most popular ones and therefore needs to be booked much in advance. Since flying with Shayna was out of the question, we decided to drive down. Madhu’s dad’s Santro was available but we didn’t want to risk driving such a long journey on our own – especially since we haven’t driven with a stick-shift or manual transmission, and that too on Indian roads, in a long while. So dad arranged for a driver, Kabir, who would drive us to Gurgaon for Rs.3,000 plus food expenses plus cost of return train journey.
The Santro is a small, hatch-back and we weren’t sure how we would all fit in along with our luggage. But miraculously we did – we managed to stack 2 of the XL North Face duffels in the Santro’s teeny trunk. Shayna and I took the back-seat while Madhu gave Kabir company in the front, passenger seat. We left home today at around 6am in order to beat the weekday office-going traffic.
The plan was to drive 770km to Udaipur and halt there for the night. Since the time we left India, 10 years ago, the Indian highways have changed quite a bit – and for the better. The highlight of the journey was the 85km long Baroda-Ahmedabad super-expressway. It’s brand new, barricaded on either sides (so no loitering foot-traffic), landscaped beautifully with super-nice roads. Kabir took full advantage of these fantastic conditions to fly through at top speed. We wished that these roads had extended all the way to Delhi … it’ll happen someday, though. The rest of the roads weren’t too bad either – most have them have been redone to be wider and smoother. So we ended up reaching Udaipur around 5:30pm, which was earlier than we had anticipated. Without stopping, we continued on NH-8 towards Nathdwara, which turned out to be a windy, hilly road with a lot of traffic that slowed us down considerably. Not wanting to be stuck on the roads without accommodation, we pulled in to one of the roadside ‘resorts’ or hotels that catered to travellers like us. The next day we started again at 6am and covered the 660km to Gurgaon quite easily – we were home by 5:30pm.
Dad had warned us that there would be many toll booths along the way and he wasn’t kidding – from Thane to Gurgaon, we went through at least 15 toll booths, paying almost Rs.800 in toll fees. This irritated us no end as the toll booths would slow down the speeding traffic and cause minor delays. But the quality of the roads that have a toll fee are far superior to the ones that don’t … so I guess it’s worth it.
It’s just our first road journey and we already had our first misgivings about driving in India. We had 3 incidents out of which 2 were close shaves and one of them scared the daylights out of Madhu and me. Funnily, all 3 of them were caused by loitering cattle. The 1st one occurred when 2 cows bolted across the highway causing one of the cars ahead of us to brake violently – this could have turned into a 3-car pile up but the van ahead of us and Kabir managed to brake on time and avert it. The 2nd occurred when a young cow lazily walked across an empty highway stretch while Kabir was speeding along. He had to slow down considerably and then play dodge with the cow to avoid hitting her. The 3rd one was the scariest and could have ended badly . We were passing a truck on it’s right and were almost parallel to it, when it suddenly jerked towards us and came close enough to hit us. Kabir honked violently and braked in time to avert being squashed completely. Both Madhu and I were in complete shock. Kabir stopped the car by the wayside and angrily waved the truck down as well. The truck-driver got out and apologized saying that a cow suddenly walked into his lane and that made him veer into our lane.
We’ve realized that driving on Indian roads is not going to be an easy task. Kabir is an experienced driver and therefore has lightning fast reflexes even when driving at top speed. Madhu and I will need to drive at a much slower speed and be very, very alert.
Hotel Night Queen
NH-8, between Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar
Although the name sounds extremely shady, we stopped here because it had a nice, green lawn out front. They only serve dinner outside in the lawn, not lunch. However, seeing Shayna, they kindly set up a table for us in a shaded portion of the lawn. We shared a paneer dish, a raita and rotis and it was a wonderful meal. It was priced reasonably – around Rs.60 for a veg dish. The staff was very courteous too.
Rating: 6 out of 10
For Rs.2,300 we managed to get us a large, air-conditioned, room with plenty of space for Shayna to spread out after the cramped ride in the car. The hotel’s an old haveli, which must have seen better days in the past. Today it could be a fitting backdrop to a Ramsay movie LOL. They have a nice lawn out front and proper parking facilities within the property. The room we were given, though large, was quite run-down – the doors barely closed, there was no hot water, the floor tiles were broken – Rs.2,300 is a tad expensive for this but we had no options. We ordered dinner in and it wasn’t bad – the wheat rotis were, in fact, quite good.
Rating: 5 out of 10Mamta Resorts Eklingji Road N.H. 8, Udaipur Rajasthan Ph: 2410355, 2352394
NH-8, border of Rajasthan and Haryana
This was another great lunch spot. They had immaculate grounds out in the front where we were served lunch. The food was great and the service was good as well. Our paneer dish cost around Rs.80, which was quite reasonable.
Rating: 7 out of 10