Late winter…. Delhi. The dreaded fog was away for a while, making the evenings pleasant, chilly, and enticing! With all its faults, Delhi is and will always be India’s Prima Donna – Decked up like a Queen with a sense of danger bubbling just under, threatening to take center stage at any moment. By nature – Warm & Friendly mostly but dark and menacing in places….
The sprawling megapolis of 19 million people was my home for many years and now it was time for me to leave it and return to the City of Chaotic Joy – Kolkata!
A spurt of madness took hold and I decided to drive back, 1500 km of fabled roads. I used to drive a Tata Indigo then, in a scandalous Scarlet hue!
So, after a prolonged bout of thinking, weighing the pros and cons (which took all of two hours), I set about preparing for the trip. Mechanical checks of the Car – levels of Engine, Gear and Brake Oils, Power Steering Fluid, Battery health, Tyre checks, presence of Tool Kits, etc. followed by tanking up, air pressure setting on all 5 tires took up the rest of my day. In the evening, I stocked up on snacks, 5 liters of bottled water, some juice TetraPacks, threw my clothes into suitcases, and them into the boot, I was set!
After an early dinner, I went to bed at 8.40 pm, but sleep eluded me. The apprehension of the unknown and excitement at an upcoming adventure kept me awake till 10.10pm when I slipped into a fitful slumber.
The tinny voice of my cellphone alarm woke me up with start….time to roll! 1.45 am!!
Freshening up and final visual checks done, I was ready to move out by 2.30 am. Said a hasty good-bye to my sleepy friend-cum-roomie, looked upto an invisible God and said a silent prayer…Keep me safe and I was away!!!
An uneventful hour later, I was coming up to the Yamuna Expressway on my way to Kanpur, Allahabad, Varanasi and onto Kolkata. Lest I forget, my family in Kolkata was blissfully unaware of my excursion as I planned to surprise them by turning up unannounced!
My first impression of the Expressway was WOW! I had to literally, pick my jaw out of the floor!! It was WIIIDDDEE and I mostly had it all to myself. Despite my aging Indigo rarely pushing three-digit speeds, I made good time.
My first stop was around 7 am next day, a little before Kanpur. I brushed, freshened up and drank a fast cooling mug of black coffee out of the Thermos, stretched my legs and was off again…
The National Highways have now skirted past the major cities and towns on their way, ensuring that motorists are saved a lot of pain from traffic snarls and congestions endemic to Indian Cities. I thus breezed past Kanpur….
Then Allahabad came up…
And it was pit-stop time for lunch. I had decided right before the journey that I will not eat at any of the Dhabas or Restaurants as I had no intentions of letting my dodgy digestive system play truant on a lengthy Road trip! I have a pathological distaste for dirty toilets and would rather live with a slight discomfort than encounter a stinky loo!
Anyway, before I digress further into ‘Piku’ like territory, I should hastily get back on the Road…..
And I drove on and on into the day. Though this was late February, temperatures were still pleasant during the day, but already pregnant with the impending summer. Bright and sunny, just as it should be for a long cross-country drive.
I had stopped once in the morning to refuel and as it was approaching dusk, I saw it was time to stop again and refuel. I was in Jharkhand and the raw natural beauty was mesmerising and I was only passing by on a National Highway!
I tanked up, splashed some cool water on my tiring face and nape, and set off again. Darkness was approaching and I was far from home, yearning to see the look of surprise and joy on my young daughter!
As I entered West Bengal, I encountered the worst stretch of roads on my trip thus far, due to road widening and surface repair works. A serpentine queue of Trucks meandered ahead of me and I gamely followed, only stepping up from time to time to overtake a lumbering behemoth.
Around 10 pm, fatigue was setting in, as the adrenaline-fueled high was slowly dissipating – this is the most dangerous period of a long drive, and I was wondering if I should pull in somewhere for the night. But my heart didn’t want me to give up, it kept pushing me to soldier on!
Around 1.00 am, I came up to an immovable line of trucks, just beyond Panagarh. The Highway here was single-lane (at that time) and some of the Truckers had halted for the night and some for their dinner. Only three private vehicles were stuck in that unmovable line! An XUV-500, a Ford Ikon, and yours truly. After a short conference in that jam, we decided to drive on the shoulder, the XUV led the way, having done it before. Fifteen minutes and 1.5 km later, we were free!
We all floored it thereafter, the intense concentration required to navigate the muddle having re-energized me as well! Around 2.15 am, a familiar sight greeted me….
In a daze, I was pulling away when a couple of Policemen flagged me down on the Kolkata side flank of the bridge. As I pulled over, I was thinking, “What now??”
They just checked my papers, did a disbelieving double take when I told them that I am directly driving non-stop from Delhi, and waved me on.
Fifteen minutes later, I was outside my apartment gate, rousing my dead asleep caretaker to open the gate. I rushed up the lift and called my wife on her phone. She groggily picked up after 3-4 rings, “What happened? You know what time it is??”
I said “Open the door…”
The rest, as they say, is history and at that precise moment, I realized what Mastercard means by “Priceless”!!
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