The Maiden Road Trip - Mark of Changing India

This story is about a journey, which I took 4 years back. It was a first long drive, around 1100 kilometers. Part of that decision was taken out of adventure and part of it was out of no other available options.

Now a days, I have been driving a lot, drove distances, thousands of miles in one stretch, but till then, in India, always refrained to do so. The reason was mainly the unknown status of the roads, the unavailability of GPS and safety. The story is about a trip, I took during Feb 2015,  I was in USA those days, and came to India for a family function. 

Inception:
While we were planning to come back, as usual, the VISA stamping came up, and luckily, we were eligible for the drop box facility. Thanks to the US embassy's new rules and India-US ties. Whenever we visit our country, we plan to stay maximum with our parents, family. Our family function was in Mumbai, stamping was planned to be done in New Delhi, and my home is in Northern part of Bihar. We have secured the planned flights from JFK New York to IGI New Delhi, Delhi to Mumbai and Back from Delhi to New York. But were not sure about what to do with the tickets from Delhi to Bihar, as it was totally dependent on stamping dates.

Since, I used to live in Noida earlier and have close family members in Delhi-NCR, my first small little car, the Hyundai i10 was still there, in NCR. I decided to test it through. Thou, I declared about the plan to drive down to my home town, deep inside, I was not very sure yet. Anyway, we did not book any tickets from Delhi to Bihar. And started reading a lot of traveler blogs, talking to friends, who drove on those routes.

Days Before Journey:
My wifey, already landed in Mumbai on January 26th, I joined her on February 8th. We had awesome family celebration and happy us went to Delhi, after a couple of days. On February 10th, we landed in Delhi late evening and the worst nightmare came to reality as soon as I got into by cousin's place. We all were suppose to go for a party, and I was suppose to drive my car to their place. I barely drove the tiny little machine, which I had command over. Next day I was supposed to drive the same car to one of the busiest streets of Delhi, Nehru Place. The USA embassy is in Chanakyapuri, but the document submission section has been outsourced to Nehru Place offices, where we need submit our documents. And here I was feeling challenged to shift the gears from first to second, clutch was hardly in control and so was the accelerator.. 

Next morning, on 11th, I drove like a learner for few kilometers, on the Greater Noida-Noida expressway. I was really pathetic, but as soon as I hit the narrow streets of Delhi, the Indian driver inside me woke up. Since then there was no looking back, and I never had any problem driving anywhere. In fact, when I returned permanently to India, couple of years later, I drove in busy streets of Mumbai with ease.



12th was a busy day, as we visited our locked apartment. Huge pile of dust, rusted taps and locked wardrobes were waiting along with ever smiling, Mrityunjay Jee, the construction supervisor of our apartment, who was still there, supervising the other upcoming sections of our apartment. He helped us with the cleaning staffs and a lot of other stuffs, the day was tiring, we did a lot before heading back to my cousin's place. I just forgot, it was February 12, my birthday. A small celebration was waiting.



Day 1: New India Unleashing - Delhi to Varanasi:
We had two options, go through the newly built sections of the Golden Quadrilateral/East West Corridor or Old route, built by a visionary emperor Sher Shah Suri, the grand trunk road, the National Highway 2. In short, options were Delhi-Gorakhpur-Bihar or Delhi-Varanasi-Bihar. We chose 2nd option, just because we were looking safety as prime concerns. We got a GPS and Internationally Free internet, thanks to T-Mobile.



5 AM, we woke up and have a long driving day ahead. 6 AM, we somehow managed to get on to the newly built Delhi-Agra Yamuna Expressway. Since we were coming from Greater Noida side, it took us a while to find the entry route, took us a lot of time to figure out and several wrong ways. Finally the patrolling police team helped us find the entry point to the expressway. The GPS does not have it on map yet and we did not switched mobile navigation. Anyway, no navigation help was required afterwards on this beauty. Smooth as butter, clean as water, fast as lightening, the expressway filled both of us with pride. Just to test, I crossed 140 KMPH (close to 90 MPH) and my car stayed stable. This was not USA or Europe, It was India. If the expressway was not that big a surprise, the break areas were. It was as big as they have in the USA, cleaner than them. Incredible. That is what a visionary leader can do. We both thanked Mr. Vajpayee, the former PM of India, for envisioning the road infrastructure in India. 

We were travelling eastward, and with no surprise, the morning sun welcomed us, the darkness was over. On the Yamuna Expressway, the rising sun was synonymous to rising Indian highway infrastructure, the rising India. We reached Agra in a jiffy, 8:15 AM to be precise, with one break. Post Agra, we entered Old highway, NH2. Our GPS system was back too.

And back was the old India. The vehicles coming from wrong side, staring at you as you are doing a crime being at the correct side of the road, occasional bad spots. But overall, the journey was pleasant. This part of India has less traffic except outside cities. 

With breakfast stop, post Lucknow and Lunch break near Allahabad, we were on the way to Varanasi. We were too excited about the dhaba food, painfully it was not that great. Thou we had a good amount, which we needed to sustain the day.

Around 3 PM, my eyes were hardened. I just landed 5 days back and the Jetlag started taking toll on me, and so was the heavy food. These two made me feel sleepy. We stopped for a 10 minutes power nap, just beside the highway. Post that, we only stopped in Varanasi to fill-up the tank, which was going to turn out the wise decision next day. Thou I have booked a hotel, but one of my cousins, who live just beside the highway, insisted us to stay at their place. It was too close a relation to ignore the orders. On the way to my another cousin's place, not too far from the highway, we missed one exit, just one of those miss of that day, but luckily the GPS was good enough to show us the way through narrow streets of Varanasi. Some of these streets were so narrow, that I had to literally ask people coming from the other side, that, is there enough space to take the car. As confident the Banarasiya's are, no one doubted a bit. Yes, sir a lot of cars pass these streets every minute, came the answer. You get confidence, because even if you meet some trouble or get stuck,  these locals will bail you out. This is Banaras, not Delhi.

Apart from being a religious place, Varanasi is also famous for it's sweets. The mouthwatering delicious sweets were awaiting there, and so were the sweetest kids of our family tree. We reached by 6:30 PM. Had a lot of chit-chat, had delicious dinner and as tiredness do to you, slept well. Next morning, we planned to leave by 9 AM, as we were in impression that it would take 8/9 hours maximum, with breaks.

Day 2: Chronic Disease - Varanasi-Patna-Darbhanga:
14th February, the day started well. We woke up on time and were ready to move. Had breakfast, got some gifts and hit the road before 9 AM. However, there was a little surprise, the flat tires. Again, it was just a start of the surprises, which we would be facing throughout the day. Luckily, it was fixed within minutes, and we were on highway on time. Long queue of trucks, vehicles coming from wrong sides, but smooth roads, kept us both alert and comfortable.

It was also a day of judgement errors. First error of judgement was not too follow my father's advice to use Gorakhpur Darbhanga route, which bypass the busy cities like Patna and Muzzafarpur Second error of judgement,  we took NH31 and Aarah-Mohania road, as read in the blog, instead of following the GPS. Warned by some locals and by the GPS, not sure, we followed Aarah-Mohania road, a road hardly to be categorized as road. The road was wide, but too bad in shape. 99 kilometers were driver's nightmare. The suffering was not over yet.

Post Aarah, till Patna, a long list of problems occurred. A one sided bridge, opened for vehicles from the wrong side, which made the traffic to cross from either side at both the ends. Bad roads with, sand dust, bad traffic and jams, all took toll on us, it was already afternoon and we were yet to reach Patna. 

Somehow, we reached Patna, just after noon. We decided to have small portion of food on the go and skip lunch halts. We tried to fill up the fuel but only came to know, that due to anticipation of the petrol price rise, the petrol pumps were shut down. The journey continued and we hit another big jam, just on the edge of Patna city, the famous Gandhi Setu, once upon a time the pride of Bihar.

Gandhi Setu, I was excited to show my wife this historic bridge, which connected the entire north Bihar to the capital city of Patna. It was once pride, the second largest bridge of Asia. To my surprise, the bridge was in pathetic state. Out of four lanes, two were closed and one lane was functional for either side. A huge traffic congestion created a two hour jam, and before we crossed the bridge, it was nightfall.

The first two ignorance has made us suffer a lot, hence we decided to follow the GPS now, which was the third error of judgement. The Gandhi Setu connects Patna and Hajipur. At hajipur, we needed to decide over taking Samastipur or Muzzafarpur route. Since via Samastipur was shorter, the GPS was guiding us to take it, confused by earlier errors of judgement, we decided to follow GPS. It was already dark, and Samastipur route was without dividers. 

Talking about traffic sense, India is full of senseless drivers. Most of them driving on high beams, it was difficult. We were able to pull it until twilight, but when it became darker, it became dangerous. At one of the small bridge, I had to stop and come out of car to ask the car coming from front to lower the beam, so that I can cross the narrow bridge without accident. 

When we reached Samastipur, I thought of a plan. A lot of commercial SUVs run around these areas. My plan was to keep my car behind one of such SUVs. They drive fast, so my speed will not slow down and are high enough to block the high beam lights coming from the front. my plan worked for 80 percent distance of Samastipur-Darbhanga route. Rest of the 20 percent, I drove slow, carefully, until we reached the town, at around 9:00 PM.


Despite all the hiccups, tiredness and ups and downs, we both were together, it was Valentines Day, a memorable one. All the pain went away as soon as we reached home. 

The Evident Change:
Four years back, those Two different days, two different India were evident. 13th, we went through the breadth of a state, which was on political turbulence since several decades until 2017 and 14th was the day when we travelled the comparatively stable state, politically. Throughout the journey, we saw a lot of constructions on highways and had to take diversions. UP, we mostly followed the National Highway and hence journey was excellent. Bihar, we followed state highways, and the roads were in pathetic condition. Later we went to villages, used NH57, a part of East -West Corridor, it was excellent and I regret not taking that route. The roads of villages, made under PMGSY, were excellent too. 

Now a days, the connectivity from Patna and Muzzafarpur has improved, with another bridge joining north Bihar to Patna, named against one of the most revered leader from Bihar, Jay Prakassh Narayan, the JP Setu. JP is often mentioned as a Gandhian, who took on Mrs Gandhi during emergency. A lot of political parties of this region came out of that movement, also known as "JP Andolan" (JP Movement). irony is none of these political parties follow JP's path of austerity. Indian highway infrastructure is changing, Waterways from Haldia to Varanasi is already functional and Darbhanga is getting on to Air route this year. These are mark of progress, mark of development, mark of what visionary leaders can do.

This was a journey, which filled me with confidence in Indian roads, post which I have taken on the Indian roads with ease, confidence and comfort. This journey was the first one of many more to come.

"Akhil"












































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