Road Trip - New Delhi to Kolkata

AniM By AniM, 15th Mar 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/3g99x_jd/
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Columns & Opinions

Driving trip from New Delhi to Kolkata, through the heartland of India

In the middle of the night...

It all began with a dream, that one day I will dare to take a road trip to cover a fairly large distance, and alone. Since I started driving around 15 years ago, I have always wanted to go for long drives over winding butter smooth roads with only breathtaking scenery for company! The whipping of wind on my face, my favorite numbers playing on the box, a hot cup of black coffee on demand, beautiful scenery on both sides... I could go on and on. Since then, the maximum one way distance I had ever covered was around 300 kilometers, and that too seemed quite an achievement.
Since the beginning of December 2014, I began nurturing this idea of driving from New Delhi (where I work) to Kolkata (where my family resides). It was a risk, doing it alone, not only because of the driving fatigue, but also because it involved travelling over a vast unknown, road conditions, terrain, weather, locals et al. But nothing risked, nothing gained. Thus, began one of the most memorable adventures in my otherwise staid life!!
However, fate and nature put paid to my plans of doing this in January 2015, as the winters of North India added a hurdle to my surreptitious plans, dense fog! I then decided to give a surprise to my wife on our anniversary on 11th Feb, but that also got postponed due to some professional commitments...
Finally, on the eve of 19th Feb, I made up my mind to start off by 10 pm, expecting to reach Kolkata by 20th Feb 7 pm, approximately 21 hours as per Google information.

It begins...

After packing and car checks and fuel top-ups, I finally took off at 2.44 am on 20th Feb. I slept for an hour before that as a faint drizzle stopped me from starting off at 10 pm as planned. Roads were empty but far from deserted, as I left Delhi and reached the DND flyway on my way to the Yamuna Expressway, 165 kms from Agra. The night was clear now, rain having settled the smog particles in the air. Traffic got sparser as the city receded into my rearview mirror....
I drove at 100 kms/hour for extended periods as there was no traffic for miles ahead of me and only had to slow down when toll gates approached. While such driving gets monotonous and runs the risk of inducing sleep in the driver, I was curious to observe my surroundings as far as possible and I guess, the increased flow of adrenaline helped too. Places I had never heard of before, slipped by and while dawn still seemed far away, going home in this unique manner is what kept me going!
It seemed many hours before the sky started to lighten and I was approaching Kanpur, while Agra had vanished in the darkness. My slim hope of catching a glimpse of the Taj (stupid on my part) never materialised! North India dawns are anyway late this time of the year and it was around seven when I stopped for the first time, to freshen up, bio-breaks and a steaming mug of black coffee from the thermos. A hazy sun was struggling to make its presence felt over the horizon and rural India was slowly waking up underneath its weak rays. The traffic was also picking up, trucks and mini-vans were joined by local buses, jeeps and some form of motorized transport, making me hasten up, keen to avoid any traffic snarls. The road quality till now was brilliant, bar a small patch of 2 kms or so after Yamuna Expressway and crossing a sleepy nameless town. I was now on the highway which was a dream to drive on, except in small patches where road over bridges were still being built and traffic had to pass through diversions.
I was already approaching about 6 hours of driving, with no noticeable fatigue, but little did I know what pains lay ahead....

Midday approaches....

I was slowly approaching Kanpur, a milestone in my long journey. Allahabad being the next major stop on my way, it would also mark 700 kms completed journey with another 800 odd to go. After leaving Kanpur behind on a smooth but narrow bypass, I stopped to re-fuel both the car and the stomach. It was bright and sunny by now, the temperature pleasant and comfortable. Unfortunately, my steaming thermos of coffee had by now cooled down to lukewarm and thus undrinkable! A bun, banana and some biscuits down, I stretched my legs and back and set off again.
While about 85% of the road so far had been blemish less, a major irritant turned out to be the seemingly endless number of toll plazas on these highways. Not only do they consume a lot of time, at times they don't even offer good roads in lieu of exorbitant tolls. Here, I encountered another threat to sanity, people and some form of transport driving at you from the wrong side of the road, with calculated impunity and arrogance. The absence of law and order or any significant traffic management emboldens such people and pose immeasurable threat to human lives. Unfortunately, we don't learn our lessons till an unfortunate incident pokes us in the eye, and even then it is mostly temporary and cosmetic. It was a drivers' challenge, which I concentrated hard to overcome.
The terrain around the highway was green and populated, with agricultural fields interspersed with hutments or small buildings. A huge amount of construction activity was going on around the area and a large number of cranes, earth-movers and bulldozers dotted the landscape. As the road nosed eastwards, wheat, mustard, sugarcane fields made way for rice fields and factories were few and far between. This was the heartland of India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh and some say, it's most crime affected. But enough grim tales, I was enjoying a warm and bright late winter sunshine on wide highways and for the most part loving it!

Late afternoon

I was fast approaching the city of Varanasi, and though the city's religious importance held little attraction for me, I was awed by the mighty Ganges while crossing it at high speed. It was a sight to behold, the lifeline of India's water network and for centuries, our prime driver of the agri-based economy. Then came Dehri-on-Sone, another mighty crossing of a dry river bed, but the width of the river valley and the resultant span of the bridge is breath taking and worth enjoying again and again. It makes you feel so small in the grand scheme of this universe, and is more spiritual in experience than a visit to the house of any God. Time was flashing by as were the kilometers and slowly some fatigue was setting in. I stopped again and wondered what life would be like in these parts, used to the hustle and bustle of metros as I was. As dusk started enveloping the land around me, I strayed a little distance from the car, stretching my limbs and my imagination..... Life's rat race has made animals out of us, we no longer have time to appreciate beauty around us, in the mad rush to fulfill our aspirations, we no longer watch the stealthy approach of dusk or the gnawing spread of dawn. We do not notice the budding leaf of grass but we see the mud that splatters our jogging shoes. We see but we do not observe, we look but we are blind.
I was approaching Jharkhand around 5 in the evening, when its stunning rugged landscape simply floored me! Tall cliffs surrounded the highway, as if lightning has split the hills right through and the road has been laid on the path of that lightning. The amber rays of the dying sun laid its own sad tune on the rocks as I sped past, sorry that I couldn't stop and enjoy the dying moments of another day as another 400 odd kilometers lay ahead of me....

The Endgame

With the approaching darkness, I crossed over into Bengal, and the madness of the truck traffic hit me like a physical blow! As I drove on, it seemed that more and more trucks were entering the highways from nowhere. Serpentine queues welcomed me to every toll booth, it was mayhem on the roads. Traffic management seemed like a word of aliens, no one there seemed to have heard of it. Most of the highway now was either under renovation or two trucks were idling along side by side at the top speed of 20 kms/hour, limiting all traffic behind them to a slow crawl. Welcome to Bengal!! I covered the last 300 odd kilometers in six hours, the most unpleasant part of the 1500 kilometer drive. It was frustrating to say the least, especially with fatigue and back ache crowding my senses. I wasn't sleepy at all but I was now driving like a zombie, will power driving me as much as the petrol that was driving my car. Nearing a place called Panagarh, the traffic finally came to a halt. On enquring with a rotund but friendly policeman, frantically waving his arms, I was told that this is a regular occurence, where a six lane highway squeezes into a two lane road meandering through the local market place, surrounded on both sides by the dead and decaying bodies of numerous automobiles. So much for planning, highways of the future!!
I went up on the shoulder of the road following two other cars and finally scrambled out to the other side of the traffic mess. A relatively empty road greeted us and we all gleefully hit the gas! But our collective relief was shortlived as we met another snail like line not too far away and joined in the steady crawl. I vaguely remember crossing some familiar landmarks and was hawkishly watching the road ahead, with infrequent glances at the dashboard clock.
I, finally, crossed the Vidyasagar Setu at 2.45 am, exactly 24 hours after leaving Delhi. While crossing the toll gate sleepy eyed policemen pulled me over to inspect my papers, wondering why a car bearing Delhi plates was being driven into their city by a man looking like he could sleep for the next 72 hours straight! I reached my apartment gate at 3.30 am of 21st Feb and woke my wife up to open the door. Once she got over the shock and disbelief at my disheveled sight outside her main door, the hug that I got was priceless!! And the hug that my daughter gave me next morning? Was worth double the discomfort just to see the smile light up her face....
But honestly, it was a memorable trip but better done between two drivers and a good nights sleep in between. Everything else, just had to be experienced once in a lifetime.

Tags

Driving, Driving A Car, Driving Experience, Kolkata, New Delhi, Road Conditions, Road Trip, Road Trips

Meet the author

author avatar AniM
I have been an avid reader since my childhood and that is my biggest passion! I will write on Telecom, Cricket, Book reviews and some politics

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