The NH6 between Burla in Orissa and Mandirhasaud in Chattisgarh should surely rank as one of the worst stretches of the National Highway in the country. In fact, it is a shame that national infrastructure should be maintained in this manner. I wonder if politics has anything to do with it, but certainly the NHAI and Mr. Kamal Nath have a lot to answer for. Spare a thought for the freight carriers that ferry inter-state cargo. My spine took a pounding and I spent nearly 6 hours to traverse 260 kms.
I tried in vain to identify the Orissa – Chattisgarh border; there were no signages. There was a time, in the not so distant past, when the State Governments used to greet and bid farewell at the entry and exit locations to the State through billboards or concrete posts. I guess nobody wants anyone to come into their State any more. Just after crossing into the Chattisgarh territory I stopped at a Sardarji’s dhaba to have ‘nashta’ (breakfast). I chose to have kachoris and jalebi (low calorie ones, of course!). A stomachful of it cost me a princely Rs. 15.
On reaching Raipur I went over to the office of the Divisional Railway Manager. Raipur was a part of the Bilaspur Division of SE Railway when I worked there between 1986 and 1988. Since then, the Division was split to form Raipur Division and later Bilaspur became a Zonal Headquarters of the South East Central Railway (SECR). While calling on the DRM, Raipur, Mr. BP Swain I could also meet the General Manager of the SECR. The DRM invited me to the lunch that was hosted for the GM and I was introduced to all those present. I was also fortunate to address the gathering explaining the details of the journey and the objectives.
The weather was extremely hot. I thought that it would be the best place to do the laundry as I was sure of the clothes drying overnight. I did not have to wait that long for the washed clothes became bone dry in two hours.
Binayak Swain is an extremely balanced person and has done very well in his Railway career thus far. Spending an evening with him in his house helped me catch up about other friends in the erstwhile SE Railway and the expansion plans for the Division. I did not know that Mrs. Swain is an artist when I made the comment about how well the house is kept; the Chattisgarhi art and collections from all over have been very tastefully arranged, without it giving one a feeling of walking into or through a Museum. The talents of Mrs Swain are many – her bonsais and Tanjore paintings are excellent. Besides a fabulous dinner, I was treated to a very special sweet dish made of custard apple. I am sure the recipe is a prized one. The Swains are connected in two ways to Kerala – their son studied in the NIT, Kozhikode and Mrs Swain’s sister is an IAS officer of the Kerala cadre.
My journey has been slightly enlarged to visit all the Zonal HQ of Indian Railways, apart from visiting all the State Capitals of India. This will require a slight rework of the schedule to include Gorakhpur, Jabalpur and Hubli. I have so far visited Southern, South Central, East Coast and South East Central Railways and the Capital cities of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Chattisgarh. This leaves me with 22 State Capitals and 12 Zonal HQs. The railwayman journeys on.