12 July – In the shadow of the Taj
My plans were undergoing dynamic changes, virtually almost every hour. It had to be so for the halts would have to depend on the distance to time factor. Based on the halt at Tandi I had asked for accommodation to be blocked in Chandigarh and Panipat. That would have to change since I had reached Manali last night. I mentally prepared for a halt in Delhi and penciled a call to arrange accommodation there. With all these thoughts I left Manali at 5.15 am – I had given myself a bonus of 75 minutes, for I normally start at 4 am. Traffic of heavy vehicles impeded the speed. When sheets of rain descended short of Bilaspur (HP) I wondered if it would spoil my plans to reach Delhi by late evening.
By 8.30 am I spotted Hotel Neelam in Bilaspur, where I had planned to get the first certification of the day and a cup of hot tea. As I turned into the compound I could see very little ahead of me except driving sheets of rain water. I eased the car through the gate of the hotel and heard two loud thuds and the car stood at an incline from the front to the back. I realized that something terrible had happened. Hearing the sound two guys came out of the hotel reception. One of them, possibly seeing the fright on my face, reassured me that they would get a crane and lift the car up. I was still in the car and the engine was running. The second guy, Thakur, asked me the cut the engine and come out of the car. When I stepped out of the car I saw the steps. I had gone down two steps at the entrance to the hotel. Instead of turning right in to the hotel car park I had gone straight ahead and ‘walked’ down the steps of the hotel! Thakur got into the car and straightened the front wheels of the car by moving it delicately. Passengers in buses going past the hotel craned their necks to see the vehicle standing so funnily. I expected a crowd to gather, as is normal in Kerala. It did not happen. Thakur called all the hotel hands from the dormitory and asked them to make a small ramp between the steps. Back and forth and in the twinkle of an eye the vehicle reversed on to the road. My appetite for tea had vanished. I got the certification done by Thakur, the Manager of the hotel, and thanked him profusely for the quick reversal of fortunes. However, Thakur was bewildered by the fact that I had reached Bilaspur in 3 hours and 30 minutes (including the time it took to pull the car out of the mess); it normally takes 5 hours for the distance. When I asked Thakur how he decided on the method to rescue the vehicle he winked and said that mine was not the first case. When I left the hotel reception I saw deep gashes on the steps that told of past misfortunes.
For a while after leaving Bilaspur I was at my best behavior behind the wheel. Steady at 60 kmph and overtaking conservatively I did some mental calculations on when I would reach Delhi. 5.30 pm was my best bet. I rang up the hotel in Delhi and confirmed my reservation. Shortly thereafter I lost control of my control. I speeded to Chandigarh and was out of there after the certification and a brief press interaction before noon. I recalculated and saw a small window of opportunity to push through beyond Delhi. I consulted the Muthoot team in Cochin and was told to do as I deemed fit. They would arrange the certification teams as required. That gave me a boost and I decided on halting at Agra.
I left Delhi at 4.30 pm after certification at the Rajghat. The Delhi certification was after the ones in Ambala and Panipat, where enthusiastic teams sought to spend more time with me. But, I do not know if I was rude. I curtailed the meetings and got out of each of the places in less than 5 minutes. It was exasperating getting out of Delhi and beyond Faridabad. It was closure time and long lines of vehicles made mincemeat of my plans. I started wondering if the revision was worth it. Out of Faridabad I tailed a ‘pace setter’ and made good time. I got past Mathura, after certification, at 7.30 pm. In the night it took me 80 minutes to cover the 55 kms to Amar Hotel in Agra. The hotel was in close proximity of the Taj. I got the car fuelled up and ate a small dinner before turning in for the night. I tucked in thanking God for the excellent distance I had made today (765 kms in less than 16 hours) and the Muthoot teams for having accommodated my changes. I have over 2600 kms to go before I reach Kanyakumari.