The first task in the morning was to rearrange the luggage. What was not needed for the rest of the journey had to find its place in the boot of the car. With this in mind I took the car out from the parking lot of the Inn, where there was hardly any light to help me, and parked it right in front, next to a Scorpio. I did not realize that it was too early for others to start the day. When I opened the door of my car it woke up the driver of the Scorpio, who was unhappy that his sleep was cut short. When I opened the boot of the car a strange smell assailed me. I then remembered the Wakro oranges I had packed in a cardboard box. When I took the box out and opened it I realized from the smell that some oranges had rotten. The watchman of the Inn helped me sort them out. Just a couple of dozen oranges had survived the rot; almost 150 oranges had fallen prey to the fungal attack. I put the rotten oranges in the cardboard box and placed it by the wall, where some garbage was already deposited. The watchman told me that they would get cleared out soon. As soon as I had left the rotten oranges a couple of cows came to it and started feeding on them. The driver of the adjacent vehicle came out and angrily told me to deposit the oranges elsewhere. When the watchman reasoned with him that it was okay to leave them where I had, the driver gave his reason why it should not be left there: “Yeh sab khake, gai bakri mere gaadi par gobar karega (the cows and goats will eat this and deposit their dung on my vehicle”)! Why he believed that his vehicle would be specially targeted was beyond me. But, to defuse the situation I moved the box of rotten oranges away.
I was to reach Mumbai in the night where I was to lodge with George Kuriakose, my cousin. Having completed the expeditions I had every right to relax. As I could not take pictures yesterday at Koteswar I went there after getting ready and making the payment for the Inn. When I was taking photographs the driver, with who I had interacted earlier came there with his guests. When his guests went up to the temple I went to him and apologised to him for having disturbed him. He broke into a smile and told me not to worry about it. Another driver joined him and they quizzed me about my journey. One even asked me for the better route to Allahabad! A couple of families joined in the conversation.
When I drove out of Koteswar I started chatting on the phone, thanking and informing people who I had to. In the process I lost my way. Instead of taking the route to Mundra I went on my merry way to Bhuj. When I realized the mistake I had already wasted half an hour. I informed Cherian Abraham, who was expecting me in Mundra, of the mistake and possibility of being late. The road was an absolute beauty. However, I had a narrow miss with a Nilgai. It darted across from left to right avoiding a bus, a scooter and my car. All the vehicles were traveling at a fair pace, but somehow the Nilgai maneuvered expertly and vanished among the bushes. It was a close call.
By noon I reached Mundra and spent the next three hours fascinated by the development in the area. Cherian first took me to the hospice for animals where the 765 kilogram horns of bull was exhibited, which was recorded in the Guinness Records. The hospice claims to be the biggest in Asia, treats animals for diseases we think are exclusive to the human race – cancer, paralysis, blindness, cataract, etc. A couple of cows were convalescing after caesarian births. As you drive through the Adani port complex you get a feel of driving through Jebel Ali. The vision of the man and his team is visible all across the 32000 acres under its control, where a slew of business opportunities have been enabled over the past 10 years. The role of the Gujarat Maritime Board has to be complemented; a desert land has been made to bloom. We, in India, have the habit of dissecting projects and issues many years after the context has blurred and make mincemeat of them. The role of the media in this is particularly vile.
Cherian gave me a tour of the container terminals with a detailed commentary. I left the terminals impressed by the project management capabilities of the Adani Group. Just before lunch Jibu Itty, the GM Operations of the DP World terminal and my erstwhile colleague in Cochin, joined for a chat. Lunch was an elaborate Chinese affair. When I returned to Cherian’s residential complex, where I had left my car, the security personnel had got her washed and spruced up. By the time I left Mundra close to a half hour after three I knew that getting to Mumbai would be a tall order. Hence, I promised to meet my cousin in Mumbai over lunch the next day and made arrangements through my batch mate, R.K. Tandon, to halt in Vadodara in the ORH.
The – km drive to Vadodara was a beauty after Bhachau. Till then container trailers and ongoing road works slowed me down. What impressed me most was the lane discipline on NE1 – Ahmedabad-Vadodara expressway. Heavy vehicles remained on the left track and the fast track was used for overtaking. If such discipline can be enforced or observed on this stretch, why can it not be all over the country? After all, the drivers who use these roads come from almost all over and they have all adopted the discipline. The State and the NHAI have to spend more to educate and ensure that the road users utilize the facilities properly. Driving on the wrong lanes, the wrong side of the road, poor road warnings or lack of signages will increase the accident rate as the density goes up. The objective should be “Speed with Safety”, as put up prominently at many places on the Expressway by the NHAI. Restricting speed without proper maintenance or road warnings lead to accidents; not speed by itself. Speed will be used responsibly if the conditions are conducive.
I had spent close to two years in Vadodara as a railway probationer in 1981-83. And, therefore, was familiar with the city then. I could not identify most places of the present day Vadodara, as I drove into the city and to the railway station. I parked in the lot identified by the attendant. He told me that it would cost me Rs. 100 for overnight parking. When I said that I am a railway officer, he immediately brought down the rate to Rs. 70. The new ORH on the first platform of Vadodara was a super experience. A complete suite excellently fitted out. Even though it was close to 11 pm I went to the food plaza and feasted on a plate of Chole and Bhaturas.