When I set out on the 7th of January from Cochin the entire trip was scheduled to be completed in 27 days. The extra day I had to spend in Tezu pushed the itinerary to 28 days. And by the end of the day it went up to 29 days. I had made arrangements to halt the night in Hubli. With this end in mind I loaded the luggage into the car in Vadodara. A few parking attendants wanted to know how I came to be there in a Kerala registration car. When I told them about the expeditions they broke into compliments and “Wah, Wahs”. They knew how to earn an honest buck! I left them with a hundred rupee note, even though I had struck a deal for Rs. 70 last evening.
The highway to Mumbai was crowded and the poor lane discipline slowed me down. In addition, I had eased up a bit after the expeditions. I got held up for a while on the approach to the Golden Bridge between Bharuch and Ankaleswar. On the approach to Thane my cousin was on the phone with directions to reach his place. At a crucial point the signals dunked and I overshot the designated turn. I got caught in the most amazing traffic snarl I had been in the past month. I lost an hour in the muddle. By the time I got to Hiranandani Estate I had gone past the decided departure time. The warmth of the family and the Puttu and kadala for lunch delayed me pleasantly.
From Mumbai I was joined by my friend, Mathew Phillip, who had come to the city on work. He hopped on for a ride to Coimbatore. When we had arranged our bags and were ready to leave, George suspected that the tyres required refilling. He took us to an outlet where nitrogen was topped up and we left on the road to Hubli. Getting out of the city and reaching Panvel itself consumed time – it was close to 5 pm. To make matters worse, Mathew started running temperature. We decided to abort the day’s schedule at Pune. I rang up my good friend, C.P Sharma, who was Chief Commercial Manager, Western Railway for ORH accommodation in Pune. In a short while CP confirmed the accommodation and Sr. Divisional Commercial Manager of Pune Division gave me direction to reach the ORH.
We reached the superb ORH near the ‘Maal Dhaka’ (goods shed) after some help from auto drivers and shop keepers en route. Mathew took some medicines and took rest. I ordered dinner and spend the intervening time updating expenses, noting down points for the blog and sipping a couple of Bacardi breezers. When the food arrived I called Mathew to join. He took some time to come to the dining table as he was feeling weak and feverish. He barely took a morsel and went back to bed. I slept on the sofa so that Mathew would have uninterrupted rest in the bedroom.