I woke up at 4 am to leave an hour later. I was glad that at least there was no fog. The night rest had given me a new confidence to handle whatever lay ahead. I thanked the caretaker of the ORH, the Station Master and the parking attendant and eased my car on the road to Jabalpur, which I had 80 kms to negotiate and the time frame was 6 hours. The road was in very poor condition. However, I reached the Jabalpur bypass in less than three hours; in half the time forecast. But, surely it would have taken me that time had it been night. The daylight condition helped traverse the bad stretch faster. The Jabalpur bypass road was in the worst condition possible. I cursed the NHAI and the state administration as loudly as I could in the lonely confines of my car! How, why, do they do this? After I had done the North-South expedition in July 2012 I was all praise for NH7 – I had done 1800 kms from Nagpur to Kanyakumari in 27 hours without rest. The road had been fantastic. On this expedition I found the flip side of the same NH7, which is the longest NH in the country. The northern half of it is putrid while the southern portion is ship shape. What better describes our country as one of contradictions?
The Jabalpur-Bhopal drive was the single largest section on the expedition – 350 kms, which I covered in about 8 hours. The road condition on NH12 was fairly okay after the bye-pass in Jabalpur. I was a bit weary when I reached the fuelling station in Bhopal for attestation. Sharma, the young partner of the pump, was keen to hear more of the expedition. As I had only less than 200 kms left for the day I spent additional time with him and his uncle, who were not surprised with my expletives of the roads in MP. They assured me that I would find the road to Indore the best in the state. In that case I asked if I could venture to travel the Machili ghats in the night. They advised me against it. The Machili ghat on the route from Indore to Jhabua is notorious for tribals waylaying lonely travelers. Moreover, the second challenge would be to negotiate the Dhar road, another notorious stretch of road in MP and which has been so for many years.
So I decided to spend time drinking in the sights from the lakeside in Bhopal. It was a glorious sunset and I took some lovely pictures. Fortunately, traffic was sparse and hence, I could stop more than I would have been able to otherwise. What I heard at the fuel station turned out to be true. The drive from Bhopal to Dewas and Indore was a beauty. The 120 kms to Dewas was tolled road, but was worth every paisa. The cities of Bhopal and Indore too looked well laid out and developed. I wished I had some time to explore Indore – the city looked grand with its lights on and huge; development was discernible. However, the state has a long way to go; the road infrastructure needs immediate and emergent attention.
I reached the Indore railway station for the attestation just after 8 pm, despite the relaxed drive. Had it not been for the Dhar road and the Machili ghat I would certainly have driven through to Godhra. Anyway, as it transpired I rested in the ORH in Indore, which was large and comfortable. I had a large vegetarian meal, which the caretaker commandeered from the station restaurant. They refused to take payment for it, which was embarrassing. I thought about the day ahead. I had 900 plus kms to go to close the expedition. And I wanted to do it before the midnight hour closed in. What was in my favor was the better road condition in Gujarat.