Monday, September 9, 2013

A ‘Swift’ Travel on the Golden Quadrilateral – 8th to 11th June 2013

“It is not fit that every man should travel; it makes a wise man better, and a fool worse.” William Hazlitt

I had marked a place on the Tumkur highway as the start point of ‘Mission Impossible’. I checked out just after 3 am and got the first entry done on the log sheet. It was 3.35 am on 8th June 2013 when I set out from the start point. Every minute would be crucial and hence, there was no time to give away. The check points en route are laid down by LBR – that sets the route too. Traffic at that time of the day was sparse and the Bangalore to Satara distance of 720 kms was done in 7 hours and a half at an average speed of 93 kms, which turned out to be the best sector in the entire drive. In many ways this momentum set the tone for the entire expedition. Even though the road condition from Satara to Pune is good, I lost a lot of time due to congestion on the approach to and exit of the tunnel on the Khambatki ghat section. I came to know later that I escaped the worst as it got progressively worse as the day wore on. Pune passed by just before 1 pm and I got on to the Pune Mumbai Expressway. I drove through Panvel in less than 75 minutes from Pune. My cousin, George, had given me the exact location to get off the Expressway and move via Navi Mumbai into Mumbai ‘area’. It was tricky navigating from NH7 to NH8 via NH3. It was a cakewalk this time for George was at hand to pilot me expertly through the burgeoning traffic – it was he who had suggested that I should try and get through Mumbai before 6 pm. George’s friend, Binson, as well as George’s family waited on the Godhbandar Road at a pre-appointed location. No time was wasted in the certification and family talk. In less than 45 minutes Mumbai was behind me – I passed through Manor at 4.15 pm, completing the first 1000 kms of the expedition in less than 13 hours. At the time of framing the first day schedule I had targeted Ahmedabad as the last check point for the day. When I drove through Surat at 6.30 pm and Vadodara at 8.30 pm I decided to stretch the day. The body and mind was in good condition too. The Vadodara-Ahmedabad Expressway is a flier and that added to the motivation. Ahmedabad was bypassed at 9.45 pm and I set my sights for Udaipur. The Navfree Application helped me get in and out of major cities efficiently. I bypassed Udaipur just after 1 am. By 1.30 am I stopped at a fuel station en route to Chittorgarh to tank up – 1750 kms in 22 hours; a wonderful start to the expedition. I requested permission from the personnel at the fuel station to park and rest for a while. They showed me a location which I could utilize. It was not that the body and mind had tired; I was more concerned for the car as she had been revving for nearly 22 hours at a stretch.

The rest proved to be restive; I twisted and turned for more than an hour and decided that I was wasting time. After use of the toilet at the station I wiped myself down with wet wipes and changed into fresh clothes. I felt energized and refreshed. Short of 4 pm I started on the second day of the expedition. Since I had added over 250 kms to the target of the first day I was confident of reaching Varanasi by the end of day 2. It went pretty much to schedule; Chittorgarh at 5 am, Jaipur nearing 8.30 am, Gurgaon at noon, Delhi at a half past, Agra just before 4 pm ( I missed the new Noida-Agra Expressway), Etawah at 4.30 pm, Kanpur at 7.30 pm and Allahabad at 10.15 pm brought me on the Varanasi bypass just after midnight. This meant that I had covered nearly 1500 kms in 21.5 hours. The halfway mark of the expedition was crossed between Kanpur and Allahabad. Close to the Bihar border I decided to take a break; it was nearly 2 am. I found another friendly fuel station and rested for slightly over an hour. By now, the legs were getting a bit groggy due to the constant squat. I had been liberally dipping into the food supplies and keeping myself properly hydrated. The legs felt leaden when I got down from the car for the bio breaks, which were also stretched as much as possible to get more ‘productive’ time behind the wheel.

A couple of hours I managed to rest before wiping down and changed into a fresh set of clothes. Barely had I driven 15 minutes and I experienced the first of the many near misses I had from then on; this was the scariest of them all. I was merrily speeding on the NH2 with the intention of being through Kolkata before noon. It was pitch dark and there were no vehicles on the road. Then a row of trucks seemed to be parked on both sides of the road, which I found strange. I observed this without any let up on the pedal, almost fatally. On instinct I switched to high beam and panicked – a tanker truck was stationary in my path just about 50 meters ahead and I was ‘cruising’ at over 100 kmph. I virtually stood on the brake and felt the car losing steam, but only gradually. I released the brake and slammed it with all my might once again. I could not swerve either right or left as heavy vehicles were parked all along. The car came to a stop just a nano-millimeter short of the tanker. I sat in the car for a couple of minutes to give thanks to Him and to Our Lady who saved me from sure death. As I inched forward behind the tanker I realized that it was the congestion at Naubatpur border post. It seemed that the day was reserved for such experiences. Another close call happened near Balasore when a youngster on a bike decided to cut across the width of the highway to ‘chat’ with his friends on another bike! Even though I had the brakes under control I missed the biker by the narrowest whisker. He apologized profusely but may not have appreciated how close he was to meeting his Maker. There were many more incidents, but of a less threatening nature all through the drive. While the nation invests heavily in hardware – namely, roads – there is hardly any effort to educate and refocus the road user – namely, on the software. The poor road use and inadequate road infrastructure is a lethal combination. It is hardly ever that accidents are caused by speed alone. It is always in combination with either poorly maintained road infrastructure or negligent use of the infrastructure. To my mind, NHAI and the Ministry should spend more effort and funds on education and enforcement. But, education first – education should start with a revamp of the process of getting a license to maintenance of proper infrastructure to deterrence of poor road use. No one should be above the standards set by the State. We talk of inclusive growth, but, sadly, this does not apply to enforcement of road rules and tolls – the creamy layer feels that it is below their dignity to submit to the rule of law.

Via Asansol and Burdhaman I reached the Vidyasagar Sethu almost a half hour to noon. The heavens opened up as I was nearing Kolkata. The downpour was so heavy that vehicles were soon stranded along the way. Even the bridge had its fair share of water logging. I cut across from Howrah to Kolkata using the Sethu bridge and returned to hit the route to the last metro city on the GQ route. Just out of the Kona Expressway there was a traffic diversion that caused me time getting to Balasore. However, by 6 pm I was in sight of Bhubaneswar. I crossed from Orissa to Andhra Pradesh at Ichchapuram by 9.15 pm. The NH5 turned out to be the best among all I had traversed during the expedition.

As I was nearing Srikakulam, Thulasi Ram Nair, my friend, contacted me to know my progress and to assess when I would get to Visakhapatnam. I had planned to drop in at his place to freshen up and catch the proverbial forty winks before hitting the highway for the last stretch. However, after the call I stopped for a bio break and felt extremely tired. I thought that a power nap was in order. Fatigue made the break last beyond a short power nap – I slept for almost 90 minutes and felt terribly guilty for I was keeping a family waiting for me. I washed my face and stepped on the gas. Thulasi and his family met me almost 50 kms short of Visakhapatnam at the toll gate. I followed them to their flat, which was just a short distance off the highway. Thulasi insisted that I should have a bath. I was vary for I knew that it would relax me further and make me sleepy. In the end I decided on a proper bath and set out with food replenishments and a few cans of Red Bull.

Out on the highway I consumed a can of Red Bull to make sure that any mental demand to pull up for a nap would be subsumed. That’s not exactly what happened. I got into Tuni at about 3.45 am and felt an overwhelming need to nap again. I pulled up near a small tea shop and set the alarm to wake up in 20 minutes. I woke up 90 minutes later! I panicked. I had unnecessarily put pressure on the last lap. After that the driving assumed maniacal proportions. I refused to brook any opposition on the road – I had a highly satisfying ‘race’ with an energetic BMW. But, my Swift turned out to be swifter and I ‘beat’ the BMW in the end. It also saved me a lot of time, for the BMW virtually became my pace setter. I bypassed Chennai by half past 2 pm. On the way I had whizzed past Vijayawada, Guntur, Ongole, Nellore and Gudur.

I had just another 330 kms to complete the expedition. To do so with a new record timing I had to get to Bangalore before 3.35 am. Theoretically, that was plenty of time. As I always feel close to an achievement, I started thinking of all that could go wrong to rob me of my just desserts. I turned on the music loud to drown the negative voices that were bleating in my brain. I bypassed Krishnagiri at 6.40 pm after coursing through Kanchipuram and Walajahpet. I was just 80 kms short of Electronics City, Bangalore. Adrenaline was pitching and elation mixed with pride of achievement started its journey through the nervous system.
I got across Attibele, the border post to Karnataka and drove into the Electronics City by 7.50 pm on 11th June 2013. The expedition was over and the existing record had been handsomely effaced by 8%. I had completed the Golden Quadrilateral Expedition in a new timing of 88 hours and 30 minutes, counting from start to finish. Some of the highlights to the expedition are:
Vehicle – Maruti Swift, 1248 cc
Distance – 5864 kms, Fuel consumption – 335 litres, Mileage – 17.55 kms per litre
Number of States covered – 13, Toll charges – Rs. 4928
Start to finish time – 88 hours 30 minutes, Driving hours – 80 hours 30 minutes
Average speed – 66.26 kmph
Chennai-Mumbai – 1297 kms in 17.01 hours, Mumbai-Delhi – 1422 kms in 22.6 hours
Delhi-Kolkata – 1457 kms in 22.5 hours, Kolkata-Chennai – 1688 kms in 26.8 hours
Best NH on the GQ route – NH5, Best average speed attained – Bangalore to Satara 93 kmph
Number of breaks taken – 5, consuming 8 hours


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