The space taken up by the luggage surprised me as I started loading the car on 15th evening. It was also a mix of voluminous and heavy pieces. The oxygen cylinders were heavy and could ‘jump’ around while the fuel cans were bulky and light. During the drive from Cochin to Bangalore the luggage shifted quite a bit causing discomfort. Therefore, it had to be rearranged. I took out most of it and reorganized it; those that were needed after Nepal were tucked deep in. Miraculously I managed a tight fit – the luggage remained ‘in tact’ through the drive today.
Bangalore Mirror had sought an appointment to cover the journey. Thinking of an 8 am getaway I had asked the reporter to come to the hotel at 7.15 am. Aby John and Vipin, Fb friends, also wanted to come around and spend some time with us. Lal’s friends dropped in. Shibu Verghese and his wife, Smitha, (HVK Forum) came by too. Photography sessions were many. Despite the best of intentions we could leave the hotel only after 10.30 am. Breakfast had been done. But that almost fully digested in the busy Bangalore traffic; woes were compounded by missing a flyover and getting caught by traffic cops for alleged overspeeding. Baiju was at the wheel and we were conscious of the fact that the toll gate near the airport is a vulnerable location. The speed was under the prescribed 80 kmph and yet we were waived down. I made a big scene with the cops and insisted on either speaking to the Commissioner of Police or being arrested. The cops were not interested in both. Their recording showed that we were driving at 90 kmph! When I challenged the calibration they pointed to the certificate of calibration displayed prominently under the camera. It was blatantly wrong. Another fact is that they were on the prowl primarily for vehicles from outside the state; those that would not challenge them. I threatened to get the Press involved. After arguing for many minutes we walked back to the car, when one of the cops came and enquired of the branded car and our objective. When they were explained he wished us Bon Voyage and send us on our way. We were able to motor along comfortably on the Hyderabad highway only by noon.
All through the drive fans of Lal and friends were phoning in. Media wanted a slice of the action too. Asianet will be covering the journey through the 75 days with live footage and stills. Time had to be found to shoot and deliver that too. Activity on Fb was going viral. Friends requests, comments and mails poured in. After a while I found it impossible to make individual responses to comments and mails.
Accommodation was arranged through batchmates in Railway Officers’ Rest Houses (ORH) in Hyderabad, Nagpur and Chhatarpur, where we would be staying for the next four days. During the drive from Cochin, Baiju had a light cough and fever. He attributed it to tonsillitis. However, on the way to Hyderabad his condition worsened and by the time we were half way through medical was considered necessary.
Before seeing us off in Bangalore Shibu had suggested that we carry jump start cables. Lal also wanted SD cards for the GoPro cameras. Shibu, through the network of HVK, arranged to get them delivered to us in Hyderabad. Contact details were given to us. Sreekanth, the contact in Hyderabad, was in constant touch. We had a surprise caller in Md Abdul Kaleem. He suggested that we have dinner together. Baiju’s condition was not such that we could accept the gracious offer. However, he offered to take us to a hospital. Sreekanth, after delivering the cables and the cards, piloted us to the meeting point with Kaleem. The sprightly 70 year old on his bike took our breath away. The ex-army man gave precise directions and guided us expertly to the hospital in Begumpet. He stood by Baiju’s side as he was examined by the night duty doctor and medicines were prescribed. An intravenous dose of medication was administered and Baiju felt better almost instantaneously. The doctor prescribed antibiotics, cough syrup and antacids. He also suggested that in case either Lal or I start cough we should immediately start the prescribed dose of medicines.
Close to the KIMS hospital was the Bowl of China, where we decided to have dinner. Over sweet corn chicken soup and fried rice we listened in wonder to the exploits of Kaleem. He had recently travelled 30,000 kilometers on his bike all over India for 119 days! He also told us that all his four children were comfortably settled abroad and his wife had migrated to the US. He had all the time to indulge his passion for travel, he said.
Kaleem insisted on taking us to the Railway ORH. We were tired by the time we reached the rest house. We let Baiju have a room to himself. Before hitting the sack we agreed on leaving by 8 am. Of course, Kaleem insisted on being there and taking us out of the city and pointing us on to the highway. However, before we turned in we got feedback from folks in the HVK Forum about the road condition from Nagpur to Chhatarpur. I decided to tackle that the next day.