Sunday, June 22, 2014

DAY 5 - 20 June 2014; Jhansi to Gorakhpur

After a cup of tea we took to the road for Gorakhpur; we anticipated a 5 pm arrival at the destination given that we had to travel 600 plus kilometers. Lal was fully on the road to recovery too and Baiju was fit to drive again. We decided to search for a dhaba before leaving the city for breakfast. We could not find any; there were any number of medical shops, though! Many dhabas we stopped at later were not open for business. The growls announcing hunger became embarrassing. On the Kanpur highway we finally discovered Feroze Khan and his dhaba. A typical highway dhaba it was, but the owner not so typical. Feroze Khan had an MBA under his belt and spoke English fluently. I ordered aloo paratha and Baiju wanted rotis and aloo subzi. Lal had had a bun and jam in the car and hence stuck to just a cup of tea. The parathas were, as was to be expected, heavy. I was slowly, but surely, gaining weight on the journey. I was tucking into the heavy dhaba food with gusto.

The road from Jhansi to Kanpur was tricky and dangerous for top speed. Large stretches were deeply grooved by movement of trucks. Poor construction and maintenance of highways call for naming them ‘NS - National Shames’ rather than ‘NH - National Highways’. It is time that the NHAI is proceeded against legally for they flout all safety norms and do not believe in even forewarning road users of temporary diversions. Add to that crass indiscipline where tractors, two wheelers and even buses come at you in the wrong lane the recipe for disasters is complete. The chaos and congestion caused by construction of flyovers further impeded our progress through Kanpur. The road to Lucknow thereafter was slightly better. It was only after Lucknow that we got a decently laid out road. On the way we stopped at a couple of places to buy Langda mangoes and Jamun. Both were mouthwateringly good. Then we made good time to Gorakhpur.

Ankur Singh, a Fb friend, had got in touch with me the previous evening. He had expressed a desire to meet the team in Lucknow. He called again the morning and kept on monitoring our progress. At a point he suggested that we have lunch at ‘Dastarkwan’; one of the best places for authentic Lucknowi food. I was tempted a great deal to accept the invitation but had to refuse on account of the diversion from the highway. However, Ankur was persistent. He roped in his cousin Shailendra Saxena to persuade me to stop over at the Break Point Dhaba on the Faizabad Road. I acceded once I was convinced that the suggested meeting point was en route to Gorakhpur involving no diversion. Ankur and his friends met us on the way and piloted us to the dhaba. They braved heavy traffic to photograph and videograph the drive to the dhaba; it caused much mirth among other road users. We had a relatively relaxed lunch at the Break Point Dhaba where we got more familiar with the four youngsters, Ankur Singh (doing BTech in Civil), Namit Singh (preparing for UPSC exams), Arpit Verma (9th standard) and Shailendra Saxena (working in Their hospitality, respect and warmth kept us in their company longer than we had intended. Outstanding matka kulfi rounded up the lunch meet after more than an hour.

Accommodation had been arranged in the Old VIP ORH. Arvind, as is his wont, had given me detailed directions to reach the ORH. And, as is my wont, I still managed to chase my own tail for some time before driving into the ORH. We were in for a major surprise; flashbulbs went off in quick succession and videos were taken. There was a large posse of media personnel waiting for us to arrive. The Press Meet had been set up by Arvind too. The interaction went on for quite some time and was lively thanks to Pande of inext newspaper. Just as in Jhansi it was a challenge speaking to the vernacular press. But, mercifully, unlike in Jhansi no one asked us where Kochi is situated!

Over a sumptuous dinner, after Arvind had visited and spent time with us, we detailed plans for the morrow. Topping the list was the visit to the Ford service station to check the intermittent lighting up of the warning light. The next was to collect the passports that had been dispatched by special messenger by Mirus from Delhi. Left over time would be utilised for some local sightseeing, we decided. Late at night the inext team called up to ask if they could come for another shoot for their online portal. I agreed to meet with them at 8.30 am the next day.

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