My proclivity to start the day early is a disturbance to my hosts. This day was no different. Thulasi and Nandini insisted on a cup of tea to warm up the insides. I did not refuse the morning offering. In fact, Nandini gave me a flask full of tea for the journey. Thulasi had bought peanuts and figs for the trip. He also gave me a couple of bottles of wine to last the next few days in India! The car looked ready for the longest drive of 875 kms I would be undertaking on the twin expeditions, after its wash the previous night.
I start the day early, between 4 and 5 am, for three reasons. One, the roads are relatively free at that time of the day. Two, it is less tiring driving early in the morning than during the peak morning hours. Three, it helps to get to the next destination faster so that I get quality time there for sightseeing, socialising and documentation. However, the early drive also has a few downsides. Truck traffic is most indisciplined at that time; most of them don’t have lights or fluorescent stickers at the back. I have been lucky to avoid bumping into them at high speed on numerous occasions. Broken down vehicles are left even in the middle of the roads without any warnings boards. Traffic police leave steel barriers on the side of roads unwarned, to restrict speed. Avoiding all these and also motorists coming from the opposite side on the wrong lane need a combination of skills and prayers. The road upto Srikakulam was brilliant. But the above mentioned challenges almost derailed my drive, as I narrowly missed a few trucks and barriers. Such instances reinforce the belief that you are in the prayers of wellwishers and family.Surfacing was the casualty after Srikakulam and road works after Bhubaneswar made progress tardy. Despite all that I reached the second Hoogly bridge after 5 pm. I had arranged to meet with my good friend, Kaushik Nandi, at the exit of the bridge. I have, over the years, valued the affection and support of the family. By 6 pm we reached Garden Reach, headquarters of South Eastern Railway, where I was to halt the night. The room on the third floor of River View officers’ rest house offered brilliant views of the Hoogly river. In a while we were joined by Gopal Mohanty, an integral part of all my expeditions by way of logistics support and emotional motivation. He retired from service as Chief Operations Manager of South Easter Railway.
After scheduling the South East Asian journey I had rung up Gopal Mohanty for assistance with accommodation in Kolkata, Malda and Guwahati. He told me that the date I had planned to be in Kolkata was, coincidentally, the IRTS Day, when a major function was organised in the Belvedere club of Eastern Railway. I was overjoyed for it would provide an opportunity to renew old contacts and meet with former bosses. The function brought together officers of South Eastern and Eastern railways. It was a lovely gathering of stalwarts, young and old, and their families. Unfortunately, I could not stay long as I had an early start once again on the morrow. I carried copies of “Record Drives…” for distribution.
The drive from Visakhapatnam to Kolkata was scheduled in the itinerary as the longest in the twin expeditions. It took nearly 14 hours in transit for 875 kms. I did not stop for any meals en route. It was tea, peanuts, avulose unda and toffees all the way to Kolkata. And, of course, plenty of water. I did pull up a few times to take short rests in between. Whenever I feel sleepy I pull up and rest for about 15 minutes. That is extremely refreshing. These power naps have to be practiced so that you can leverage the best out of them.