I woke up much later than I had intended to. Sleep deprivation owing to the excitement of the past few days caught up that night in a comfortable bed. When I woke up I was deluged by messages on social media – birthday greetings and overwhelming wishes and prayers for the expedition. I normally respond to each and every message personally. However, with the demands of the expedition on my time I find it more than impossible to respond to the tremendous outpouring of care, concern and good wishes. But I make it a point to read every message. Sadly this morning I had to take a decision that responses will be selective, and only when I find time after the normal chores are dealt with.
Breakfast consisted of Dosa, onion chutney and sambar. The butter-like Dosas melted in the mouth and a big bowl of onion chutney went down with it as an accompaniment. I stopped counting after three of them had been disposed off. I considered it indecent to the self if I did not!
Akash, the IMU student, called last evening to say that his uncle is a special correspondent of The Hindu in Visakhapatnam. He asked if it would be okay if took details for press coverage. I spoke to Santosh Patnaik and requested him to send a questionnaire so that I could respond at leisure. After breakfast I sent the responses and a few photographs. In the meanwhile, Thulasiram had got in touch with Venkat who covered news for Sakshi, the powerful Telugu newspaper. He came to Thulasiram’s home at the appointed time. The interview went on for more than an hour over tea and mango juice. Serious discussion was peppered with light hearted banter. Venkat later told me that the editor had allotted a full page for his story and that it would appear the next day.
After the interview Thulasiram and I rushed to the service station to collect the car before the lunch break. While waiting for the spares an AC mechanic showed me how to change the AC filter, which was the only thing to be attended at 10,000 km. Once the spares were put into the car and payment made I bid farewell to the staff of Neon Motors, who had done a competent job. As soon as we got back to the house Thulasiram helped me to rearrange the luggage. I was stuffed with the heavy breakfast followed by refreshments during the interview. Nandini and Thulasiram would not heed my pleas to skip lunch. Once I sat down to it a plateful of rice and a most delicious dal disappeared in an instant.
Before taking leave of the wonderful and most hospitable couple Thulasiram confirmed accommodation at the NTPC Farakka guest house. The itinerary had been changed, almost at the last minute, and Farakka instead of Kolaghat became the halt location for 15 May. This happened because I was told that the holdup at the Farakka Barrage and thereafter up to Dalkola would be too much to handle if not attempted early in the day. I had suffered between Dalkola and Farakka in September 2015 while returning from the Trans Himalayan expedition. The 25 km stretch between Malda and Farakka had set me back by 5 hours! Therefore, when the change was suggested I readily absorbed it into the itinerary.
Traffic was heavy almost up to Srikakulam, after which it was a smooth drive all the way to Bhubaneswar. The only hold up was at the AP - Odisha border at Ichchapuram. The long queues at both sides of the border called for deft management of the ‘wrong side’ queue. I made it despite a few close calls. While driving into Bhubaneswar I was amazed by the transformation. From one end to the other the large city was connected by a network of flyovers. Traffic flowed smoothly as against the nightmarish experiences of the past. I missed the turn to Hotel La Franklin and had to return a fair distance.
I checked into the relatively new hotel and was shown into a comfortable room. After a light meal of vegetable soup I slept to accommodate the 5 am start the next day. During the day I had done 446 km in 6 hours and 30 minutes on NH5 from Visakhapatnam to Bhubaneswar.