Even when the bags are packed and ready well in time I have to rearrange and repack every 24 hours. And packing is a fetish with me. I guess I got it from my mother. Even inside the car the bags were rearranged many times before I let it be last night. The Champion was looking superb in her new garb. Rahul Jawahar, a Facebook friend from Koyambedu, turned up in Pinewood, House of Hiranandani, to see me off; there was no formal flag off for this expedition. When Rahul announced that it was 4.30 am I set off from the portico of the building, the second expedition to be starting from there; the earlier one was the Trans-Siberian almost a year before. The early morning getaways almost always lead to good average speeds for the day; so it was this day. It took me less than an hour to get to NH5, despite losing my way for a while. The highway was in extremely good condition; when I did the Golden Quadrilateral Expedition in 2013 it was indisputably the best among the quadrilaterals.
The most difficult stretch on the route is the passage through Vijayawada. I was prepared for a 45 minute delay in the transit through the busy city. I thought it was wise on the part of the CM of Andhra Pradesh to have chosen a different city to found the new capital. Vijayawada is crowded and the infrastructure is straining at its seams. The toll gates were another delay point and they were so numerous. After I had started off from Chennai I realized that I did not have a valid pollution certificate. Shortly after passing Vijayawada I noticed a Maruti Omni parked beside the highway announcing it as government approved mobile pollution checking centre. I decided to seek their services. Two youngsters with a laptop and attendant equipment did the job in a trice and gave me a printed certificate and a sticker for Rs. 100.
I was scheduled to stay with Thulasiram Nair, a very old friend in his apartment in KSR Green Valley, near the NSTL establishment. Thulasiram waited at a prearranged location to pilot me to his apartment complex. I had reached the night halt destination by 4.50 pm; distance of 895 kms had been covered in just over 12 hours – without the delays through Vijayawada and tolls, I may have done the distance in 10 hours. Another Facebook friend requested a meeting in Visakhapatnam. Shaiju PV works on a high profile contract in the city and we spent some time in Thulasiram’s house exchanging information. I wanted to fold in a bit early as the next day’s drive would be longer than the one this day. Hence, we decided on early dinner. Nandini, the lovely wife of Thulasiram, was away nursing her mother through an illness. And, their son, Vishnu, is in Delhi preparing for the Civil Services examination.
I suggested either a dosa or biriyani dinner. Thulasiram suggested that we try out the ‘Uluvacharu’ biriyani, which is popular in Krishna District of AP. On the way to the De Cabanas restaurant Thulasiram suggested that we stop over at the Railway stadium to meet the Sr Divisional Personnel Officer, Sakkeer Hussain IRPS, who was also the Sports Officer. I was amazed to find excellent facilities in the indoor stadium for badminton, boxing and table tennis. Railways have also drafted in the services of competent coaches to coach and train. Sakkeer told me that he had been on deputation with the Indian Embassy in Moscow during my drive through that city in 2014 on the way to London. After a hearty meal at the De Cabanas we went to the apartment complex where Srijit Viswanath, my colleague from the DPW days in Cochin, lived. I had fortunately remembered at the nick of time that he had relocated to that city from Mumbai. It was wonderful catching up with an old friend and his family. That rounded up the day’s activities.
Back in Thulasiram’s apartment it was social media time. There is so much work to be done when one travels solo. All done, it was time for the customary short sleep, which would be the feature of the expedition. I normally do not sleep for more than 4 hours in the night during an expedition.