Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A ‘Swift’ Travel on the Golden Quadrilateral – 8th to 11th June 2013

“Tourists don't know where they've been, travelers don't know where they're going.”  Paul Theroux

Diabetes and Blood Pressure are diseases that do not afford you much latitude in terms of diet and medication; any negligence of either or both is fraught with serious consequences. Since late 2010 I have been on medication for a host of ailments and the 9 tablets had to be taken without fail so as not to upset the medical balance that had been stretched thin over many years of wanton use of the body and its capabilities. Ummachan suggested a trip to the Bishop Kurialasserry Nature Cure and Yoga Centre at Idayirikkapuzha, near Changanacherry/Kottayam, Kerala. He had benefited from the ‘treatment’ there a few months back for a bad back; in the process he had also shed a few unwanted ‘bags’ around his waist. When I got back from the Coast-to-Coast and East-West drives in early February Ummachan asked me if he could book us both in for 6 days into the Centre in March. I agreed to be ‘billetted’ in the Centre for a week in early March and accordingly I reached the Center late on 3rd March. Dr. Sr. Jyothi, the Doctor in charge of the Centre, reviewed my condition late in the night and suggested that I undergo a 15 day course at the Centre. An inner voice got me to agree to the suggestion and I was scheduled for a 15 day treatment course. Since that morning I had also stopped the medicines I had been having for Diabetes, BP and Reflux. I mentioned this to the Doctor, who was more in favor of it being gradually tapered; I went ahead for the drastic action, nevertheless. Ummachan and I settled comfortably into the spacious double room, which had an attached bathroom and toilet. A couple of youngsters from Cochin had ‘checked in’ too – they were hilarious company throughout the stay and became good friends too. The ‘dinner’ on 3rd, when the treatment had not officially begun, set the tone for the rest of the stay at the Centre. We were expected to have only drinking water from the mud pot in the room. Dinner consisted to a few table spoons of thick porridge accompanied by specks of ‘thoran’. When I ‘encountered’ the dinner I knew that I would either collapse in the Centre or go back in ship shape; what happened over the next fortnight was nothing short of a miracle, as far as I was concerned. In the first four days I dropped 7 kgs and felt fitter. Within the week the Blood Sugar readings showed normal and so did the BP. I did not have any problem with my digestion and the Reflux issues were nightmares of the past. Within another week my shape changed and I sensed as if a sculptor had worked on my body. The look of 32 weeks of pregnancy vanished – I could look forward to taking my expectant daughter to the hospital without being asked who the patient is! The treatment at the Centre starts with Yoga early in the morning, a brisk walk for an hour thereafter, physiotherapy sessions, mud packs, a vigorous 60 minute massage, a steam or mud bath and many glasses of nutritious drinks made of gooseberry, watermelon, papaya, lime, ash gourd, etc. I discovered that a glass of Ash Gourd juice is a recipe for all round health and a panacea for Reflux. Solid food and salad were limited, but extremely tasty and nutritious. The 15 day stay also gave me an opportunity to hear mass daily at the local church and be part of the evening prayers in the chapel at the Centre. The three Sisters at the Centre were great company and it turned out that the Mother Superior, Sr. Modesta, had taught in Nirmala Bhavan and was my sister’s class teacher, where I had studied for a couple of years too. All in all, the experience brought about a life style change in me and I wished to continue with it. Most importantly, I considered the experience His gift, for I was completely rid of my physical problems and I had become more active. This change helped me considerably in setting the new record for the Golden Quadrilateral Expedition. I did not feel tired or soporific during the entire drive and it was only on account of the changed physical condition. It helped me go on for long hours – in fact on the first day of the drive I drove continuously for more than 22 hours and stopped only because I thought that the car deserved a rest!

Therefore, the aches and pains during the drive were limited to just that of the lower body due to long hours of squatting. At the conclusion of the drive the legs felt leaden and were swollen. In fact, when I met Ajay, Anita and Joe at Millers46 for dinner my legs almost gave way. I could not balance properly. Early on the fourth day of the drive I fell to the ground when I got out of the car to relieve myself. The legs could only react to vibrating pedals – I could feel the throb even when the engine was cut. The swelling vanished after a night in bed. Most importantly, the sense of achievement pales into the background every discomfort. After the expedition the biggest discomfort was the pain in the rectum. The many hours of sitting behind the wheel must have generated so much of heat that the sight of a toilet or the urge to do the big job was mentally searing. Food which consisted mainly of dry fruits and nuts must have added to the ‘internal combustion’. I did not have cooked meals during the entire duration of the drive.

The wonderful meal at Millers, the excellent company of Anita, Joe and Ajay, the tremendous sense of fulfillment, the ‘gift’ of Peated Amrut Single Malt by Anita and Joe; all sealed the action packed four days. The planning had paid off yet again and another record was in the bag.

“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I see.” Benjamin Disraeli

A ‘Swift’ Travel on the Golden Quadrilateral – 8th to 11th June 2013

 “Never go on trips with anyone you do not love” Ernest Hemingway 

I mentioned in the earlier part of this essay that I had genuine apprehensions about how the Swift would measure up against the need to be extremely swift to beat the challenging existing record. Her performance during the tough drive made me feel guilty about having harbored any misgivings about her capability. Not only was she ever ready to go the extra mile whenever required but also remained absolutely trouble free throughout the trip. Had it not been for the fatigue that crept over me in the latter part of the drive the Swift would have helped me conclude the drive earlier than I finally did.

Prior to the drive I had not pushed the Swift to her limits of speed. However, during the GQ drive I had to, for time was in short supply. While saying this I clarify that driving to set records is not just all about driving fast, it is about driving responsibly fast. Therefore, a critical element of this ‘road’ philosophy is that you respect the road and the condition of it as it exists. Many times you find drivers haring down absolutely bad stretches of road in total disregard of the road condition. Often it leads to either grief for themselves or for other road users. Safe and sensible driving also ensures that the car remains trouble free. The Swift remained a beauty on the 100-120 kmph bandwidth; when pushed over I detected possible resistance and slight, ever so slight but discernible, wobbling. For the first time I coaxed her to 160 kmph, albeit over a short and straight stretch and found her holding her own against some other fancy co-users on that stretch, including a BMW.

One of the main positives of the Swift is its mileage. On long distance drives it normally gives me over 19 kilometers to a litre. I was not so sure if the fast jaunt on the GQ would afford me such enhanced mileage. The ‘over speed’ would burn up more fuel than normal and give me considerably lesser mileage, I envisaged. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised that the 80.5 hours on the road for the 5846 kilometer returned more than 18 kilometers to the litre. And, it was despite skipping a major service. The excellent mileage saved me some hard earned sponsorship.

A ‘Swift’ Travel on the Golden Quadrilateral – 8th to 11th June 2013

“It is not fit that every man should travel; it makes a wise man better, and a fool worse.” William Hazlitt

I had marked a place on the Tumkur highway as the start point of ‘Mission Impossible’. I checked out just after 3 am and got the first entry done on the log sheet. It was 3.35 am on 8th June 2013 when I set out from the start point. Every minute would be crucial and hence, there was no time to give away. The check points en route are laid down by LBR – that sets the route too. Traffic at that time of the day was sparse and the Bangalore to Satara distance of 720 kms was done in 7 hours and a half at an average speed of 93 kms, which turned out to be the best sector in the entire drive. In many ways this momentum set the tone for the entire expedition. Even though the road condition from Satara to Pune is good, I lost a lot of time due to congestion on the approach to and exit of the tunnel on the Khambatki ghat section. I came to know later that I escaped the worst as it got progressively worse as the day wore on. Pune passed by just before 1 pm and I got on to the Pune Mumbai Expressway. I drove through Panvel in less than 75 minutes from Pune. My cousin, George, had given me the exact location to get off the Expressway and move via Navi Mumbai into Mumbai ‘area’. It was tricky navigating from NH7 to NH8 via NH3. It was a cakewalk this time for George was at hand to pilot me expertly through the burgeoning traffic – it was he who had suggested that I should try and get through Mumbai before 6 pm. George’s friend, Binson, as well as George’s family waited on the Godhbandar Road at a pre-appointed location. No time was wasted in the certification and family talk. In less than 45 minutes Mumbai was behind me – I passed through Manor at 4.15 pm, completing the first 1000 kms of the expedition in less than 13 hours. At the time of framing the first day schedule I had targeted Ahmedabad as the last check point for the day. When I drove through Surat at 6.30 pm and Vadodara at 8.30 pm I decided to stretch the day. The body and mind was in good condition too. The Vadodara-Ahmedabad Expressway is a flier and that added to the motivation. Ahmedabad was bypassed at 9.45 pm and I set my sights for Udaipur. The Navfree Application helped me get in and out of major cities efficiently. I bypassed Udaipur just after 1 am. By 1.30 am I stopped at a fuel station en route to Chittorgarh to tank up – 1750 kms in 22 hours; a wonderful start to the expedition. I requested permission from the personnel at the fuel station to park and rest for a while. They showed me a location which I could utilize. It was not that the body and mind had tired; I was more concerned for the car as she had been revving for nearly 22 hours at a stretch.

The rest proved to be restive; I twisted and turned for more than an hour and decided that I was wasting time. After use of the toilet at the station I wiped myself down with wet wipes and changed into fresh clothes. I felt energized and refreshed. Short of 4 pm I started on the second day of the expedition. Since I had added over 250 kms to the target of the first day I was confident of reaching Varanasi by the end of day 2. It went pretty much to schedule; Chittorgarh at 5 am, Jaipur nearing 8.30 am, Gurgaon at noon, Delhi at a half past, Agra just before 4 pm ( I missed the new Noida-Agra Expressway), Etawah at 4.30 pm, Kanpur at 7.30 pm and Allahabad at 10.15 pm brought me on the Varanasi bypass just after midnight. This meant that I had covered nearly 1500 kms in 21.5 hours. The halfway mark of the expedition was crossed between Kanpur and Allahabad. Close to the Bihar border I decided to take a break; it was nearly 2 am. I found another friendly fuel station and rested for slightly over an hour. By now, the legs were getting a bit groggy due to the constant squat. I had been liberally dipping into the food supplies and keeping myself properly hydrated. The legs felt leaden when I got down from the car for the bio breaks, which were also stretched as much as possible to get more ‘productive’ time behind the wheel.

A couple of hours I managed to rest before wiping down and changed into a fresh set of clothes. Barely had I driven 15 minutes and I experienced the first of the many near misses I had from then on; this was the scariest of them all. I was merrily speeding on the NH2 with the intention of being through Kolkata before noon. It was pitch dark and there were no vehicles on the road. Then a row of trucks seemed to be parked on both sides of the road, which I found strange. I observed this without any let up on the pedal, almost fatally. On instinct I switched to high beam and panicked – a tanker truck was stationary in my path just about 50 meters ahead and I was ‘cruising’ at over 100 kmph. I virtually stood on the brake and felt the car losing steam, but only gradually. I released the brake and slammed it with all my might once again. I could not swerve either right or left as heavy vehicles were parked all along. The car came to a stop just a nano-millimeter short of the tanker. I sat in the car for a couple of minutes to give thanks to Him and to Our Lady who saved me from sure death. As I inched forward behind the tanker I realized that it was the congestion at Naubatpur border post. It seemed that the day was reserved for such experiences. Another close call happened near Balasore when a youngster on a bike decided to cut across the width of the highway to ‘chat’ with his friends on another bike! Even though I had the brakes under control I missed the biker by the narrowest whisker. He apologized profusely but may not have appreciated how close he was to meeting his Maker. There were many more incidents, but of a less threatening nature all through the drive. While the nation invests heavily in hardware – namely, roads – there is hardly any effort to educate and refocus the road user – namely, on the software. The poor road use and inadequate road infrastructure is a lethal combination. It is hardly ever that accidents are caused by speed alone. It is always in combination with either poorly maintained road infrastructure or negligent use of the infrastructure. To my mind, NHAI and the Ministry should spend more effort and funds on education and enforcement. But, education first – education should start with a revamp of the process of getting a license to maintenance of proper infrastructure to deterrence of poor road use. No one should be above the standards set by the State. We talk of inclusive growth, but, sadly, this does not apply to enforcement of road rules and tolls – the creamy layer feels that it is below their dignity to submit to the rule of law.

Via Asansol and Burdhaman I reached the Vidyasagar Sethu almost a half hour to noon. The heavens opened up as I was nearing Kolkata. The downpour was so heavy that vehicles were soon stranded along the way. Even the bridge had its fair share of water logging. I cut across from Howrah to Kolkata using the Sethu bridge and returned to hit the route to the last metro city on the GQ route. Just out of the Kona Expressway there was a traffic diversion that caused me time getting to Balasore. However, by 6 pm I was in sight of Bhubaneswar. I crossed from Orissa to Andhra Pradesh at Ichchapuram by 9.15 pm. The NH5 turned out to be the best among all I had traversed during the expedition.

As I was nearing Srikakulam, Thulasi Ram Nair, my friend, contacted me to know my progress and to assess when I would get to Visakhapatnam. I had planned to drop in at his place to freshen up and catch the proverbial forty winks before hitting the highway for the last stretch. However, after the call I stopped for a bio break and felt extremely tired. I thought that a power nap was in order. Fatigue made the break last beyond a short power nap – I slept for almost 90 minutes and felt terribly guilty for I was keeping a family waiting for me. I washed my face and stepped on the gas. Thulasi and his family met me almost 50 kms short of Visakhapatnam at the toll gate. I followed them to their flat, which was just a short distance off the highway. Thulasi insisted that I should have a bath. I was vary for I knew that it would relax me further and make me sleepy. In the end I decided on a proper bath and set out with food replenishments and a few cans of Red Bull.

Out on the highway I consumed a can of Red Bull to make sure that any mental demand to pull up for a nap would be subsumed. That’s not exactly what happened. I got into Tuni at about 3.45 am and felt an overwhelming need to nap again. I pulled up near a small tea shop and set the alarm to wake up in 20 minutes. I woke up 90 minutes later! I panicked. I had unnecessarily put pressure on the last lap. After that the driving assumed maniacal proportions. I refused to brook any opposition on the road – I had a highly satisfying ‘race’ with an energetic BMW. But, my Swift turned out to be swifter and I ‘beat’ the BMW in the end. It also saved me a lot of time, for the BMW virtually became my pace setter. I bypassed Chennai by half past 2 pm. On the way I had whizzed past Vijayawada, Guntur, Ongole, Nellore and Gudur.

I had just another 330 kms to complete the expedition. To do so with a new record timing I had to get to Bangalore before 3.35 am. Theoretically, that was plenty of time. As I always feel close to an achievement, I started thinking of all that could go wrong to rob me of my just desserts. I turned on the music loud to drown the negative voices that were bleating in my brain. I bypassed Krishnagiri at 6.40 pm after coursing through Kanchipuram and Walajahpet. I was just 80 kms short of Electronics City, Bangalore. Adrenaline was pitching and elation mixed with pride of achievement started its journey through the nervous system.
I got across Attibele, the border post to Karnataka and drove into the Electronics City by 7.50 pm on 11th June 2013. The expedition was over and the existing record had been handsomely effaced by 8%. I had completed the Golden Quadrilateral Expedition in a new timing of 88 hours and 30 minutes, counting from start to finish. Some of the highlights to the expedition are:
Vehicle – Maruti Swift, 1248 cc
Distance – 5864 kms, Fuel consumption – 335 litres, Mileage – 17.55 kms per litre
Number of States covered – 13, Toll charges – Rs. 4928
Start to finish time – 88 hours 30 minutes, Driving hours – 80 hours 30 minutes
Average speed – 66.26 kmph
Chennai-Mumbai – 1297 kms in 17.01 hours, Mumbai-Delhi – 1422 kms in 22.6 hours
Delhi-Kolkata – 1457 kms in 22.5 hours, Kolkata-Chennai – 1688 kms in 26.8 hours
Best NH on the GQ route – NH5, Best average speed attained – Bangalore to Satara 93 kmph
Number of breaks taken – 5, consuming 8 hours

A ‘Swift’ Travel on the Golden Quadrilateral – 8th to 11th June 2013

"When the traveler goes alone he gets acquainted with himself." Liberty Hyde Bailey

The sun rose in its usual sunny way on the 6th of June – finally it was time for me to get going. Satheesh, my brother, Eapen and Gopi (my friends) came in time to ‘flag off’ the Champion (car) at 7.45 am from Alfa Serene, my dwelling in Cochin. I had an important appointment in Bangalore – it was Anita’s birthday. In advance we had decided to meet over dinner. That was the only urgency to make haste to Bangalore. Otherwise, it was a leisurely drive and I was most relaxed behind the wheel. The road, as usual, was bad and indifferent between Trichur and Coimbatore – the Tamil Nadu portion because of the on-going capacity augmentation works, which is acceptable. The stretch between Mannuthy and Wadakkancherry is in perennially bad shape. Some time one wonders if the roads are bituminized to ensure that it comes off faster than it takes to put it in place! And, the strangest part of road resurfacing is that most of the work is done just prior to the monsoon rains; in most cases, the work is left unfinished as the rains set in. to top it all, despite the poor condition of the road nobody steps in to stop the realization of tolls. There are innumerable Public Interest Litigation cases these days, but none seem to have addressed this ‘extortionist’ activity.

As I was nearing Bangalore Anita rang up to say that we would meet at her place for the ‘birthday celebration’. She said that her brothers, George and Shaji, would be there too. Arrangements had been made for my stay in the Railway Officers’ Rest House on the 6th. As I was settling in Ajay came to the ORH. After a brief rest and a wash we set out for Anita’s house on Sarjapura Road. The Navfree App helped us get there without too many glitches; rush hour traffic certainly delayed us. By the time we reached there everyone had settled down with there choice of beverage and short eats – there were Single Malts and other beverages to choose from. The star of the collection was the Single Malt from the Amrut stable – it has been adjudged one of the finest in the world by connoisseurs of spirit and alcohol. The short eats were delicious, particularly the kebabs, pork jerky and sausages. Conversation centered on the GQ drive and the captains of industry and business. The verbal fact sheets on Indian and Global business leaders provided by George, Joe and Shaji were illuminating, to say the least. The dining table was stretched to capacity with vegetarian and non-vegetarian items ranging from prawns to chicken and much more. I could barely stand to sing the ‘Happy Birthday To You’ song for Anita with all the ingested food. And then the rich cakes followed. By this time I was ‘high’ not from the alcohol, but all the calories. All the restraint I had placed on the diet since my fortnight stay at the Nature Cure Centre vanished in a trice. The party broke up shortly thereafter and Ajay and I headed back to the ORH for a good night’s sleep. Fortunately the road was freer at that time of the night and we got back to the ORH faster than we had got to Anita’s house.

After the usual breakfast of idlis and vada at the Sree Krishna CafĂ© the next morning, Ajay left for his hostel. I was to meet the owner of an educational institution in Bangalore to explore the possibility of a professional engagement. Despite considerable traffic hassles I reached the appointed venue ahead of the hour decided on. I waited and waited (was told that the person was with his Doctor). After a while he walked in and was told by his Secretary that I had been waiting for some time. Through the Secretary I was informed that I would have to wait some more to meet with him. I have a fetish for time and it infuriates me when appointed times are not kept. I expect that we respect each other’s time. It is a matter of discipline and dignity of the individual. I walked out after informing the Secretary that I have no time further for people who cannot meet their scheduled meetings. I considered that as an opportunity to assess the environment. I refused to take the person’s calls any more.

After that unpleasant exchange I decided to check into the hotel in Yeshwantapur, which had been reserved for me. It was a couple of kilometers off the Tumkur highway, within the Bangalore Municipal Corporation limits. The only disadvantage of the location was a railway level crossing gate between the highway and the hotel. I mentally noted that in case it is closed in the morning when I set out it would add to the overall time of the drive. The hotel was very basic in its setout and aesthetics. I had to change two rooms before I found one to my satisfaction. I decided to relax for the rest of the evening and turn in early. I even skipped dinner. I suspect that I was the only occupant of the hotel, for I did not meet anyone else during the 12 hours I was there. Fortunately, I was able to get the car washed by the hotel staff. She looked gleaming and ready after the thorough cleaning. I arranged luggage appropriately inside the car – the food basket, with items in familiar places, was strapped to the front passenger seat, bottles of water within easy reach on the left hand side footrest, camera on the seat, the video recorder and the mobile phone on the windshield, face towel on the hand rest, money for tolls in the appointed slot, an overnighter with change of clothes just behind the driver seat, the log sheets on the passenger seat, the rest of the luggage compactly arranged in the boot and a picture of Our Lady within handholding distance of the steering wheel. I went over the arrangement at least 10 times – for I could not waste any time to stop en route to get any of my requirements, be it food or prayer. Finally, by 7 pm I thought I was ready. I was mentally and physically ready for the arduous 96 hours that lay ahead of me from the next day.

12 June - Whistler to Victoria - Day 39 of TCE

The room in the Pinnacle Hotel had been extremely comfortable. Last evening I was told that the 84 rooms that the property has are almost...