Monday, July 3, 2017

Day 17 - Bangalore to Kanyakumari to Chennai - 12 June 2017

When I started from Keys Hotel, Bangalore at 4 am the destination I had in mind for the day was the fourth corner, Kanyakumari. ORH had been booked in Kanyakumari for the next day and I had to get that advanced by a day. Ashok Kumar, Sr. Divisional Operations Manager of Trivandrum Division came to my rescue. He also arranged for the Station Manager of Kanyakumari railway station to be on standby to attest the log sheet. It was exactly 650 km from the hotel in Bangalore to the railway station in Kanyakumari. Much beyond expectations was covering this part of the journey in 7 hours. When I reached the railway station and got the log sheet attested by the Station Manager just after 11 am, technically all four corners had been covered. But, the Record Drive will be complete only upon reaching Chennai, as the expedition started from there.

If I were to halt in Kanyakumari I had a lot of time to kill in the day. after occupying the ORH I went for a drive to the Gandhi Mandapam at the land’s end to enjoy the beach and the lovely views across the sea. The Vivekananda Rock looked majestic and tourists seemed to have swarmed her despite the not so calm sea. When I visited Kanyakumari on excursion from school I remember having marveled at the three colors of sand one could gather from the beach. All that is past and kids today can’t do that today; the beach itself is an apology.

On the way back to the ORH I had a masala dosa for lunch. Before dozing off to sleep in the ORH I decided to drive to Chennai and complete the expedition this day itself instead of ‘wasting time’ in Kanyakumari. The two hour rest gave me the appropriate fuel to make a dash for the finishing point. At 2.45 pm I signed out of the ORH and left for Chennai – the final part of the FCoI.

I lived a dream during the day with the Champion. She felt so light behind the wheel that it seemed to me that she was raring to be back home. There were many moments of anxiety during the day but, together, we braved them and got to Chennai to complete the tough expedition. It was her show. The second leg of the day from Kanyakumari to Chennai was 685 km in 8 hours and 45 minutes. Reached the end of the expedition at the House of Hiranandani, Chennai at 2330 hours. It was 1334 km in 15 hours and 45 minutes today.

The previous record for solo FCoI of 26 days, 22 hours and 15 minutes (647 hours and 15 minutes) was bettered quite handsomely. 13214 km was done in 16 days and 19 hours (403 hours) to complete the FCoI expedition, thereby shaving almost 40 percent off the existing record. Most definitely, the documents have to be verified and the record certified by Limca Book of Records. When I got back to my apartment, despite the late hour I decided to make up for the nearly three weeks of 'parched' existence with a double shot of Beluga vodka!
FCoI in summary: 13214 kms in 403 hours at 777 kms per day and overall average speed of 57.5 kmph. Total driving hours 299 hours and 15 minutes, which was 57 percent of the start to finish time. Consumed 1000 ltrs of diesel at an average cost of Rs. 59.4 per litre, fuel efficiency per litre was 13.5 km. Travelled through 17 states in 17 days to break the existing record of 647 hours and 15 minutes.

Distance, time taken and average speed for the four corners were as below:
Kanyakumari to Tezu (first corner) – 4108 km, 66 hr 10 mt, 62 kmph
Tezu to Leh (second corner) – 3796 km, 73 hr 20 mt, 52 kmph
Leh to Koteshwar (third corner) – 2624 km, 50 hr 20 mt, 52 kmph
Koteshwar to Kanyakumari (fourth corner) – 2686 km, 39 hr 50 mt, 67 kmph

My heartfelt thanks go out to each one of you who supported, encouraged and egged me on during this tough expedition; it would be unfair to take names because I am certain to leave out many, for that was the kind of all-round assistance, prayers and motivation I received. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Day 16 - Pune to Bangalore - 11 June 2017

I anticipated the day’s drive to be stress free and smooth, as I had done this stretch quite a few times in the past. I also decided to leave later than is usual, at 5 am. Access to the highway NH48 was neither far nor difficult. Normally it is a nightmare to leave a city because of poor sign posting. However, nowadays with the assistance of navigation systems, that problem has been more or less eliminated. I have seen terrible traffic snarls near the Khambatki ghat, a mountain pass through the Sahyadri range on the NH4. Early in the morning the pass is generally free.

The sight of the Suvarna Vidhan Soudha just off the highway near Belgaum made me get out of the car to take in. Apparently the Vidhan Soudha was built at a cost of nearly Rs. 500 crores to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Karnataka formation day. Belgaum district has been in the centre of a border dispute between the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka since long. In order to spike any further dispute the Karnataka Government undertook this extravaganza by acquiring 127 acres of land from farmers. The question uppermost on most minds is: Was it required to bleed the exchequer for one sitting of the Assembly here every year? Is our democracy so devoid of accountability?

I was famished by the time I reached the Kamat Upachar outlet beyond Sira at 3 pm. After fueling at the outlet beside the Upachar I had a leisurely snack of dosa and coffee. It was just another 150 km to the Keys Hotel on the Hosur Road. The transit from NH48 to NH44 via the NICE road was a beauty. The bypass has considerably speeded up the movement from one link to the other. Finally, just before 6 pm I reached the Keys Hotel and was lodged in a comfortable room. The day spanned 882 km in under 12 hours of driving. Rains, sometimes quite heavy, had slowed progress before noon. But the most irritating factor was the 17 toll plazas I had to navigate by shelling out Rs. 1,111 as toll fee. It is not the fee per se that is the irritant; it is suffering serpentine queues and quite often some boorish car owners try to impress the toll clerk with their ID to seek exemption from payment of toll fee. Why anyone should be exempted from payment is beyond comprehension when all those who are exempted, as per the list displayed at toll plazas, are those who are eligible for reimbursement of expenses while on duty. If they are not on duty they must pay. Anyway, the toll plazas must go, in the interest of saving fuel, time and management cost.

However, the more important thing that occupied my mind was that the fourth corner will come up tomorrow when I reach Kanyakumari.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Day 15 - Bhuj to Pune - 10 June 2017

The original plan for the day was to go to Koteshwar and return via Bhuj to halt at Ahmedabad. Since Koteshwar had been done the previous day I thought of extending the drive to Thane, where my cousin lived. Before that, however, I was appointed to meet with Hetal and Rajiv Shah and some of his friends in Surat. The time for the meeting would depend on the progress I made in the morning. Despite the uncertainty I ‘ordered’ Hetal to get me fafda and khaman for a ‘brunch-lunch’.

When I was near the Ahmedabad-Vadodara Expressway I realized that two very good friends and erstwhile railway colleagues lived in Vadodara. RK Tandon is a batch mate. He works in Vadodara post his retirement. Sadly he was out of town, engaged with his grandchildren in Mumbai. JD Goswami, as is his wont, gave me elaborate instructions about where we could meet, while ensuring that I do not waste any time in detours and leaving the highway.  The meeting point was fixed just ahead of Hotel Legend on NH48. The break after almost 6 hours of continuous drive at a half past 10 was most welcome. After exchanging notes about the family and promising to meet in Jorhat for his daughter’s wedding we parted. We also struck a deal to drive together from Vadodara to Hyderabad some time in December.

The next break was in Surat. I reached King’s Corner restaurant just after 12.30 pm. The get together organized by Rajiv Shah was an unusually longish one; the intended half hour stretched to over an hour. Fafda, kaman, jalebis and delicious kesar mangoes adorned the restaurant table. The restaurant opens late evening, but Rajiv took special permission from the owner, who also joined the get together, to bring outside food and have a small meeting there. The highlight of the ‘brunch-lunch’ was an excellent chocolate cake baked by Hetal Shah. I am so grateful to Rajubhai and other friends who joined in.

When I left Surat after 1.45 pm I evaluated the option of driving past Thane to Pune. It was certainly on the cards and I informed my cousin about the change of plans. The crossover from the Western Expressway to Thane via the Fountain Junction cost me over 90 minutes, a distance of about 5 km! The traffic snarl was unbelievable. I am told that it has been so for more than a year now. Moving inch by inch I finally got free at the Fountain junction. Further frustrations awaited me on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.  Poor lane discipline is a ‘virtual’ killer. Dangerous weaving in and out of small openings offered between trucks is an awful way to drive anywhere. The Lonavala ghats was negotiated at 10 kmph, thanks to overloaded, poorly maintained and aged trucks either breaking down or unable to haul, but occupying all three lanes in tandem. It was shameful use of excellent infrastructure.

The day finally ended in the Lemon Tree hotel in Pune, which was frightfully busy due to birthday and reception parties. The receptionist gave me a quiet room, which suited the 17 hour day I had experienced thus far and a drive of 987 km. The roads had been exceptionally good all through with three expressways along the route. The problem was the manner in which the infrastructure was used. However, the gain was that I was a full day ahead of schedule.

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...