About the author: Aloke Ghoshal is the founder of InKind.in (www.inkind.in). InKind.in is a social platform, through which people can donate their spare and excess products to the poor and needy. Aloke can be reached at: alokghoshal[at]gmail[dot]com
What am I talking about? Well, the 1500 odd kms of the Delhi-Kolkata stretch of the golden quadrilateral, which we navigated successfully. The team comprised, a spirited 50 year old mother of two grown-ups, a bihari-nepali-bengali (raaz, the mystery, about his hometown continues to haunt us still) driver & yours truly (a-quit-my-job-to-be-an-entrepreneur type engineer)!
Oh, almost forgot the hero of this story – the car of the year (at least that’s what the sticker on the rear window says it was once) – a jet black coloured i10 (Era 1.1 litre petrol)!
We did some little planning for the journey in advance. The obvious ones really, but the list might still seem long:
– Checked the car engine, oils, battery, tyre pressures, and water and of course tanked-up on petrol (26.15 litres).
– Placed the original car papers in the dashboard (since normally there’s only attested photo-copies in there).
– Shopped for snacks for the way. Also, packed some aalo-ki-sabzi, roti & boiled eggs for the journey.
– Took two printouts (so that there’s scope to loose one but without loosing the cheer) of the route map & major landmarks/ cities marked out.
– Confirmed our bookings at Allahabad & Varanasi.
– Stuffed in the suitcase and the carton and the blue bag and the red bag and the multi-coloured bag and the this and the that, into the car’s dickey (why is it called the boot?) a night before. And yes, since we had a lot of luggage, half of the passenger seat had to be reserved for luggage as well!
Stretch: Delhi to Allahabad
Distance: 650 Kms
Drive Time: 6 am to 4.30 pm
No. of Stop Overs: 2 for food, 1 for fuel
Max Speed: 140 Kmph
Mileage: 16 Kmpl
With all that ground work done, we were feeling pretty excited about our adventure. Woke up early in the morning and managed to head out before 6 which allowed us to cross the Faridabad-Mathura stretch much before it got all jammed. We were initially a little apprehensive about our new driver, whom we had only known through a trusted reference, so let him drive first. It was very reassuring to find the driver to be a safe driver, who wasn’t trying to over speed or go zigzagging through the traffic. All in all, it was a time of festivities with Id and Ganesh Chaturthi, and we had had a good beginning to our journey!
The i10 had a smooth run. We were able to cross Agra by about 9.30. A little later, after having done some 250 odd kms, we took our first stop over somewhere on the Agra – Etawah stretch. We had a hearty breakfast with aaalo-ki-sabzi, roti, tea and lassi. We were in a good mood and the food seemed to disappear off the plates within minutes. We set off from the dhaba around 10.30 feeling refreshed.
The drive from here on got better. The quality of the roads improved. At the same time, the traffic volumes reduced, with very few vehicles to be seen anywhere. After another hour and a half’s drive, I decided to take my place at the wheel. Few minutes later in I decided to push the i10 and drive it past 120 kmph, occasionally touching 140! The car ran as smoothly as ever with not a single rattle or complaint.
At some point along the way we tanked up on fuel again. Realized there was a 4 plus rupee difference in rates between Delhi and UP. Read somewhere there’s also a difference in the quality of fuel, but don’t know how to gauge that.
Anyway, we got 25.5 litres of fuel in to the tank and then let the mileage calculators in our heads run wild. We had done some 415 odd kilometers and consumed 26 litres petrol, so the car was averaging at a reasonable 16 km per litre.
By 1.45 pm we touched Kanpur. Since we were not very hungry, we ate some sandwiches and continued driving. Our next stop was the last one for the day, at Allahabad. We got there around 4.30 in the evening. Since it was still early evening we decided to head straight to the banks of the Ganges. We were told that the very auspicious Ganga aarti takes place every evening at 6.30. And though tired, we decided to stay back for it.
The aarti turned out to be quite an exquisite affair. Just before the aarti a swarm of people reached the banks. There was music played through loud speakers, and mantras being chanted in the background as everyone joined in to the pray. While some swimmers swam across to a raised platform in the middle of nowhere, on the lap of the river, to light lamps in a very synchronized manner. An audio visual treat for the spiritually bent!
Allahabad, as you probably know, is the city of sangam – the meeting spot of the three rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. Sangam is a must visit for tourists and we had decided to spend a day here. So we reached our guest house and hit the bed. The one reassuring thought before falling asleep was that day two would be much lighter.
Stretch: Allahabad to Varanasi
Distance: 130 Kms
Drive Time: 4.30 pm to 7 pm
No. of Stop Overs: 0
Max Speed: 70 Kmph
Next morning we woke up rather late. Around noon were back on the river bank and took a boat ride to the sangam spot. Though, much to my disappointment, there was nothing to be seen there, except for priests conning hapless devotees, a typical of religious tourist centres. Due to the rains rivers Ganga and Yamuna were identical in colour, whereas Saraswati is anyway not to be seen any more. Those who wish to see the blue of the Yamuna, meet the white of the Ganga need to go there in January, we were told.
On the way back, I huffed and puffed about the futility of coming here and more about the fact that we had dished out some 500 plus rupees to those priests in the name of faith. There is the folded-hands mantra, send-recycled-coconuts-down-the-river mantra, and pour-a-glass-of-milk-in-to-the-holy-water mantra. Take your pick early on which one you’d like or else they’ll force you to do all.
Interestingly enough, the priest offered to give us back the right change in currency notes of 50s and 100s, since we were carrying bigger denominations. The boatman also pitched in with help in case there was still more needed. All in all, they run it like one well oiled enterprise!
Once back on terra-firma, I started to feel better. The breezy boat ride had had a soothing effect on my irate nerves. We then went hunting down the Srivastava’s of Allahabad. Well, not just any Srivastava, but the most famous one them all, Amitabh Srivastava, more popularly Amitabh Bacchan!
Some little birdie told us that Amitabh’s uncles still live in their ancestral property in Allahabad, and run a school from that place. So off we went asking around, much to the amusement of the locals, ‘Amitabh ka ghar kahan hain? Kaun Amitabh? Amitabh Bacchan aur kaun?’
We finally tracked down the house in a narrow run down lane (near some Jamuna college). Now I somehow know better, what this kid must have felt at the chance to get close to Amitabh
From there we headed back to the guest house, cleared off our dues and started for Varanasi by about 4.30 pm. This leg of the NH2 is pretty congested. You can barely go some 200 metres before having to slow down. It is also very narrow and without a divider on the road, one has to be careful. Luckily for us, our journey on day 2 was short. We reached Varanasi around 7 and headed straight for the famous Kashi Vishwanath temple.
One of our concerns was where to park the car. Parking in most urban cities is a tedious exercise these days. Luckily the i10 is of an ideal size. It is easy to manoeuvre as well as park the car even in narrow spaces. We managed to find some space in an underground parking near the temple.
After finishing with the temple rounds, we ate dinner and then reached our guest house pretty late. We had to wake up the attendant and have him arrange the room for us. For security reasons, we were advised against travelling at night. And except for this one occasion, which was anyway within the city limits, we have stuck to that advise well.
The room at the ISKCON guest house in Varanasi was far better than that in Allahabad. Sadly though, we were to stay here for just for a couple of hours.
Stretch: Allahabad to Varanasi
Distance: 690 Kms
Drive Time: 6.15 am to 9.15 pm
No. of Stop overs: 3 for food, 2 for fuel, 1 for drop off
Max Speed: 140 Kmph
We again started the last day’s journey early. Aim was to get out of the city limits as soon as possible. But that didn’t happen as we got lost within the by-lanes of Varanasi and wasted some 45 minutes just to reach the highway. Things started to look up once we got on to the highway and had crossed over to Bihar and past the city of Mohania.
The roads were once again widening up and more importantly the landscape was the prettiest that we had seen so far. Long wide roads spanning out for miles, with greenery all over, hills in the background and the early morning sun for a perfect setting.
Around 9.30 we stopped over for breakfast at a dhaba. We got parathas of all kinds there, some egg curry and good tea to go with all that. At the dhaba we also booked the driver a return ticket for Delhi from Howrah for the same evening. We felt it would be a little tight getting to Howrah by 8 pm, but then again we always had the option of dropping him off at Asansol, which the same train crosses at 11 pm.
We crossed all kinds of cities some known like Aurangabad and other less popular like Madnpur, Dobbhi, Barachatti, Hazaribagh and so on. The scenic landscape carried on all through and the i10 happily revved along.
The driver was back at the wheels and by now lost his apprehension of crossing the 120 kmph mark. He did this now pretty frequently, possibly because he was keen on seeing Kolkata as well. But that wasn’t to be.
There was news about heavy rains in the east, but so far we hadn’t seen any of it until we were somewhere close to the Bihar-Jharkhand border. This was a heavy downpour. Even though the i10’s tread is good, the roads were getting slippery and we had to be a lot more careful and drive slow.
The rains continued for a good 200 kms. By the time we crossed over to Bengal and reached Asansol, it was almost 4.30 pm. Since it would be difficult to make it to Kolkata in less than 4 hours from there, we took the hard call of having to drop our third companion off at the Asansol.
After dropping him off at the railway station, we set out to accomplish the last leg of our journey up to Kolkata. Post Durgapur the road conditions became horrible. There were large pot holes, and worse still, miles and miles of trucks parked across two or three lanes of the road. It was a complete mess with poor traffic management. These last 150 kms were the most painful of the entire journey so far, and we were really inching towards our destination. Finally, we entered Kolkata as late as 9 pm.
In retrospect, we had a very memorable road trip. Despite all the apprehensions about rains, road conditions and security, we managed to complete our maiden journey through this stretch rather well. To a large extent the credit is due to the i10 – our most reliable and silent companion through this entire stretch who ensured that we had a very comfortable journey. So get ready i10, we have three more quarters to cover!