When we were checking out from Pune I was immediately worried that we had overslept. As Aadi was struggling with the impossibly thick receptionists I saw a world outside flush with light akin to daylight. As the yawns faded away I was glad that it was just streetlights. I guess the dread of driving through Mumbai city was playing tricks on my mind. After the mayhem of entering Pune it was a relaxed exit out of Pune and on through the Mumbai Pune Expressway.
As part of trip preparations one of the crucial tasks I had set for myself was to revamp my music playlist. I am not really imaginative when it comes to music, shocking as I know it would be to people who know my musician mother, so I have had more or less the same playlist for the past decade. But I figured on a trip of several thousands of kilometers I would need some new tunes to join the jukebox. However the sounds that played out on that highway on that morning could hardly be described as music. Mind plays strange tricks when one is driving at 120 kmph, I started singing the title song of the TV show Mahabharatha. Not just lightly, with full gusto. Poor hapless Aadi, after I am sure cursing her father for having chosen this lunatic to be her husband she too joined in cacophony. I still don’t know what inspired me to give that rendition but I am sure that the trauma of that performance will keep giving Aadi shivers for a long time to come.
Eventually we entered Mumbai city and I started driving through the labyrinth of routes shown me by the Google Maps. The near empty roads had a yellowy sheen thanks to the wet tarmac and the streetlights. It was strangely peaceful driving in roads that usually are known to have the heaviest of traffic. There were times I thought we had become well and truly lost within the city but somehow we managed to get out of the city. After Vasai Bridge we took a smoke break at the McDonalds and watched the sunrise. Each subsequent photo I took showed an ever expanding kaleidoscope in the sky as the sun rose that cold morning.
This was a Sunday morning and the roads were full of travelers. There were biker groups of various pedigrees, some respectable ones riding safely and then the wannabes trying their hardest to be one with the asphalt. Sometimes irritation got to me and I let myself cross the triple digits too. Along the way we saw a Thar towing a trailer carrying a Willys. That poor man would suffer in the years to come when he learns that thanks to him I added extra things to my Bucket list. Aadi is already struggling to manage my existing List.
Shortly after entering Gujarat we stopped for breakfast and we started on the next chapter on my Chat education. We had for breakfast Misal Pav and Vada Pav and I started to see why Aadi goes crazy for these food items. It was simply amazing. While being warmed by tea Aadi had an idea. Now that we are here in Gujarat, since we are driving to Vadodara and since we have been able to escape Mumbai traffic much ahead of schedule why not take a slight detour? At our pace anyway we would reach our destination, Vadodara by mid-day so why not make the most of it by going to the newest tourist attraction in Gujarat? As per Google the numbers added up so we decided at the moment to visit the Statue of Unity too.
While driving across India one game that we played was “Guess the Mountain Range”. We were going through so many geographies and terrains that this was a very educational exercise for us. We were excited that we were driving through Silvassa, the capital of Dadra and Nagar Haveli. Now we were in uncharted territories as we left the northernmost parts of India that Aadi was familiar with. Soon we left Maharashtra and entered Gujarat. The roads were almost immediately nicer and the landscape changed for the worse. The greenery was replaced by vast industrial towns. Sky was sooty and there were mounds of effluents all the traditional signposts of development. I know it is extremely hypocritical of me, a thorough consumer of industrialization to bemoan the very act of industrialization. I know they create jobs and are necessary drivers of our nation’s progress however I can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness when a landscape is this unrecognizable.
As the landscape changed so did traffic. Larger numbers of trucks and cars meant my speed too started to increase. The sedate pace with which I started from Mumbai was replaced with the urge to beat the traffic. That was when a life changing encounter happened to me.
We were driving through the industrial belt south of Surat when I overtook a red car with Brahmakumaris logo imprinted on his windshield. I have seen several variations of road rage but this one was simply frightening. This guy took so much offense at me overtaking him that he continued to chase me for next several minutes. The guy was driving extremely rash trying to catch me, he was driving so dangerously that it was only due to his luck that he escaped couple of major accidents. There was a time when he overtook me and was gesticulating wildly at me and almost went under a truck. Then he was trying to ram me off the road. After a couple of attempts of him trying to push me off the road I let it rip and smoked out of there. But that was a wakeup call for me. I am not the most sedate of drivers, I do drive fast at times and I have had my fair share of near misses too. But this time more than feeling angry at this guy I felt like I had to look into myself. Is this what driving is all about for me? Do I really care about random speedsters trying to show off on the road, do I really need to compete with that? Or do I take into perspective the longer distance that I want to drive and dismiss all these as inconsequential? What really is the point of competing with those liter cars that try to drive fast and furious at the edges of the cities when I am on 5000 km drive where this one kilometer or two of driving fast is immaterial? I felt ashamed of myself and I believe since that incident outside of Surat I am less ruffled by such actions. As we stopped at a Café Coffee Day I found it pathetic and ridiculous that I was keeping an eye out for that lunatic.
Shortly before Surat we took a deviation towards the Statue of Unity. We took the deviation from Navsari through Bardoli, Mandvi, Zankhvav and Rajpipla to reach Kevadiya village where the Statue of Unity was located. This was through narrow country lanes and occasional state highways and took us through true blue rural Gujarat. This was our first sojourn outside of National Highways during this trip and I had a certain amount of apprehension. I am known to be an extremely pessimistic person when it comes to people and I must admit I carried more than a fair share of irrational fears. Especially as Aadi was there with me. Driving through these single lane roads, with hardly any traffic I could not help but imagine all sorts of horrors. Naturally thoughts went to the 2002 riots. While we absolutely enjoyed our time in Ahmedabad in 2017 we had also observed the ghettoization that existed in that city. We don’t really know what turns man to madness however the Gujarat and Gujaratis that we saw always made us feel like home. People had gone out of their way to help us in our travels.
As we were driving towards Kevadiya we were struck by the unmissable aridity all around. We drove over tiny rivulets that we doubted would keep flowing through summer. With every kilometer human habitation was becoming sparser and the landscape was becoming wilder. The rich agricultural lands gave way to rocky outcrops with thorny bushes. As we drove through those hillocks we turned a corner and suddenly caught a glimpse of him. We could see the head of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel emerging amongst the mountains. It was a breathtaking sight.
We finally joined a four lane expressway and were promptly stopped by the Police. They asked for our permit but we were not aware of any permits. With some hesitation he allowed us to drive towards the statue when we explained we just wanted to see the statue from outside and were not planning to go inside the complex.
We were held in sheer awe as we saw the massive statue of Sardar Patel standing amidst mountains like the giant that he was. It felt like the perfect tribute to the Iron Man of India. All the naysayers who deride that monument must pay it a visit at least once. It just seemed unnatural but also quite apt. The massive queue of people at the entrance of the complex and people milling around the statue made us glad that we did not plan to go to the statue itself. There still were some construction work going on, especially of a small garden with a viewing area.
After taking a few clicks we decided to set off towards Vadodara out of respect to the cop to whom we had promised not to loiter and also to our stomach which was growling in gusto by now. And that is when we saw the actual entrance to the complex. A sea of vehicles were parked and gargantuan lines were stretched everywhere of people trying to buy tickets in the hot sun. If we had come from Vadodara I am sure we would have seen that crowd and made a U-turn then and there, it was only because we took a detour and entered Kevadiya from behind the check post that we were able to see the statue. Navigating out of the mayhem we finally pulled up to a restaurant for some lunch. We could see Sardar Patel standing there amidst the mountains.
Now Aadi started to drive for some time. Since we were on four lane roads with dividers it was quite safe to do so. But then a few kilometers ahead we saw our road merging into a single lane highway which was quite busy with trucks. My ministrations were found wanting and Aadi panicked and crash stopped in the middle of the road. I was fearful for the vehicle and then decided that henceforth Aadi would not be driving. We could not afford to have any vehicle breakdown as we were heading towards Himalayas and its snowy terrain. Much chastened and upset we carried on towards Vadodara.
The road to Vadodara was quite uneventful. As we entered Vadodara it seemed like a dust bowl, dirty, crowded and random animals all over the place however soon we entered the center of the city and it was quite amazing. Wide roads, trees and greenery all over the place and old colonial buildings gave Baroda a very charming feel. Our hotel itself seemed to be located at the very heart of the city and seemed to be quite fashionable to boot. There were cafes and high end shops all around us. It was amusing to see two Barodas mere kilometers from each other.
After checking in at our hotel I gave a call to a friend of ours who lived in Baroda. Mr. Ramesh Krishna Iyer is someone whom I know mainly from Facebook. A childhood friend of my mother’s when she was studying in Trichur, Ramesh was described to me as a genius. We have had several conversations in FB which has only further cemented that reputation. He had even come for my wedding and I felt it my duty to meet him now that I am in his city. He met us outside our hotel and took us to his home where we introduced ourselves to his wife. After much welcome refreshment of mind and body we bid his family goodbye and went towards the hotel.
As our hotel was in a particularly fashionable part of the city we were quite spoilt for choices regarding a place for dinner. I had noticed one such restaurant, one with a Jail theme on the way to Ramesh’s house so we decided to check it out. Aadi who was far less provincial like me was not very excited as she has visited such joints in Mumbai and Pune. However this rustic Kochi lad was determined to check it out. There is a reason why we husbands never win. Wife is always right. The place was a disappointment. The menu, the service and the overall chic was a terrible let down. So we left after drinking just water.
Then we walked over to another restaurant where we decided to play it safe by ordering regular roti and curry. This place however boasted its own brand of weirdness. The entire wall of the restaurant was lined with mirrors and it was impossible not to look at other people having their food. There was another family having their dinner and while normally there would not be any eye contact we were constantly catching ourselves looking at each other. I could make out that the other guy was as uncomfortable as I was. But at least that chore got over and we returned to the hotel to sleep.
The next day we would be off to Jaisalmer
Distance Traveled :