A Cross country drive
Two brothers meet in Mumbai & set on a road trip through the mainland to visit their home town Shillong
By Prasanta Phukon
It was a road trip covering 3,665 km, seven states, 42 toll gates, four days and three nights and burning 189 litres of diesel.
The tarmac passed through various landscapes, from hillocks to high mountains, from dry plains to lush green forest, from crowded thoroughfares to sparsely populated towns. Nevertheless, a road trip like this comes with its own share of perils and discomfort, witnessed several road kills of domesticated animals, police interrogation to almost being robbed. Having said this, the glitches did not deter the spirit and we are ready for another journey.
The trip happened after a month’s planning. The route was finalised for safety and comfort a lot of research was done by referring websites knowing people’s experience and casual talk with trucker who commutes this routes. We took three months of conceptualising and building a makeshift ‘mobile home’ that could accommodate a bed to sleep for two adults and a kitchen to store supplies, including cooking.
The construction of the mobile home was our DIY project and was a slow process considering other personal commitments. The car used for this purpose was 2009 model Mahindra Scorpio, this particular car has served well for the last eight years and needed to be roadworthy to complete such a long journey.
The suspension was completely overhauled and the old worn out tyres (done 75k km) replaced with Yokomos All-terrain 235/70/R16 tyres. To accommodate the bed and the kitchen, we had to get rid of the third row of seats and utilise the freed space — one-third for a foldable kitchen and the remaining space for a foldable bed. To activate the bed, the middle row seats had to be reclined and the bed fully expanded. To keep the modification light, aluminium and wood were used for constructing the bed.
The constructed kitchen provided ample space to store food supplies, mobile cooking stove, butane cans etc. Most importantly additional storage arrangement made to carry 20 litres of water for drinking and washing. Internal car lights replaced with efficient LED lights to avoid draining the starter battery and also included a solar charging lamp as backup for night lighting. Lastly, we decided to maintain a low RPM to derive maximum efficiency and not push the engine beyond the speed 140 KMH. As per plan we set an aggressive route plan identified first day stop at Jhansi, second day stop at Siliguri and the third day Shillong.
Day 1: The journey started at 4 am on October 20 from Navi Mumbai, 7km away from Jawaharlal Nehru Port. We took the Thane Belapur Highway to get into Mumbai Agra Highway. Our first stop was at 7 am after crossing Nashik. The makeshift kitchen came alive, prepared a lovely breakfast in 20 minutes (Oatsmeal, omlete and tea), and more tea for the road. Our experience with the new kitchen was overwhelming and at the same time the clock was ticking, we spent 30 minutes before we resumed the journey.
For a journey like this every second not in motion would push the time to reach the targeted destination away. The mind is focused to cover kilometers in the odometer, subconsciously guilt sets in — what if we run behind time. It would be injustice if there was no mention of the landscape from Mumbai to Dhule. The beautiful valleys near Nashik, the open lands will were beyond description. The consciousness of time did help us because by 10.30 am at a steady speed of 90KMH we crossed Dhule and entered Madhya Pradesh.
The terrain completely changed as we ventured deep into Madhya Pradesh, the vegetation and landscape bore an arid look and sparsely populated. Our next stop for lunch was 25 km before Indore. It was an authentic dhaba only frequented by truckers. Initially the ambience around was not welcoming, the people and the dhaba appeared rowdy. But looks could be deceiving because we later realised the people were very friendly and helpful. To us there was still a reservation had we to visit this place with family, the dynamics would completely change then. We were promptly served fresh baked tandoori rotis and mixed lentils. Their customer service and food quality were commendable — as competitive as the best of the food joints in the city.
The people around were curious to know about us and more than willing to suggest us the best possible routes to Jhansi. As per plan we intended to reach Jhansi on the same day and halt for the night there. The people at the dhaba voluntarily organised a discussion to identify the best possible route we could take to go to Jhansi. They suggested a route via Bhopal after Indore State Highway 18 was in bad shape. They also advised us to stick to Mumbai Agra Highway (Asian highway 47).
Going by the gathered local intelligence we took the AH-47 instead of ST18, the route via Bhopal. After crossing
Indore until Dewas the road was smooth. We only started regretting after crossing Dewas, the road dividers that we enjoyed all the way from Mumbai had completely vanished.
The entire route was under construction. Since the four-lane work was in progress, it appeared that maintenance of the road was completely ignored. The road was bumpy, there were times we had to come to dead stop to maneuver the pot holes. We literally snaked our path manuevouring the pot holes. The traffic was sluggish, the road was flooded with heavy multi-axled trucks. It was a test of skills for overtaking the trucks. This situation has slowed us down though it was shorter route to Jhansi with the kind of road conditions we were traveling at a speed of 30- 40 kmp.
Nevertheless, the sightings of the windmills along the road kept us distracted. We didn’t realise the bumps at all;
later we only wished if we could pass through this place during the day and experience it all. It was getting dark and our target to reach Jhansi was fading away. We were already short of around 500 km to reach Jhansi. Our energy levels were going low, we had been on the road since 4 am and also we lacked decent sleep the previous day, which had to be made up for. Considering our rest time and the journey next day, there was no way we could have made it to Jhansi. After reviewing and analysing the circumstances we identified another place where we could halt and while on the move we identified Guna for halting overnight.
We entered Guna by 9pm, the option to sleep in the city area was appearing slim and we had to put away that option because in the dark we could not find a place where we could pull over and sleep in the car. After reviewing hotels online and asking people around, we identified ‘The Sara’ situated next to the highway. It’s worth mentioning the trick to get to this hotel. There were no signs on the highway showing the entry to Guna. We learned it the hard way and ended up paying the toll and reversing up from the toll to enter the lane entering Guna. After driving for 20 minutes, we found The Sara around 10:30 pm in the middle of nowhere.