“People don't take trips, trips take people”- John Steinbeck
Last year's bike ride to Ladakh meant that Annual summer break this year would need to be spent at Home (in Nasik). Parents, wife, kids everyone had already gone there, a month before as soon as school holidays began. And with no options left (courtesy IRCTC tatkal booking) , I decided (note the positive frame of mind) to drive [Route map - http://goo.gl/maps/VTHqU (10-11 May, 2013)].
With almost 22k in 2 years (with minor dents (by 'my' standard though garagewala thinks otherwise) and major painting (by the 'expense bill' standard)) since I bought the car; I was still apprehensive because of experience of Jog falls trip. It was a quite a disaster - with one month in driving, I set out for terrible roads in hilly terrain of Jog falls. At dusk just when we were in deep forest and about 30-35 kms from the destination, the drive shaft on the left side gave away. It was one thing to be in the forest area driving merrily enjoying the green beauty and quite opposite to think about the wild beasts waiting for the dark before we could thumb a ride back to near by town. But situation forces man to bravery - hence here I was on a Friday afternoon 4 pm giving final touches to my preparation...
The PLAN when I started was to reach upto Belgaum or max Nipani by the night and then set out fresh - early morning for the rest of the journey. As it happens with 98.5% of the travel plans in the world (rest 1.5% are the Other people whose flight always arrives on time), this one also did not became reality. 30 mins in the driving, and I soon realized how deadly combination of google maps + GPS on my BB was when I found that I was still circling around Verna industrial area from where I began my drive. It was a quick deja vu moment : I had reached mollem national park crossing one hill, two mines and hundreds of curious stares (asking what the hell do you mean by honking the trucks on THIS road?) instead of taking national highway which was not shown in google maps. This time, I quickly adopted the strategy of asking every countryman - who wanted to thumb a ride - for the road directions (and thereby discouraging him:) ).
In almost two hrs since I began, I had crossed Amona and was on way to Chorla. And as I've realized many times past 3 years, thought again: Goa is overrated for its beaches and highly underrated for its forests. How many places in India, can boast of such a greenery at the peak of summer in May !
I made a first stop at a vantage point in Chorla Ghat. The chorla ghat is a part of Sahyadri mountain ranges and provided one of the three main access routes to Goa from the deccan plateau. Refreshed by the harassing mountain wind, I set out again for the next (sub)destination - Belgaum. By the time I reached, it was after office hrs and I struggled my way through evening traffic and pretty much decided to stop at the first decent place I see on the NH4. But 5 kms on NH4 after crossing the town - change the course of the evening and night !
For a fellow who has driven a car all his life in Goa (read two years) , NH4 is a cultural shock. Its like taking a child who all his life has thought the most wonderful place on earth is Splashdown, Goa and putting him in the Disney World. National highway in Goa means you can overtake a truck provided you undertake the risk of getting run down by oncoming truck and survive with minor bruises (on state highways, you don't stand a chance, AVOID).
Belgaum to Pune ~ 350 kms was completed in 5 hrs ! It was the most enjoyable 5 hrs I've spent in a car. I even stopped the music for a long part of this journey and did not made any stop (except at toll booth). Its a zen like state when all your senses, mind (and even machine) are completely focused on one thing - DRIVE. A moment of perfect sync ! You could hear the smallest changes - the sound of the gear engaging when you release the clutch peddle, the rustle of the bags in boot when you speed up/down, tyres making different sound on the tar and concrete road. Its almost like car responding to various conditions /situations in different languages while talking to you all the time in soothing humming sound. Its one of these moments which Scott Adams explains in Machine Love.
It was past mid-night by the time I cross Pune. In my Pune to Nasik by Road is I made a small stop just before Chakan. One of my long pending dream (since year 2000 when I worked at NCL) is to complete Pune to Nasik with Google maps timing (3 hrs 54 minutes). However, travel teaches us many things and one of the important lesson is NOT all of your dreams come true. Back on the road, I went back to the old ways of driving - cursing the bad roads, battering the oncoming traffic while following only two clear guidelines - 1. Don't hit anything and 2. Don't get hit. At one point, even at 3 a.m. in morning, I had to honk and wade my way through the crowded junction.
By the time I made to the outskirts of Igatpuri, the railway-town was just getting up for the morning trains leaving to Mumbai. After some minor traffic, reached HOME. My Son (5 months then) was already up and was excited to see me. My eyes were moist - not only because of holding him in arms after a month. The car standing outside knew my secret !
Written under The Perfect Road Trip