We wanted to visit Mandu but were not able to find the appropriate mode of transport – since the train reservations need planning much in advance, and the distance warranted more time than what one can get in a day if we go by the road, ‘No travel during the Night’ rule stays. So if we break the journey, which place do we do it is another question, and initiating enough to look for alternate destinations. So after multiple back-and-forth, and often animated, conversations from Europe (too cold) to Singapore (C’mon) to Bali (too expensive) to Kerala (lets drive down, flying is so routine), we finally decided to stick to the road, our favourite. Plans made, it was to be a one-halt drive. A couple of nights at Shivpuri, the prospects of which as a travel destination suddenly grew manifold (so much to being an optmist) and then we drive to Mandu. FromDelhi, Shivpuri is 430 odd KMs and then Mandu is another 450.
The cabin of our green elephant welcomed 4 adults and a 4 year old. We set out on a non-foggy but a bit smoky morning with a lot of spirit (no pun intended) to the Heart of India.
Total Distance – 925 KM
Driving Time – 18 hours
Quality of Tar – Brilliant, Good, Poor. Overall – mixed.
1. Delhi – Agra Bypass
Distance – 200 KM
Driving Time – 3 hours
Quality of Tar – Brilliant
Enough has been written for this stretch so let me just sum this quickly. Tar is brilliant, but very few stretches that are uninhabited so be alert at all times. Get out of Delhi early so that you pass the Kosi check-point before 7.30 AM and avoid the temptation to stop at Mathura, if you want to go beyond Gwalior before lunchtime. While McD is worth every penny you spend (hot food, open space for kids to run around, clean loos, gas station etc), time is money too and right now probably more valuable.
2. Agra Bypass – Dholpur – Morena – Gwalior
Distance – 125 KM
Driving Time – 1.8 hours
Quality of Tar – Brilliant
The bypass is not very conspicuous but it is before the main humdrum of Agra. You need to take a right turn. If you had read my Delhi-Jhansi road review, you would remember my 100 dB crib on how bad the bypass was. Well, this time we were in for a nice surprise. It’s not a high-speed stretch but very well laid tar. The best part of the stretch was that on both sides you see unhindered view of fields and there are some real warm tea shops to give you a much needed break.
We had a good first stop, at a clean humble road side tea stall. Along with high spirits, we always try to carry our breakfast so as to save time and we made good use of it. There is no rush in the morning and you get some time to stretch your legs.
As you cross the bypass, you hop on to NH3. Till Dholpur it is very quick, nice 4-lane double to cruise on. Post Dholpur, it starts to get a little slow; but the good thing is that now you are entering into a different terrain – the ravines get more prominent as you move towards Chambal.
Take an eyefull of Chambal river. Post Chambal, it appeared that there is probably a plan to make a bypass at Dholpur. Once that happens, this whole thing would get much smoother and quicker.
Once you are beyond Morena (Morena / Muraina of the Gajjak, Rewarhi fame), the road quality suddenly improves to and double till Gwalior.
3. Gwalior – Shivpuri – Guna – Biora
Distance – 300 KM
Driving Time – 6 hours
Quality of Tar – Good to Poor
From Gwalior, the road quality begins to deteriorate. It is mostly a single road and there are tons of trucks. At places your down-town street would beat NH3 in terms of tar quality. Keep going. The good part of this stretch is that it is not dry and boring, something which a lot of high-speed highways tend to get. One other good thing about this section is that there are not too many busy towns so though the traffic is heavy, it is all highway traffic. Drivers like me would better empathize that between ‘city traffic’ and ‘highway traffic’, the latter is much more peaceful. ‘City Traffic’ is much more varied, casual, humorous, colorful, animated than the boring, serene, calm ‘Highway Traffic’.
Back to the reality.
Till Gwalior, we were doing an average of 65 KMPH but we were prepared to go all the way down to 50 KMPH since we stated early and had to do close to 450 KM only.
At Shivpuri, we turned left and went inside the city. It was almost 1.00 PM when we made to Shivpuri, at an average of 60 odd KM per hour.
Though we had planned to stay for two nights there but we moved to Chanderi next day and then rejoined the highway on Day 3 at Guna. So I really do not know how the stretch is between Shivpuri and Guna and I would guess that it would be similar. We reached Guna through the inner roads and post Guna, we were back to NH3. Between Guna and Beora, you would see a lot of urban traffic probably because Guna is a bigger town. It is a single road and a mix of quiet and noisy stretches. Nothing special to write about.
At Beora, we took our lunch break on Day 3. I guess the place was called ‘Kamla Hotel’, in the next shop someone was pushing LPG from bigger cylinders, which are subsidised for domestic use, to new age gas lights (been a while I came across a Panchlight) without using any fancy equipment. Surviving that nauseating air, I concentrated on Matar-Paneer (ok ok, you have heard it before) and was gradually getting ready for making it to Mandu before it would turn dark.
4. Beora – Sarangpur – Dewas
Distance – 150 KM
Driving Time – 3 hours
Quality of Tar – Good
From Beora (also spelled Biaora, Biora), you turn rightwards and move more to the west then Southwards for a while. You pass through a ‘Transport Nagar’ kinda place and then suddenly it gets very quiet. There are not many vehicles to be seen, it is a single road and looks really back in time. It was the 27th of Dec 2009 and chilly enough for the most of us, this for one, was a warm country. There were times when we had to put the car air conditioning on. The road took us through small villages, kasbas flaunting blue pepsi and red coke dhabas, big truck tyres hung on poles announcing puncture shops, shiny strips of popular gutkas, an occassional police picket, a school and we carried on piercing through the punishing Sun towards the land of love, Mandu.
I guess not too many road journeys happen beyond Beora. Possibly all the business that originates from Indore goes down-south towards Mumbai than to its own poorer cousins viz. Dewas, Beora, Sarangpur or Guna.
We found this chap on a horse and trust me, he was quick.
It was a good time to pull over and buy a siesta but good senses prevailed and barring a fuel break, we kept going all the way, doing pretty well in terms of time and if we could cross Dewas before 4, it would be perfect.
Before Dewas, there is a bypass on your left. Make use of it. The Bypass is in great shape – a double road with two lanes in both carriageways. As we moved on, we discovered these tall gigantic mythical fans, almost looking like some creatures from outer space waving us good luck. On closer scrutiny these were wind-mills. These are really massive structures.
5. Dewas – Indore – Dhar – Mandu
Distance – 145 KM
Driving Time – 3 hours
Quality of Tar – Brilliant till Indore, Poor till Dhar, Good till Mandu
From Dewas, times shifts again and you find yourself landing on a new age swanky high-speed highway that remains with you all the way till Indore. The road was so good that had we missed the Exit at Indore, we would have probably rested only at Mumbai.
And interestingly, you see a lot of traffic as you begin to approach Indore. From Indore, we moved to a lower gear and hopped on to state highway NH59. Now we were on the outskirts of Indore, trying to bypass it to reach Dhar – one of the old Kingdoms which is now another Indian dusty town boasting of an old fort, yummy poha-jalebis, a mega mart and most importantly the gateway to Mandu, the city of love.
A lot of housing projects led us to an industrial hub. It was getting dimmer but there was action on the road. Even though it was a Sunday, we could see workers heading home from the factories as their shifts got over. We were joined by a flock of cranes gliding ahead of us, trying to kiss the road and move up in tighter harmony only to swoop down again. By the time, we got out of Indore completely, it was dark.
The road gave way to a parade of pot-holes, following an Indica we tried to control our agony and remain cheerful. In these situations the cabin atmosphere gets a little edgy. Mandu was still a while away when we discovered at Dhar that our hotel is not all the way in Mandu but only a mile odd away. Ignoring the route beautifully sms-ed by hotel staff, we rather fell on the advice of a local military jawan, who was high on spirit (the other one, this time). He guided us to a road that would take us to hotel in no time and boy, what a ride. The last mile was no match to parade of pot-holes. The road was a myth – it didn’t exist, not ever.
Survived, drove on, reached a large metal gate, stopped by the durbaan to log our adventure in his book and we moved on to one of the best places we have ever stayed – Jhira Bagh Palace.
As we got our luggage down, and managed our way to get the right spirits chilled, we lunged to the spacious royal terrace attached to our room and cheered, a good ride, accomplished.