Since after my solo drive from Gurgaon to Kolkata and back in 4 days almost 4 years ago, I would often wondered whether it was one such craziest incident ever done in my life or can I explore NH-2 once again. My first drive was indeed a very special one, but I wanted to feel it again. Going alone was never an issue, but I also wanted my wife to accompany me during the journey at least once, so that we can enjoy the road and the journey together.
But the ice never melts!
We have done Gurgaon to Amritsar (490 kms) and Allahabad (680 kms) before (we did it once in 2008 & 2010 respectively, so as some other locations several times in and around Delhi), but Koooooolkata….are you mad? It took end number of discussions, storytelling of my heroics :); the ice finally melts just four days before we start our journey on 19th morning. My son’s summer vacation starts on 21st May and 18th was the last day in school. They had a train ticket booked in Sealdah Rajdhani on 18th and I was supposed to join them within few days/before 25th, though ticket not booked. Again, due to the strike by Air India pilots, the cost of ticket became a very costly affair. It started as a casual talk between us on 15th morning regarding the same topic when she finally agreed and asked me to cancel the train ticket. I was surprised. But, didn’t I want to hear this for the last few years? I had never pressurized her before, hence I asked her to rethink and let me know the final decision by 17th morning, just wanted to keep train option still open.
We cancelled the ticket on 17th morning and booked a Tatkaal ticket (WL) on Sealdah Duronto, just in case if we had to cancel the road trip, with a hope that ticket shouldn’t get confirmed. However, we kept it a secret from everyone at home (why to give unnecessary tension to them) and informed our parents that we would be leaving by Poorva on 19th, instead of Rajdhani on 18th, as we target to reach home on 20th evening. As expected, ticket didn’t confirm and I prepared myself for the journey.
After reaching home from office, left again to fill-up tank, check air pressure, withdrawing cash etc. etc. and then I did a mistake which I realized much later, while filling-up the tank again in Varanasi.
Though I love night driving, I promised myself no night drive this time, instead plan to spend one day at Varanasi, target to reach there before 5 p.m. to have some time to see the “Sandhya Aarati”. We went to bed around 11 p.m. and planned to leave Gurgaon by 3 O’clock.
Day 1: May 19, 2012 – Gurgaon – Agra – Kanpur – Allahabad – Varanasi – 800 Kms [9 Toll Plazas, Rs.380/-]
At 3:15 a.m. on 19th morning, the three of us left our Gurgaon home to start a long due summer vacation / a perfect summer camp for my son with all his near and dear ones and, of course, with nature. Let me also introduce the name of the partners involved in this eventful journey.
Madhumita Chatterjee (my wife – the photographer + record keeper)
Anjishnu, our 4½ year old son (made our journey much more enjoyable & comfortable)
We crossed my office, adjacent to Sikendarpur Metro Station and reached the newly built Gurgaon – Faridabad road at Bristol Chowk in 2 minutes. There is a green sign board displaying Faridabad 24 Kms. The road is very good and it’s a very smooth run till Faridabad. We were fortunate to save Rs. 15/- J, as we know that next time, we need to add one more Toll Plaza in the list. There were only few trucks and a very few cars at that point of time. Nice to see few check- posts and police patrolling cars. They stopped us twice and let us go once they saw my son was sleeping in the back seat. As Gurgaon became famous for it’s crimes thanks (!) to few recent incidents, we just hope things will improve at the earliest. Within half an hour and after 32 Kms we reached NH-2. I tried to speed-up to reach Agra at the earliest. It was still dark outside when we crossed Ballabgarh (Haryana). After clearing Ballabgarh, I concentrated on driving, as it is still dark and everyone has fallen asleep.
By the time, we reached Mathura everyone got up and we thought to take a short break at McDonalds’. Just FYI, it is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. We resist the temptation to eat Chicken Burger in the morning and moved on after freshening up.
Before Sikandra, there is a green sign board displaying “Kolkata – 1310 Kms”…so you know the distance of your destination now…we thought – a long long way to go…indeed! We have already covered 200 kms or the first block out of seven (7 x 200= 1400 kms and you are at home, so simple!) without any incidents…remember the rule…’no mistakes in first 200 kms or in first 2 or 3 hours’ while driving such a long distance…so we have passed the first hurdle…we just need the momentum going…
“Station kakhan asbe” – (When the station will come?) asked my son innocently. We are going by car. He is a big fan of “Thomas and his Friends” and “Lightening MacQueen”, hence it was just a switch over for him from Gordon (he gave a name to Rajdhani) to his favourite Lightening MacQueen. Children are so innocent. He unpacked his bag, full of toys – mostly cars, and started playing. His mama started her usual routine to feed him and at no time, it was a war-zone like situation, just like our home. He didn’t want to eat and she never gives up. Why will she? She has all the rights to see why he won’t eat! I am quite used to such conversations on a daily basis. After almost half an hour of war, with half paratha still in her hand, she finally gave in. We too felt hungry by the time and started our breakfast with Luchi and aloo bhaja, which we always carry whenever we go for a long drive, as you can eat while driving (at least one meal) and it will also save time.
Fed up with her son, my wife finally concentrated on photography, which I really missed during my trip last time. This time, I ensure to carry both digital, as well as handy cam to record our journey and willingly gave her the responsibility.
The sky was cloudy since morning; we thanked God for such a lovely weather. However, our wish short-lived; it changed so quickly. The sun came out after we crossed Etawah at 9 a.m., and temperature started rising almost immediately. Traveling to Kolkata by road during summer may not be ideal, when the temperature had risen to ~43 degrees in Delhi & NCR, as well as in all the neighbouring states, meant burning ourselves in scorching sun. We had to switch on AC and within few minutes the inside temperature became very comfortable. We never had the opportunity to switch-off the AC after that during the entire journey.
The road condition is excellent and we were maintaining an average speed of 100-110 kms, crossing one by one important town on the way. All of a sudden, there was a pin dropped silence. Were we bored so soon? We haven’t covered 1/3rd of the road. “How will we cover the rest of our journey”, I thought. But something else was cooking up inside the small cabin. Normally, whenever we go out, he keeps very quite. May be he realizes the situation and wanted to take the control! It was such a fun for him that at times it was difficult for his mother to control him and with my support, he became very naughty. We also wanted a lively environment and he made our journey much more enjoyable & comfortable since then. We also have our share of fun. We received three packets of biscuits at different toll plazas, since they didn’t have change of five rupees. It happened in consecutive three toll plazas. We just thought to exchange them as soon as we approach the next toll plaza. They were surprised when we gave Rs.30 and a pack of biscuit, but they finally took it with a smile. We did the same trick, till the stock last and laughed…
You will find wrong-siders in most of highways, including NH-2, so are we. Do not need to waste our time trying to find out why they are driving like this. Since the visibility is very good on highways, you need to ignore such nuisances and move on, as they are always right in their own terms.
We crossed the unending (~25 Kms) Kanpur flyover around 11 a.m. While driving this section, I remember my sunrise experience over here during my first trip, but that was my first on this flyover compare to fifth this time. We felt hungry and looking for a roadside dhaba / restaurants. Finally after 9 Kms (from the flyover), we found ‘Village Street’ restaurant just adjacent to Reliance petrol pump.
We were having a very high hope and ordered Rice/Dal/Butter Chicken/Butter Nun/Aloo-ka-Paratha/Dahi & Salad. There was scheduled power cut during that time in Kanpur, hence, AC was not working. The inside temperature was very hot, but, once we opened all the windows, there was a slight relief. We were either too hungry or the food was very good, since nothing was left while we were leaving. The only caution if you are travelling with kids and/or not in love with hot chilies, order carefully. One needs to be extremely lucky in Highway. However, when you are really hungry and didn’t have any option what else would you do…fortunately, we love spicy food and enjoyed, except my son…but anyway he hardly eats anything…though he proved us wrong next day…so never underestimate kids’ mood. It was a very early lunch break for all of us, but our day also started at 3 in the morning.
We have started again from Kanpur (exactly 12:30 p.m.) and continued our journey. As we were approaching Allahabad by-pass (614 kms), I didn’t want to take any risk till we reach Varanasi and filled-up the tank with 600 rupees. Twice I had to take the right turn to pass through Allahabad city to reach Varanasi and I was eagerly waiting to drive through the by-pass…heard that it’s superb….no doubt it is, but the entire NH-2 is just like that only. The plus point is that it reduces the travel time drastically from the earlier route. We were again lucky to save few more rupees here, since toll plaza not yet operational. Both of them went to sleep (!) for some time, after filming the famous by-pass and I concentrated on the road to reach our final destination for the day. Varanasi was still ~170 kms from there.
By 3:30 pm, as we were very close to Varanasi city, I thought to get the car horn checked & repaired, as it stopped functioning since Agra and whatever we heard about the traffic in Varanasi, we were a bit concerned. In Arnal, I parked my car near a grocery shop in a service lane to enquire about any car mechanic. By our sheer luck, he directed me to the next shop…with a big signboard “Horn Specialist”. The person took extra care to fix the problem. We wanted to take a photograph, but battery was exhausted by now after continuous clicking since morning. In my next visit, I will definitely meet him not only to say thanks, but also to take a picture.
We didn’t find any problem to locate the direction of Varanasi – it is clearly visible if you are cautious. You need to leave NH-2 and take a left turn towards Varanasi and drive for another close to 13-15 kms to reach the Railway station. On the way, we found some signboards, pointing towards right, to reach various Ghats & Temples, but we decided to go to Railway station first and look for a Hotel. Yes, the road near Railway station is very congested, but we are used to this kind of roads, even in Delhi, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad. Suggest anyone to take Gurgaon Sadar Bazar or Goshala Phatak in Ghaziabad area in peak hours or even the road near Sikenderpur Metro Station in Gurgaon is worst at times. With the help of an auto rickshaw driver, we reached “Raj Mahal Hotel” in Gurubagh, Luxa Road, close to Dasaswamedh Ghat. Just before Railway Station, we took a right turn & drove approx. 2 kms. to reach the hotel.The hotel is decent and rooms are clean. We were happy as it provides safe parking space. The room rent was Rs.1,000/- for AC Room, including car parking charges (Rs.50/-). We were tired but we also didn’t want to miss Sandhya Aarati and Kasi Vishwanath Temple. We took bath one by one as soon as reach the hotel and charged the battery for some time to take some photographs. We took a rickshaw and then walked for 5 minutes to reach Dasaswamedh Ghat. The Sandhya Aarati took our breathe away. We have never seen such a live performance – they were at their artistic best. Finally around 8 p.m., the journey took its toll and my son couldn’t stand anymore and we decided to return to the hotel, with a promise to come back again and spend a few days to explore the city once again.
We had ordered food in the hotel and decided to call it a day after dinner. We have covered exactly 800 kms today, crossed 9 Toll plazas (Rs.380/-) on the way. Now, it’s time to sleep…see you soon in our next few posts…