Archive for the ‘Travelogues’ Category

Reading about the assault on the Pune couple by highway robbers on the Mumbai-Pune expressway, makes me wonder how we can all forget the basic rules of driving on the highway. I am sorry if I sound unsympathetic (I am not, because I too use the highways and e-ways), but I really don’t understand why people must stop in the dead of night on lonely highways and expressways for any reason, except for a breakdown or an emergency that needs immediate attention.

This is not the first time that such an incident has happened on the Mumbai-Pune expressway and definitely won’t be the last. It is notorious for such incidents and the cops are helpless because they are just not equipped to deal with them – be they robberies or accidents. This gentleman stopped across the road from where a petrol pump was, which must be a good 50 metres away from where his car was parked. As kids we were taught by our parents to go to the loo and carry a bottle of water or some biscuits with us before setting off on a bus or car journey. How is it, that as parents we forget that cardinal rule?

There is no point blaming lack of lights on the highway or the cops for not doing their jobs. I read in some newspaper that someone asked for lights on the highway! Where was the last time you saw lights on the highways, except when the highway approaches city limits? It’s a ridiculous suggestion. As for the presence of cops, they can’t be everywhere. So why take chances? Unless you’re literally dying of thirst or your bladder is about to empty itself in your pants, can’t a bottle of water or a toilet break wait till you get to a food mall or a petrol pump?

Secondly, the Indian traffic police for all the hard work it does, is incapable of doing its job efficiently because it is drastically under-manned, poorly equipped and badly trained on how to react in an emergency. In the event of an accident it is the medical services that should land up first, not the police. In India it is usually the cops who do, and they inform the medical services. Even we, as we are conditioned to do, call the police first and the hospital next. An accident victim’s life is more important, the investigations come later.

Whenever I travel long distance with the family we keep at least a dozen bottles of water in the car. It became a necessity because we used to travel with our son who was then six or seven. Now he is 17 but we still follow that practice. Even on the expressway, two bottles of water are always in the car.

DNA, Pune has done a story in today’s edition on the front page where they have pointed out the dangerous spots on the expressway! Oh really? Just five such spots? Are the highway robbers going to keep to those spots only? I think we need to learn as drivers that we need to stop only at designated spots like petrol pumps or food malls, not anywhere in the blue yonder. I often see people stopping their vehicles on a lonely stretch on the highway to relieve themselves and my first reaction is ‘what an idiot, can’t he wait?’

Let’s accept it, we are not in Europe, where we may stop and even take a nap on the lay-bye and still be safe, or wait for a breakdown van to pick us up. Sure, our highways are not infested with monsters who prey on innocent travellers, but while our roads might have improved dramatically in the last decade or so, the mentality of the people has remained unchanged – be they law-abiding citizens or highway robbers!

I remember, before one of my drives to Gujarat and Rajasthan in 2009, I spoke to HV Kumar, a passionate motoring enthusiast and a gentleman who runs a forum on Facebook and websites where he posts updates of the traffic situation on the highways. I always do because I trust the man with my life and that of my family, even more than I do myself. He has over 10,000 members on his Forum and he can tell you about any road anywhere in the country at a moment’s notice, so extensive is his network of friends and motoring enthusiasts who keep him and the forum updated every minute.

We had driven from Pune to Chittorgarh and I remember talking to him about the roads in MP and while he praised the state of the roads there, he also told me to top the tank at before we left from there because he said there would be no petrol pumps for long stretches. He was right, because the first one we saw was around 150 kms after we left Chittorgarh. We were on our way to Sawai Madhopur. For miles we saw nothing, not even a village or people. We saw just barren land and nothing else and I remember thinking, what could happen if we were stuck in the middle of this place for some godforsaken reason. Since then, I have never stopped on the highways, not matter what the reason!

While doing a story in 2011 when I worked with an auto magazine, on the excessive speeds on the Mumbai-Pune expressway, I interviewed the Highways SP. He told me that it was virtually impossible to man the entire 97 kms of the expressway because one, he did not have the manpower and two, because he did not have the infrastructure. Incidentally, he told me then that they had just two speed-guns, on either end of the expressway. They actually had six, but four were under repairs. They needed at least a dozen more. I don’t think the situation has changed at all, since then.

The photographer and I also decided to check on the safety aspects on the expressway. Remember the phones that dot the expressway, which you can supposedly use during an emergency? They are a nice publicity vehicle for the phone company that installed them, but as far as their use is concerned, they are worthless pieces of junk. I say worthless, because sometimes even junk has its uses. We inspected every phone along the e-way and none of them worked. So every time the government talks of improving the infrastructure on the highways, I want to ask them why they don’t improve the system that already exists.

The rest of the world is monitoring traffic through satellites and even more advanced systems but we are still in the bullock cart age. No amount of high-speed expressways will help if our mentality and driving habits do not change. Apart from the speed freaks that we run into on the highways and the expressways, there is always the fear of running into unsavoury elements in the dead of night. Stopping on the highway for any other reason except a breakdown is asking for trouble.

Whether the police reached on time or whether the IRB personnel were asleep on the job, is all really irrelevant, when you are under attack. All that doesn’t matter when you or a family member is lying there bleeding to death, knifed by some hoodlum. No harm in being a little extra cautious, is there? All one is trying to say is that it’s really up to us to protect ourselves and our families from such incidents. Automobile magazines don’t care about such issues, at least they did not when I worked there. The best place for such issues to be highlighted would be blogs and driving forums. Will they take it up on a war footing?


Spotting a tiger at a wildlife sanctuary is a matter of chance. On a good day you can see one or more and on other days none. At Ranthambhore we had feasted our eyes on a tiger just 15 feet away that posed for us for over an hour. But one cannot get so lucky every time. Guides who show you around can also be good or bad. But what do you call one who falls asleep and leaves guests to fend for themselves for those five hours? That’s what happened to us at the Mukki zone at the Kanha sanctuary on April 24.

We drove around Kanha first through Mukki and tried to figure out the sights and sounds on our own. Secondly, waiting for a tiger to make an appearance can, sometimes, take up to an hour if one hears the calls. Our friend Santosh didn’t want to wait more than five minutes at any spot. He seemed more interested in rushing us through the forest! At one point we heard the growls of the tiger a few feet away initially, and after a few minutes because the deer had stopped calling the guide decided to push off, even as I requested him to wait a while.

But apart from this unpleasant episode, the fortnight (although a topsy-turvy trip because our bookings had to be rescheduled for extraneous reasons), was a refreshing change. I remember what the late editor SD Wagh used to say when he took leave -‘if I see one more newspaper I’ll vomit’! While I don’t feel so strongly I did need a break. Working thirty six months without a holiday does take its toll and I was desperately in need of one. We drove through tiger terrain in Nagzira, Pench and Kanha and were fortunate to see the cat.

The reserve at Nagzira is also looked after by the forest department but it was a lovely place. Our rooms were right in the middle of the forest and through the night one could hear either monkeys or deer warning the inmates of tigers or leopards in the vicinity.  Here too we spotted a tiger walking in front of us. This guy was a bit shy because as he heard the jeep he ran off into the jungle. This was the same animal that lunged at a jeep with a pesky woman in it.

Before coming to Nagzira we also visited Navegaon sanctuary but calling it a sanctuary is a misnomer. It is maintained by the Maharashtra Forest Department and is in a state of disrepair. The rooms are in terrible condition with latches missing on toilet doors and furniture that looks like it has seen better days. A lot of guests were couples on two-wheelers who seemed to have come from the village for a ‘quiet’ afternoon in one of the rooms. And except for hundreds of simians and some deer there wasn’t anything else to admire. The staff, however, were very helpful and courteous.

Indians make lousy tourists, even in their own country. They make a spectacle of themselves when they go abroad, but I guess in their own country, it’s like their ‘baap ka raj’. Take those at the tiger sanctuary in Pench. A majority were ‘aapli mansa’. They were loud, boisterous and thought they were at a mall or multiplex. One idiot even asked the guide to shake the tiger out of its reverie – ‘usko zara hila do’! The guide told him very sarcastically “usko agar hila diya to woh aap sab ko hila dega”. The sarcasm was lost on the idiot.

The minute the guide signalled them to stay quiet they would break into excited whispers that would have woken up the dead. They made so much noise when a tiger was spotted that the scared animal fled. They were screaming to each other that they had spotted the ears, nose and tail of a tiger — which had already left the area! It was embarrassing to say the least., watching the manoos make a fool of themselves. And they also came with infants who screamed their lungs out. Like I said, just like in a mall or multiplex. On the other hand were the foreigners who admired the magnificent beast and clicked away…in silence.

And this was the state of affairs at each place. At Nagzira there was this particular watering hole being frequented by a tiger. Thrice it landed up there to drink water only to be disturbed by a horde of screaming tourists who raced towards the spot. We were told by one of the guides that one adventurous young lady thought she could distract the animal so used her flash. This enraged the tiger so much that it charged at the jeep. It was the shouts of other equally frightened tourists that scared the animal away. I guess it is the Indian upbringing – If I’m paying for it it’s ‘baap ka maal’ – that makes us what we are. What we don’t realise is that in wildlife sanctuaries we are the intruders and should give the animals their space. I guess some Indians will only learn the hard way some day.

Visiting Pench National Park was easily the best part of the trip. We spotted tigers twice and I loved the drive through the jungle. Mukesh Ambani was right, it is the best managed sanctuary. Our driver Shivshankar Baghel was pretty amazing too. He ensured that the three days we spent did not go waste. He drove around Pench like a man possessed to ensure we spotted a tiger up close. “Itni door se aap aaye hain, to aise kaise jaane dein?”

He then drove us to Rukhad forest. This was a real jungle, yet unexplored and so really scary. MP Tourism had just started promoting it so it had no visitors. Even here we spotted fresh pug marks of a rather large tiger. We followed the marks for quite a while but two guards who roared past on a bike must have scared it away. Baghel was so apologetic about it the whole way back that he even gifted my son a lathi!

We stayed at Kipling’s Court which was a very swanky star resort with a swimming pool, bar, a fee snakes on the premises, but little else. They made up for that with their professionalism and the enthusiasm. Thankfully the guides we had were also good. I guess when you’re cheek by jowl to the Taj group resort you really are up against it. The most interesting thing about the Taj crowd was this dark, pretty and extremely sexy woman dressed in camouflage outfit, with studs in her nose and ears, driving one of their canters! She also spoke perfect English to her guests. Both, my wife and I, gave her an appreciative look! Wonder when I can afford a driver like that!!

Kipling's Court in Pench

Kipling’s Court in Pench

When we reached Kanha National Park on April 23, we first stayed two nights at the Muba Resort.  It’s a cool place in the buffer zone of the forest. Very hospitable and friendly staff and since we were the sole occupants it was fun! An entire group had just checked out so the staff was a little relaxed and friendly. They have TT and snooker tables, and a badminton court of sorts. And, thankfully, no TV sets in the rooms.

The tiger in Pench. Clicked by junior.

The tiger in Pench. Clicked by junior.

We entered the Park through the Mukki Gate. This was where we met our ‘sleepy joe’ guide Santosh. In four of the five allotted hours – we left an hour early in sheer disgust – the guide didn’t really do what he was being paid to do and made our driver look for any tell-tale signs of the big cats, while he nodded off frequently in the rear of the jeep! He was the first to grab his food when we stopped for refreshments and then disappeared. He insisted we look at a baby python, which he heard about from a fellow guide. Incidentally he missed the reptile even though it was lying in the open as we drove past it! My wife told him coldly that she was used to them as they were a common sight in her hometown in Bihar. But he was adamant. We were told later that other tourists had also complained about the guy but the Madhya Pradesh Tourism officials refused to act against him. I was told that he also showed up under the influence of liquor on occasion and is supposed to have joked to some that the reason he wore dark glasses was to ensure tourists did not catch him nodding off.  Except for the day at Muba, this part of the Kanha trip was a let-down. Also,  there had been a thunderstorm on the previous day and the animals had relocated to safer climes.

The deer and the fawn

The deer and the fawn

From there we moved to the expensive Bagheera Log Huts in the Kisli zone of the same Park for the next two days. I am told that by this yearend they are moving this resort out, since environmentalists feel human habitation in the core zone disturbs the animals. Till then, enjoy the sight of deer, fox and other animals loitering outside your room! Also while you sit outside your rooms enjoying the breeze, listen to the monkeys and deer warning of danger lurking in the vicinity.  Apart from that, the food and service is average and the breakfast they give tourists for the safari is rubbish. The two safaris we took were also disappointing in terms of the fact that we didn’t spot any tigers even though they were in the vicinity. We did spot quite a few interesting birds, of the feathered kind and clicked a deer feeding the fawn right in the middle of the track.

The night before (April 27) we left Kanha we calculated the distance between Kanha and Pune, as estimated it to be around 800 kms. It was a gross miscalculation. When we left Kanha at 6 am on Saturday morning we thought of stopping for the night near Aurangabad because we knew we would be there around 6 pm and we could cover the rest of the 200-odd kms to Pune the next day.  We knew we would be able to maintain just a 35-45 kmph speeds. We finally reached Aurangabad at 8.45 pm and after getting some dinner packed we debated whether we should stay the night there or move on. However, the excitement of getting back home spurred us on. Unfortunately it took us an hour to get out of Aurangabad because everyone there, it seems, had decided to get their children married on that Saturday, so all the roads were blocked! We also missed a turn and ended up again on the road to Jalna!

At around 10.45 pm we stopped at a food mall about 50 kms outside Aurangabad, to get a coffee. I was chatting with one of the staffers and he said I would reach Pune by 2 am. I think that’s when I felt wave of exhaustion come over me! I had been behind the wheel for close to 17 hours and the thought of driving another three hours, made me feel even more exhausted! My wife asked me if I could drive up to Ahmednagar, and immediately went online on her mobile and checked up about hotels there. She called Yash Palace Hotel and booked a room. There were occasions when I thought the dividers had disappeared and would brake suddenly because I thought there was a vehicle in my lane! Strangely, by the time we reached Ahmednagar at around 11.30 pm I felt better and by the time we checked-in while I was exhausted the wooziness had completely disappeared. I guess, in retrospect it was a wise decision to stop for the night. When we reached home early morning on the next day on Sunday, April 28, we had covered 3187 kms from April 14-28.

Most of the roads we drove on in both states were okay except a few. The roads in Nagpur were wide and well maintained. The city is charming and I am wondering why our city planners can’t do something about the mess that is Pune. The stretch after Nagpur up to the Madhya Pradesh border en route to Pench is a mess. Once we entered MP from Nagpur en route to Jabalpur, the road was a revelation – four-lane most of the way and superbly made. The only disturbing factor was that at various points suddenly the four-lane became two-lane because the NHAI had still not got total clearance from the environment ministry! And to make matters worse there are rumblers at these points and no indicators to warn motorists. At night, especially if it rains, it could be disastrous. So watch out.

The second terrible stretch is of 120 km from Balaghat to Baihar en route to Kanha. Attempt it only if it’s the last option. We were guided there so didn’t realise it till we were in the middle of it. There is no road, just huge craters for almost 60 kms (most of them on the ghats) on which you can only travel at speeds of 10-20 kms per hour. Anything faster and you risk serious damage to your vehicle and yourself. There are other better routes from Seoni or Mandla.

It was an interesting fortnight without any newspapers, news channels or even access to mobiles except on occasions. In Jabalpur, where we stayed with relatives of my wife I spent three days doing absolutely nothing and the folks were really quite understanding. We did go to the famous India Coffee House but besides that did nothing else. At Pench and Kanha, apart from the odd safari, the rest of the days were spent doing nothing. I should do this more often…but now back to the grind!

Back on the road again…

Posted: April 16, 2013 in Travelogues

Lonar, Maharashtra

It was like the swarm. Okay that’s a bit of an exaggeration but when we stepped into the room at the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation’s resort at Lonar, we were attacked – not by bees but by mosquitoes. And this was not at night but a little after 3 pm. My son had an entertaining hour swiping at them and see them crackling under his electric mosquito killer!

This was the first long distance trip we were on in the last 36 months. May 2010 was the last one when we had driven around in Rajasthan and Gujarat seeing tigers, lions and other assorted flora and fauna. That was a bit rushed, almost like a pit stop that Formula One racers take when they are whizzing around like crazy on a track. This time, I told my wife that we would take at least a two-day break in most places and would not visit too many places. Lonar was the only one that was an overnight halt, and that too only because we were driving to Jabalpur via Nagpur and I had no intention of driving non-stop. We always stop for a night’s rest somewhere, anywhere. So we decided to stop at Lonar.

Lonar craterWe left Pune at 7.10 am – we had planned for 6.30 am! It’s become a joke in my house, actually. We reached Lonar at 2.20 pm after driving 395 kms. Once we crossed Aurangabad we were driving through villages and some of the roads were pretty bad. So to maintain an average of around 60 kmph wasn’t bad.

Then we were at the mosquito-infested hotel room of the MTDC. We thought that by the time we returned, the insects would have been removed, but we were wrong. The mosquito repellents only seemed to have helped the mosquitoes multiply rapidly! Surely, the MTDC could put mosquito netting on the doors and windows of the cottages and let tourists enjoy their stay instead of spending a restless night swatting away insects!

With all its history, the crater, to me, resembled a dirty lake that hadn’t been cleaned for ages. The guide, Ramesh Rathod, who first tried to impress us with his English, and then decided, by the pained look on my face that he was better off in Marathi, extolled on the medicinal properties of the water He made us scrub our hands with it to prove that it contained things that cleaned one’s hands, but the cynic in me just became even more cynical. We did spot two huge peacocks in the shrub and heard plenty more around.

Khajuraho redux

Khajuraho redux

There were also Vijaynagar dynasty era temples at the crater and around Lonar with their beautiful architecture, sadly vandalised by idiotic Indians who believe in leaving their names on the walls for posterity, along with the customary ‘Dilip loves Vandana’! Why is it never ‘Vandana loves Dilip’? I guess, because women have a lot more common sense than illiterate Indian men and don’t believe in vandalising our history. The ASI or whosoever looks after these places can easily use a little water and wash away the mess on the walls. Unless of course it has been inscribed on the walls in 300 AD, but as ancient history has shown, people were far more civilised then.

Yes, it would be heaven in the rains, if you felt like sliding and slipping down the rocky terrain 720 feet below and trekking back up the same distance to the ground above – and then, if you had that much energy, walking around the entire 7.5 kms diameter of the forest around the crater. The guide claimed one could spot a leopard or two in the monsoons, along with the peacocks.

The walk around the area surrounding the crater and the climb up to the top was invigorating, but the Lonar crater, history, science et al,  left me cold.

I wrote this in June 2011 for Car India portal*. Some of the information has been updated.

Travel enthusiasts, helped by new age technology join forces at various forums to help each other while on the road

J.K. Saraf is 63 years old. At a time when people look forward to walks in the garden and a retired life, this sexagenarian, who lives in Pune, decided to do the unheard.

He sent his Ford Endeavour for servicing, packed enough food to last him a fortnight, then convinced his wife, daughter and three grandchildren that they were about to embark on the adventure of their lives. Then getting behind of his Ford Endy’, Saraf and his family set off for Leh! All Saraf had with him was confidence, a mobile phone and directions by a travel enthusiast to guide him through the treacherous terrain.

New age technology, has made travelling to the most inaccessible corners of the country so much easier. Mobile phones with 3G and and laptops with data connectivity have made a huge difference. Lost? Just call a friend for directions on the mobile or log on to your iPhone or android phone and check out your latitudes yourself. When did our parents have such an advantage?

But apart from mobile phones and laptops, there is a third dimension, which has made driving around the country a pleasure, and that is a travel forum. Get on to one and a first-time traveller or even the most experienced one will get the latest updates on everything he or she needs while driving from point A to B – road condition, directions, number of toll booths, toll amounts, traffic rules in each State etc etc. There are numerous travel forums that have a very strong online presence, where a huge number of automobile and two-wheeler enthusiasts congregate to get the latest information on travel routes, road conditions etc of places they intend to visit.

Rushabh Parekh who runs popular automotive forum (, which has an on-the-road section, believes it’s about sharing your experiences, so that others can benefit. Over a hundred travelogues are uploaded on his site every month and they along with travel logs are available on request to any member of the forum. Team-bhp boasts 12.5 lakh unique visitors on their forum and the increasing number is proof of the burgeoning community of travellers in the country

“The idea is to give instant and invaluable feedback to travellers in real-time, which could benefit them, whichever part of the country they are in,“ Rushabh told CAR India (

This writer remembers going on a travel forum such as this when he was planning his trip from Pune to Kanyakumari and back via Chennai and Bengaluru a few years back. He got a complete breakdown of the route, road condition, petrol pumps, restaurants and motels along the way by helpful travellers. And every bit of the information was spot-on, to the last kilometre.

For Yogesh Sarkar of BCMTouring ( helping travellers is a 24×7 experience. “Whether you are on a bike or a car, the basic requirements remain the same – road conditions, availability of petrol pumps, weather updates and accommodation,” he says. The basic idea is to keep each other updated about these factors while travelling around the country.

“When I travelled extensively around the country, I took the help of travel enthusiasts for my requirements, so the idea behind a travel forum was my way of paying back to the community of travel enthusiasts for all they had done for me,” he told CAR India.(

He says he realises how desperately people need information today. “Last year there were 1.5 lakh views for the condition of the road between Manali and Leh, and this year so far we have received over 70,000 views for the same route.”

He says the minute a driver or rider does a difficult section, he or she posts an update about the condition of the road, and since weather conditions in this section can change travel plans overnight, there are constant updates about this stretch.

Nithin KD, is one such frequent traveller who not only keeps himself updated on the latest developments of the road he is about to travel on but also helps others who drive around the country. Though his travelling has been curtailed due to his work, he still helps anyone who asks for information on road routes.

“I once guided a friend, who was riding a two-wheeler all the way from Shimla to Manali via my phone, giving him directions till he reached his destination. The friend would stop at regular intervals and check on the route he was taking, by talking to me,” says Nithin. Like him, there are others for whom travelling is a passion and helping other travellers a bounden duty. There are no rewards, just the satisfaction of helping another fellow traveller that drives them.

Another name that crops up frequently on travel forums is HV Kumar. His name is on almost every second travel-related discussion on the forum. Get on Facebook and type HV Kumar and you’ll be taken to his personal page, and more interestingly, to a page which goes by the title: HV Kumar – Fan, Forum & Message Board. On this page, anyone who needs information of any route around the country, affordable hotels, road taxes, condition of the roads – whether it’s the Golden Quadrilateral, National or State highways, or even the roads in a city or town- he or she will find it. His travel logs are also at your disposal if ever you need them.

A page that is updated 24×7 requires constant attention, and Kumar, who is a former merchant banker, and runs his own consulting company, still finds time to do that. The Facebook forum was started in November 2009 and at last count, the page has 4025 members and growing.

The last word on the subject must go to Saraf. He says he came to know about Kumar through a common friend of his daughter and Team-BHP. He spoke to us from his home in Pune about his trip on which he was behind the wheel throughout.

“I sent an email to HV about our proposed travel to Leh from May 25, this year. To my surprise we got a reply within 2/3 hours, giving a total route breakdown and helpful links of his previous tour experiences and what we should take along on our drive. During the travel throughout, we were constantly in touch with him and he gave us lot of information and suggestions which were really useful.”

In the end, for people like Yogesh, Kumar and the others like them, it’s not about the money or recognition.

* Reprinted with permission from Next Gen Publishing.


The road to Mandawa

Posted: February 22, 2011 in Travelogues
Tags: , ,

Driving to Rajasthan’s Mandawa town, where I went to be a part of Mahindra’s Great Escape, was an eye-opener. Driving on the NH 8, I marvelled at what Delhi and DLF have become today – take it or leave it, but ‘progress’ will bring in its wake the kind of rapid construction one sees today.

I lived in Gurgaon in 1998, but what I saw this time as we drove towards Mandawa town left me quite breathless. It was almost as if I was in Batman’s Gotham City with all the menacing glass towers overlooking the National Highway 8 to Jaipur. That was the one side of progress.

As we veered off NH 8 towards Rewari, we entered another world, far removed from any vestiges of progress. Terrible roads, no illumination even as we passed through villages, officials at toll booths pocketing a part of the tax collected and issuing receipts for less, and at other booths flinging money back on the face of the driver because he could not tender exact change.

Large portions of the 230-odd km stretch from Delhi to Mandawa were potholed in most places, dug up in some, and smooth in a few. A distance like that would take a good motorist roughly 4-5 hours to cover, because one was passing through villages where speed humps have become just another obstruction. But it took our driver seven hours to manoeuvre the car through muddy patches and gravel, where at some time in the past was a tar road.

Strangely enough the place is a tourist hub, so what stopped the government from getting a road done up? I did see one lane completely dug up in Mandawa, and in construction mode, but no activity.
As we drove on towards Mandawa, the driver stopped at a decrepit, single storey building and got out, muttering something about paying some road tax. He returned a few minutes swearing loudly, “the m****r f****r was drunk…I had to wake him up…gave him 1100 rupees but got a receipt for only 700.”

I told him he should have demanded a correct receipt, but he replied, “Better not to argue with these guys. You don’t know what they are capable of.” According to our driver, despite all this, Rajasthan was a far safer place than Bihar and UP! The efficient PR team of Mahindra’s was still there waiting, when we reached Saras Vilas at 12.30 am – seven hours after we left IGIA.

On our way back we stopped at a toll booth, where the attendant demanded twenty bucks when the tax was just Rs 10. Handing over a hundred rupee note, the driver reminded him of the correct amount. The attendant flung the note at the driver, claiming he did not have change. Strangely enough, when the driver stepped out of the car to pay, he saw wads of loose change in the table drawer! Instead of returning by the same route we veered off towards Bhiwani and Rohtak.

The roads were a dramatic improvement. We travelled an extra 75 kms but reached IGIA in an hour less. Did the condition of the roads here have anything to do with political muscle?

As we entered Gurgaon town, the stark contrast between the two areas divided by a highway was more than evident. From 1998, when I was there last, Father Time seemed to have stood still in Gurgaon. Old buildings, chaotic traffic and terrible roads were an indication that progress had bypassed this town for its more famous kin across the highway. It almost seemed like we were back on the village roads of Mandawa.