Posts Tagged ‘Chittorgarh’

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?


So, after a night’s rest, we set off from Vadodara for Chittorgarh via Ahmedabad and Udaipur, on the second leg of our holiday. Not as long as the one from Pune to Vadodara, but still 476 kms. We had no idea what the roads would be like, so before leaving we asked the receptionist, who told us that the roads were very good.

Leaving Vadodara at sunrise...

We left the hotel at 6.10 am and reached the expressway exactly 17 minutes later, after following the very precise directions from the security guard at the hotel entrance — “Go straight out of the gate, turn right at T junction, take third left turn and go straight till you reach the Expressway to Ahmedabad.”

And the receptionist back at the hotel, wasn’t just making up a tall story about the roads. Having driven on the Pune-Mumbai e-way, we were looking forward to a similar experience but the drive on the Vadodara-Ahmedabad quite simply took my breath away. It was till then the best stretch of road we had driven on. Once we cleared the Toll Post, it was one long, smooth stretch with no exits every few metres, no diversions, and even more surprisingly, no ‘U’ turns. There were just two exits for Nadiad and Anand.

We were sailing along so comfortably that we missed the exit for Udaipur, and landed up at the Toll Post at Ahmedabad! With no way to go back we were forced to drive through Ahmedabad and lost 75 minutes in which we covered just 27 kms. In normal circumstances we would have covered at least 70 kms in that time. But as luck would have it, we crawled through Ahmedabad through stretches of road under construction, got caught in a jam at a level crossing and had a terrible time in the traffic.

Since we were stuck, we decided to stop for tea at a restaurant with a kitchen that had seen better days. It was tepid tea, but what the hell – tea is tea! Finally at around 9.15 am we reached the intersection, from where we would take the NH 8 to Himmatnagar and then to Udaipur.

At the gates of Rajasthan

Once again, what struck us was the smooth road. And that continued all the way to Himmatnagar. After driving 180 kms we reached Himmatnagar, from where we continued to Ratanpur which is on the cusp of Gujarat and Rajasthan. As we reached Udaipur we took a right towards Chittorgarh. The left turn entered Udaipur town. We would be back there later, from another route.

This was the worst stretch we had encountered so far, but mercifully just 11 kms. It was bumpy, potholed and narrow till we reached the intersection that brought us on NH 76. Once we were on it, the road staged a miraculous recovery. I thought we had seen it all on the e-ways, but this stretch was another engineering marvel.

Just before we reached Chittorgarh we came to a point on the road where we just stopped and gaped. Right in front of us was a maze of elevated roads crisscrossing the desert. One road went to Mumbai, the other to Jaipur and the third to Kota and I think we just lost count. We had to take a left turn at NH 76 and drive down a small road to Chittorgarh, a little town with a big history. We reached RTDC’s Hotel Panna at exactly 1.30 pm. and would have reached at least an hour earlier had we not missed the Udaipur exit on the expressway!

At Rani Padmini's fort, feeding the monkeys, which carefully picked the nuts they wanted to eat!

Since we were there just for a night, we rushed off to see Rani Padmini’s fort. We were shown the 13-km long fort situated atop the hill by an extremely polite guide. The kid gave us a pretty good recount of history and by 6 pm we were back in the hotel.
Next: Ranthambhore…and the tiger trail.

The man who drove us around in Udaipur told us a few interesting things about the royals in Udaipur and about the place in general – and none of it was complimentary. While speaking about the present royals, he snapped, “All blood suckers, especially the old man. If it was left to him, he would charge everyone money for just standing outside his palace!” he said a lot more, which I can’t repeat here.

So, as we walked around the City Palace, those words kept ringing in my ears! Incidentally, we paid 130 bucks to get in; another 50 bucks for the car park and was told I would have to pay another 200 just to take the camera in. I drew the line at that and was helped along by the friendly driver who said, there was nothing worth photographing inside, because all the antiques had been moved to the hotel, which had been carved out of a part of the palace. And he was right. The place was like any government museum and not worth the visit.

In complete contrast was the memorial of Maharana Pratap and his horse Chetak. The driver told us another story as we drove to Haldi Ghati, the scene of one of the most famous battles in Indian history between Maharana Pratap and Man Singh, a Rajput who sold his soul to Akbar. While successive governments over the last decade played politics over Maharana Pratap, a school teacher begged banks for a loan to fulfil his dream. One village bank finally gave him Rs 50 lakhs and this teacher launched the project – a memorial to the Maharana.

If you go to Udaipur, drive down to Haldi Ghati and see the memorial – a handiwork of love and devotion – constructed in three years and still coming up. My reason for mentioning this memorial is because not even 30 metres away is a wall that lies incomplete in spite of having been started a decade ago – a symbol of the dirty politics being played out between two successive State governments. And we were taught this lesson in school that Maharana Pratap belonged to India.

Frankly, considering its rich heritage and history, Udaipur is wasting away. The place is supposed to be a Lake City and yet the natural lakes are going dry and don’t even supply water to the city. Strangely enough the lake that supplies water to the city is manmade! And while the people cry out for water, the politicians engage in one-upmanship.

It’s a bit like the roads that we drove around on since we started our holiday. We all know that the roads underwent a dramatic change when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister. Sadly at a lot of places we found patchwork and incomplete highways. It is almost as if the Congress Government’s playing cussed and would rather not do anything because it would end up in someone other than the Gandhi -Nehru clan getting credit. The Congress government should know that whether they complete the highway projects or not, it will always be known as Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s dream project. And there’s not a damn thing they can do about it!

There had been governments before Vajpayee’s but no one bothered to bring India closer to its people. Look at how long it took them to make the Pune-Mumbai expressway one of the finest stretches in the country. Last week, as we drove to Chittorgarh, I couldn’t help marvelling at the expressway between Vadodara and Ahmedabad. In the last three years, I have driven around the good, bad and the terrible roads in this country, so this stretch was, I thought till then, the best road I had driven on in India.

So should I be thanking Atal Bihari Vajpayee for the state of Indian roads? Let’s be honest, if it had not been for him I don’t think a lot of (not too adventurous) middle class Indians like me would ever have ventured out to see the country by road.

Then there was Ajmer and Pushkar, which are a conman’s dream location. When we left for the Ajmer dargah we were told to leave everything, but the clothes we had on, behind in our room. By everything we were told it meant wallet, handbags, watches, rings, mobiles, necklace just anything. so that’s how we went.

At Pushkar, of course, it was a different story. From the toll gate to the temple every attempt was made to fleece us by extremely polite guides who were hand-in-glove with the so called Brahmin priests. They tried to wheedle us out of Rs 11,000 till they ran into another Brahmin – my wife – who knows a thing or two about saving and making money! They tried really hard, but gave up!

Before we left Pune on May 2, I hoped we would encounter some decently constructed roads that we could drive on without having to feel we were on an obstacle course. Except for the stretch between Sawai Madhopur and Ajmer, it’s been a pleasure driving in Gujarat and Rajasthan. We reached Udaipur driving on a four-lane highway in quick time. Let’s hope it stays that way. We leave for the Gir Lion Sanctuary tomorrow. After watching a tiger from just ten feet away at Ranthambhore, I am hoping the lions too will give us something more to remember this holiday.