Sunday, November 25, 2007

Rajasthan Road Trip - Day 1

Oct 26th 2007

All our research in place, the wife and I were raring to go. The previous night we had stopped at Crossword (a book shop) to pickup a mapbook, during that trip, I also picked up Lonely Planet - India. I thought for a while whether I should really be picking up a book that I usually see foreign tourists clutching on their trips here. I must stop and give props before I proceed.

Without Lonely Planet, we probably would have had an average Rajasthan experience. I cannot emphasize enough how much LP helped us to enjoy our own country, proving that an outsiders perspective on your own country is so much more fun to look at the same thing from!

Ok, back to the morning of the 26th..
8.20 AM : Bags packed and goodbyes in order, we roll out of Powai in our trusty red Maruti Swift.
Mileage Marker: 16336

Bombay TrafficWe had wanted to leave earlier so that we could beat the traffic, but oh, well - fortunately we're against the traffic at this time so we hit pretty much no traffic all the way till we cross Borivali. There are a series of Octroi posts where the traffic invariably will back up and slow people down.

We finally weave our way out of the end of city mayhem and are now making some progress, getting out of the city, the road conditions get a bit bumpy - the entire Rajasthan trip is on NH-8, the patch out of Mumbai is average with sections that are potholed and need fixing, but pretty soon the road conditions improve and we're able to zip out and make good time.

Vegas In BombayOur plan is to make it to Ahmedabad where we have decided to halt for the night and then make an early morning run for it to Udaipur - but we're not solid on this front - anyhow, we plow on. We get out of town, toll booth, hmm, ok - pay our money and move on. Now enter Dadra, Nagar Haveli - the most painful drivers I've ever encountered, not one single person is willing to give step out of the way - what is wrong with these people - I think they hate Mumbaikars!

More toll booths, the wife and I are getting programmed now - the wife has just gotten her hands on a new digital camera that we bought, so she's being trigger happy and clicking away, while I'm putting pedal to metal. Soon we're into Gujarat (yay!) and are making our way through Navsari,I must say that the road is now 3 lanes in both directions and its pretty amazing - since we're crossing townships, people end up crossing the road on front of us - so ultra alert.

We hit a MAJOR road block near Kadodra - NH8 is being widened to be 4 lanes all over - the good people of Kadodra decided they would learn traffic management on the job - this means that there is such a massive backup of trucks - if we stayed where we were we would never make it to our destination in time - so after being the "law abiders" we join in with the scores of cars that are simply driving in the oncoming lane, which has sparse traffic, only trucks are now waiting in the right lane. This turns out to be the right thing to do - as I cross about 600/800 trucks waiting to get their chance as the humans control traffic, I realize I've saved about 2 hours atleast - anyhow, we get back onto the right side of the road eventually and again start chunking through - we reach Surat, bypass and head into Bharuch, land of the Khari Singh (salted peanuts) - cross the Narmada - and break for lunch.

Ruchi (my wife) takes over the driving duties at this point as we head into Baroda. The Bharuch / Baroda road is also being constructed, so we end up in a Kadodra type soup again - feeling guilty for breaking the law, I forbid the wife to do the same - result - we're stuck and going nowhere - finally we start using the shoulder like other cars ahead of us and somehow manage to get out of the jam - but we've lost a good 1.5 hours, 2 hours total including the previous mess!

We reach Baroda and take the inner city roads to reach the Baroda Ahmedabad expressway - its now about 4/5 PM - and we're questioning our ambitious plan of making it to Udaipur tonight! :(( Anyhow, we hit the expressway and its pure joy after the travails of NH8 - 120 kmph anybody? Ruchi is making the car work and we reach our designated exit, just before Ahmedabad - taking the HimmatNagar exit on the expressway. We consult with someone we know who has driven this route before and he assures us that we might as well make a dash for Udaipur if we can hit Himmatnagar - we are buoyed by this and after the quick dash to Ahmedabad - we're hopeful again.

However, the exterior Ahmedabad ring road is all under construction, its night time and due to the construction we're having to share the same road (sans dividers) with the oncoming traffic. This is new to Ruchi as she's never driven in the night before - we tread carefully but we're still making progress. Fantastically, even the shabby ring road people are taking toll from us - we feel gypped since the roads are terrible - oh well.

In the confusion, we miss our turnoff towards HimmatNagar, but the helpful toll guys at the next circle indicate that we've come ahead. We're quickly learning that its easier to ask random people on the road for directions, our map book is good, but its got one level of zoom to little - our friends on the roads who will give us directions are now referred to as "flunkies" and the act as "flunkie check"!

We are back on track, this road is narrow and the drivers are insane - we're both focused on the road and are being super cautious - we finally make it out of that section with *some* scares - some people just dont care about living - it feels like that seeing some of the moves people are making in the darkness! Anyhow, we're now zooming towards Himmatnagar, the road has gotten nicer, but people keep running across the roads making it risky to speed too much. The drive is taking its toll on Ruchi - she's been driving for a long time now - we decide to switch at Himmatnagar.

We break at Himmatnagar for dinner and some much needed rest, load up on the tea and caffeine - food feels good - we eat at Hotel Landmark - decent food and just off the highway. I take over driving duties - we've decided now that we WILL reach Udaipur tonight. We had called a hotel from Bharuch in the afternoon and made our reservations in Udaipur so we had a place to crash at night.

After Himmatnagar, the road was fantastic - the traffic became regulated and roads were smooth and nice - we made good time - we were still paying tolls every now and then!! The road moves into a incline and there is a ghat (hilly) section that we're navigating - we keep climbing for quite some time. Finally, we hit the toll booth about 30 minutes outside Udaipur - finally, the goal is in sight!

We enter the outskirts of Udaipur, ceremonial gates and a full moon welcome us! :) Udaipur at night is deserted as it should be - we have some rough directions thanks to LP and turn into an inner city lane from the main roads. As we drive inwards, we know that we're lost - time for flunkie check - its 11.30 PM and we've made it to Udaipur! Mumbai - Udaipur 11 hours.

Flunkies guide us to the right place - we call the hotel guys for directions - the hotel guy tells us that he's released our booking because he assumed we were coming by air!! @!#!@$ Post this - we made it a point to tell ALL our bookings that we were driving and we might come late - but we'd come. Anyhow, middle of the night - Ruchi went ballistic on hotel guy - rightly so - we tell him - nothing doing - we're coming - he should figure out a room for us.

We reach Rang Niwas Palace finally, our hotel. The place is beautiful! Its an old haveli, but we dont know if we have a room yet - we park the car and are greeted by a smiling character - he apologizes and says he has a room for us - all's well that ends well - Ruchi and I stare around and are in awe of the place we've booked - chalk the first one up for LP - yep, its a LP recommendation. Anyhow, we're dead tired from the driving - we toss our stuff into the room and just crash - we've made it to Udaipur - the adventure has begun and day 1 has set the tone! Udaipur sightseeing tomorrow!!!

Udaipur, Rajasthan : City of Lakes, Venice of the East - Day 2

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