Four states, 1500 km and a mass animal suicide.
When I was younger, most kids my age would spend their weekends at the mall. Family vacations were pre-planned holiday tours, religiously followed every year. You never really had to think much. Tickets booked, you could tell everyone you’d be back on the evening of 13th April. Weren’t parents supposed to be organized and clearheaded so they could steer your lives?
My childhood was the antithesis of this. Saturday mornings my mother would wake us up and order us to go sit in the car at 6am. Shuffling out in a line, rubbing sand out of our eyes, I’d ask “Where are we going?”
She’d say with a shrug, “I don’t know. Let’s see”
I enjoyed these weekend trips to nowhere. We would drive out of Mumbai and take unknown roads. Sometimes reaching Khopoli and sometimes Chiplun. Other times being completely content with never reaching anywhere and just driving continuously till we were back home.
My father loved driving, my mother loved going on long drives. The drives extended to Bangalore, Ooty and finally Delhi where we would end up staying for a few months at the expense of school and college attendance. I started sharing the wheel about six years ago and that is when I realised fully that I had inherited their love for being on the road.
I spent the last distressing year in Delhi and finally this June I was packing up for good. Everything I owned was in my new second-hand Honda City. My father was flying down to Delhi only to share the drive with me. I was advised by many to send the car by transport, but there was no way in hell I was going to miss an opportunity like this.
We were set to leave the next morning and I had this conversation with my mother over the phone.
“Listen, so don’t let papa drive when it’s dark”
“I know I know, I’m planning to drive as much as I can”
“No seriously. He’s got a slight swelling on his retina, his right hand vision is a little blurry”
“What the fuck! And you’re telling me this now”
Rainclouds over Rajasthan
Delhi- Lords of the lane
There was not much we could do by then, so we left at 3am onto desolate roads, grooving to Tame Impala’s It’s not meant to be playing in the background. Tame Impala and night driving is a lethal combination.
One thing that being on the road all my life had taught me was to respect it. The highway isn’t a park you stroll through carelessly. It is a forest full of dangerous insects and wild animals, where you could appreciate the beauty of wilderness but would have to tread with caution.
My favourite vehicles on the highway are trucks. They remind me of elephants, swaying labouriously and moving as fast as their weight would allow them. They invariably followed the rules of the Jungle, which here was the lane. Lane discipline is the sacred scripture of the road and it had no place for egomaniacal tendencies. One mistake on the highway directly translates into death.
Always wondered what one would find at Dudu
Rajasthan- Suicide Squad
We were at Jaipur by 6:50am that was 281 kms in 3 hours 50 minutes. The break of dawn lit up Rajasthan’s desert landscape punctuated by unexpected fort type structures. Rajasthan had villages with the weirdest names. One was called Dudu and another Dungarpur.
But there was something more sinister at play in Rajasthan. There were an incredible number of dead animals on the road. Dead dogs, cats, goats and cattle! Huge ass bulls and cows in the middle of a two lane highway each direction. Their width was equal to that of a car and hence a number of motor accidents lining the road. I was just cursing human beings and their lack of concern for other species, when a trio of goats standing along the road waited for the car to come close enough and then jumped in front of it. Luckily I wasn’t going too fast at the time and I swerved out of the way. We had never seen so much road kill. To make an underestimate, we had seen at least 30 dogs and 10 cattle and 20 bodies so mangled we couldn’t make out what animal it was. This was not normal.
Goats without a zebra crossing
Our theory was:
The animals in Rajasthan were on a massive unanimous suicide mission in protest of the new highway that had been completed recently. “We must litter the road with corpses”, they said to each other at nightly meetings, while making a count of the martyrs lost that day. But the selfish bastards that we are as a race, we couldn’t bother to take notice. I wonder how many animals had to die before humans would acknowledge their otherwise pointless struggle.
Came across more than 50 dead animals on the road
Gujarat- This is where your sweet tooth chokes and dies
We entered Gujarat at 5:45 at Vantada completing 844 kms now. My father had driven for the last five hours and returned the wheel already. In the meanwhile I hadn’t been able to get a minute’s shut eye because I had to keep a close watch on the road, especially with the suicidal animals in Rajasthan and my father’s bad eye.
Thankfully in Gujarat there were no road kill, if any they had been promptly moved off the road. By the time we got on to the Ahmedabad-Baroda expressway tiredness had hit big time. I felt sick but we couldn’t stop on the expressway. This was a problem that my father and I shared. We would always delay the night halt by another 50 km and then another 20km. Normally my mother was there to check that but this time we drove till both of us couldn’t feel our legs.
Camel taking a break
At 9:30 pm we crossed Baroda and stopped at this fancy yet affordable highway establishment. Gujarat was the only state equipped with these conveniences. Jelly was what my legs felt like. My body swayed as though I was still in the moving car for an hour after getting out of it. A hot bath and the simple bed seemed as luxurious as a five-star cottage in the Swiss Alps.
We left at 7:30 am in the morning with 400 kms more to go and did good time on the infamous Sardar Bridge in Bharuch which is notorious for its traffic jams before we stopped for breakfast.
You know if caramel had sex with honey and they had a baby. That sickly abomination seemed to be the key ingredient in every single thing we ate. Gujarati food is sweet is an understatement. I’ve never tasted sweeter sweet chutney.
The woman let me click her picture and then asked me for money
Maharashtra- The undercover agent
We stopped to refuel at the very first petrol pump upon entering Maharashtra and here we met a peculiar character. This mustached man who owned the petrol pump had a very watchful demeanor. He asked a lot of questions. Where were we coming from, going and staying. He looked typically Maharashtrian and yet surprisingly told us he was from Uttar Pradesh. He started bitching about the Sena in Mumbai but was carefully observing and analyzing all the information and reactions he collected. We had tea with him and left. As soon as we both sat in the car we said almost synchronously “He’s a spy!”
This man had been stationed right at the mouth of Maharashtra so he could be a casual informant to the police about vehicles entering the state, therefore his abnormal questioning and misleading identity.
But that was soon forgotten amidst the thrashing mid-July rain of Bombay. After spending almost two months in scorching Delhi heat that hovers around 43 degrees Celsius, this was heaven. On account of city traffic, we finally reached home at about 3 pm.
I might have not have appreciated the erratic nature of my childhood when I was younger, as I felt like a misfit most of the time. That same feeling of being different has turned into one of pride today. My parents’ greatest gift to us was fearlessness in the face of the unknown and the ability to adapt and step over setbacks.
Blue skies after a year of smog in Delhi
101 Road Trip Delhi-Mumbai
1. Start early, before 6 am ideally.
2. Loose, comfortable clothing is a must.
3. To make it within 24 hours, drive at an average of 100kmph.
4. Prep yourself for the traffic at Udaipur Bypass Road and Sardar Bridge, Bharuch.
5. Make your night stop in Gujarat, not Rajasthan. The hotels are better.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Karishma Goenka
Photographs by: Karishma Goenka