I had always dreamt about doing a Rajasthan trip by Car, Many factors can be stated 1)The planning always included The Longewal Battlefield where in the brave soldiers fought valiantly with the Pakistanis in 1971 (later on this inspired the film Border). 2)I have been to Tawang memorial in the East & wanted to complete the Jaisalmer memorial there in West . 3) like many many Bengali boys me too grew up reading amar chitra katha comics & watching the Sonar kella film umpteen no of times to ignite enough flames for a rajasthan trip.
As expected the reactions from different quarters have always been “are you MAD ?” to “You ARE mad” & outright rebuke from Parents with just a crisp “Don’t do it” But my imagination of kings, kingdoms,wars, bravery , Feluda, Mondar bose , Jatayu (from sonar kella film)had already a world which I could no longer be able to neglect, I had made up my mind to go solo if no one came with me. Fortunately Wifey was very supportive this time around. Well I lured her into it saying that its not just rajasthan , we stop enroute & those places are Varanasi & Agra with which comes the bonus that she could not resist ie The Tajmahal & not to forget A Benarasi saree waiting for her at some counters in benaras.
My idea was simple I get to take a very Long Drive while fulfilling a long cherished dream while at the same time If I can pull this out with my family, in future No distance will seem too far & I can coax them to many places which still resides in my Bucket list.
The preparation had already been done by me for quite some time , I had my checklist of to do things in place & all I needed was latest updates on road conditions after finalizing the dates. I got down to my task around October end.
2/3 Hotels per city were shortlisted, made sure to call them up to confirm parking facilities since in places like old Jodhpur city, ghats around Varanasi this was supposed to be a problem.
Essentials were made ready ranging from Print out of Route maps of the 5000km long journey planned, Tow rope, coolant, brake oil , Tyre inflator Torch etc. I just needed to fit a carrier as we were 6 persons including my son & luggage space was an issue. All set & done I was raring to go when The World came crashing 2 days prior to our departure , The DEMONETISATION saga unfolded on 8th Nov Evening ( We were leaving on 11th Morning).
The ATM’s were going kaput, the banks were supposed to be closed for 3 days, My currency would be accepted only till 14th (which was declared initially). There was mayhem in my world of dreams, Ran to the nearest ATM fetched some 4800 Bucks punching my cards for 400 Rs each time before the swelling crowd started giving me a piece of their mind to move aside. Wife was doing the same thing somewhere else. I thought for a second Here we Go boy what a Start!. But then I was on war path, this time turning back was not an option at all. Managed a bundle of 100’s from the local Rice wholesale vendor next morning, My kid contributed 1000 from his kitty (The small man felt big to help out Daddy) Tanked up on 10th Night with the then valid currency while keeping some aside as upto 14th Night they could be used in pumps.
It is said that there is a silver lining to everything, for my part the exchange of currency exercise led to Free Rides across the breadth of India without paying any toll tax from 11th to 22nd Nov. Yipeeee.
My wife was sad though , her hidden kitty lay exposed to me as she opens up with her reserve stock for the exchange exercise when we are back. Hmmmm. Baby ko cash pasand hai.
Finally we were up & hit the road on 11th Nov 4.30 in the morning.
The day started well on very well until the drama unfolded in the afternoon as we reached near the Bihar –UP border. We took Kona expressway - NH2 & made it to Topchanchi Shaan E Punjab Hotel around 10 A.M when we took our first break of the day.
The going was smooth & I was confident that we will be making it to Varanasi around 5 which will enable us to watch the Ganga arati which can be followed by the darshan of baba Vishwanath.
Around Mohania the first ominous sign breaks out, Suddenly while taking a Diversion there is a sliding sound overhead. Immediately stopped the car, came out to take a look & I find that the carrier has slid perilously close to the windshield , partially twisting the antennae forward. On closer inspection the antennae is not damaged but the carrier has become quite loose from the clamps as four of us are able to pull it back to its original position after bit of force exertion, The diversion being very dusty made our life a bit difficult, vowed to drive carefully to Varanasi where we can attend to it peacefully.
As soon as we reach around 10 kms from the border the second surprise. There is this jam before the check post which has completely brought the onward lane to a standstill ( I was expecting it anyway but not of some 10 kms length) . The down lane was slowly being filled up with small medium large all sorts of vehicles when we joined the fray knowing fully well that this might take ages to resume some sort of normalcy. As we inched forward the downward lane became a 3 lane road with 2 lanes on both sides catering to cars towards Varanasi keeping the middle path open to opposite direction traffic. This was bound to create problems, which it did.
I was also damn afraid that the large trucks with that kind of a load awkwardly placed will scratch my car inadvertently. on top of it my Carrier was again slowly slipping as seen here & has come towards the antennae albeit the earlier correction.
After an agonizing hour some local fellows directed us to take a right cutting which takes us to a road under construction which in turn will carry us across the border. The catch however was we need to cross unmanned railway crossings twice on detour path & back to highway path. With no choice available some 100 cars made the turn , within minutes there was dust & only dust, all blinkers on, I could not see even 5 metres ahead with headlamp & Fog lamp. The convoy moved along dusty bumpy up-down tracks for 7 kms & Lo a log jam , some local cars on opposite route brings the convoy to a halt. Another half an hour later the local cars relegated to a side, the convoy now waits for the railway gate crossing exercise 2nd time around. Needless to say the Arati has gone for a toss but I was worried (with the sun setting) to come out of this mess & be on the highway , Jam or no jam concrete roads I was craving for. Could not even take a look at my beloved PRINCE which was coated with dust, sand, mud & god knows what.
The traffic jam on the highway on the other side of the rail line still persisted as seen here if you can make out.
Finally gods have mercy , A goods train then a passenger train passes by letting the convoy move again. By the time we make it to the highway through another set of small alleys & traverse the downward highway for another 2 kms to cross over, all I had in mind was TEA. It was 5 30 P.M I pulled aside to have a cup of tea to rejuvenate myself & take a much longed for smoking break. Thereafter carried on with a heavy heart to Varanasi. I still had to negotiate the Varanasi traffic hence booked up Hotel dwarika which was closer to the highway but not the ghats or markets. I missed the arati , wifey missed her benarasi saree buying chance but then we promised ourselves to make amends when we return around 21st.
Reached Varanasi Hotel around 8 p.m , took a grand shower, Veg thali meal & hit the bed . Agra calling the next day.
Day 1 thus ended with stats like
Kolkata to Varanasi
Total Distance 670 kms,
Time 4.30 AM to 7.30PM (15 hours with total 50 mins break)
Always followed the rule of doing the tough part of any job at the beginning so as to have it easy & tension free later on. My Rajasthan trip ironically lived upto it by coincidence. We had such a tough first day that all other days seemed a cakewalk when compared to what we rode over on the first day.
Agra was in sight according to plan on day 2. I wanted to leave early just as I do in every long drive days, this time though the carrier needed some attention & PRINCE needed a thorough wash. Completed both from 6 am to 7 am. By 7.30 we were on board & reached the highway in 15 mins time.
Extra motivation to drive this day came from the fact that we were to take the Allahabad bypass which many friends seem to go gaga when we discuss long drives & I couldn’t wait to reach it.
One hour into the drive we stopped for breakfast, checked the carrier, was satisfied that it was holding up well & moved on to take the bypass, The bypass didn’t disappoint , well sort of , this was probably the best stretch of road that I have driven in the trip but then Rajasthan had such nice roads that this will not seem out of the world in comparison, Good roads none the less .
Anyway, I leave 2 pics here for some understanding, it offcourse felt at times that I was in a cockpit, ready to take off.
The elevated bypass over Kanpur has been a fantastic addition to the Kolkata delhi route & in no time around 1 in the afternoon we were in Rania for a small break.Here I tanked up for the rest of the journey.The road from Kanpur to Agra is a joy again to drive on, superb 8 lane highway at times & we wouldn’t have made it to Agra in 5 hrs time if not for it which again to mention was after a bit of snarl & slow moving traffic at Firozabad sikhokhabad sectors that ate up almost an hour at the least.
By 6.30 we reached Agra .
After two consecutive days of 600+km driving the body felt a bit sore but then the excitement of the real vacation beginning from here onwards lifted every ones spirit& to top it up, The Taj was just 500 mtrs away so off we went for sightseeing cab booking as I wanted a full day rest to enjoy Taj,Agra Fort & Fatehpur sikri.
Day 2 thus ended with stats like
Varanasi to Agra
Total Distance 610 kms,
Time 7.30 AM to 6.30PM (11 hours with 2 breaks around 1 hour totally)
We started early , as is my dictat always try to be the early bird, having witnessed the mega crowd at Taj twice before, I knew if we were to enjoy it well then you must Que up by 6 in the morning. & so we did.
The Taj looked a bit off colour to me, specifically because I am lucky to have seen it without any sort of scaffolding the earlier 2 times & it does look sore in the eyes, they are planning to cover the main dome too from March I believe for god knows how many months, but she really needs that upliftment, looked much yellowish than when I had seen it last 2004.
After Completing Taj we decided to finish up Fatehpur Sikri so that we could be back by noon to go around Agra fort & the city. We were to pass by fatehpur next day anyway enroute chittorgarh but it meant we reach there by 6 in the morning & if it takes 3 hours to roam around nicely that would stretch my driving later on since I was determined to catch the Light & Sound show at Chittor fort the same day.
Anyways we come to that Later.
This is where Akbar held his Rajsabha if you may call , it also acted as the treasury & the nav ratans held their seats here with the central dome belonging to badsah with the common man standing below with whatever prayers they had brought for Akbar to dispense with.
We now come to Panch mahal meant for Akbar's Queens, where each had a floor depending upon the faith they belonged to & practiced.
Next up was the famous place Tansen & Baiju bawra played their Trades in music, Tansen would light up lamps with Raag DEEPAK while Baiju Bawra Brought Rains with MEGHMALLAR
This was Akbar's Resting Place & boy he did live in style
We move on to Salim Chisti's Darga Complex, The sufi saint who blessed Akbar with a much longed Son to carry the dynasty forward. People from all corners come here with Wishlists for the saint & are said to be rewarded with the same always.The One with The white Marble is the shrine Of Salim Chisti.
Further on you have Buland darwaza touted to be as the Largest Door in Asia, snaps of the door & the adjoining terrace that caught my attention.
This plaace is a photographers paradise but then I can't burden you with the innumerable snaps that we took, just attaching some to keep the flow going with the historical events.
After Fatehpur sikri we headed to Agra Fort , This time We didn’t take a guide just to save on change, The currency kitty was strained to adjust these cash transactions & I took upon the mantle of guiding my pack. I answered many a query & left aside many to be answered later ( not when my cash balance will be good but when my batteries of the smart phone should be full to tap onto the historical sites through brother Google to answer their queries). some snaps attached.
Deewan E Aam.
The Fort from its Main Gate
The View of Taj from the Shahjahan Palace where he stayed a s a prisoner & watched Taj where his beloved lay.
The view of the fort as we were leaving.
We all wanted to to spend some more time here at the fort & watch the Light & sound show that was to begin shortly afterwards, but then I had another Visit in my mind which was not to be missed at any cost, some 500 mts from the fort near the cantonment gate The army was guarding it like a fortress , a lone ATM that had received fresh tranches of cash in the late afternoon, the Driver of our sightseeing cab was generous enough to hold a line for us , as soon as he informed us about this thru his cell we left everything & invaded it faster than Akbar would have invaded Chittor. That reminds me that Chittor is up for next day after another 500+Km drive through Bharatpur Sanctuary, . This will be taken up next
To be continued.