Driving from the political to the financial capital of India, and beyond.
What does the packing list for two women going on a vacation together look like? Clothes, sunscreen, sunglasses, lip balm, flip flops, etc. But when the women in question are planning to drive by themselves across India for nearly a week, the checklist looks something like this:
As we say, well armed is well begun. Bellies full of anticipation, we set off from Gurgaon on a foggy December morning. The plan was to drive all the way to Mumbai along National Highway 8, then gently saunter along the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea to Goa – making several stops along the way to fully soak in the ghats, the sea and the local Malvani cuisine – and then wind our way up north to Pune. Some vignettes from the amazing journey in which we spent 6 days on the road, visiting 9 cities and driving for nearly 3000 km.
Day 1 : Gurgaon to Udaipur
We covered over 600 kms on the first day, following the National Highway 8 all the way to Jaipur, and then taking a detour onto Jaipur-Kishangarh Expressway (NH79 & NH76) at Kishangarh, all the way to Udaipur. The roads were in good shape, and all along we had the arid landscape of Rajasthan and a steady procession of colourful trucks for company. While there are numerous restaurants and petrol pumps on NH 8, NH79/76 has a dearth of respectable dhabas – we managed to locate a “decent’ place named Prajapati Dhaba, where we enjoyed a simple but tasty meal while listening to Kumar Sanu-Anuradha Padwal songs.
Day 2: Udaipur to Daman
Instead of venturing into Udaipur city, we stayed on the outskirts, close to NH8. Our decision to make an early start (7 AM) was rewarded with the sight of sunlight breaking upon the hills surrounding Udaipur. The drive as you exit Udaipur is sensational, peppered with muddy hills, huge boulders and the remains of a really ancient fort.
Trying to ward off the winter chill at a tea stall in Udaipur
National Highway 8 outside Udaipur
A welcome pack of biscuits in lieu of change at a toll plaza (at another toll plaza, the attendant asked us for biscuits when we were hunting for change)
It takes barely an hour to reach the state’s border with Gujarat, but the transformation thereafter is astonishing. We rode on 4 or 6 laned roads in perfect condition, witnessing carpets of green fields on either side of the road, a plethora of bridges bisecting Gujarat’s numerous rivers and a fleeting glimpse of the impressive high rises of Ahmedabad. But the highlight of the drive through Gujarat is the Ahmedabad Vadodara Expressway or NE 1, a 96 km stretch built for speed – planned entries & exits regulate traffic and barbed wires prevent straying cattle (an all too common sight on our highways), cyclists driving in the wrong lane and pedestrians testing their running skills. It is also one of the few highways in India where the official speed limit is 100km – you get the picture!
The highway median in Gujarat is a riot of colors
We ended our day in Daman, where we got our first view of the Arabian Sea. Unfortunately, this former Portuguese colony has failed to witness the prosperity of sibling Goa – decades of neglect are evident as you drive through the old city (Motidaman), with a plethora of shanties and mud houses. Nanidaman, across the Daman Ganga river, is newer and relatively more prosperous and houses the city’s more popular hotels.
Breaking Dawn at Devka Beach, Daman. The beach itself is stony and dirty, but the beach road is lined with heavily laden coconut trees, gently lurching in the almost-still breeze.
Our first sighting of the Arabian Sea at Devka Beach, Daman
It takes a couple of hours along NH 8 to reach Mumbai from Daman, but bisecting Mumbai to reach the Mumbai-Goa Expressway can easily take half a day, unless you make the journey at the crack of dawn.
In Part 2 next week, we lazily meander through the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea coast, stopping by for some mangoes in Ratnagiri, fish curry in Chiplun & Malvan and misal pav in Kunkeshwar , before finally hitting Goa. So stay tuned!
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