27.1.2011 night. Kolkata:
I still do not know what is driving me towards this. Do I want to travel, see and feel India – this vast country? Do I want to meet people? Do I want to “learn?” Do I want to escape from this confusing clutter enveloping me to a defined-chosen path of nothingness? When will I return? Will I return? If something happens during this long journey? Kolkata-Kanyakumari-Mumbai-Kashmir – zig sagging all the way through. Can Pat (my co-traveler) make it, given his present state of health –physical as well as mental? Can I make it? Do I want to make it? What do I want really? Why is this trip so important? Nothing is clear. Everything is blurred. Shadowy images dancing in my head. Why do I return to my childhood memories so frequently now a days?
7.2.2011. Night. Bhadrak (Orissa):
The journey has begun. Finally. Today. Many ifs and buts. But I decided to ignore them. I had no choice. The trip was conceived, discussed, clinched. It had to begin and proceed. Where and how it will end – I have no idea.
Woke up at 5 am. Pat was fast asleep. (He was not drinking yesterday). He finally managed to stagger out of bed at 6.
Crisis. No water. Can’t wash. Can’t shit. Finally managed to locate the switch of the pump. Relief!!
Crisis no 2. The petrol pump at Patuli was still close. It is 7 am already! Filled the tank from a pump on Anwar Shah Road connector. It is 7.30.
“Mumbai: 1951 kms:” the board at Kona Expressway read. “Not so easy boy,” I told Pat. Nothing in our lives has come easy. Bombay from Kolkata via Kanyakumari will not be less than 4000 kms. That will be our route. We will cover (cover? Oh! What a word!) Orissa, Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Daman and Diu before we will reach Maharashtra.
Had a nice breakfast at Kolaghat. Lakshminarayan hotel. This is where I and Bhaduri always had breakfast on our way to Nandigram. The owner will make you feel important. Always Sir and never dada. “Sir, will you need anything else,” he asked us thrice. Was it a signal, I was wandering. After all, it was a dhaba beside a National Highway!
NH 6- the Mumbai Road was heavenly. The lesser known NH 60 was more so. My Royal Enfield was refusing to obey the speed limit set by us: 70 kmph. NH 60, a concrete road stretched straight to the sky. No construction, not even trees, no pot holes, no traffic. Only cows. It was their territory. I had to be careful.
Irritation began to creep in from Baleswar (Orissa). The road was broken all along. Numerous diversions. Even two years ago, I had seen similar diversions here. Roads are always being “maintained” in this state. And the driving habits! Trucks, cars bikes and even cycles always take the wrong lane and travel at top speed. They take the shortest route even if that means flouting of rules.
Reached Bhadrak at 2.30. Met the DM Mr D.C. Patra. He was happy to see a middle-aged lunatic, I suppose. Extended all possible and impossible help. Spending the night at the Circuit House like a pucca sahib. It is spring time in Bhadrak. I can smell it.
It took us nearly two hours to locate the Circuit House. “What kit?” “Circuit what?” “Where are you coming from? Where will you go?” And plain and simple “Jani na,” in Bengali even before I could complete my question to a local lad in jeans.
Had rice, dal and fish at Pachi hotel at 5 in the evening. Feeling sleepy now. Can’t write a word more. See you at Gopalpur on Sea tomorrow.
Kolkata to Bhadrak: 328 kms
Taken Kona Expressway (NH 2) to Kolaghat. Proceeded towards Kharagpur via NH2. About 5 kms from Kharagpur town We took NH 60. There is a bifurcation – one road swerving to the left as a fly over and the other going straight under the fly over. We must take the road which goes under the fly over. This is NH 60 (See photo.) We went straight via NH 60, crossed the Bengal border at Solpatta check point and reached Jaleswar in Orissa. Proceeded to Baleswar where we reached NH 5. Proceeded straight to Bhadrak.
Day two: 2 8.2.2011
“Ille ille ille le, ayo ayo ille le.” Pat was singing. This is the only line of the song he knows and is sufficient to express his current mood. Do we really need so many words? Pat went on and on and on. I did not stop him.
Between Bhadrak and Cuttak, NH 5 lay calm. It allowed us to relax, suck in the fresh air. We could see the hills in the distance. The bike was throbbing at 100 kmph.
We crossd Panikoli, 69 kms from Bhadrak. Then the city-madness took over. Traffic became heavier. We were approaching Cuttak. The drivers began their usual erratic behavior, trying to overtake each other, swerving left and right with no apologies, glaring at competitors, often cursing, speeding suddenly to go ahead of others. Everybody wanted to reach there first. Reach where? At what cost? Strangely, when away from the cities, these same drivers behave differently. They do not honk. They smile and even wave at you. Pat stopped singing. He was urging me to speed ahead like others.
Cuttak. Thirtynine kms from Panikoli, 103 kms from Bhadrak where we stayed the night before. We were hungry. Who knew roadside dhabas here do not open before 2 pm? “Kuchh nehi milega. Come after 2.” We were in no mood to enter the city and find a restaurant.
Jagannath Behura saved us. His dahi vada did not contain dahi. And Idli was without sambar. He mixed both with ghugni, alur dam, onion and green chillies. Oh what a taste! We loved it. Five idlis for Rs 10 at his road side make shift shop.
Left Bhubaneswar far behind. We were approaching Khurda. Green all around. Undulating hills melting into the mist in the horizon. Mesmerizing. We stopped in the middle of the jungle twice to take pictures. Forest, rivers, hills. Green fading into blue of the clear sky. We need to freeze our good times. Memories fade. Photos remain. We don’t live in good times. We need framed memories to survive.
Everything changed abruptly. From Khurda for about 10 kms on both sides of the road, nature is being torn apart. Numerous stone crushing factories are turning the hills into rocks and dust. Forests are mowed down systematically. Growth. Prosperity. Whose prosperity? We saw fat men in Scorpios and Bolleros amidst columns of trucks carrying stones. Yet Khurda is one of the most backward regions in the country. So is Ganjam. Gopalpur on Sea, where we are to stay the night, is in Ganjam.
We stopped at Chhatrapur, the district headquarter, to meet the District Collector. “Sir, is in Delhi,” said an employee in the Bangalow. Four men were playing cards in the office. They did not have much time for us. Can we meet the ADM then? “He will not meet you,” came the curt reply. We managed to cajole out the ADMs’ phone number. He, a doctorate we were told, (Dr. Something) did not take the call. We called the SDO Berhampore five times on his mobile. We were entertained by a popular Hindi film, which was his caller tune. But he did not pick up the phone. It was Saraswati Puja and so a government holiday. Ganjam is a Maoist stronghold.
We entered Hotel Sea Breeze at Gopalpur. “Did you have lunch at Jyoti restaurant?” a middle-aged man asked us at the reception. How did he know? “Remember, I told you the direction at the petrol pump?” he said. The man had read the sticker on our bike and was surprised to know that we were travelling the entire country on a motorcycle. “I am the owner of this hotel,” he said. He offered us a room for a price so low that we could not believe our ears. “After all you are travelling on a bike around the country,” he said with a smile. We got the best room facing the sea.
At the dead of the night, I noticed five boys running on the beach. They were catching crabs. They had just finished serving food at a marriage party. Now they will cook their own food. “Shadi-me tumko khana nehi mila kya?” I asked Sonu. He was from Agra, he said and was staying with his uncle in Bhubaneswar. They will get food. But strictly vegetarian, Sonu said.
Bhadrak to Gopalpur on Sea: 325 kms
We started from Bhadrak at 8 am and took the NH5. Panikoli is 64 kms. The road is perfect. Cuttak is another 39 kms and Bhubaneswar is 25 kms from Cuttak. The road up to Bhusandapur via Khorda (91 kms) is a dream. Then the pot holes and diversions begin. Don’t’ miss Chilika lake, which is less than half a kilometer from Balugaon (22 kms from Bhusandapur). Chatrapur is another 58 kms and Gopalpur is 16kms from Chatrapur.
Nothing much to report today. An uneventful day. Except that we are suddenly feeling young. Also we can now identify possibly every Andhra village we passed by smell. Some smell like shampoo, some like cow dung and others like hair oil. The beach side in Vizag, where we are spending the night, smells like dried fish.
We had a tough time to find a room. Every government guest house is booked. The chief minister is arriving to attend a marriage ceremony. His officers and security personnel are accompanying him. All district officials are busy to arrange for the CM’s comfort and safety. Private hotels are too expensive for us.
“How old are you?” a young lady asked us as we stopped for tea at Haripuram-our first halt after crossing the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa border. “We are quite old actually,” I muttered, somewhat taken aback. Women normally don’t ask your age, unless they know you. “But your spirit is like a 20-year-old,” she said. Her husband quickly interrupted. “I used to go on trekking. Have you gone to Pindari? Go. Go. Nice place,” he said. I saw Pat blushing. He must have seen me blushing too.
The roads in Orissa are bad. Those in Andhra have so far been spotless. We almost flew in to Vizag. We were impressed by the undulating hills that cuddle the city. But we have already seen better beaches. Let’s see what is awaiting us at Aaraku tomorrow.
Gopalpur to Vishakhapatnam: 281 kms
Gopal to Ichhapuram (50kms) to Sonpeta (19kms) to Narasannapeta (88 kms) to Srikakulam (21kms) to Bhimunipatnam (76kms) to Vizaz (27kms).
We are in perfect shape and still vertical. We did not get any network in Arku, where we stayed on Feb 11. As a tourist destination, Arku is average at the most. People who have been to the Himalayas must have seen better places. Also, we did not like the attitude of the people there. They always made us feel cheated.
We returned to Vizag on Feb 13. The spring of the kick paddle of our Royal Enfield needed to be replaced and we had to travel 114 kms only for this.
But it was a boon in disguise. We stayed at Mr Sabbir Ekhlas’ home. If we say he was a perfect host, it would be an understatement. He even took care to wash our clothes! Mrs. Ekhlas packed our lunch for the next day and we had a great breakfast after a long time. We spent the evening at Mr. Pradeep Mukherjee’s house. (As true Bengalis, we discussed politics and the future of Bengal under Mamata Banerjee).
We started from Vizag on 13th morning and reached Elluru – headquarter of the West Godavari district – in the evening. Riding in Andhra is really becoming a nightmare. We have already escaped accidents twice. Both could have been bad. Once a car suddenly stopped in front of us and then sped away. We were at 90-95 kmph. Then a truck came at us at high speed. It was driving on the wrong lane. So what? Everybody does that here! I managed to move away when it was barely 50 meters away. No wonder Andhra has one of the worst road accident records in the country. (In India 14 people die in road accidents every hour and 53 get injured. This is the highest in the world. Remember that these are just the official figures and many incidents go unreported).
In Andhra, people drive in the wrong lane to save fuel. Heavy and slow moving vehicles (with AP number plates) always keep to the right forcing other cars to overtake from the left. We have actually seen bikers looking backward and talking to the pillion riders while riding at high speed. The concept of wearing helmets, which is mandatory according to law, does not exist here. Five people on a small 100 cc bike is a common sight. (How do they do it without damaging their organs?)
We held a press conference today (Feb 14). It was organized by the Elluru district administration. The photographers made us ride nearly half an hour in intense heat to take the right shot. It is always difficult to satisfy press photographers. Officials told me later that the press meet was a “great success.”
We are yet to decide where we should go now – Hyderabad or Chennai. But we are staying back at Elluru tonight to collect the newspaper clippings. We are already on TV here.
The Route: Vizag to Elluru (335kms). We did not leave NH5.