Friday, April 10, 2009

Road Trip to Goa Part I - Slinky Goes Wheee!

Hurrah! Our road trip to Goa finally materialized after some rather pessimistic moments. We awoke bright and early and set off in our car (which shall hereon be referred to as ‘Slinky’, a name that will not be further explained) at 4:15 a.m. With thumping music and a good deal of glee, we raced out onto the dark and empty roads. Although I had a route map all chalked out, I had failed to find out exactly how to get out of Bangalore city via Yeshwantpur! This cost us about 15 minutes as we blundered around Yeshwantpur before being directed back onto the road to Tumkur (NH4) by a kind soul who had, for reasons best known to him, decided to walk the streets at that wee hour.

The road to Tumkur is awful, made worse by thick truck traffic even so early in the morning. The expressway is still under construction here so look out for diversions and non-existent stretches of road. We finally covered the 67-km rugged stretch to the outskirts of Tumkur and made it to the deceptive fork in the road at 6.15 am — fortunately, Ducky astutely realized that we needed to take the right fork to stay on NH4 and not the left one, which would have taken us into Tumkur city.

From hereon, the road is spectacular. This stretch of NH4 is a smooth 4-lane highway with pretty flowering plants on the median and rows of windmills in the distance. We sped along, flying past Sira and onward to Chitardurga. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the drive for I spotted a man hanging out of a car window, letting the wind whip through his hair. An even stranger sight was a man doing “Surya Namaskar” in the middle of the road on the turn-off to Chitardurga town! Luckily, not too many men or beasts venture onto the highway, which is fenced on both sides (although there are the suicidal few who do). I eyed the tender coconut vendors along the sides of the road, but it was far too early and we were making too good time to stop. We reached the turn-off to Chitardurga at 6.35 a.m and took the right fork along NH4 (the Pune highway), avoiding going into the town.

From Chitardurga and on to Devengere, the highway was nothing to write home about. As the designated navigator for this part of the journey, I found the going tough – there are absolutely no signboards along this stretch although there are rows and rows of poultry farms on the side. We decided to press forward since chickens probably wouldn’t be able to tell us if we were on the right road anyway.

We reached the turnoff to Devengere at 8.35 a.m. and were absolutely ravenous at this point. (No, the poor cooped up chickens had nothing to do with it). We decided not to take the right to Devengere town to look for a decent place to grab a bite and stuck to NH4. However, this stretch of the highway offered nothing to satisfy two starving wannabe beach bums. A couple of shady little joints where truckers took a break were the only semblance of hotels that we saw. At 9:10 a.m, my eyes lit up at the sight of a Reliance A1 Plaza. My hopes of food, fuel and clean toilets were cruelly shattered – none of the A1 plazas along NH4 are open or functional yet. Blast! The bandicoot in my stomach was here to stay.

We entered the bustling town of Rannebennur in Haveri district. No signs of a decent hotel still. I saw signboards for a black buck sanctuary here but the only animal life I spotted in the town was two pigs, one bullock, two buffaloes and three dogs.

As we exited the town, we spotted a Bharat Petroleum bunk with an eatery attached, called Ghar Dhaba. With a great sense of relief, Ducky, I and my screaming bandicoot alighted at Ghar Dhaba at 9.30 am. The women’s loo was passable at best. The door of my stall had a lewd drawing of a certain part of the male anatomy with some Kannada writing and a cell phone number. Being Kannada illiterate, I shall probably never know what it said. It shall have to remain of (my) life’s great unsolved mysteries! The idli-vada-sambar at Ghar Dhaba tasted delicious to our starving palates.

We decided to tank up, but the attendant seemed least interested in serving anybody until he had finished his breakfast. When he did finally arrive, other two wheelers decided that they had the right to break the queue and get fuel ahead of us. I fought to keep my temper in check but silently wished a severe attack of piles and fistula on all the queue breakers.

Having been delayed more than an hour thanks to the dawdling attendant and ill-mannered men on two wheelers, we set out once more on the road toward Hubli. A wonderful 6-lane expressway greeted me—I was pleased I had taken the wheel at this point and kept Slinky in overdrive for what is possibly the longest time in the last five years! We chortled as we whizzed past a signboard that pointed out a village called “Chakapura”.

The drive from Hubli to Belgaum was a breeze on the amazing 6-lane highway. The trucks are surprisingly disciplined here and stick to the left-most lane. They also give way and allow you to pass with no reluctance. Later, we realized that a severe penalty is imposed on trucks found flouting the left-lane and speed-limit rule. Kudos to the vigilant cops along the highway for that!

{To be continued}

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