The original plan for the day was to go to Koteshwar and return via Bhuj to halt at Ahmedabad. Since Koteshwar had been done the previous day I thought of extending the drive to Thane, where my cousin lived. Before that, however, I was appointed to meet with Hetal and Rajiv Shah and some of his friends in Surat. The time for the meeting would depend on the progress I made in the morning. Despite the uncertainty I ‘ordered’ Hetal to get me fafda and khaman for a ‘brunch-lunch’.
When I was near the Ahmedabad-Vadodara Expressway I realized that two very good friends and erstwhile railway colleagues lived in Vadodara. RK Tandon is a batch mate. He works in Vadodara post his retirement. Sadly he was out of town, engaged with his grandchildren in Mumbai. JD Goswami, as is his wont, gave me elaborate instructions about where we could meet, while ensuring that I do not waste any time in detours and leaving the highway. The meeting point was fixed just ahead of Hotel Legend on NH48. The break after almost 6 hours of continuous drive at a half past 10 was most welcome. After exchanging notes about the family and promising to meet in Jorhat for his daughter’s wedding we parted. We also struck a deal to drive together from Vadodara to Hyderabad some time in December.
The next break was in Surat. I reached King’s Corner restaurant just after 12.30 pm. The get together organized by Rajiv Shah was an unusually longish one; the intended half hour stretched to over an hour. Fafda, kaman, jalebis and delicious kesar mangoes adorned the restaurant table. The restaurant opens late evening, but Rajiv took special permission from the owner, who also joined the get together, to bring outside food and have a small meeting there. The highlight of the ‘brunch-lunch’ was an excellent chocolate cake baked by Hetal Shah. I am so grateful to Rajubhai and other friends who joined in.
When I left Surat after 1.45 pm I evaluated the option of driving past Thane to Pune. It was certainly on the cards and I informed my cousin about the change of plans. The crossover from the Western Expressway to Thane via the Fountain Junction cost me over 90 minutes, a distance of about 5 km! The traffic snarl was unbelievable. I am told that it has been so for more than a year now. Moving inch by inch I finally got free at the Fountain junction. Further frustrations awaited me on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Poor lane discipline is a ‘virtual’ killer. Dangerous weaving in and out of small openings offered between trucks is an awful way to drive anywhere. The Lonavala ghats was negotiated at 10 kmph, thanks to overloaded, poorly maintained and aged trucks either breaking down or unable to haul, but occupying all three lanes in tandem. It was shameful use of excellent infrastructure.
The day finally ended in the Lemon Tree hotel in Pune, which was frightfully busy due to birthday and reception parties. The receptionist gave me a quiet room, which suited the 17 hour day I had experienced thus far and a drive of 987 km. The roads had been exceptionally good all through with three expressways along the route. The problem was the manner in which the infrastructure was used. However, the gain was that I was a full day ahead of schedule.