Travelogue from the Driver’s Seat — Hyderabad to Sikkim (Part 1)

** “Well, let me warn you before you start reading that this is a lengthy blog and since I didn’t have the time to sit on this for long, my husband wrote this for me! So it’s actually the story from the driver’s seat!”

I am going to try and break this in to parts to not make it very boring!

Prelude:

This was a trip that was planned in Dec 2016, however it did not take off as it clashed with an official commitment. I think destiny had something else in store. It wanted us to take this trip by road by sacrificing the comfort of air travel. Boy oh boy, am I not glad that it happened this way!!

Before I start dwelling deeper into this travelogue, I want to thank a few people who made this possible. My wife, Radhika, who planned every minute detail of this trip, navigated beautifully and made it a memorable and a one in a lifetime experience. Mr. H.V. Kumar and Mr. Jothi (team HVK in short) for guiding us on the move, arranging accommodation, suggesting eateries and pit stops along the way providing maps and what not. Without their support and guidance this trip wouldn’t have been what it was, Hats off to this team and forever indebted to HVK aka the chief for his guidance, the staff members of all the hotels we stayed in for being courteous and professional,Mr. RC and his wife in Lachen, the brave soldiers of our armed forces and above all the almighty!!!

Day 0:

Preparations were on in full swing. Radhika landed from Chennai in the evening of Feb 27. She planned to do a day’s shopping in Hyderabad before embarking on this epic journey. I had one more day at work to complete all pending tasks as I was going to be away for 2 weeks. More importantly to ensure I put an OOO (out of office in IT parlance) clearly indicating I wouldn’t be reachable on phone or emails. I consider this a very important step before a vacation. The last thing anyone would want is a call from office L.

Post her shopping, Radhika reached my office around 4:30 P.M. As it always happens, only when you want to get out of work early is when something very critical pops up. Had to douse that before telling my super boss that my wife has been waiting on the road for more than 30 minutes now. Went to fuel station to top up diesel to the brim. Reached home, packed all the stuff as per the checklist, charged all the cameras — DSLR, SJ4000 dash cam, filled enough water in the bottles, kept all the bags in the drawing room, showered had a light dinner and hit the bed. As the vehicle had been checked only a few days before the trip, there was nothing major to be done on that front. As always, the excitement of a road trip keeps the adrenaline flowing and doesn’t let you drift into a sleep especially when you most want it. Don’t know when I slept but when I woke up the next morning Radhika told me I was snoring like a pig — in reality I’ve never seen or heard a pig snore but understood I had disturbed her sleep enough for her to make this statement

Day 1 — Mar 1

Woke up @ 3:30 A.M. Got ready even though I was still half asleep. After loading the Thar, yes we did this trip in an uncustomised Mahindra Thar with not a nut being changed since taking delivery of the vehicle. After warming up the engine for a few minutes, some pundits might say the new age vehicles do not need it however I’am still come from an old school of thought, we left the building. We hit the Nehru ORR in less than 5 mins. We got off at the Vijaywada exit of the ORR, roughly 70 kms, and proceeded towards Srikakulam, out port of call for the day.

Dep from Kokkapet — 4:45 A.M

We stopped for breakfast at a place called ‘Grand xxxx’ about 190 kms from my house (starting point). After a super heavy breakfast of idly, vada, poori and coffee we hit the road again in 30 minutes. Reached the outskirts of the Vijayawada around 9:20 A.M. Followed the route –O map to exit the city without entering it. This took some time as there was a bit of traffic on the road considering it was peak office hours. Upon nearly exiting the city we stopped at a milk parlour (chakra milk parlour) for a bio and refreshment break. At the sour of the moment, we decided to pick some bottles of flavoured milk, doodh pedas, buttermilk and lassi for our onward journey. The thought behind this was to skip lunch as we had a heavy breakfast and just in case we felt hungry we had a BCP. It took us nearly 90 minutes to cross Vijayawada and get onto to the highway mode. This was possible post crossing the Gannavaram airport. On route, we picked some guavas at a toll gate. A dozen guavas for only Rs.60 and it was in no way small. I seldom negotiate with roadside vendors and this guy was honest enough to sell it only for a small margin, I’am sure the same quantity would’ve costed me atleast Rs.150 had I bought it in a city market. The roads from Hyd — Vijayawada was very good and having fastag helped as I didn’t have to stop and wait in queues. But all this was about to change in the next leg of the journey.

The road from Vijayawada to Rajahmundry was not exactly up to ‘highway standards, added to the fact that the fastag lanes in the toll gates weren’t exactly fast. Infact they were the slowest. Unlike the Hyd-Vijawada (NH 65), where fastag lanes were automated , the NH-16 stretch had code readers just above the toll collection point.

Topped fuel for Rs.1500 at Rajahmundry. Fuel in AP is not exactly the cheapest in the country, infact it is Rs.2 more per litre than that of Telangana. Proceeded towards Vishakapatnam or Vizag which was our next stop before halting at Srikakulam for the night. We crossed the Krishna river near Viajayawada and the Godavari near Rajahmundry. I’ve always been fascinated by nature and could only gape in astonishment when I experienced the size of these mighty rivers. Though they weren’t exactly flowing at their full, even the dry riverbed is enough to give you a humbling feeling.

We reached the outskirts of Vizag around 3:45 P.M and got into the melee of slow moving traffic. Vizag is one more city I love so when HVK offered a detour away from the NH and a drive along the coastline from Vizag’s famous RK beach to Bheemunipatnam, I gladly lapped it up. We stopped at a very scenic point — a cliff overlooking the mighty bay of Bengal with roads winding their way up and down. On a road trip, when you pass thru or stop by at places like this it makes the travel worth the pain.

We had a freshly made steaming hot portion of fried rice and vegetable Manchurian and washed it down with Irani chai from Mr. Ali’s maruti omni converted to a mobile tea unit. After a 20 minute stop we headed towards Bheemunipatnam and further to Srikakulam. I filled up fuel at a HP bunk nearBheemuni and rejoined the NH-16 to Srikakulam. We finally made it to Hotel Nagavali @ 8:30 P.M. After checking in and freshening up, we had a simple dinner consisting of roti and subzi, took a relaxing cold water shower, as there was no hot water and drifted to sleep.

Route: Hyderabad ORR — Vijayawada — Rajamundry — Tuni — Vizag — Bheemuni — Srikakulam

Day 2 — March 2 — “Holi” day or”Holiday” — A looong day indeed!!!

Dep from Srikakulam — 6 A.M

After a blissful sleep. Showered, got ready, packed our bags –forgot to mention that we did not move all the luggages from the Thar as it was only an overnight stay. Had to clean the windshield from all the insect blood and dead butterflies/insects caught in the wiper and in the front grill. Parallely, Radhika was settling the bill. It was quite foggy in the morning and I was happy with the decision that we did not leave at 5 A.M. The Thar pushed forward and within a matter of minutes we got stuck in the market traffic. It turned out that the road we took the previous day was actually passing thru a market. Out of the blue there were too many people, cattle, vehicles of all types moving in every possible direction. Took nearly 20 minutes to get out of the chaos. No complaints though as all this is part of the fun. While on the road you just admire and appreciate all the experience you get, whether good or bad.

Upon reaching the highway in the next 5 minutes it dawned on us as to how difficult it would be to ride in the fog. It was very thick with hardly 20–30 metres visibility. I do not have the experience of driving in fog so as much as I was scared I was excited. With the headlights on I was slowly getting used to it. Initially I thought of tailing a vehicle, however I admonished that thought almost instantly as it was not safe. With each passing kilometer my confidence started to build and I was cruising at 70 kmph.

After about 45 mintes the fog started to slowly life off and we getting closer towards Icchapuram on the AP-Orissa border. I was advised to take the wrong side of the road in case of long truck traffic due to the border, however when we crossed there were hardly any trucks in either direction. We crossed into Orissa like a breeze. The roads started to get better — 4 lane roads with medians. Happily we were back onto our cruising speed of 90 kmph — yes you read it right that’s the speed in which we went on the NH as the flapping noise could really be an irritant if you drive faster. Also, the stock tires carry tread used for offroading unlike the conventional treads.

Being holi, we could see colorful faces everywhere. The traffic was sparse and we could cover almost 200 kms in a matter of 2.5 hrs. By this time our stomachs started growling and we were not able to find any decent eateries. Around 9:15 we spotted a board ‘ Panda Nivas’ Rambha à 2 kms. We heard about this place thru HVK the previous day but didn’t know much about it. Since this was maintained by the Odisha govt, we thought we’d give it a shot. Only after reaching the resort that I knew that it was on the banks of lake Chilika — supposedly the largest lake in India. Ordered for pooris, omlette and tea and the food was over in no time post arriving at our table. I took a stroll to the lake to capture a few pics. All these were things I only read in textbooks or saw on atlas’ and all of a sudden here I was on the banks of it — overwhelmed indeed.

We crossed Bhubaneshwar and Cuttack like a breeze — given that these two big cities are not too far away from each other. We saw the board leading to Puri and got excited. Told ourselves that we’ll probably go there someday. Never knew Lord Jagannath would re-define the timelines for us. Crossed a mighty river once again — the Mahanadi. True to its name it was a ‘Mahaa’ nadi (in Hindi). Since there were no water bottles availabl in Rambha, we soon ran out of our stock of water and the temperature outside was starting to peak. Thankfully we found a small petty shop on the roadside which had a fridge. Picked up 2 bottles of water. My faith in humanity only keeps growing. The shopkeeper could’ve sold the bottle of water at a premium as it was a holiday and there were no shops in the vicinity, however he sold it to me at MRP. Really appreciate people who work honestly for a living.

The topography was mostly dry and we had to be careful while crossing bridges — big or small — as the roads were almost always pot holed. We could drive at a decent speed, however almost every 300–500 metres a bridge would appear we had to slow down. The Thar can take bumps quite easily while off-roading but on tarmac, it still has to be pampered thanks to the leaf springs. Also, most of the tolls in Orissa charge you around Rs.100 for toll, whether it was really worth paying that much money is a question.

Crossed the Odisha border around 2:30 and entered Bengal or West Bengal as my wife calls it. The topography started changing. From dry lands we were able to see coconut and banana trees along the road, there were also vast lands of paddy. Reached the outskirts of Kharagpur, saw the board of the famous IIT Kharagpur as well as the railway station. Don’t know how it is now, but for as long as I can remember, Kharagpur had the longest railway platform in India. When I was in my 8th grade I took pride in stepping onto the longest platform which I used to boast about to my friends in school. Ofcourse, I narrated this incident to Radhika who gave me that look which read ya ya you boaster. We branched off to the Kona expressway which goes to Kolkatta.

Boy oh boy this road was a butter smooth six lane highway with proper markings. We met 2 harley riders who showed the bikers code. I reciprocated back. Not to boast yet again, but it gives you goosebumps whenever this sign is flashed from one biker to another. It’s a mark of respect that only bikers can understand — no disrespect meant.

As per route-O we were approaching a restaurant named Sher-E-Punjab. The chief had given good reviews about it so we thought we’ll have a pitstop there as we had done 400 kms non-stop. It was packed with the holiday crowd. Had a quick meal comprising of rotis, subji and washed it down with lassi. I forgot to mention that Radhika is an eggetarian while I’am a chicketerian just incase a question popped as to why we didn’t try fish in Bengal — even though its considered vegetarian there. Hit the road once again at 5:30 P.M. The plan was to head to Bardhaman or Asansol. We did not enter the city of Kolkatta and there was a bye-pass roughly 30 kms before the city. Kolkatta is one more city I wished to go to as I’ve never been there. As per our itinerary we planned to stop at Kol on our return journey. We branched off from the Kona expressway onto the Kolkatta-Delhi highway. Once again an amazing road with little traffic. As there were vast stretches of paddy — open fields, there were a lot of mosquitos. I would’ve murdered atleast a million of them, or did they commit suicide!!!

As we crossed Bardhaman shortly, we decided that we’ll head to Asansol for the night. Why not camp in Bengal’s second largest city was a thought. As always, the CHD team came to our rescue and booked a room at Hotel xxxxx in Asansol. This hotel was located very close to the highway so you didn’t have to travel too much into the city. Today I covered 1005 kms, the second longest I’ve done in a day thus far and the longest in the Thar. Showered, had a simple dinner comprising of rice, dal and roasted papad and slept. Have to cover 500 kms the next day — not too bad considering it was only half of what I did today. But that was not to be…

Route: Srikakulam — Ichchavaram — Chilika Lake — Bhubaneshwar — Cuttack — Kharagpur — Kolkata — Bhardhaman — Durgapur — Raniganj — Asansol

Total Distance: 1005 Kms(Appx)

Total Toll Charges: Rs1068

…..To be Continued……

“”””You can choose not to read if it is too boring. This is our travelogue and reading this helps refresh our memories””””