“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
The following dangerous words were muttered in a single conversation between Shiv and I (order of words intended) – happiness, let go, celebrate life, self- driven vacation, see our own India, family, friends, months, sabbatical, crazy, make your own rules, live it up, let’s go!
And then, as expected some other words were thrown back – work, boss, money, recession, crazy, what if ... and then the voices just began to fade. The fire was lit. The craze fuelled. The passion instilled. No reasons were good enough. The idea to do a long road trip in India had been germinated.
India was the obvious choice - to see another country just did not make sense while we hadn’t seen our own. Travel agents were found galore in family and friends. Many free bed and breakfast offers was a given, courtesy the dozens of 'oh my god- you’ve become so big’ uncles and aunties across the country. It seemed like a winning formula, and we soon found ourselves making excel sheets, going through travel books and convincing our bosses that we did not suffer from Cerebral hypoxia. Before we knew it, we packed our home into boxes, bought back up memory drives and batteries and off we were to see our own country with grit that some called foolish and a passion that could be confused as madness. And so it could be called nothing but this - ‘Madness on Wheels’.
Shiv loves to drive, and I liked giving directions. While he strapped on his seat belt, I tightened my motion sickness bands. He loved road side food and I would wonder if Singapore’s National Environment Agency had a rating ever so low to give this road side eatery. He could win the ‘who stays quiet the longest’ and I could (and did) have the world’s longest monologue. When Shiv said look right, I looked left. We were perfect for this trip. Having never spent more than 3 days together consecutively since my marriage to this business consultant 2 years ago, friends jokingly teased that seeing each other 24 / 7 for 3 months could be the end of many things beautiful. Little did we know that we would fall in love all over and over again.
Yes! Before you ask, we drove a Hyundai Verna CRDI SX courtesy the MOFA (MOtherFAther) fund, a wonderful car leasing conglomerate which thankfully also supports such mad adventures. Since the car fund existed in Patna, Bihar this was our default starting point. And thus began our journey that led us to taste water of countless hills, cleanse our sins at many places of worship (if you look closely, we’ve been commemorated with a halo), relive the princely era and drive through the heartlands of India to humbly understand her true spirit.
The hymns and chants on the banks of the Ganges
in Rishikesh can surely put you in a state of trance
From Rishikesh, we decided to go further North to enjoy the views of the mountains surrounding Kedarnath.
I have to admit, the highlight of this destination were unique– we stayed in our cheapest hotel, got an unforgettable and regrettable back and foot massage by the local gardener cum cleaner turned part time masseur and most excitingly a trek to Devaria Tal 8000 ft above sea level to see the Four peaked mountains famously called ‘Chaukhamba’. Having frozen every bone in our body and eaten each dish at this tourism ‘hotel’ 3 times over, we drove with a vengeance to Chandigarh straight into the laps of our relatives where we licked our bodies back to normal temperature. Having sat home for a day and half, we dwindled our thumbs and picked up the car keys and drove to Kasauli, an enchanting old-school-British Hill station where if you listen closely, you can hear horses trot, see visions of soldiers in their finery, ladies with big hats and gentlemen with small moustaches…. Ok I completely made that up, but as you see…. I suffer a compulsive disorder of digressing out of this world and into another. So yes, from Kasauli, we drove through the picturesque valleys of Parvati Valley and Manikaran (famous for a very special kind of herb that would be even illegal to mention here) to get to Manali.
Searching for herbs in the Parvati valley
My bollywood instincts spiked on high alert when we went to see the wood carved Palace in Naggar…”Beep Beep.. Houston calling Sneha…. Kareena Kapoor was here”. On realizing that a song from the movie ‘Jab we met’ was filmed here, I sprung around like a bunny rabbit on steroids. After my endorphins settled into their natural rhythm, we religiously followed the Lonely Planet’s guide and landed up staying over our scheduled stay – but then, when you have your own transport, rescheduling is as easy as giving a high five. From Manali, we very excitedly left for McLoedganj, stopping en-route to simply re-confirm that Palanpur is truly a real picturesque town, lived in by humans and not simply a gorgeous film set where Karishma Kapoor ran around trees with one Raja Hindustani. Going to McLoedganj was destined. Apart from seeing mini Tibet in India, we actually had the privilege to meet the HH himself – and this is the way it happened - On completing his discourse, HH walked straight towards Shiv (in a crowd of a few thousand bystanders), their eyes inter-locked, asked Shiv a few questions before blessing us both. After that, I swear, people pointed at our Halo. From there Dalhousie was our next stop, to see the mini Switzerland of India- Kajjiar, Chamba and the Kalatop forest,
|Guess who ???|
before dwelling into a showcase of patriotism where I embarrassingly cried and Shiv sighed, ‘not again!’ at the Wagah border in Amritsar. Since, we reached Amritsar on my birthday, a visit to the Golden Temple was imperative, where once again I must sheepishly admit, the serenity made me cry. And, no, I don’t cry so often. How difficult is it to believe that I was truly touched. Hmph!
Coming to Delhi marked our first pit stop on the road trip, earmarked with a friend’s wedding and Shiv making his record in the ‘Gluttonous book of World Records’ by pelting down, hold your breath, 35 Gilauti kebabs at a Buffet lunch. I swear I could hear the Manager sob silently for the financial loss inflicted upon him by Shiv.
From here, we began our journey into Royal Rajasthan. As you rightly expected, we ticked all the ‘Patel Points’ and started with seeing the Amber fort on the outskirts of Jaipur, along with the sights in the city as well. This was followed by visiting the Ajmer-e-sharif, the dried up lake of Pushkar and the only ‘Brahma Temple’ in the world to re-charge our Halo batteries. This was followed by a short stint at Mandore and Jodhpur before heading to the luxury tents in Jaisalmer to spend a night under the stars, with cultural programs and local cuisine specially peppered with free flowing soft sand.
Desert roads where you could drive as fast as you want
without being disturbed by anyone for miles together
I must admit that drive from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer was one that was extremely unique - 300 kms in 3 hours with 3 cars, 10 humans and 50 cattle sightings along the way. From there, we went straight into the hills Mount Abu looking for the old world charm which has long been lost this tourist infested, tout filled destination that boasts of a mini Eiffel Tower – which the officials thought would really complement the Dilwara temples down the road! Making a run from here, we walked into the heart of Rajasthan, the romantic city of Udaipur. If you ever find yourself there, a late evening visit is must to the Ambrai restaurant where you get the best unparalleled views of the two most beautiful things here, the City and Lake Palace – sit back and ponder how it must’ve been. I had just completed reading the 'Princess Remembers' by Gayatri Devi by the time we came to Udaipur and I was ready to relocate to our ancestral mansion. Running across rooms, with long colourful curtains flowing, small lamps lit with fire flickering with my laughter as I dance to the music of the birds, my 10 meter dupatta flowing with winds silently calling me to my beloved, wearing the exquisite bridal collection by Ritu Kumar, gleeful in my World, ready to – and screech comes my imagination to a reluctant halt with the waiter saying – "Madam, continental food or North Indian?”, making me wonder if India is the only country in the World to serve this conveniently named cuisine called Continental. I am sorry I digress rather shamelessly this time again. So yes, from Udaipur we also did day trips to Chittaurgarh and Kumbalgarh to see epic ruins and hear valiant stories. From there, in order to make it to another wedding, we drove into Mumbai(via Baroda) for our second and final pit stop before starting the final leg of our dream run.
Getting a ride in an Indian army tank
not too far from the India Pak Border :-)
Bombay to Goa and beyond
From Mumbai, Goa was a must stop, least we dissappoint the Lords of Fun. Goa has never been a downer, and it did not fail us this time either. From there, a quick stop to Shiv’s college town of Pune and we made our way to Aurangabad to see the Ajanta and Ellora caves while there we also visited the poor man’s Taj Mahal (Bibi Ka Maqbara).
Taj Mahal on a diet?
While gawking at the Taj Mahal on a diet, a deep sense of disappointment sunk in – Just like many places we has seen, this too was neglected, abused and stripped off the respect it deserved. Instead of showcasing a time gone by, they simply bore marks of thankless tourists, inefficient administration and mis-placed priorities. So from the era of cave paintings and sculptors, we drove across Maharastra into Gujarat, making Junagadh our first stop. The attraction to this sleepy little town was rather comical – the appeal was in the Museum of the Nawab of Junagadh in whose paintings are his famous pet dogs, adorned with Ruby jewels and muslin robes. Who said this trip was supposed to be all logical? From there, we made our way to Gir for our second forest safari experience before setting out to Veraval to see the gorgeous sea side temple of Somnath, whose indestructible spirit till date stands the test of time.
Junagadh nawab's ruby wearing dog
On driving further left as I like to call it, we reached the Western most tip of India, in the historic time warped town of Dwarka, dripping with religious fervor and unquestionable faith. Believe it or not with little time on our hands, yes the 3 months were coming to an end; we decided to reluctantly drop Kutch and made our way ‘right’ towards MP.
The last mile
The temples on the serene ghats
of the Narmada at Maheshwar
Madhya Pradesh held a very special place in our hearts – apart from its lawless charm, like most good things in life, our trip was coming to end. Destinations felt secondary while the drive took precedence, the roads led us and we simply followed, bags magically unpacked and new memories wrapped up, the music ceased to play and silence shared its secrets – the rhythm had been set, every day lived, every emotion felt, just me and Shiv and the world revolved around us. Moving on, very aptly, we reached the town of Mandu, where the songs of Roopmati still fill the air and the ruins spell out a history of an aching love affair.
From here we made our way, straight into the warm lanes of Khau Gali of Indore for a delectable meal before making our way to Maheshwar. This town, like most of MP took us by a surprise with one of the most gorgeous river bank temples, untouched by the tourist onslaught. Life here, like in many small towns in India, moved in slow motion helping Ahilyabai Holkar's history to linger a little bit longer.
Baneshwar temple in the middle of the Narmada
The medieval town of Orchha was next, with its equally interesting history and grand palaces and temples. For me, the memory of Orcha is etched into one picture – while the orange hue of the sun rise engulfed the town, the yesteryears pretending to be fog rose above the 14 sadly beautiful cenotaphs, veiling its true intent of protecting it, of preserving it.
The temples and cenotaphs at Orchha
From here, we moved to Khajuraho where gravity and reason defying stunts of passion adorned the walls of the temples for a variety of interesting theories. Bandhavgarh’s forest safari was our final stop and probably the only stop where Shiv drove to and from very slowly. We started with 3 months to holidays, negotiated our way through weeks, and in the last lap we consoled ourselves with a few days. But now, we were scheduled to reach home the next day. The dream was ending but for a few hours. We put on our most frequently played CD for one last time and patted our car – the dream that we had fought and nurtured for months, the dream that helped us feel alive, to fall in love again with each other and this country had finally come to a reluctant end.
Finally home !!!
To the one who was kind to us, who embraced us like we had never left, held us in her arms and showed us all her glory, taught us, shocked us, blessed us and caressed us – To India – We owe you a lot more than we realize.
For the statistically inclined
Number of days
Average distance per day
Days on which we woke up in one city and went to sleep in another
Days on which we we went to sleep in the same city as which we woke up in
Travel day KMs
Distance covered on 'travel days'
Distance covered on 'non-travel days'
Average distance per day on 'travel days'
Average distance per day on 'non-travel days'
Diesel Cost (Rs)
Max KMs (non-travel day)
Max distance covered on a 'non-travel' day - Udaipur (including Chittorgarh)
Min KMs (non-travel day)
Max distance covered on a 'non-travel' day - 1 day each in Goa, Bombay and Bandhavgarh
Max KMs (travel day)
Max distance covered on a 'travel' day - Mumbai to Goa
Min KMs (travel day)
Min distance covered on a 'travel' day - Lonavala to Pune
Number of different hotels we stayed at
Number of nights when friends and family graciously hosted us - Thank You !!!