Friday, December 30, 2011

A tryst with Madhya Pradesh

It was a trip planned long back but the execution had suffered the wrath of my work schedules, a tad more than it normally would have. The sole purpose of the expedition was to relive the fond memories of my growing years spent in Gwalior. So as soon as the trip was finalized, the mood turned nostalgic. As usual, we preferred to hit the road all the way through, although we were advised either to take the aerial route or tread on the one on tracks.

Friday 23rd, 2011

We (Me, wife and kiddo) left Thane at sharp 4.00 am in our humble Esteem. The drive till Igatpuri was the usual messy affair, thanks to the fog and the drunken truckers on the route. Thankfully, the roads are now smooth and wide and it was 6.30 am by the time we had tea at a roadside stall at the feet of the scenic Kasara ghat. And a pleasant surprise awaited us on the NH 3 ahead. We have been umpteen times on the Nasik-Dhule-Jalgaon-Nagpur belt but the road is now a transformation. For a couple of newly introduced tolls (80 bucks each), you are assured of a fantastic dream drive. Precisely why the monotony of Nasik-Pimpalgaon-Chandwad-Dhule doesn't bother you much now. We stopped en route on a empty stretch near Chandwad to catch some grub that we had carried with us. The road stalls here are filthy even by Mumbai standards, hence the precaution.

Dhule arrived by 10.30 am and here we went straight on the NH3 in the direction of Indore for the very first time. Earlier, we invariably turned right towards Dhule-Jalgaon-Nagpur and hence this route was a new experience. But the stretch proved even better than the earlier one as we raced ahead... leaving behind places like Songir, Dahiwad, Shirpur, Sangvi and Sendhva in quick time. After Sendhva, it takes relatively longer times to reach the approaching milestones. By the time we crossed Julwania-Thikri-Kalghat-Gujri-Mhow (The L &T Pithampur plant is merely 8 km from Mhow via Rau) and entered Indore, the time was 3.00 pm. And ironically, it was the drive to Hotel President in the heart of the city that consumed a full hour, thanks to the bumpy drive and grumpy inhabitants who didn't seem keen to help out. Indore has changed in many ways but the local arrogance and contempt for the outsiders is at its peak (especially when they notice a MH number plate). And the rules of traffic are special, it takes a while before you come to terms with them. It's quite simple in hindsight - whoever dares to block the way first,at the cost of risking a collision, gets to race ahead. The less adventurous have to make way.And for the pedestrians, the rules are even simpler. Just cross the road as if it was deserted, God will help you with the rest.

The shopkeepers essentially do a favour by selling their wares. The customer is a beggar in the guise of a buyer. Yes, there would be exceptions but my experience was ghastly for sure. I have suffered the wrath of South Indians in Chennai and Bangalore, I have seen the worst of Delhi and Noida hospitality (or the lack of it), I have also witnessed the hostility of the North East but nothing compared to what Indore (and Gwalior later) had to offer. There's a strange contempt on most of the faces here - you can't define it but you don't wish to describe it either. The best of malls are packed with the best of brands but are they waiting for the best of customers? I have my doubts.

The hotel staff was decent but the service level was pathetic. You had all the amenities you could think of but ask for an electric kettle and they will raise eyebrows. Room service is prompt but clearing used plates is not part of housekeeping. And yes, ordering Chinese food here could be suicidal here, please go for the normal North Indian stuff.

Saturday 24th, 2011

We left Indore promptly at 6.00 am and cruised on the NH3 via Dewas. It was from here that the dream road journey turned into a nightmare. The Dewas-Sia-Maksi route was scary - with giant pothoels threatening to attack you from the middle of nowhere - but it was still no indication of the big trouble that awaited us on the Shajapur-Sarangpur-Karanwas-Biora stretch.

We reluctantly had tea at a shabby tea stall adjoining the dusty railway crossing of Maksi. When filth greets you with open arms, the search for cleaner places and our cherished emphasis on hygiene, both lose their significance. The tea was bad, the cup half washed, few enthusiastic pigs were at our feet...yet we sipped to glory. By the time we crossed Shajapur, the roads vanished...What remained were potholed pathways calling for some inventive driving to find your way. If I was beginning to enjoy it, the cars and trucks from the opposite direction posed an even bigger threat.

To be continued...