So, it was finally time to say goodbye to the land of musical gharanas. The last night at Landmark was spent in lazying around and watching the Xmas celebrations that the hotel had lined up for guests. I particularly liked the Santa guy, welcoming one and all at the reception. Thanks to Abhay, the CA friend, we got perfect advice. The Gwalior fog, I had presumed, would be worse in the wee hours (my favorite time for kicking off journeys) But it was Abhay who revealed that 4.00 am was in fact the best time to leave the city as the fog would be thickest during 6.00 to 8.00 am, by which time we would have crossed the city limits of Shivpuri.
So off we went, hopping into the car at sharp 4.00 (thankfully, the hotel was exceptionally quick about the check out formalities) Exactly as Abhay had predicted, we were at Shivpuri for our first tea break at 6.00. The next break was at Guna at 9.00. This one proved elaborate as the roadside stall was as good as a motel, thanks to some innovative space usage by the owner. The jalebi was divine and so were the samosas. Hotel Shiv Tirth is highly recommended for those who strive for cleanliness, to the extent they can find on Indian highways.
Continuing further on NH 3, we reached Biora by 11.00 am and stopped at the same motel that we had checked en route Gwalior, this time for some Dosas and sambar. Bad choice it turned out to be. The fermentation was at its peak and left a bad taste all throughout the journey. The same waiter greeted us with the same hospitality and was happy to note that we would be treading on the extended Biora - Bhopal route rather than the potholed Biora - Indore stretch. Bidding good bye, I was back at the wheel.
The Biora - Bhopal NH 12 through Narsinghgad was excellent, as smooth as Nasik - Dhule - Indore. We'll remain indebted to the Biora waiter for the tip and Abhay for the validation. We reached Bhopal by 3.00 pm.
At the first chouraha on arrival, it took considerable time to reach Maharana Pratap Nagar in the new city. Thanks to a smart traffic cop, we got the right advice in time. We drove in the parking lot of 'The Residency' at sharp 4.00 pm. The booking was telephonic but the reception recall was instant, something missing with many a Mumbai-Pune hotel. Watching the local TV channel was fun. A program called "Nadaniyaan" was especially amusing. We bought some Bhopal sweets and namkin from the local stores and called it a day. The room service was excellent and housekeeping prompt.
The next day, we were to leave at 4.00 sharp but the alarm failed to caution us. And it was not before 5.30 that we hit the road. The hotel staff had given elaborate instructions on the most optimal path to Indore. We had no trouble getting on the spacious NH 86 turned SH 18 through Sihor, Astha and Dewas. Beyond doubt, this is a model road for the country. We touched Indore NH 3 by 8.00 am and stopped at Rau (near Mhow) for roadside jalebi and kachori.
Resuming the now monotonous drive,we reached Dhule for lunch at 12.30 pm at Hotel Residency Park. It was here that I learnt Sachin Tendulkar had yet again missed his long awaited 100th ton. Recovering from the expected gloom with the help of an unprintable expletive, I got back to the car. I have passed several times through Dhule - Indore but the monotony of the journey is equally intense every single time, even with the new roads. Nasik arrived at 3.45 pm but the ever messy Nasik traffic consumed over an hour before we crossed Igatpuri. Some of India's worst drivers come from Nasik (as lethal as the Pune ones).
The final frontier through Bhiwandi-Kalyan-Thane was a seamless drive. We entered the premises of our housing society on Ghodbunder Road at 6.30 pm.
The tryst with M.P. was finally over in good time. Needless to say, memories will remain for life.