A tryst with Madhya Pradesh- 2

The route from Shajapur to Karanvas via Sarangpur was a 'karavas'. Actually, it was more about the brazen attitude of the drivers that was making life difficult. With patience, you could come to terms with the potholes, but not with the people treading on them. Panting and fuming, we reached the scenic town of Biora at the stroke of 12 noon.

There's a tourist motel right on NH3 - don't miss it if you travel to Biora. The food's great and the hospitality even better. The friendly receptionist-cum-waiter advised us to take the Biora-Bhopal route for the return journey. His tip was zillion times more valuable than the one we paid him, we found out on our way back.

After a delicious meal of Pav Bhaji and Chaas (The Bhaji was not the tomato-dominated stuff that we relish in Mumbai, it's a rich mix of fresh vegetables, yet looks red and tastes even better), we were ready to encounter the last leg that proved to be the longest one.

The roads are much better if you compare them with the Indore-Biora, hence the journey was not all that arduous, at least the Beenagunj-Guna stretch. But after Guna, the roads get narrower and the maze of trucks gets wider. Interestingly, throughout the Indore-Gwalior route, you are forewarned about approaching Ghat sections whenever the bend is minimal, they're hardly noticeable in fact. And in contrast, the couple of hair pin bends that really merit a caution come with no warning whatsoever.Wonder how do they define a 'ghat' in this part of the world.

Post Guna, you pass through the insignificant townships of Badarwas and Lukwasa. At Lukwasa, we had tea at a stall with an amusing title "Ziddi Pandit". The tea was excellent and I looked around to spot Mr.'Ziddi' but only a urchin seemed to run the show. We left the scene wondering who was 'Ziddi' and why was he so? (come to think of it, this could be a nice film title like 'Ziddi Pandit ziddi kyon hai?' akin to 'Albert Pinto ko gussa kyon aata hai')

After leaving Kolaras behind, we arrived at Shivpuri, the abode of Lord Shiva. This is an ancient place that finds mention in mythology as well as history. It also houses a promising 'tourist village' and a rich forest reserve. Years earlier when I was a small child, we had spent a night at a motel here, so I was told by my parents. Years later, when I looked around, I shuddered at the very thought of doing an encore. The town is excessively shabby, filthy really ...maybe the interiors could be better. But who knows? It was a tragic sight really, the place has such vintage value but what we saw around was only nuisance value.

It was getting dark now but thankfully the visibility was still fine. The Khankar-Mohana-Ghatigaon went on and on - it was 7.30 pm by the time we saw boards of Gwalior welcoming us. The approach road to the main city is so narrow that you would miss it if you don't ask for it.

Finally, we had arrived in the historic city. The city roads are awesome and although the drive to Hotel Landmark was confusing, thanks to the contrasting advice we got at different points, the whole effort was well worth it.

By the time, we reached our suite, it was 8.30 pm. Thankfully, the hotel service was excellent...just what one would expect after a long drive. The food was super, so was the beer, just that the waiter lacked the Mumbai finesse to open the bottle. I felt helpless, watching the rich Kingfisher froth spill all over the place - nothing short of a national waste. Vijay Mallaya would have been equally upset had he seen the mess.

Gwalior seems to have changed a lot over the years, for the better I would like to believe. The streets were full of life and the dazzle of commerce was exceptional - what with malls, multiplexes and shopping complexes all over the place. The area what they call City Centre is particularly eye-catching.

But I had come down with a purpose - to locate a place called Jiwaji Ganj and Ratan Colony in the old city where I had spent a few of my formative years. I looked forward to the next morning.

To be continued...

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...