My best friend, DJ, and navigator by my side (all of them is one person), we have made it to the mouth of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway in under an hour.
Mumbai roads, that early morning can be quite alien. Most of the traffic comprises of unusual trucks and hired SUV-kind of vehicles dropping off and picking up folks who work shifts. All of them drive fast; a couple of hours later, these streets will be filled with other and many familiar vehicles.
One big advantage of having a dual carriageway is that you need to focus just a bit less on the road. And since this road is quite familiar, it works better for me. It didn’t matter whether it was Rajasthan or Karnataka. I wanted a conversation. With my best friend. The expressway helped us set the mood for the next few days. We talked.
I am happy. My plan, beyond the routes and the reservations is coming true.
We had breakfast at McD’s. I like their muffins better than their burgers.
I have been thinking about highways and dual carriageways for a while now. They are efficient. They are fast. But, they do not expose you to the environment in which you drive. Flashback: c 2002ish, I am at my friend’s house in Virginia. He is a proud American. Like you and me, you know – proud about our country. We were discussing how the highways and expressway have changed the scenery on a drive like this. We killed a little bit of romance at the cost of speed and efficiency. Years later, I saw Cars (2006) – the movie – and we spoke again.
Today, I do not mind the speed. But I do not want it all through this trip. I am out here, to slow down. The 59th Street Bridge Song starts playing in my head. I wonder, how I will make the morning last. The best I can do, is capture that moment. The tea is laced with masala and the morning, with happiness.
The more or less uneventful, but enjoyable drive continues. We passed Kolhapur. It’s the first time I have passed it by. In less than an hour, we are at the border of Maharashtra and Karnataka. The road quality changes. It becomes better. I have thought about this before – and it comes back to me. How can the quality of a road change at state borders when the road is a national project?
We make our way by-passing Belgaum, Dharwad and reach Hubli. I have been warned that credit card machines are rare, as I leave the highway. The first ATM I go into has the ATM software’s equivalent of the BSOD. The second ATM seems to be working. And for the first time in my life, I see angry graffiti at an ATM; a severe accusation of not delivering. The language that was employed was very different, but I’ll let your imagination take over for that. I am a bit concerned. It would be a shame to have your debit card sucked-in at this point of the trip. We drive away, finally find an ATM that (a) worked and (b) did not have a bad review.
It’s time to leave the GQ. We take a left towards Hospet, onwards to Hampi. The road is not as bad as I had thought it would be, and apart from the ongoing road works, it is in good condition. But more than that, the pleasure of being off an Expressway is now in view.
The sun prepares to leave for the day, and my calculations, about reaching Hampi while it’s still daylight, have been wrong. I had even accounted for the shorter December days. We reach Koppal just after sunset. I have been asked to call from there, for the directions to the Anegundi Road. We stop at a “Tiffin Centre” – my favourite places to eat when I am in the peninsula. A few kilometres ahead and we take a turn onto what is obviously a village road. My concerns are happily devastated as the road tuns out to be quite good and small hamlets pass us by every 5-odd kilometres. We are to reach Basapur, where someone will escort us to the place we are to stay.
It is 7:15pm. There’s a buzz in Basapur even though it’s not brightly lit. There’s smell of street food, dried grass, mixed with country liquor wafting in the neighbourhood.
We get our escort on a bike, and in less than 5km but almost 20 minutes, we meander through a rocky dirt road to Hampi’s Boulders. A very warm welcome and we are told we are just in time for a campfire & barbecue. It’s been fourteen hours for the 740 kilometres to get here. A campfire and a barbecue are very welcome. We quickly checked in to our room that was perched atop one of the largest boulders I had seen, and went to the campfire.
It is 8:20pm on 23rd December, 2011 and little did I know; campfires were to be a prime theme of this trip.