Tuesday, July 14

Pune - Chennai Non Stop

In preparation for the Great Driving Challenge we decided to "challenge" ourselves and drive non-stop from Pune to Chennai... a distance of 1250 kms. We were not sure how long it would take... but we wanted to see if we could do it... we have driven 800kms in a single day... but never more!

View Pune - Chennai Non stop in a larger map

We decided to start early - 4 am... but managed to get the key into the ignition only at 4:20 am... (Shree char sou bees... nice timing). With some jhakaas music playing on the system to perk us up, we started our journey.

The first one hour went in getting out of the city... even though it was so early in the morning, the traffic was pretty bad, as we were on the Pune by-pass that connects the Bangalore highway to the Bombay-Pune expressway. This is all part of the Golden Quadrilateral.

First hour - 61 kms.

The second hour was not too bad... we were out of all the jhanjat of city and well and truly on the highway. Pretty uneventful. Daylight was just breaking out.

Second hour - 95 kms. Average till now 78kmph. Total distance 156 kms.

At about 6:30 am, we were just outside Satara and decided to break for breakfast. Even though were carrying some Molagapodi Idlis (rice cakes with Chilli and lentils powder) that Shubha (Prabha's sister) had made for us, we decided to stop at 'Manikandan' Hotel. From the name we concluded it was Tamilian. As we parked, we heard Yesudas blaring away... ok... Mallu place... good enough... we thought some hot vada-dosa-sambhar should be available. (Or should I say sambher, like the way North Indians pronounce this dish and spoil both the animal's name and the dish's!)

Yes... there was Idli (nice ones at that)... but no vada... they had Maharashtrian Batata vada (alu bondas if you please)... so we settled for some idlis and Upma (sheera as it is locally called). By the time we finished eating the staff had 'registered' our car 'registation number' noted that we were from Chennai (Tamilnadu atleast)... and decided to speak to us in a Mallu accented Tamil... nice touch I must say.

What struck me is the huge stuffed tiger that was sitting in front of the array of Lord Manikandan photos. Manikandan, another name for Ayyappa, is usually depicted riding a tigress... owing to a story in mythology where he was asked to bring the milk of tigress to cure an illness that the queen (his adopted mother) was faking... interesting story. Having just returned from a trip to Bandhavgarh, we were amused to see the tiger... a stuffed one sitting amidst tables and shelves!

A smooth ride...

For the next couple of hours we were cruising at about 80-85kmph and we reached the ghats near Belagavi (Belgaum's new name).

The landscape was 'carpeted' green and we could not resist the temptation to stop there awhile. The flowering plants in the median were also in full bloom. Can you imagine...

Even as we stood there, we were 'showered' occasionally with monsoon pitter-patter.... but not serious rain.

...the anti climax...

The Hubli-Dharwad by-pass is a 2-lane section that shows no signs of becoming a 4-lane. So all of a sudden, we are thrown into a 'think-and-drive' mode from the smooth cruising of the last 400 kms. But the Ghat section is very picturesque and the fact that they have 'sliced' some mountains to create this road gave us a geology lesson - complete with the rock formations and layers of colourful sediments.

If you ever travel with 10-year olds, make sure to stop at such places and explain the significance to them... a practical lesson would definitely be more interesting to them than the theory they learn in school.

By the time we crossed Haveri, the road turned from bad to worse and absolutely horrible (the black top on the by-pass was nice but the lane markings were gone). The entire section from Haveri to Chitradurg was 'under construction'. We remembered that the last time we drove on this road (about a year ago) this sector of the GQ was in the same state... nothing much had changed.

It was almost as if 'time had stood still' here... the bridges were still under construction and in some places the exposed steel rods had even rusted.

After Chitradurg, we were able to get back on to some decent tarmac and we were hoping to make up some lost time.

And then, there was this 18-wheeler truck who was chugging away on the side, next to a bullock cart on the service lane... when suddenly the truck driver decided to swerve and come 'literally into' our car! Luckily, Guns n Roses handled this very well and we got away with 'just a shattered windshield', that too only on Prabha's side!

We have heard stories of how the Maruti Swift is a fantastic car when it comes to safety and handling accidents. And we experienced it. After stopping for a couple of minutes by the side of the highway to check if all was ok, we were on the road again!

We did a small 'patch work' job... we put some transparent covers with loads of cello-tape, over the gaping hole in the windscreen... to keep off the rain. We were carrying all these 'raw materials' thanks to a visit to the stationery shop, Staples while in Pune.

Lets go!

After that Prabha covered herself in a dupatta (to protect against the splinters), crouched against the door to get a clear view of the road to help in navigation and we were off on our way to Chennai.

The incident did take us a while to get back into 'highway driving' mode, along with making a number of calls to car dealers in Tumkur, Bangalore to check if we could drive-in, drive-out after taking care of Guns n Roses' windshield.

But we found that the Swift windshield is not a 'fast moving product' and most service stations do not have 'ready stock'. There was no stock in Sira, a 3 week waiting period in Tumkur... and the only guy in Bangalore we could talk to was on their 'weekly off'.

We called our friend, fellow rallyist and veteran racer Vivek (one of our team mates in the Raid-de-Himalaya) in Chennai and he gave us an 'expected' suggestion - "If the car is driveable... come to Chennai... we'll see here". So thats what we did!

As we reached Tumkur we found that the road was getting bad again... bridges were incomplete, one side of the road was un-done! And then all of a sudden we saw a sign that took us on a by-pass all around Bangalore that is supposed to circumnavigate the traffic nightmare called Bengaluru and drop us off at Hosur (at least that is what the sign said), so we took the road!

The road was fantastic, smooth clean, unoccupied. We made-up some lost time and reached Electronics city on the Bangalore-Hosur Road by about 5:30 pm. The road is not complete but of acceptable standards towards the Hosur end. Apparently there is a section that goes right through the Bannergatta National Park that is stuck in litigation between the environmentalists and the Government.

Home stretch

Once we passed Hosur and got to Shoolagiri (just before Krishnagiri) we stopped for a coffee at Cafe Coffee Day (CCD). All over Karnataka there are decent CCD outlets to grab a bite. I'm not a big fan of their hot coffees... (I believe nothing can beat a traditional South Indian filter coffee) but their Cafe Latte is the closest one can get to that. They have some good choco desserts and a bit of 'sugar in the blood' helps while on long drives.

The rest of the drive was uneventful - we have done the Bangalore-Chennai drive dozens of times since this sector of the GQ was completed a while ago. I can practically drive this route blind-folded!

We finally reached Chennai (home) at 12:01... that was just under 20hrs. I'm sure that if we were not handicapped by the small road incident and the time lost due to the associated delays we could have done this journey in 15-17 hrs. If the 200 odd kms of GQ is completed, the journey time can further be reduced to 13-14hrs.

Another day... another time!

p.s: I decided not to take pictures of the car with the shattered glass. Just as I would not like anyone to take photos of me when I'm not looking my best, I'm sure Guns n Roses also has a heart and would not like to remember the incident - memories should be sweet!


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