Saturday, October 6


The gist of the route - Chennai to Bangalore to Hyderabad to Warangal, across the state of Chattisgarh - our own Niagara (Chitrakote falls) at Jagdalpur, to Marble Rocks at Bhedeghat in Jabalpur, to the industrial town of Raipur, to the state where time stands still - Madhya Pradesh - to Panna to Khajuraho and then to sample the Mughlai khana at Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, climbed the mountains at Uttarakhand, drove all along the Himalayas through Nainital, to Binsar to Karnaprayag to Joshimath, to one of the best ski slopes in the world at Auli, then to Tehri to Mussoorie to Lakhamandal to Shimla in Himachal, down the mountains to Chandigarh, and up again to Manali to Rohtang to Dehradun, then climbed down again to Mathura, visited the Sanchi Stupa and the timeless Bhimbetka caves near Bhopal, went along to Nagpur and back to Chennai .... 40 days! 10,000 kms!!

This was truly the longest trip we have taken till now! (I'm saying this because we already have plans to better this).

We started the trip with a drive from Chennai (Tamilnadu) to Bengaluru (Karnataka) for a fun-family occasion. My cousin Kartik was getting married to Raksha there... we had the usual dance-wance-guppa-shuppa family fun. Most importantly, Kartik was carrying with him (from Seattle USA) my brand new Cannon S3 IS camera... the one that was going to record our entire trip.

Cutting across South India to Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh (to drop off my parents who had accompanied us to the wedding), we then moved onto Warangal (Andhra Pradesh).

Prabha with Jaya aunty
Warangal was an apt place to truly 'begin the journey'... I had sort of begun my life here, having spent a good deal of my growing-up-years at this aunt-and-uncle's traditional home... and it felt good to be there after a long time.

We had just bought the new Eicher Road Atlas and Prabha had chalked out a route from Warangal to Jagdalpur (Chattisgarh)... but as fate (or simply bad publishing) would have it... the bridge on the map was not really there! Ground realities differed a lot from book knowledge!

The road had progressively become a single road from a double road... and then....
When we reached Nagaram (Andhra Pradesh), we asked the locals how to cross the Godavari (river)... they pointed to a muddy, slushy path... we waded (navigated) the car through the tall grass, the mud road and reached the river... we looked and looked for 'the bridge across the river Godavari'... all we found were a few boats... ferrying people accross the mighty river. When I asked the farmer who had shown the route "How do I get to the other side in my car?", his prompt reply was, "You never said you wanted to take the car!"

We got our first lessons in practical communication that day!

Apparently the nearest bridge to cross the Godavari was in the pilgrimage town of Bhadrachalam (Andhra Pradesh)... a good 150km detour for us!
Prabha later wrote a detailed complaint to Eicher about this error and the same has been corrected in the latest edition of the Road Atlas - Kudos to the Eicher map-making team!

In our trip... the whole scene changed as we entered Chhattisgarh. We had heard that this 'new' state which was only some 6-7 years old (considering the rest of the states in the country were at least in their 50s) had some good roads.... Yes.... confirmed... great roads!

The roads were taken over by school kids on bicycles, but in an organized way. There weren't too many bikes, cars or buses on the roads... guess the state has a lot of 'developmental projects' pending. Great roads and no traffic... what more could we ask for!

The two things that strike you when you enter Chattisgarh - people and nature... so much in harmony! The slideshow above is only representative of the beauty of the palce.
There are anti-naxalite-guerilla-warfare training camps camouflaged as villages. Be sure to carry all your vehicle documentaion... there are check posts every 100 miles or so.
Our first halt was in the Bastar town of Jagdalpur, Chattisgarh (where we stayed at Hotel Rainbow).

The water in the Tiratgarh and Chitrakote falls just outside Jagdalpur was raw and powerful. Chitrakote looks like the Niagara falls... even better we would say! In fact, the first opportunity we got, we emailed a set of photos to my aunt who stays in Buffalo town (the American side of the Niagara Falls)... and she agreed that the Indian version looked better!

Notably, the area around these waterfalls are not filled with Pepsi/Coke bottles or KurKure packets... the place still loooks clean and un-spoilt.

We picked up some handicrafts at a local co-operative Saathi near Kondagaon (Chattisgarh). We read about their mission to revive the traditional handicrafts of Bastar and generate income for artisans, creating awareness, natural resource and environment management. They looked like they were doing a good job. The entire village looked transformed.

Once we moved out of Chattisgarh (from Raipur - Amit Regency) and entered Madhya Pradesh the roads degressively went from bad to worse. The average speeds dropped from 55 kmph to 32.5 kmph.... almost half! Considering the fact that we were driving along the northern fringe of the Kanha National Park, we hoped the slow speed would help us spot some wildlife... no such luck.

By 7 pm, we were so tired we would have slept on a charpai (portable string cot, “char” meaning 4, and “pai” meaning legs) in a roadside Dhaba (road-side highway restaurant). Just then we saw a Madhya Pradesh Tourism Hotel... lovely place with some basic, clean rooms and simple food... just what we needed at the end of a tiring day.

What was really wonderful was the art on the wall... a truly local flavour.

Driving on the next morning, we reached a road junction. On a regular highway, this would've seemed like as just another big junction to a passing vehicle. But to us, armed with our GPS, gadgets, terrain maps, along with this constant feeling of 'awe' whenever we were out there on an important piece of land or road in India, this was no small crossroad. We were at the crossing of two most important roads in the entire highway network of India - the North-South Corridor and the East-West Corridor (both 4-lane expressways under construction that will ultimately link Kashmir to Kanyakumari and Gujarat to the Northeast). Was it a proud moment for us, just being there!

Marble Rocks, Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh) was ahead and our next pitstop. We had met a number of folks who had been to this 'tourist spot.' A rocking tourist spot, complete with hawkers, kids ready to guide you to the hard-to-access spots for clicking 'futwas in the correct angle', and decked up families stripping their kids and themselves the moment they saw running water to have a 'holy bath.'

We did the usual ropeway to the other end of the rocks, got some good shots of the 'marble' gleaming in the sun and moved onto the world heritage site of Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh).

A day among the fine-cut stone temples gave us an insight into not only the 11th century culture and life of the people, but also made us realize that the Khajuraho 'image' of sex, sex and more sex in scultpures is oh! so over-hyped! This huge hype overshadows the true, wonderful nature of these best-preserved ancient history on rock. If one carefully follows the pattern of sculpting, one can observe that the four layers/ lines of rock-cut sculptures so beautifully represent various facets of life.

From here, the smell of royal biriyani guided us to Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. Planning lunch there was perfect, but that remained a plan as we stopped here and there by the highway bit by the shutterbug. Our conversation in the car drifted away to history as we watched many 'gol-gumbus' temples. We wondered if the Hindus came there first or the Muslims and decided that it could've as well been the Buddhists who were here before either of them or some nomadic tribes of the Neandrathal times! What a pity that instead of beautifying emerging cultures, man spends his time destroying previous ones.

Mohd Abubad or Senior Idris was not waiting for us for lunch, not at 4pm anyway! Idris Biriyani is world-famous (thanks to CNN IBN Food shows) and located at Pata nala Chowk in Lucknow. After hunting for sometime, we located the tiny 'potti-kadai' (in Tamil, roughly translates to a makeshift huge box converted to a roadside shop). As luck would have it, we were too late for lunch and early for dinner. But, amazed by the fact that we had driven all the way from Chennai and were looking longingly at the empty biriyani barrels, Junior Idris (as I would call Mohd Abubad's son) offered to get something ready for us in an hour while we went to fix the flat tyre in our car. And when we came back, we were really glad that we had waited till 5 pm for our lunch of the day - the galouti kebabs melted just as we put them in our mouths, while the biriyani conjured up images of sitting amidst royalty in our minds!

We smiled at the storks in the fields as we passed by on a full stomach. That also meant stopping overnight in the nearby town of Sitapur (Uttar Pradesh) and continuing our journey towards the Himalayas in the morning.

We noticed an interesting service offered by the dhabas along this Sitapur-Bareilly highway... while we ate a typical dhaba breakfast, Guns n Roses got a massage-and-facial done. Guns n Roses is what we call our dear car, the Maruti Swift... and its to Guns n Roses that the whole credit of bearing us through the Indian tarmac goes.

We got our first view of the King of the Mountains - the Himalayas at noon, just before we reached Haldwani (Uttarkhand).

Nainital Gurney House, the former residence, of Jim Corbett, is located on Ayarpatta Hill. Before leaving for Kenya, Jim and his sister Maggie sold the house... today it belongs to Mr. Dalmia. It is a private residence but is open to visitors as a museum of Corbett memorabilia. It is not one of the main tourist attractions in Nainital... but we went there... naturally!

Just as we got out of the narrow streets we were mis-directed into a narrow hill path and getting the car out of the mess burnt out our clutch plates.

A quick call to our friends in Maruti and a couple of hours later we were back on track after replacing the Clutch plates in Kavisha Motors in Haldwani.

On most trips we do not make reservations at hotels or resorts... it restricts us to a clock... but we do make reservations at strategic places in 'long trips' so that we have a good night's rest and most of the time it is in Club Mahindra's 5 star luxury. This was supposed to one such day!

But we reached Club Mahindra Binsar only at 3am. Traffic on the Nainital Binsar highway after 9pm is not really banned... but scorned upon by the security forces... rightly so.... but we had no other choice... we were delayed and we were on a tight schedule... because of the booking.

Interestingly, the military check post just before Binsar did not understand how we had driven all the way from TamilNadu - he was unable to accept that we were there... he swore that in the 14 years of service he had never seen a 'TN ka gadi'

The next morning we were off to Jageshwar to see the shiva temples. Situated in the heart of the Kumaon region of the Himalays this whole area had a mystical feel about it. Interestingly, Kumaon is believed to have been derived from "Kurmanchal", meaning land of the Kurmavatar (the tortoise incarnation of Lord Vishnu, according to Hindu mythology).

Jageshwar temples, around 60 kms from the Club Mahindra resort, are beautiful in their architecture, and the surrounding trees like Pine, Cypress, Fir, sal add to the beauty.

Looking at the faces of the purohit (priest) there I wondered if the was from another race! The carvings on the walls were 'Mayan'... or whatever... definetly not the kind of stuff we see down south.

The next day we were off to Joshimath.

Still to come.... to Karnaprayag to Joshimath, to one of the best ski slopes in the world at Auli, then to Tehri to Mussoorie to Lakhamandal to Shimla in Himachal, down the mountains to Chandigarh, and up again to Manali to Rohtang to Dehradun, then climbed down again to Mathura, visited the Sanchi Stupa and the timeless Bhimbetka caves near Bhopal, went along to Nagpur and back to Chennai

This post is not complete... its a work-in-progress!


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