When you look at the map, it seems daunting at first. So many states to cross, so many kilometres to cover. That’s before you realise that people sometimes zip from Mumbai to New Delhi in a matter of 24 hours. But you would try to do this drive in a day only if you weren’t looking for a holiday. If, like us, you’re planning on stopping at places en route and soaking in the beauty of the journey and not just the destination, then this is a drive worth doing over five, six or even seven days.
We set off one bright, sunny morning, having strapped ourselves comfortably in an Innova. It was a good start: the weather was pleasant, we had peppy music and had thoughtfully stacked up on food and drink. Driving through Maharashtra was wonderful. The roads lay wrapped in miles of greenery, occasionally separated by calm rivers. We took a detour to Daman, where we stopped for a bite and spent some time lazily lying on Devka Beach. Further on, the roads in Gujarat were lined by factories; at some places, there were fields on one side and power plants on the other, providing a distinct contrast. The drive went fine till we reached Surat, from where construction work for a new highway was going on up to Vadodara. This stretch was replete with rough patches, heavy traffic, diversions and narrow lanes.
We took 7 hours to complete a drive that should have taken just three. When we reached Vadodara, we were so relieved that we hit the bed without even bothering to eat. We explored Vadodara the next day and then off we were on the road again. If the Surat-Vadodara stretch was a nightmare, what followed seemed like something aimed to make amends. The Mahatma Gandhi Expressway, or the National Expressway 1, between Vadodara and Ahmedabad, was a dream road on which we practically flew in less than an hour. This expressway has been planned so well that the dividers have foliage standing tall at 5 to 6 ft, so that while driving at night, headlights do not distract drivers on either side. There’s one thing to remember, however, before hitting this road: carry food and water, and take a restroom break. There isn’t much you’re going to find on this stretch till you reach the city of Ahmedabad.
We drove on to Udaipur, a long journey that didn’t seem tough because of the fabulous roads. Cornfields and rice plantations on either side of the road added a green touch, and the delicious food at the dhabas lifted our spirits. Stone mountains lined the road as we drove into Udaipur, where we checked into a heritage property. The next day, we set off from Udaipur to Delhi. It was an exhausting drive, but the roadside vistas made it easier. All around us were barren mountains, tiny temples, black-faced langurs, and camel carts loaded with fruits and vegetables. We had our run-in with absurd truckers and that perennial bane of anyone driving in India: cattle that refuse to heed to horns or logic. First, a trucker cut into us sharply at a toll booth and then mocked us like a teenage brat. Soon after, a cow ran madly in front of our car, forcing us to turn sharply. And then there was a donkey who insisted on standing in the middle of the road, quite unaffected by the swirling, honking traffic around it. Thus, with much incident, we reached Delhi, where after a day’s rest, we headed back to Mumbai City. This time, we halted at Ajmer the first night and at Ahmedabad the next, so that the journey would be more comfortable. We also used our relaxed itinerary to discover dhabas in Rajasthan that serve authentic, delicious dal-baati-choorma, and thus feeling pampered and rested, returned home.
ON THE ROAD
The drive is pretty straightforward: you take NH8 from Mumbai to Vadodara, National Express 1 or NE1 from Vadodara to Ahmedabad, and NH8 again from Ahmedabad to Ajmer and Kishangarh, from where you get on to GVK Expressway till Jaipur. This expressway is a part of NH8. You can take Jaipur Bypass 1 and 2 to get to Kotputli from Rajasthan’s capital and head back on NH8 to Delhi from Kotputli. If Vadodara is your first halt, as it was for us, then it’s best to leave Mumbai at dawn as you could be delayed because of the construction work going on from Surat. From Vadodara to Ahmedabad, NE1 is a smooth road with minimal traffic. The speed limit is 100 kmph for cars. However, you cannot take U-turns and there are only two exits: one for Anand and the other for Bharej. But NE1 is a better option than NH8 as you’ll reach Ahmedabad in an hour, beating the traffic. This drive can be done without going into Ahmedabad; you can bypass it through NE1 and continue towards Himmatnagar on NH8.
The GVK group, which built the eponymous expressway that’s part of NH8, has set up public toilets at regular intervals through the stretch. They are clean and there’s no fee to use them. This expressway also has emergency phones stationed every 200 m. Most of the bridges on this route are two-laned, after which some of the roads stretch out to four lanes. In the Jaipur bypass stretch, the bridges are six-laned, after which the road becomes four-laned. Plenty of petrol pumps, tyre repair shops, dhabas, tea stalls and convenience stores are present at regular intervals throughout the route; a large number is seen at most of the villages and small towns.
Most tea stalls are small tapris that offer tea and a few khari biscuits, but there are some bigger ones that store packaged biscuits and wafers. Many of the ‘hotels’ that you see on this route don’t have lodging facilities. There are plenty of petrol pumps along this route, particularly as you go through Haryana and then along the expressway again. You’ll find signage with helpline numbers at regular intervals; note them down as it will help in an emergency. Finally, a word of caution: this route is frequented by truckers who can be quite nasty at times, so drive carefully around them. Try not to overtake on a two-lane road as most people drive at high speeds and accidents are likely. And do keep a lookout for stray animals strolling along on the road.
About the author:
Ruchika Vyas tried her hand at a corporate job but realised she didn’t fit in. She was drawn to writing and one fine day decided to transform it into a career.