09.01.2017 - 10.01.2017
Having conquered the mountain pass the previous evening we had found ourselves in the fairly deprived town of Chalisgoan. We'd chosen the Bridge Corner Hotel because a.) there were only two hotels that existed and this was the one in front of us and b.) it offered parking, hot water and a bed. As long as the latter wasn't inspected too closely, the Bridge Corner was everything we needed.
We still had kilometres to eat-up and our over-ambitious destination was Vadodara in the province of Gujarat. Our top speed was about fifty kph with a prayer and a tail wind. Factoring in petrol stops every two hours; where we tried to eat, drink and pee in an efficient manner, as well as occasional stops to satiate moments of curiosity, our real average was around 30kph. My physics knowledge is still tip-top, Distance = Speed x Time and since our speed has limited flexibility we have to increase our hours slogging it out on the open road to make the numbers add up. So we set off at 5:30am.
Our chai stop three hours later was a peach. Bread rolls stuffed with potato curry, battered and deep-fried before us. A handful of little vegetable pakoras and some deep-fried chillies to smooth the whole process over. That and a couple of lovely cups of primo chai. We're going to miss this.
Now at this stage a special mention has to go to whoever is the minister for India's roads. Their road safety signs are keeping us entertained and we haven't yet seen the same one twice. "Our desire is your content", "Impatient on road. Patient in hospital" but our favourite so far "Safety on road is Safe 'tea' at home". Kenny and James; I've found your calling.
Back on the road and the streets had become mean. There were a lot of angry drivers out there and the atmosphere had changed. We were less entertainment and more hindrance as other drivers started recklessly trying to undertake/overtake and fit through impossible gaps hoping their horns' sonic boom would part the waters. We were entering business territory on the road Surat we were turning away and north at Kadodara. Means streets equals hard attentive driving which is as draining as it is secretly fun. It's real life computer games again. And as we threaded through another tricky cross roads at an underpass we saw the mighty Arches ahead and left. Their golden glow, their familiarity on another continent. Whether globalisation appeals to you or not sometimes enjoying a wee bit of capitalist oinkery is a pleasure. I looked back to suggest a pit stop only to find Emma was already indicating. We were going for a McDonalds.
Chicken burgers and fries, chocolate milkshakes and ice creams. We were fattening the goose and greasing the wheels. The Big Mac was now a Maharaja Burger but it wasn't to anyones taste. We ate, we grinned and we wiped the grease from our lips. It was heaven; even the manager came over to get a picture of us all.
Bridges had been our conundrum. We had needed to negotiate several level crossings and, as I've stated before, trains are the universal halter of Indian vehicles. No one and no thing can stand in the way of thirty or forty carriages loaded with cargo and people. We slowed to a halt behind an exceptionally long string of lorries as we waited for the railed juggernaut to sail through. We queued because that's what we english do; but Doctor Alasdair Cameron is an outside-the-box thinker. Everyone else's loss was our gain as he put foot and ragged it straight to the front of the queue, ducking back in front of the first lorry tight up against the barrier, just in time to see hundreds of tonnes of train thunder past about 20 inches in front of Pasha. The Cameron technique was applied several more times through the day and our suddenly 'nippy' motors gained a few easy yards each time. God help the truckers though; there were tail backs for kilometres after the crossings.
The highlight of our day of bridges however was on the way into Vadodara. There were three bridges to be precise but someone had invented a filter system to make sure that only lorries used the big bridge or rather, only cars used the rickety old bridge. A bridge so rickety that it's concrete and iron sections moved up and down several inches as we drove across. The third bridge seemed to be for oncoming traffic only and so was definite no go. The only issue was in getting the cars from the section of north bound highway they currently occupied, across three lanes of oncoming southbound traffic to the afore-mentioned rickety bridge. The obvious solution I hear you cry is manpower. You are right! It seems so simple now. A team of about a dozen traffic officers stood in the centre of the motorway and, using only themselves and their pea-whistles, hand picked whichever vehicles they thought best to be placed under friendly fire and run the rickety gauntlet. We survived, by luck, very little judgement and the cry of "Fortune favours the brave" as we closed our eyes and trusted in Tony.
Vadodara itself was a bustling university city and under the cover of darkness our fatigue was re-energised by the vibrant night markets we drove past. With Tony and Pasha tuk'd up (apologies) together in the car park of the Ambassador Hotel we went exploring.
The markets were enchanting, lines of 'stalls' with their beautifully fresh produce laid out before them with only sheets of pretty cloth between them and the earth. Cross legged vendors beneath electric bulbs, each with their own brass scales. Cows wandered the streets chancing their arm at whatever they could pinch, even in the face of a thwack with the shillelagh. Kites had become a theme too. A spectra of colours with patterns galore and huge reels of multicoloured line. These weren't kites, they were pathways to the heavens, offering their handlers the vicarious living of the eagles above. Sound and scent replaced noise and stench. India had become electrified and we were experiencing it in HD.