A few days ago we made our annual pilgrimage back home to Tamil Nadu to visit our families and holiday at some tried and tested lakes and resorts where just the three of us can go camping, fishing and take our inflatable dingy for a spin. This time we are trying out a new place called Cardamon House, run by a retired British physician. From the emails I’ve been exchanging with him, he seems like a riot. And he loves dogs. But first we have to get there… We make the 900 Km journey right through the entire state of Andhra Pradesh to reach our home town of Vellore (120kms from Chennai)
The state of Andhra Pradesh is so big that whether you go from Vizag to Vellore (North to South) or Vizag to Hyderabad (East to West) it’s nearly the same distance. A shockingly huge state by length and breadth. I could drive from London to John O Groats (1090Kms) in the same time – almost the entire length of the England and Scotland, incidentally a journey I have done over a few days. Since India is incredibly pet-unfriendly we cannot stop along the way at any hotels. We have to make the entire journey in 24hrs. With continuous driving except for potty and fuel breaks, and changing drivers every 2 to 4 hours, we made the 900 Km journey in about 18 hours. But none of this would be possible without one of the few things I am really proud about that our country has achieved: the Golden Quadrilateral. It is a 5846 Km four and six laned express highway connecting four of India’s major cities, Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and Chennai. Here’s our route although one cannot find Vizag on Google maps – just the second largest Naval base in India, so the map starts 179 kms away in Rajahmundry.
Along the Golden Quadrilateral one has to pay a toll for the use of the road. But my husband being a defense personnel we are exempt from any toll. At most toll plazas in Tamil Nadu he gets a crisp salute from the toll takers because most of them are ex-military, retired folk, as there’s a huge regiment in Tamil Nadu. In Andhra Pradesh however, we’ve never had such treatment. But much to our surprise, we flashed our defense pass and at one toll before raising the barrier the toll taker asked, ‘Navy?’ And then reached under his chair and pulled out a raw guava! The simplest, sweetest, most unexpected gesture from a total stranger… People in India can surprise you with their humble generosity. I remember my mother saying how the poorest and sickest of patients whose bills she had written off would come to her with one lime or a small bag of peanuts because despite having nothing to give, they couldn’t take her generosity for granted. At the next toll we were expecting some chilli powder and salt.
Our Abroozi is a real gem on these journeys: he sleeps the entire way, doesn’t want to eat or walk about, although we do make him stretch his legs a bit and pee. But he’s quick to get back in the car – we think he’s got “i’m scared they’ll leave me behind’ syndrome. While he wasn’t too happy about the length of the journey he never made any protests. Here he is getting ready for the journey, trying on his life jacket which will have its maiden float in the Kamaraj lake at the foothills of the Western Ghats and in the backwaters near Mahabalipuram.
And our Gemini inflatable dingy being washed and prepped. It folds down and is strapped to the roof of the car.
We did this journey for the first time entirely on LPG rather than on petrol. The internet has provided us with a list of Auto Gas LPG stations along our route that are not a detour off the highway. LPG is around half the price of petrol and much much greener. Surprisingly we got plenty of oomph from the good ol’ Gypsy.
The real killer is when the highway stops and you are catapulted back in to the dark ages with single file traffic, which happens to be at last 150kms of our journey, at night, when you are most tired. There’s no divider either. On-coming traffic, double and triple overtaking at the speed of light with the brightest most sophisticated halogen lights shining straight in to your eyes. You might as well be driving blind and give yourself up to the Maker. This is coupled with a horrendous road filled with large craters. As you can imagine we were cursing the abysmal condition of our country. For 800 odd Kilometers, we were floating on a shining example of India’s progress and then much like all infrastructure and facilities in India, it showed its true colours with the gloss and shine stripped off of it.
We finally made it home, late at night, to a joyous reception from 7 humans and 2 canines. There was an initial kerfuffle as our canine was reunited with my mother in law’s canines but more on that later. A hot bath and a table full of delicious food was just what we needed after a frightfully long journey (one we won’t be making any time soon). Now our holiday has begun…