Another Memorable Day (August 1998)
Another memorable day on the road was a drive that I took to Jaipur one rainy August morning. The year, if I remember correctly was 1998. I was to reach Jaipur for some urgent work that my sister needed me there for.
I woke up to a thunderous morning, heavy rain lashed the windows of my bedroom. I quickly showered, packed something to eat and started… my watch read 7.00 a.m. The roads were empty and I managed to quickly reach the highway.
It wasn’t long before I had reached Manesar- then a 45 minutes drive from Delhi-to find vehicles lined up, until as far as the eye could see (for those familiar with NH No. 8, the construction work going on at that time, to convert it into a 4 lane expressway, had taken its toll, with frequent traffic jams and accidents. It was one such day.)
“The traffic stopped last night due to an accident and hasn’t moved an inch since,” informed a local resident. “So, what’s the best thing to do?” I queried. “Turn back, while there’s still time… before you know, there would be as much traffic behind you, as ahead.
I knew, he was right. I struggled with the gears and after a few minutes of maneuvering, managed to free my car of the jam and was now speeding back…I knew there was an alternate route to Jaipur, through Sohna-Alwar, but had never been on that road earlier. With the car (my little Maruti 800) in urgent need of service and the persistent rain, the odds were not in my favour, but I did not have much of a choice. I HAD to reach Jaipur. So I took an about from the 36th milestone and on to the Sohna-Alwar route, the road was narrow and in terrible shape, the rain did not help. I reached Sohna and much to my surprise, despite the rain the place was swarming with families- arriving in vans, buses, and cars, for what was their idea of a picnic.
Soon, I had left the traffic behind and in contrast to the highway, there was almost no traffic, just an occasional state transport bus ferrying rural passengers. The scene started to change and I suddenly noticed that I had not seen a telephone booth for a long time, soon I noticed another change in the landscape, the tube-wells that I had seen along the highway on my previous visits had been replaced by pulley operated open wells and I could see women, children filling water. These small hutments kept making an appearance every 10-15 minutes. The road had now become really narrow and remained unwaveringly bumpy.
However, the heavy downpour of an hour ago was now intermittent rain and I started to relax. The scenery of lush green fields, of hillocks in a distance as I left behind a village, was wonderfully soothing and I was lost in the beauty and had drifted, when something brought me back to my senses- I don’t know what- but, I had just missed ramming, head-on, into a tractor trolley. “I would be more careful.” I promised myself, before continuing my journey.
Passing by another set of hutments, I saw an old man, sitting on the porch of his tiny hut- he must have been 70…80, difficult to tell. He was sitting there, just sitting, eyes open, looking aheadn of him, not doing anything and I tried to imagine what must be going through his mind. “What must he be thinking? Was he thinking?”, I asked myself, trying to make a comparison with ‘us’-city folk-is there a moment when our mind stops thinking? Always thinking. Always on the run. “What it must be to just relax-not think-not worry about something-about anything? Just be?” I did not have an answer.
I drove along, worrying now and then about the condition of my car-“What if a needed to make a telephone call? What if I needed to push the vehicle in case the car broke down? I would have had to walk miles before I could locate anyone and even then, there would be no guarantee that there would be a vehicle to tow the car, a service station”. I did not want to think…
Many villages and a few towns later, I finally reached a wider road and a road sign said- Alwar. The town was generally sleepy, but something that struck me immediately, were the really wide roads, almost disproportionate to everything around them, as if they had been prepared keeping in mind the traffic requirements 15 years hence. It was past noon and I was a feeling a little cramped so I decided to stop awhile. The rain had stopped too-for now.
Soon, I was on the road again. “There are two routes to reach Jaipur from here,” informed an attendant at the fuel station. “Take the Alwar-Jaipur road through Sariska Tiger Resort or reach Behror and continue back on NH-8,” he offered. It did not take me long to decide-despite the long route and the condition of my car- I decided to take the former. Sariska had decided it for me.
15 minutes on the Alwar-Jaipur road, I knew that I would be repeating this drive on many other occasions. The road had gotten smoother, the view more picturesque. It could only get better, for, I had not even reached Sariska. It had started to rain again, but I wasn’t anxious any longer…Soon, I could make out from a distance- machans in the fields along the road- Sariska was not far and images started to form.
I hadn’t been to Sariska earlier, so I did not know what to expect… “Will I actually see a Tiger?” I found myself thinking. I had no idea, but the thought was exciting and then as if to explain, how stupid I was being, I saw hordes women emerge from the woods with bundles of grass they had cut for their cattle. I laughed at my school-boyish enthusiasm.
I never did see any Tiger, but monkeys I did see…they were all over the place (I still fondly remember the second time on the same route- I had conned my father and sister, into us taking the route again, even though there really was no need, no traffic jam, I mean- that our car was ‘attacked’ by them, as I stepped out to click pictures of a little rivulet that I had taken an immense liking to, on my first drive. They had come in hordes- at least two dozen of them-drooling, to the whiff of coffee, as my father opened the flask. My sister had to take charge … quickly roll up the windowpanes, drive half a mile, before they gave up the chase and I could get back,into the car. But, that’s another story, for another day).
The drive progressed smoothly and I instinctively slowed down to savour the beauty. The rain had removed whatever little trace of dust the leaves may have gathered. I admired nature at is most pristine – little rivulets that had instantaneously gained volume, flowed over little bridges-gently kissing the road, exotic birds, green mystique, cows grazing. As I took the winding road, I wasn’t driving, I was gliding!
It was almost as if the heavens knew. I had barely left Sariska and was passing through this forest like stretch when the skies opened their doors again. I thought about stopping, but knew, it would be a while before the rain stopped. It was pouring really hard now. I could barely see ahead but then, when I was able to see… lo and behold, what I saw made me wish that I had taken the alternate route. “I may well have to go back to Alwar and do so now.” I thought in despair.
It was-a puddle-did I say “a puddle?”. It was a furlong of water ahead and there was no telling, how deep, where. Having once had a nasty experience-almost drowning, in a much more innocent looking ‘puddle’ that turned out to be a manhole under construction- I was wary. I did not want to go down in my car.Just when I was contemplating if I should turn back, I noticed, extended along this entire stretch was a mound of mud…almost like a wall; I could try and drive along it. Just one little problem though- my car would be tilted some 45 degrees to one side, as I drove. I decided to go ahead with it. Nobody could say,“ The guy did not try!”.
That, I lived to tell this story, is enough to say that many of my fears were unfounded, but also that I am a reasonably good driver. I reached the highway soon and rest of the journey carried on uneventful. My sister wondered if I had been to a car rally! The Rs. 1800/- bill on my steering/wheel-balancing/repairs would have more justifiable that way… but the I am certain that the thrill would have been considerably less.
Update- Nov 2006: We went for another drive on the road last month, but turned back just short of Alwar as I had to attend an event in Delhi that evening. The road is quite smooth, but the surroundings are not the same :).
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