Driving in Indian cities can be extremely frustrating but there is nothing I like better than venturing out into the country side for a road trip. The distances are vast and made even vaster by the road conditions reducing your average speeds down to 50kph. There is a never ending kaleidoscope of things to see in the countryside,( that’s if you can take your eyes off the road!) and it often feels like you are driving through a movie set.
We hadn’t done a long trip for a while so we decided to set out the other day for the 320km drive from Bangalore to Pondicherry on the coast of Tamil Nadu.
Pondicherry or Puducherry is an interesting place and unlike many other cities in India as it still has a lot of French influence from when it was a French Colony. It is one of my favourite places to visit and a place where I can indulge in one of my favourite pastimes…… filling my stomach!
We had to make an early start as the trip involved crossing Bangalore so we left at 6am to miss the traffic. Bangalore with no traffic is a delight and it is a refreshing experience to drive in 30 mins, distances which would take over an hour later in the day.
We stopped for breakfast at a motorway services which reflecting the rapid changes in India , now includes a McDonalds drive thru, and a Coffee shop besides the usual vegetarian Dhaba ( roadside eatery) Along with us making the Saturday morning escape from Bangalore were the Bangalore Chapter of the Harley Davidson Owners Club attracting plenty of stares from the locals on their mopeds and 100cc motorbikes.
After leaving the roadwork strewn motorway we were to join a narrower country road (still classed as a national highway) from Krishnagiri thru the pilgrimage centre of Tiruvannamalai and on to Pondicherry.
What is normally quite a pleasant drive through the country along a tree lined road has now been ruined. In the name of progress the road is being widened and miles and miles of Tamarind Trees planted 100-200 years ago by some enlightened soul are now being felled to make way for the wider lanes. All the charm of the road has now been lost and there is nowhere to stop for a rest in the shade. However stop we did and while parked on the side of the road we were passed by pilgrims walking from Tirupati to Tiruvannamalai barefoot, a distance of 190 kms in 35 degree heat and each carrying their provisions in a sling bag!
When leaving Bangalore, little did we realize that almost the whole 320 km journey would be taken up by road works. Road works in India are carried out in a peculiar fashion. There will be a couple of kilometers of beautifully finished asphalt on one side while the other lane remains unconstructed, resulting in plenty of nerve racking and butt clenching moments as you swerve to avoid oncoming buses and lorries lumbering towards you on your side of the road. Then both sides will be dirt and gravel for a few more kilometres before hitting another stretch of beautifully finished tarmac.
There also never seems to be anyone working on them, however this is a phenomena not only confined to India. I remember a stretch of highway from Auckland to Hamilton in New Zealand, where the road works lasted for almost 5 years and there was never a worker to be seen.
Sometimes I feel that roadworks are carried out at night by an army of Pixies as you never see any work going on during the day. It’s probably the best solution as the heat during the day will cook the brains of any human road worker.
This journey also brought home the benefits of having a vehicle suitable for Indian road conditions. I am fortunate enough to drive an Indian made SUV and while the journey was tiring it wasn’t that bad given that the roads were like the surface of the moon.
However my brother in-law arrived ½ an hour after me like a badly made James Bond martini, shaken and stirred in his little Suzuki hatchback which was slowly rattling and vibrating itself to death. Looking at my brother –in-law’s expression I fear the same was happening to his internal organs!