We’ve reached that point in our journey when we know our holiday is almost done. We are ready to get home but we still have to cover large distances to be there. We pine for the comfort of our own beds, our own washrooms and just being at home. We’ve also had enough of eating out, eating food that is offered and whatever food is on offer.
Our next destination is Bangalore. The roads from here on are supposedly superb. This stretch is a part of the Golden Quadrilateral, an outcome of an ambitious project that makes road travel between several Indian metropolises quicker. From now on we are only using this highway network till we reach Mumbai. The pluses are faster approach accompanied by provision to eat, drink, rest and even tank up the car regularly on the way. The route is straightforward and there is no need for maps or the like. The flip side — vehicular traffic in India is unpredictable. Most of the drivers on the Indian roads are not properly educated on the rules of the road. Truck drivers hog the right side of the road mostly and change lanes without indicating as much. Their callousness and carelessness often lead to fatal road accidents. So the trick is to be alert at all times. [My husband says you should look at the way the person ahead of you is driving and predict his next move]
The trip to Bangalore remains mostly uneventful. We arrive at Bangalore at 5ish. The breakfast appointment with our friend had ensured that we left Coimbatore city when morning peak-time traffic was on; We arrive at Bangalore in time to face evening traffic rush. And with no GPS to guide us, we are at the mercy of directions given by a few locals, sense of direction and recollections from earlier visits. Once in the city, it takes us another 1 ½ hours to reach our place of halt, the Bangalore Club.
Now we face a new problem. We are told that the city (in fact, the whole country) has received a Bandh Call for the next day ["Bandh" means "closure" --- usually a political party or a group of them call for such Bandhs. This is normally to protest against the ruling Government and it's policies ] . This means we won’t be able to move around much and any shopping, the recreation of the bored tourist, is also impossible. We decide to meet my cousin and her family the same evening. My cousin has been in Bangalore for over twenty years. She is a teacher and the mother of three bright boys. My maternal aunt stays with her too. So for obvious reasons, this is a fun outing because hubby has cousin’s husband to bond with as well. We visit them and sit chatting in their home for a while. Later we move to a Chinese restaurant and finish it off with dessert at another place.
There is something about Bangalore that I just love [ The other city I like is Chennai and of course, Mumbai is my favourite city in India, maybe the whole wide world ]. Curse the traffic, the pollution, the power cuts if you wish— but the vibes that I’ve experienced off this city has always been very positive. The residents are mostly trendy and cosmopolitan and the city is more or less clean…here I have to add, cleaner than Mumbai or Chennai.
We have nothing much to do the next morning. We cannot step out during the day and there is no place to go as the city is virtually “shut”. The people of this city will enjoy a mid-week break and we’ll have to remain in the Club. The morning hence is chilled-out.
After breakfast we were heading towards the room across the parking lot when hubby realized that the car had a puncture. This was not good news considering the fact that our plans to set out early before the notorious Bangalore traffic plied the roads was not happening in that case. We comfort ourselves with the thought that we can afford to reach home a day later although we would still like to get back as planned. There is not much I can tell you about our day either. The boys try to hire bicycles and are told that only club members are allowed to do that. So they resort to the next best option which is watching television. I read a book. Hubby is already back to work all thanks to the internet and a notebook computer. By evening, my brother-in-law calls.
“All well?” he asks.
“Not so well,” hubby tells him. We will have to delay our return because of a punctured tire.
Believe in destiny and you will also know why some people either arrive or call in time to help during a moment of crisis…in this case it’s a minor one. My brother-in-law has contacts that may be able to help. Within hours hubby speaks to someone, they send their chauffeur who takes him along with the car to a workshop which is open despite the Bandh. It’s early evening by then and the day is still young. So once hubby comes back with the puncture fixed and our plan for the next day back on schedule, we wonder whether to go for a drive or just walk around a bit. We really need to stretch our legs, so walk it will be. We take a circuitous route, walking without any clear destination in mind. We see a few mean machines, namely a Bentley, a Lexus and a Porsche zooming by on the empty roads – men, and maybe women, with fancy cars taking advantage of the wide empty roads. We are basically looking for an outlet of a popular burger joint since the children by now are pining for it. After a few wrong turns and confusion, we convince them that we should just settle for the very nice looking place very close to the Club. We retrace our steps and arrive at JavaCity. The place that was quite empty when we started our walk is now buzzing with activity. The evening ends on that delightful note. We return to the Club, pack and are now ready for the last leg of our journey.
1st June and we are on the road, a day and a half away from Mumbai. We pull out our music collection and resume bickering over which songs to play. Unlike while starting our journey, we do make regular food halts. Our intended destination for that day is either Belgaum or Kolhapur. Somewhere deep inside my head, I remember a cheerful face. I curb my urge to talk about him though.
Where could it have happened, I wonder.
About two years before we made this trip, we had visited Goa by road. On the road, at the same time as us, were friends of ours — a couple who were traveling alone. Their destination however was way beyond ours. During the first part of the journey we would be traveling down the same highway. So let’s meet for breakfast off Pune, the men decided. By the time we got ready that morning and left, it was late and hubby called up the friend to suggest that they carry on with their breakfast plan and not wait for us as we were getting delayed. Somewhere close to our turn off for Goa, we saw a car that looked like that of our friends’.
“That’s them,” said hubby.
I called the wife on the cell phone and confirmed it. We waved out to each other before he went ahead. A few weeks later, we were back in Mumbai and another friend called to tell us that on their way back, our friends’ car was involved in an accident with a truck . Though the wife was saved, the husband didn’t survive.
I do not bring it up but after two hours of being on the road, hubby says, “The accident happened somewhere here.”
He was thinking about the friend too. With our collective thoughts on that day, we recall what it is like not to have gentle and the ever-smiling B in our lives anymore.
We arrive at Kohlapur confident that we will get accommodation at our usual halt, Pearl, an old, slightly run down place. It supposedly serves fabulous Konkan fare and is especially known for their mutton curry. We are surprised to learn that the place is full and the security guard guides us to another place close by which is newer. We arrive there and check in, book a room with a Jacuzzi (the kids want it) and realize it does not work. But no one is too bothered as we are closer to that comfort zone called “Home” than we’ve ever been since this road trip started. That evening we stroll down to Hotel Pearl to indulge in their amazing food.
The last day : 2nd June :
Almost there now!
Every sign board we see on the road that indicates that much creates a flutter of excitement. The last evening itself we entered the state of Maharashtra after covering three other states in all…one of them twice so.
We will also retrace the steps we’d taken when we’d just started the trip with a heavy heart. Because that’s what happens when holidays end — you are both relieved and sad!!! We pass by the same landscape and architectural delights that enthralled the first time round. Hands reach out for the camera and retreat. “We took this picture once…why waste memory!!!” We pass Karad, Satara going around the scenic Ghats and finally arrive at Pune. We are then on the Expressway and cruising at a comfortable speed knowing well that we’ll be home in time for a cuppa early afternoon tea. On the way we make a lunch halt and get the boys the burgers they’ve so wanted to have.
Driving through Vashi in the Mainland to the Island of Mumbai, we’ve finally arrived. It will take us just another half an hour or so to reach home.
For the next couple of days we’ll be unpacking, putting things away, discovering objects that we “lost” during the trip or realizing that something hasn’t turned up in the luggage (and after a thorough check in the car as well) accept the fact that we forgot to take it from some hotel or the other. Little items of memorabilia will remind us of some anecdote or the other and funny stories about the journey will be shared for a while. Then routines will take over, schools will reopen, work will resume and soon enough it will be time to plan another holiday.