Monday, April 09, 2012

The day I lost my fear of road trips

"Let's drive down to Ahmedabad," said my brother, the driving enthusiast in the family.

"Shut up! We’re not going on a day-long road trip."
"I'm going whether you like it or not."

And that’s how I ended up accompanying him on the 915-km drive from New Delhi to the city in Gujarat where we were born and where my cousins still reside. My brother, the easy-going brat in the family, usually gets his way and I, the more responsible one, was coaxed by mom into keeping an eye on him.

I took little delight in my position as navigator for my brother’s Getz. I am not a fan of cars, road trips or watching Discovery Turbo -- things that my brother would die for. So all I basically did was stare at the speedometer and scold him when we went over 120 kmph -- which was too often for my liking.

Despite an early start, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. We made it to Jaipur in just about two hours, aided in part by a stubborn Mercedes driver who overtook our car and provoked my sibling into a high-speed highway chase punctuated at regular intervals with my high-decibel cries to “slow down right now or else I’m calling mom”.

We dropped off a friend on the outskirts of Jaipur and moved towards Ajmer, passing through a dozen toll-booths while I kept tabs on an ever-dwindling supply of rupee coins. I made no pretence of my non-existent navigational skills, leaving it to my brother’s uncanny sense of direction to find the right way. He’s a bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out the right direction; a Sherlock Holmes at the steering wheel.

That said, we did stray from the path once or twice (thanks to missing highway signboards and strange villagers who prompted us to keep going despite the fact we were travelling on weed-infested tracks that disappeared in the distance).

But only once did we truly lose our way, on the last leg of our journey from Udaipur to Ahmedabad. A wrong turn set us back a couple of hours and we were trapped in traffic behind a long line of trucks that seemed to crawl at a top speed of 100 centimetres per hour. It must have been faster than that but the wait was interminably long.

“Easier just to walk,” I remember saying as pedestrians ambled past, unmoved by the sight of our giant traffic centipede snaking through the desert state. I changed the song on the car stereo, drowning out my brother’s angry mutterings. That was my only privilege -- choice of car music and I made full use of it through the 17-hour journey.

We stopped only four times -- to stretch our legs and relax at a suitable dhaba, the ones with the non-stinky loos. And there were plenty on them on the route, though not dotting the highway like they do on the road to Chandigarh.

And what of the view? Miles and miles of sunny sunflower fields, interspersed with hillocks and bullocks. Veiled Rajasthani women in multi-hued embroidered frilly skirts and turbaned men mostly attired in white. I can’t believe it -- I’m actually enjoying this trip. If only I had bothered to bring a camera -- my humble BlackBerry is woefully inadequate.

We reached Ahmedabad at nightfall, ready to collapse into our beds. But it’s been fun and I’m actually looking forward to our return trip.

"You wait till I can afford the Mahindra XUV500," said my brother. "Then I won't ever be home on weekends."

"Mom!" I call out and then stop to shield my face as an incoming pillow bounces off my hands.

(Entry for the Mahindra XUV500 contest)

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