It was not meant to be a road trip in the initial sense but the way it happened, I ended up being on the road for 26 hours out of the 36 hours. And thrill was never far away in those 26 hours.
This happened in April 2012. I was on training to Indore with Vineet and Saurabh and had a weekend for ourselves. And after some research over the internet about the getaways near Indore, we decided it was Chikhaldara where we will be heading to.
It was meant to be a small trip. Leave on Saturday afternoon and back by Sunday morning and all we knew was the distance between the places. Google Maps said 302 kms. We assumed 8 hour drive will be enough.
But the signs were ominous. It started with the cab being late by 3 hours. And when we asked him how much time will it take to get there, his answer shocked us. “ Bhaiya, I have not even heard of the place.” For a moment, we thought should we really go but the idea of getting bored on Sunday was too boring. So, we went ahead.
This place is not just another hill station. It is comparatively calm and secluded, thanks to the connectivity status. There are few hotels and it might get tough to get a room in season time if you do not come pre-booked. Luckily, we came with a booking and crashed at the hotel.
This place was not very cool and I remember having an AC in my hotel room. A rare case- Mussoorie and Shimla does not have provisions to install ceilings fans. There was red soil around and wind mills; some barren places and fewer tourists. We had some 6 hours to cover the places and I think we made the most of our time. Here are few clicks.
This is all Chikhaldara in various shades
The Start for Chikhaldara
We started late and reached Burhanpur at 12 am- just 190 kms in 5 hours when we also stopped for dinner. It was bad. Saurabh wanted to continue but the locals there warned us against the night travelling as the route was very, very remote type and dacoits have their way in the night time. And when we started next day, I thanked those people who advised us against travelling. At that time, the drive would have been dangerous.
We started at 5am next day to make up for the loss of the last day and the road to Dharni (in Maharashtra) never made us loose our attention. It was a village road with partial patches of concrete and tar. The most common conveyance sighted was ox-cart and the pot-holes covered the roads.
But, as they say, rising early is a good thing and I sure realize that on that particular morning. We witnessed a sunrise in the fields, the kind of sunrise which I have read of so many times. You see the sun coming up, first a small dot, then the semi circle and you have not stopped admiring it and voila, it is out completely. Unless, you have a DSLR, it is tough to capture it the way it is described. But my digicam attempted to do the impossible.
Then, again we had a reason to pay attention to the road as we crossed Melghat Tiger Reserve to reach Chikhaldara. We were hoping to get glimpse of a tiger but we were not that lucky.
Coming back, we reached Dharni at 9 pm. Starting from there, we did not take the route by which we came as driver suggested he knew a shortcut. We did not argue and let him take it. It was definitely shorter than the previous distance but those 102 kms were no less than a horror film.
This was the scariest of the travels I have ever done. I have been travelling since I was 7 and I had traversed the roads of Nepal in pitch dark night without fear. But on this route, every turn was suspense. Will I get to see light after this? Any vehicles, any population, any kind of habitation. It was not to be.
It was completely dark. To say that we saw light anywhere around apart from 6 passing cars in these 100 kms would be generous. The road was in a pathetic condition and it was difficult to make out whether potholes invaded the roads or vice versa. The driver was going slowly because of his car and the regret of choosing a wrong route at that time of the night. I am very sure if the car would have broken down somewhere there; we would not have got any kind of assistance. To see the passer-by became a luxury.
Anyhow, we reached Khandwa ‘safely’. It was a big relief. Now last leg of the journey remained i.e. from Khandwa to Indore. I expected it to be safe and quick but it was not just happening. We had to halt few kilometres before Indore, once again, because some bandits were pelting stones at the vehicles. It was strange, keeping in mind we were so close to a big city like Indore. We finally made it to the hostel at 3 am. Tired, we were but sleep was miles away. After what we had experienced in last 36 hours, on this trip to a relatively unknown hill station; there were just too many things to remember.
What made this trip memorable?
1. The ‘Unknown’ factor - As all of us, including the driver, had no clue of the roads and the place; the trip instantly became exciting. Every turn was an answer we had when we started; every destination became a milestone and every person was a potential friend. So, being entirely unaware of the place helped us in being extra curious and we ended up learning and experiencing a lot.
2. The Journey - I have covered a lot of distance through car in going various places but the roads here were totally different. They were scary that gave the feeling of kind of adventure but at the same time, sometimes, the remoteness was just too much to bear.
3. The Place - Chikhaldara was quiet and did not have hustle and bustle of other hill stations. That made it different. It was kind of humid but the landscapes there were entirely different. Even if spent there quarter of a day, the memories it gave us are long lasting.
4. The Anonymity - Just like the place, we were anonymous too. Nobody except three of us knew where we were going. Our parents and colleagues knew that we have gone somewhere but where, they had no idea. No phone calls, no disturbances- just the place and we.
Why I love road trips?
I always prefer to travel by car. Trains and buses don’t excite me that much. There is nothing better than driving your car to all the places. Particularly, in hilly areas, it is an added advantage. You never know where you might have to stop to click that breath-taking view. Buses won’t stop. You and your car can. And travelling in car allows me to be me. I don’t have to care about any fellow passenger. I can sit in my pyjamas, sleep as I want and sing and shout.
I am hoping to travel a lot more in coming years. One of the trips on my immediate agenda is covering the country in an all India road trip. I have made the rough itinerary that is 15 days long and as soon as I decide the dates, I will be making refinements in that. I will be updating this blog about the same but for now, I’ll sign off with a quote I believe is bang on for any road trip addict- “To travel is better than to arrive”.