Our Delhi visit was exactly for 4 weeks and how it passed out so quickly is beyond comprehension. We had just one day (Navami) of Durga Puja to celebrate. We went to Durgabari, Kailash Colony for Deepika to offer Pushpanjali and from there to Dakshinayan, GK-2 M-Block Market to have Bhog. Both places are important itinerary on our Durga Puja circuit. The day temperature being hot and humid, we planned to go to New Delhi Kalibari, Minto Road and some other pandals in the evening. However, after walking Rolf in the evening, I simply crashed out and slept till late evening.
Next few days we met few relations and prepared for the big in-house event of Kojagori Laxmi Puja, the tradition being carried on for generations for 100+ years as far as I remember my mother telling me. I am not a ritualistic person but have been facilitating the Laxmi Puja since my father passed away, first for my mother and now for my wife, Deepika.
Earlier in my childhood, there used to be considerable gathering at our home for the puja with few Delhi based relations and large number of neighbors including non-Bengalis coming for Prasad & Bhog. But now the gathering is limited to my sisters, few friends and next door neighbors. The quantity of Bhog has reduced but the overall cost has gone up manifolds. But as Deepika says with some conviction that the show must go on till either of us are alive. This year the gathering was even smaller as two of my sisters couldn’t make due to ill health. Among the friends, Santanu Basu was the first to arrive and he reconfirmed to give me company on my return journey to Hyderabad. A pleasant visit was by my nephew, Ritam Bhattacharya (my maternal cousin Oli’s son) who is now based in Noida working with a tech company having finished college recently. The day had started very early for us and by the time the last guest left we were exhausted completely. It showed that age is catching up with us.
The other highlight of this visit was the get-together of my school classmates. Some 10 years or so back and after a gap of almost 3 decades we had managed to group together once again courtesy the Facebook. Most of us are based out of Delhi+NCR but still a sizeable number are scattered all over the world. We had tried to include all in the group but few of them after joining our WhatsApp group called Mastans of RBHS80 had quit for personal reasons. We communicate everyday on varied subjects like politics, entertainment and religion etc. We do not have homogenous thoughts but it seems the contradictions have created a strong bond amongst us. Among this group is Indrajit Roychowdhury whose school nickname used to be Pantua after the Bengali sweet version of Gulab Jamun for large eyes and round face. Just like the nickname, he is sweet inside out and is full of humor which prompted us to bond immediately. I call him Indrobodon, the face of Lord Indra. He is based in Baghdad as Advisor at Trade Bank of Iraq, a very senior post but he remains humble to the core. Coincidentally he was visiting home in Ranchi and promised to spend an evening on his return leg. We decided to have our get together (G2G) on Friday 18th October when Indrobodon lands in Delhi on his return journey. There was a bit of confusion on the menu, my friend Gora wanted treat us for his son’s graduation from High School and at the same time I wanted to show my culinary skills to my friends. After some hard negotiation, it was decided that I will make one main course and a salad while Gora would arrange for the rest. He insisted on paying me for the dishes to which I told him “You can pay for the raw material but what price will you put on the love and care that goes into the making of the final dish”!!
We had a grand successful party with 12 out of 16 guys making it possible to attend. I had made Butter Chicken and Salsa Salad… I don’t want to pat my own back but the empty containers at the end was proof enough for deliciousness of the dishes besides the huge compliments that my friends poured on me. I have always maintained that nothing is more satisfactory in life than feeding others and in the process if you are appreciated then that’s extraordinary, save it for lifetime.
One of the tasks I had decided on this visit was to sell of my SUV Duster which we had it parked in Delhi hoping to use it as frequently as we visit but in reality our Delhi visits quite infrequent and the vehicle was lying idle. Moreover, it was a six years old diesel vehicle and recent govt mandate had reduced the life of such vehicles to 10 years from earlier 15 years. I placed an advt. on OLX app and within few hours queries started pouring in, most of which were mere time-pass where they quoted ridiculous counter offer. I politely turned them down. One guy who had recently got transferred to Delhi wanted to buy in a hurry as he had sold his vehicle in Pune before coming but the negotiation failed as I had decided on a benchmark price tag and had decided not to go below that even if the vehicle remained unsold. Then a gentleman from Rohini introduced himself as some sort of lawyer and requested to hold the vehicle till following evening when he would come to buy. This guy was absolutely certain to buy and came next day evening with his full family including his octogenarian mother who kept sitting in their car. After hard negotiation, he finally agreed at my threshold price and paid an advance with the promise to pay up the balance next day and pick up the vehicle. I was honest with him and clearly told him that he will have to change the tyres and get the clutch overhauled. I had not done these jobs done because no one would have paid extra for these. Duster was a good vehicle but I had opted for this after driving Scorpio for good 7 years and frankly Duster was no match to Scorpio.
Ayush came on 25th and we began our Diwali preparation of gift buying and planning a card party at our home. We had picked up most the give-away gifts from IKEA Hyderabad. Some were decorative while some had very practical use and the recipients loved them. This year Diwali, perhaps was the quietest one because of ban on crackers; however there was no letting down on lightening up the households with both electric as well as candles and earthen lamps. For the first time Rolf had a stress free Diwali and we loved it.
The next was the Bhai Duj Lunch at our home when all my siblings along with their children gather. This has been going on since my father passed away and I separated out from my brother’s dwelling along with my mother. It was one occasion when she could meet all her children in one go and she thoroughly enjoyed the day. Again the tradition continues but for how long, I don’t know!!
Deepika along with our housekeeper left for Hyderabad a day after the Bhai Duj. Ayush was to leave on Sunday and I decided to start for Hyderabad on Monday early morning. In between we had 3 days to do our stuff as father-son. We had a good fun time together along with Rolf whom I got checked up and had his de-worming shot as well. His Vet was happy to see him in good health. I thanked him for giving the most effective medicine BravEcto for tics and flea that had bogged him down for many years. We also picked up few bottles of Single Malts from L1 Lakeforest Wine Warehouse at practically duty free prices. I dropped off Ayush at the airport on Sunday evening; Rolf also went with us to see off his hooman bro and got a bit acclimatized of car ride. As agreed, Santanu came over to our home around 9pm by which time I had packed off most of the house leaving just about space for us to sit and enjoy our drinks and dinner.
Following day, Santanu was ready even before me and had made coffee for himself. I took Rolf out for walk hoping that he would do his job without much fuss which he did and we came back. I fed him boiled eggs and plain lassi knowing that he will only have his next meal when we reach our night-halt at Pench. We had targeted to start by 5:15 am as latest but were 15 minutes delayed. However, I knew if the roads are good, I will make up the time and should reach Go Flamingo Resort, Pench by 9:00pm.
I did not switch on the Google Map immediately knowing well that it will guide me to the Yamuna Expressway and I had decided to take NH19 via Faridabad-Mathura-Agra Bypass to Dholpur. Once we got into the Agra bypass I switched on the Google Map which confirmed that we are on the right direction. We crossed Dholpur on way to Morena around 8:30 am which meant that I had covered up the delayed start. I told Santanu to keep a look out for a Dhaba or eatery where we can have our breakfast and also let Rolf stretch his legs. As we approached Morena, I realized that in one month, the scene had changed a lot; the construction was in full swing resulting in traffic diversion to the service roads which slowed us down. Though there were eateries in Morena, there was no parking space due to the construction activities. We decided to try our luck nearer to Jhansi and meanwhile we had the butter toast and boiled eggs that I made at the last minute and was the cause for delayed start.
We finally found a dhaba nearer to Jhansi, at a place called Dabra. We stopped at Ashirwad Hotel Family Restaurant which was decently spacious and clean. It had opened couple of hours back for business and therefore the food was still fresh. Otherwise also, it is safe to eat at a running dhaba while you are on the road because they keep making fresh items throughout the day. We had Aloo Parantha and tea. Rolf stretched his legs, relieved himself and attracted lot of interest with the strangers around. The Aloo Paranthas were quite filling so we decided to skip lunch and probably stop in the evening for tea if such a place can be found.
We soon reached the district of Jhansi and directed by Google Map skirted the city and again got on to NH 44 heading towards Lalitpur via Babina, Talbeit and some other small hamlets. As the day progressed, we could feel the heat as well as the glow of the sun. The NH 44 at this juncture is very straight with minor curves and it does make one sleepy. I put on the music a bit loud and told Santanu that he can doze off if he felt so but he refused. I used to think that Lalitpur is part of MP but as we were crossing, realized it is very much in UP (the auto-rickshaws on the road had UP registration). But it was the last township of UP before you cross into MP somewhere after Gona, a small hamlet.
As we entered MP, the road became much better but at the same time, the cattle menace started which would continue till we reached Maharashtra. The cattle menace was less infuriating because it was afternoon and most of the cows were sitting or grazing on the side. Since one cannot predict the sudden movement of these beasts, it was prudent to drive at a sedate pace so that the vehicle can be maneuvered at the last moment. However, this meant delayed arrival at Pench. Santanu said, “Slow and steady wins the race. At least we will reach in one piece rather than colliding with the cows”. I agreed with him.
As we were passing through Sagar, I pointed out the Pathways Retreat on the highway itself and told Santanu how that particular place had played dirty by giving away our room to someone else even after confirming a day before the first time we were going to Delhi from Hyderabad.
The road from Sagar to Narsinghpur is curvaceous and keeps the driver on alert specially when there are enough bovines on the road that can suddenly decide to cross. Moreover, there were quite a few villages and these people have a particular liking for the highways to sit around which I had noticed during our road trip to Khajuraho from Bandhavgarh.
The sun was on the western horizon by the time we reached Lakhnadon on way to Seoni, the last township of MP that shares the Pench National Park with Maharashtra. It was dark when we reached the point of NH 44 that signals the start of Wildlife sanctuary. There were no street lights on highways but you do get scattered lights from the roadside dhabas or the scattered hamlets now and then. On this stretch of NH 44 there are jungles on either side therefore no dhabas or villages which made the outside pitch dark. I had put the headlights in full beam just in case we come across any wild creature!!
We were doing good speed even though it was dark because the highway was very well marked with reflector lights at the curves as well as on the sides which were guiding us smoothly. Then, as we reached the limits of Pench Wildlife Park, diversions started and continued for next 15 odd km. Once the hilly tracks ended, we had to take service roads which because of the use by heavy vehicles have turned into muddy patches with potholes every now and then. This continued for next 20-25 km with occasional reliefs in the form of newly laid portions.
Once we crossed the “under construction” patch on NH-44, I knew that our destination was just about 10-15 km away and this was confirmed by the Google Map too. The outside was pitch dark barring the occasional lights from on-coming vehicles. However, we were able to do good speed as the road was really good and practically no traffic on our side of the road. After a while, the Google Map started indicating a left turn ahead but there were no exit to be found. I slowed down and tried to look through the black darkness and found an exit for u-turn but we ended up with a dead end. I remembered last time too we had gone ahead and taken a u-turn to right just before the toll plaza. It had made us drive extra for almost 20 km but in this darkness it was the best option available.
We took the u-turn just before the toll plaza and kept driving towards Delhi once again and about 20 minutes later saw the first sign of Go Flamingo Resort. Thereafter, I knew how to reach the resort taking the service lane. When we finally checked in it was 9:35 pm on the clock and all three of us were famished. I ordered boiled chicken and rice for Rolf and Chapati with Chicken Curry & Egg Curry and salad for us. I had carried “Elixir of Life” in miniature bottles which came handy in rejuvenating ourselves as well as a sound sleep through the night.
I was up at 5 am and completed my morning chores, washed up and was ready to move. Santanu too got up and while he was getting ready, I took Rolf out for a walk. The main gate of the resort was locked and there were no signs of any soul. I knew Rolf being much disciplined, won’t poop inside the complex, so I looked for the security guard and found him at the back of the reception cum dining hall. He opened up the gate and we out for a stroll in the jungle environment. I kept thinking if we encounter any wild cat what will happen; will the hard rubber stick I am carrying be a deterrent? But, fortunately, no such sighting happened, few stray dogs started barking but retreated when Rolf and I walked straight on towards them.
For some reason occupancy at Go Flamingo Resort was low in fact we were the only occupant that morning with the other group having left even before us. As a result, the cook had taken it easy and decided to start the kitchen after 8 am. If we wait for the breakfast, we won’t make it to Hyderabad by 5:00 pm (our target). So we decided to leave early and try our luck on the way.
First thing we needed to do was to tank up the car at the first available gas station. We found one after about 25 km on our side of the road, although there were 2-3 on the other side that we skipped because of long detours. Once again we cruised on and turned on to our way to Nagpur bypass. There are two toll plazas within a span of less than 1 km but if you have paid at the first one, all you have to do is to show the receipt and they pass you through. We passed the second one and sped up to around 80 kmph when we saw a posse of Police with barricades, we slowed down and one them approached and asked for the documents. I showed him the RC, Insurance and my DL. He was almost returning them back to when he seemed to remember something and asked for PUC certificate. Sadly, I didn’t have that and told him I had forgotten it at Delhi but get it done again when I reach Hyderabad. I had to pay 500 bucks to make him happy on an otherwise scant traffic road where their earnings won’t bring smiles.
The next thought was to find a nice eatery to have our breakfast. We had almost missed it but managed to stop and reverse in the nick of time to Doon Punjabi Family Dhaba which is run by a Sikh ex-Army person. The place turned out to be very clean including the kitchen which one can see through the glass panels. The manager-cum-steward was from Haryana and also an ex-soldier of Indian Army and spoke good English. He was from Ambala, Haryana and was delighted to see our Haryana (Gurugram) registered car. We ordered for Aloo Parantha which came with curd and pickles. This Aloo Parantha was far better than what we had yesterday and we decided to pack two more for the road. We had two cups of tea, the first one was the regular masala chai and then black tea without milk and sugar. Both were of very good quality; will surely stop by this place on our next journey from Delhi to Hyderabad.
We continued our journey towards Hyderabad with renewed vigor having fed ourselves and stretched our legs including Rolf. As I had mentioned in my earlier post, the NH 44 in Maharashtra after the limits of Nagpur districts tends to become bad to worse. Because of my knowledge about the potholes right in the middle of the road, I drove cautiously but at a good speed negotiating the mid-road surprises. The good thing was that the cattle menace was way behind us now. Around 1:30 pm, we entered the state of Telengana and soon the road surface became very nice and I pressed on the gas to cover up the lost time. Moreover, I wanted to reach the city of Hyderabad before evening rushes of traffic hits the road.
Once we passed through Hinganghat, I knew that we will be shortly crossing over to Telengana and soon we reached the Penganga Bridge over the river by the same name that effectively separates the two states. On Maharashtra side, Pimpalkhuti is the last township and on Telengana it is Dollara, more of a village than town. I told Santanu that I have seen Mini Malls at most of the toll plazas in the southern states of Telengana, Andhra and Karnataka and we stop there for tea or coffee. The morning breakfast was too filling and I wasn’t hungry at all.
At the Dollara toll plaza, we stopped after paying the toll fee, at the Mini Mall. While Santanu lighted his second cigarette of the day, I walked Rolf for leg stretch as well as peeing. It was quite hot outside, so I fed him water and put him back in the car with the air-conditioner switched on. We finished our coffee which was quite lousy, full of sugar and milk, complete disappointment for a South Indian Filter Coffee, and hit the highway once again. The sugar in the coffee had given some extra energy and kept the speedometer at constant 100 kmph thereafter, slowing down only when we were passing through any township or hamlet.
As we neared the Adilabad, the road became picturesque with greenery on both sides and the hills in the distant horizon. The scenic view is so good that one forgets the time and we soon saw the signboard declaring that the Exit to Nirmal was only 500 metres ahead. I told Santanu that we would soon be crossing the mighty Godavari River after Soanpet. The monsoon had been quite good in the state and therefore the River Godavari too was flowing at full capacity. As we drove on, Nizamabad, Ramayapet, Narsingi besides many smaller township or hamlets could be seen on the signage only because the NH44 at this juncture has steered clear of the populous areas and at each point provided exit option with service road to the respective towns. That’s how the Highways should be built.
When we reached Medchal at the outskirts of Hyderabad, I told Santanu that we are almost home and should reach in next 35-45 minutes. At Medchal, we took the Nehru Outer Ring Road popularly called ORR that rings the city of Hyderabad and perhaps the best thing to have happened to the city. The credit for this must be given to Mr. Chandrababu Naidu who was the CM of undivided Andhra Pradesh when the idea was floated by him. The 158 km 8 lane Expressway was built between 2005 & 2012. My classmate Alok, a Civil Engineer with a large construction firm was involved in building the part of ORR that we have used most of time in last two years… Nanakramguda/ Gachibowli to Shamsabad for airport commute.
The best part of the 8 lane ORR is that one can maintain a steady speed of 100 kmph (permissible) constantly which we did and soon reached our exit (19) to Nanakramguda/ Gachibowli. The clock inside the car said 4:10 pm and we finally reached home 20 minutes later. It had been a exhilarating journey for two days and both of us needed a strong cup of tea. I showed Santanu the guest room and took Rolf out for his evening walk. It was good to see that even after a month’s absence from here; he knew exactly where he can walk and do his peeing and pooping!!
Santanu had planned for week stay in Hyderabad, meeting his friends from BHEL days. The following day he went to meet his friend for lunch while I unpacked and settled down to the routine. Santanu came back in the evening visibly happy meeting his friend after long time. They had gone to a place called Autumn Leaf for lunch and had excellent food in nice ambiance. I made it a point to visit the place as soon as possible. He also said that he would go over to his friend’s place next day evening for overnight stay and shall be back on Friday evening. They had to go over to another of their mutual friend’s place for dinner. Since he had told me in the very beginning that the purpose of his taking the road trip was to meet up with his Hyderabadi friends, I couldn’t stop him. Then on Friday morning he called up to say that he would be staying over as they have to visit another friend in the evening and he would surely be at our place by Saturday morning before breakfast. Initially I didn’t think much about it but in the evening when I saw the bottle of Monkey Shoulder still more than half full, I was a bit peeved.
On Saturday morning around 8:30 am he called up to say that he is running a bit late and that we shouldn’t wait for him but have our breakfast. I told him that he should reach by 10/10:30 as we have to go for grocery & veggies shopping and I wanted him to show the Spar’s Hypermarket from where we do our weekly shopping.
I was taking bath when I heard voices from the drawing room and thought that Santanu had come and talking to Deepika. But when I came out of the bathroom, I saw a new suitcase in the room and immediately realized that Sangeeta has made a surprise visit. Actually, we had discussed her visit but she refused saying that she can’t make it owing to her job. They wanted to surprise us but it wasn’t to be; because Deepika had seen them coming from the balcony as they had left the cab at the gate instead of bringing it to the basement parking, not knowing the way through. Secondly, I having seen the suitcase knew of her presence. Anyways, it was a happy reunion and we started planning for the activities ahead. We decided to visit Falaknuma Palace which is a Taj Hotel property and limited number of non-resident guests are allowed during Lunch, Tea & Dinner time at price that can easily be classified as exorbitant. Deepika, using her Epicura membership (of Taj) made the booking for the evening tea along with a guided tour of the palace.
Falaknuma Palace is built on a hillock and covers a 32-acre area, 5 km from Charminar. It was built by Nawab Sir Viqar-ul-Umra, Prime Minister of Hyderabad and the uncle & brother-in-law of the sixth Nizam. Falak-numa means “Mirror of Sky” in Urdu.
An English architect William Ward Marret designed the palace. Sir Vicar’s monogram “VO” is on the furniture, walls and ceiling of the palace. It is made completely with Italian marble with stained-glass windows and covers an area of 1,011,500 square feet. The palace was built in the shape of a scorpion with two stings spread out as wings in the north. The middle part is occupied by the main building and the kitchen, Gol Bangla, Zenana Mehal, and harem quarters stretch to the south. The Nawab was an avid traveller, and his influences show in the architecture, which combines Italian and Tudor influences.
One of the highlights of the palace is the state reception room, where the ceiling is decorated with frescoes. The ballroom contains a two-ton manually operated organ said to be the only one of its kind in the world but is now non-functional. The palace has 60 rooms and 22 halls. It has considerable collections of the Nizam’s artifacts including paintings, statues, furniture, manuscripts, books, an extensive jade collection, and Venetian chandeliers.
The library has a carved walnut roof, a replica of the one at Windsor Castle and houses more than five thousand books. It has an extensive collection of English, Urdu and Persian books as well as copies of the Quran, and rare first editions.
The dining hall can seat 101 guests. The chairs are made of carved rosewood with green leather upholstery. Burroughs and Watts from England designed two identical billiards tables, one of which is in Buckingham Palace and the other in the palace’s billiards room.
In 2000, Taj Hotels started renovating and restoring the palace and opened the renovated hotel in November 2010.
While returning from Falaknuma, I switched on the Google Map and it made us take rounds of the PVN Expressway 4 times before I disobeyed it and took a road that I had taken in an earlier occasion to reach the Nehru ORR and reached home an hour late than the usual.
Following day I had booked 3 tickets to watch BALA in the evening not knowing the program of Sangeeta. I wanted to cancel the tickets but she insisted that we must carry on and that she will take a cab to reach airport.
In the morning, we went to Chutney’s for a south Indian breakfast and from there to the IKEA showroom which incidentally has become a tourist attraction in Hyderabad now. For lunch we ordered MANDI, a pullaw or biriyani dish but the unlike biriyani, the meat and rice are cooked separately. And I had cooked mutton curry on Saturday but had remained untouched. The quantity of one portion MANDI was too much and it got finished only by Monday lunches.
On Tuesday, post lunch, I dropped off Santanu at the airport for his onward journey to Kolkata. The 10 days since starting my journey from Delhi whizzed past like dream.
I got busy in the daily chores of life in Hyderabad and wasn’t sure if I would like to pen down the experience and therefore kept postponing. Now while writing it, realized that few details may have been erased from my memory completely.