Two weeks before the Durga Puja (2017), on a Friday evening, Deepika announced that her company is closing down the training vertical, that she has been managing as senior leader. She has to choose a different role within the organization or look outside. We decided to take it in stride and take a call based on options within the organization. On the following Monday she called up from office and said that there exist two options, one is in Jaipur and the other in Hyderabad in Business Operations vertical. It was paradigm shift for her from training to operation and a difficult call. The Hyderabad option was more suited to her profile, so she took up the offer without any delay.
Once decided, we started the process of getting mentally ready for the move. It was not easy being born, brought up and work life spent in Delhi. The next step was to hunt for a place in Hyderabad. I had never been to the city and had absolutely no idea about the demography/ geography except some names like Banjara Hills, Jubillee Hills etc. So, I started my research on the internet and came up with names like Kondapur, Madhapur and Gachibowli. Having theoretically acquainted myself with Hyderabad landscape, we decided to go to the ground zero and look for a house. Deepika being there already, I booked myself on a Vistara flight for 28th morning for two day house hunting mission.
I landed around 9:35 am and after collecting my bag reached the Lemontree Hotel at Nanakramguda, Financial District within 45 minutes, courtesy the beautiful ORR (Nehru Outer Ring Road). After breakfast, accompanied by Mr. Jain, the property consultant, we went for the hunt. We started with an apartment block in Madhapur; it was right on the main road but very quiet and peaceful once you are inside the complex. This was followed by few houses in the neighborhood of Banjara Hills. After having seen a dozen places in the surroundings of Hitex, we moved towards Gachibowli. The Ramkey Towers – apartment block, right next to the Deloitte building. The apartment was on the 6th floor overlooking the swimming pool and clubhouse. The security arrangements and the sincerity of the staff were impressionable. We liked the apartment which was kind of semi-furnished ensuring we have to move very minimal household items from Delhi. The owners were Punjabis staying in another apartment in the same complex and were keen to lease it out to us.
In the evening, we met my friends Swathi & Sanjay Reddy at their house in Financial District, just a kilometer away from the Lemontree Hotel. It was a beautiful abode for the beautiful couple. We had couple of drinks before coming back to our hotel.
Next day again after breakfast, we started our house hunt, this time with another property agent that a friend had recommended. He showed us some really decent and nice apartments but all unfurnished and needed either shifting complete household things from Delhi or purchasing new at Hyderabad.
In the morning, Deepika had messaged three of her local colleagues about the Ramkey apartment. All of them warned us of water shortages in the peak summer months which can double our maintenance charges. One of her colleague suggested that we look at NCC Urban where he too is located, just behind Ramkey, a few blocks away. We asked the property agent as well as Mr. Jain (of the previous day), if they have any property in NCC Urban listed with them. Both said they will look in their data base and revert. Meanwhile, Deepika got a call from a lady from NCC who was interested in leasing out her apartment. This call was courtesy Deepika’s colleague who had posted a query for availability of apartments for leasing in the NCC Urban Society App called ADDA, and we fixed up an appointment with lady for that evening.
The first look of the apartment was so pleasing that we almost unanimously decided to take it up immediately. The lady, Ms. Jayasree Gujja had got transferred to Philadelphia, USA and was leaving in a fortnight’s time. She offered us the fully furnished house where we needed just to get our clothes from Delhi. The rental cost was slightly above our limit but since it was a ready to move in place, we decided it was worth it. The following day I came back to Delhi having accomplished the mission. Deepika signed up the Lease Agreement the following Thursday before leaving for Delhi.
The final relocation date was dependent on my sister’s impending visit to Delhi (India) after almost 10 years. So, once she confirmed her schedule, we too finalized the dates – Deepika along with our housekeeper, Savita will leave on 28th Dec and I will start my road journey on 29th Dec with my 4-legged son, Rolf and Guddu, the trusted driver.
Deepika carried 7 suitcases and 3 handbags on the flight (paying for extra baggage) and left a lot more for me to carry in Toyota Altis. Our driver, Guddu was itching for this long drive of almost 1600km. Google Maps showed the fastest route through Taj Expressway but my friend Robin insisted that we take the Mathura Road even if it means an extra hour. I am glad that I heeded to his advice as it was practically fog-free at a time when there was news everyday of mishaps due to fog on Taj Expressway.
Guddu & I loaded up the car in the evening itself and realized, there were too many stuff to take along, but these were all essential items that has to go. Rolf, used to having the entire back seat to him whenever he travelled in the car got really squeezed to less than half the space. We planned for 4am departure to avoid traffic as much as possible. My niece and her fiancé dropped in for a drink and to bid me goodbye and by the time they left, it was almost 11pm. It was time to shut down all systems and lock-up all entry points barring the main exit and cover up the sofas and other stuff that would remain in Delhi. All these activities took up considerable time and I could finally hit the bed around 1 am after confirmation of Deepika’s safe landing in Hyderabad. I got up with the alarm at 3 am and got ready within the hour but there was no sign of Guddu till 4:30 am!! When I called him, the usual reply came that he is reaching in 10 minutes which actually worked out to 30 minutes. We finally started around 5:15 am for our 1600 km journey to Hyderabad after getting the petrol filled to full tank capacity.
The route was NH2/ NH19 (Mathura Road) – NH33(Agra By-pass) – NH43/44, pretty straight forward and simple route which Google said would take 26 hours non-stop, crossing 7 states – Delhi-Haryana-Uttar Pradesh-Rajasthan-Uttar Pradesh(again)-Madhya Pradesh- Maharashtra-Telengana State. We decided to take the night halt at a resort in Pench which was right on the highway and begin fresh the next day for rest of the journey.
The Mathura Road is currently being upgraded and there were sections which were closed and diversions marked, so the smooth cruising kept interrupting periodically. In a way it was good as I realized, Guddu Kumar was getting over enthusiastic about driving and in the process was applying some real hard breaking which was neither good the vehicle nor for Rolf, sitting at the back. By the time we hit the Agra By-pass (NH33), dawn started breaking on the horizon. It was good two hours of driving and Rolf as well as we needed to stretch our legs. I walked Rolf for 500 meters up the highway hoping he would do his job but the chap is so selective that he refused to do anything other than leaking his tank.
We started again moving towards Dholpur (Rajasthan) and then to Morena – Gwalior (MP) and then getting into UP again at Jhansi. We were actually bypassing all these cities as the highway was mostly away or on the outskirts of these cities. This also meant that unlike the other NH that pass through the city this was always skirting away from the city and therefore very few eating options existed on the entire stretch. There were no mid-way food courts like in NH8 or NH24/NH9, only few Dhabas where the trucks would lay by during the afternoon. We stopped at one such Highway Dhaba for breakfast. It was 100% vegetarian outlet and served different kinds of stuffed Paranthas. We ordered for Aloo-Parantha and tea. The food quality was nothing to talk about except it being very hot & spicy.
As you approach each city, there were signs to take the bypass or go to the city. We diligently took the bypasses but just before Jhansi, we stopped at Petrol Pump to tank-up again. After filling up and getting Rolf to stretch his legs a little, we started again but missed out the Jhansi by-pass and entered the city. Luckily for us it was still early winter morning so the town was yet to come alive fully. We hastened our departure from the city using the Google Map and soon rejoined the NH44. Guddu has been driving since morning and I felt he needed some rest, so I took over the steering from him and asked him to take a nap. The road ahead was absolutely straight and very little traffic, I let the speedometer touch 140kmph and we soon crossed over to Madhya Pradesh once again. Guddu had taken a 15 minute nap and had been very restless. I asked him if would like to stop for toilet or tea but his response was “Sir, let me drive, I am feeling sleepy sitting on the passenger side”. The effect of air-conditioning inside the car and the sunny warmth from outside was making me sleepy too, so once more I let Guddu take the wheel but told him to stop at the Pathway Retreat for lunch. Google showed it was some 2 hours away from our location.
I had dozed off for good an hour and half as we sped through the NH44. I enquired of Guddu if we had crossed Sagar and the Pathway Retreat and he said “Yes, about 30 minutes back.” I said, “Why didn’t you stop there?” He replied, “Sir, you were sleeping and so was Rolf, so didn’t want to disturb either of you. And moreover after the morning Aloo Parantha, I am not hungry at all, will stop for tea after some time.” I agreed with him and moreover, we were at least 3 hours ahead of Google’s predictions and stood a good chance of reaching our night halt station at Pench well before 9pm. We drove for next 2 hours without any incident except that there were huge line-up of trucks and tractor-trailers with sugarcane, practically closing one side of the highway. We negotiated the default single carriageway for about 3-5km and then moved back to the main carriageway. We stopped at Mowgli Street Food, just before Seoni for tea and let out Rolf for much needed break. He drank almost one litre of water but refused to eat anything. After a 15 minute stoppage, we rolled on towards our first destination – Go Flamingo Resort, Pench National Park. As we started, Google showed the destination to be 4:30 hour’s away meaning we will reach around 9:30pm. I had been to Pench National Park around 4 years back and knew the roads to be bad and narrow, typical forest roads. As we moved closer to our destination, the Google started re-estimating our arrival and confirmed that we will reach by 8:30pm, saving a clear one hour. The sun was setting over the horizon when we were still on the 4-lane highway and as the dusk gave way to darkness we encountered our first bad road, courtesy the frenzied expansion and construction of highways happening, which continued for about 6-8 km but seemed much more, eventually opening up to 2-lane jungle road. This was the hilly track or Ghat section that takes you to Pench. After a grueling one hour drive through the under-construction highway, which seemed like more than 2 hours, we finally made it to Go Flamingo Resort, Pench National Park.
Go Flamingo Resort is the regular kind of Jungle Retreat, nothing fancy or luxury around this place. The rooms were extremely spacious and well-lit; the hotel staff extremely courteous and efficient. The room allocated to us had one double-bed, large enough for two people to sleep comfortably but Guddu refused to share it so I requested the hotel guys to provide an extra bed for him. I ordered food for us and laid out Rolf’s (dog) food and water. He ate half of it and the full bowl of water. I had forgotten that I was carrying boiled eggs from Delhi; there were 4 of them, so I gave 2 to Rolf and rest shared with Guddu along with the Elixir of Life which Guddu simply gulped down. The dinner was simple – dal, egg curry, salad and chapatti, which we devoured in double quick time, we were starving!! After dinner, Guddu went out, probably to have a cigarette because when he came in, I could smell the tobacco. We, including Rolf had a sound sleep and I woke up around 5:30 am (my body clock has got tuned to this hour of wake-up). After the morning rituals, I took Rolf for a walk and to my relief and his satisfaction Rolf pooped on the jungle path of Pench Tiger Reserve and marked his territory at various spots!!
We had a quick breakfast – Rolf: 2 boiled eggs & plain lassi, Guddu: 2 aloo parantha & tea and I had bread-omelet & coffee. I settled the hotel outstanding and started for the last leg of approx. 550km to Hyderabad. We got the car tank refilled at a petrol pump on the highway about 20km from the resort. I opened the Google Map and fed the destination and kept waiting for it to respond but what can GM do if it can’t get the fodder (network) from Vodafone!! Meanwhile, Guddu Kumar had stepped on the accelerator to reach Hyderabad on time for lunch. There were road signage’s directing us to our destination so I was not worried about the map. We crossed Gurmeet Dhaba but it was too early for tea-break and came to a fork where the right side road looked more lucrative and before I could respond, Guddu had taken the elevated newly constructed road and I could fleetingly see a signage on the left abandoned road saying “Towards Hyderabad”. This wrong turn not only cost us almost 170km but we lost crucial 3/3.5 hours.
Anyways, the lucrative good road lasted only about 10-12km and soon became completely potholed pathetic road. We were doing 100-120kmph earlier but the road ensured we keep it down to less than 30kmph. In the absence of the map navigation, we were completely unaware where we were heading towards. We kept going and reached a T-junction where it said Amravati on the left and Kolkata on the right. The obvious choice was Amravati but I was having a nagging doubt, in my numerous checks about the route map, I have never come across Amravati anywhere near my route. I rebooted my phone in the hope for getting the connectivity but it wasn’t to be and the most frustrating was that all other apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, etc were working with regularity. Using MyVodafone App, I upgraded my plan to the latest one but still no luck. Then I realized Guddu was carrying a smartphone, I asked him if it was Airtel connection but it was Vodaphone too. Guddu unlocked the phone and tried the Google Map and Wallah Habibi, it was working. The Google Map commanded us to take the U-turn in next 2.5km and proceed straight for next 67km before turning right. We have lost the early morning advantage as the road became crowded with vehicular traffic. It took us almost 2 hours to cover the estimated 70km and we turned right as directed by the map. As we kept moving, we realized we are going back to the point from where we took the wrong road and frankly did not want to go through that terrible patch of almost 20-25km again. We reached a crossing where few trucks were parked and I decided to check with their drivers for alternate road to reach NH44. One of the drivers speaking Maharashtrian Hindi directed us to a road and said we should take the right turn under the flyover at Buti-Bori. The road wasn’t showing up in the Google Map and it kept commanding us to take its suggested road which we finally took and reached the Nagpur Outer Ring Road and travelled another 34km before we could meet NH44. We had lost over 3 precious hours. I called up Deepika and told her that we are terribly behind schedule and would now reach only around 8/8:30pm as per Google Map.
The NH44 that lies in Maharashtra needs urgent relaying, most of the surface having gone from bad to worse. Our average speed came down to a mere 40-45kmph as every 5km of good double carriageway was complimented with 10km of potholed single carriageway. This continued till we crossed over to Telengana around 3pm. The car had consumed lot of gas and we were again down to 25% limit. We haven’t come across any gas station in the last 50 odd km which was really odd.
As agreed, once we hit the Telengana State, Guddu handed over the steering to me and we cruised on at a sedate speed, keeping an eye for a gas station. It would have been a nightmare to get stranded on the highway without petrol. We were cruising around 90-100kmph when Guddu shouted that a Gas Station is just ahead of us in less than 250mtr. I immediately slowed down and the car behind us narrowly missed hitting us, this was my first and only blemish in the entire journey. We tanked up at Sri Ambica Filling Station (HP) between Dollara (behind us) and Sekapur (ahead of us) and clock said 3:45pm, the Google Map still estimating 8:30 as ETA Hyderabad. I had decided to hand over steering to Guddu once it gets dark as he is more tuned to negotiating the traffic through the dark as seen the previous evening. But before that I wanted to enjoy the drive through the beautiful highway and reach my new home as early as possible not only for us but Rolf too as he was getting restless in the cramped rear seat.
We zoomed past Adilabad on our left and Nirmal on the right and the signage said Kamareddy some 92km ahead. I gunned the engine and the speedometer touched 140kmph and stayed there till we crossed the exit to Kamareddy and headed towards Ramyapet, 27km ahead. The sun was setting in the distant horizon, I decided to look for a dhaba or tea stall and found one about 5km before Ramyapet exit. The tea was nothing but sugar and milk syrup but it provided much needed energy. Rolf also was able to stretch his legs, peed and drank a liter of water.
Guddu took over from me for the last stretch of our journey as I recalibrated the destination to NCC Urban, Gachibowli, Hyderabad. The clock said 5:35pm and Google estimated ETA at 8:09pm. Being a Saturday, the traffic was low on the highway and soon we were cruising at 120kmph and reached the outskirts of Hyderabad around 6:15pm. There were some traffic as we approached Nehru Outer Ring Road (ORR) but once we were on it, the traffic became smooth and Guddu stepped on to take the needle to touch 140kmph and I had to restrain him and slowed down to 100-110kmph. Guided by the Google Map we finally reached NCC, Urban precisely at 7:13pm, beating Google ETA by almost one hour.
Deepika was at the gate to receive us and guide us to the underground parking bay. I let out Rolf to relieving himself before getting into our new home for some years to come.