On that fateful rain soaked evening of April, Ayush was totally frustrated… he has been trying book a cab to go home for over 30 minutes… 4 cabs cancelled the booking at the last minute… finally he got a cab after harrowing 45+ minutes. Then and there, he decided to buy his own car at the first opportunity.
After a thorough research in terms of safety issues and performance, he shortlisted 3 cars – VW Taigun, Skoda Kushaq and MG Astor which were all within his budget. He checked out the respective dealers in Bengaluru and booked his test drive for the following weekend. Astor was not available for test driving at that point of time. After testing both Taigun and Kushaq, he favoured the latter but the Skoda dealership wasn’t very enthusiastic about delivery confirmation. VW dealer on the other hand was quite optimistic of immediate delivery. Next, the issue was about registration… he was averse to getting the car registered in Bengaluru not knowing how long he will be stationed there, on the other hand, he can’t keep driving a non-Karnataka registered car for long without getting harassed by the cops.
The solution was to get the newly launched BH registration… the GoI had recently started a new registration BH series which is valid pan India. This has been done for the people with transferable jobs in govt and private sector with offices in multiple cities (minimum 4 locations in 4 states). However, barring Delhi, none of the other states are issuing this BH series to non-govt employees. So, Ayush came down to Delhi in mid-May to book and buy the car.
We visited both Skoda and VW dealerships in Safdarjung Enclave and did a test drive of both cars. There was not much difference between Kushaq and Taigun but I liked the looks of Taigun better… also it was costing less with all the discounts thrown in by the VW dealer. Ayush preferred the Yellow color but was told that there is long waiting for that particular color. He was offered a choice of White, Silver, Dark Grey and Cherry Red which were more likely to be available within a month’s time. Ayush booked the car and was assured delivery latest by June end. He flew back to Bengaluru at the end of May as his office was opening up again on 1st June.
As the days went by, we got a bit itchy because the dealer was not confirming the delivery schedule and Ayush had to book his flight tickets only on confirmation from them. So, on the third weekend of June, Deepika and I went to the dealership to find out the status. I lost my cool when the GM of the dealership kept saying he can’t confirm as the number & color of the vehicles being allocated by the company is not consistent with the bookings. I threatened them to cancel the booking if they can’t deliver by the month end. Although knew there’s not much options available as practically all vehicles have a minimum 4-6 weeks waiting with few of them as long as 1 year+.
We saw one Yellow Taigun that had come for some repair (dent) and realized the color is very different from the print and video representation. It had a greenish tint that made it look dull and dirty. I told Ayush to reconsider his options and go for Red or Dark Grey.
Probably, my threatening helped as within two days, the dealer confirmed that Yellow is not going to be available any time soon but we can have our second option of Cherry Red by month end. Ayush reached Delhi on 25th June morning on a month long WFH arrangement. The dealer asked us to visit them on Monday or Tuesday to do the paperwork formalities as they were all occupied with launch of VW Virtus during the weekend.
On Tuesday we went to the dealership and completed the formalities and also checked out the car allotted to him. We were promised delivery latest by Friday evening and it was delivered as said. Ayush drove the car to Durgabari Kali Mandir for puja of the car as wished by his mother. Incidentally, his maternal uncle also took delivery of same model car in dark grey that very day.
We decided to get the first servicing of the car at 1000km mark done here in Delhi before embarking our journey to Bengaluru (2300km approx.). In the intervening period, the car was driven as much as possible to reach near about 1000km mark. We had decided to start our journey on 29th July to reach Bengaluru on 31st July.
I told Ayush to tank up the car a day before our journey but forgot to mention that he should get the tyre pressures checked as well. It was a big lapse on my part and we had to pay for it…
THE JOURNEY: FLYING WITH THE TAIGUN
We had planned to start early around 5 am on Friday 29th July but poor Ayush, in the excitement of the adventure he forgot to put wake-up alarm and got up only at 4:45 am. We started at 5:55 am from Delhi with a almost clear sky. Google suggested we take the DND followed by Agra Expressway but I decided to take the NH19 (Faridabad-Mathura-Agra) and take the Agra Bypass to Dholpur and beyond.
As soon as we hit the highways of Faridabad, rain started and continued for about 10km… with some part of the road submerged… it was the precursor to what was in store ahead. I drove sedately never going above 100 but keeping it above 70kmph till we cross the populated areas. We were not in a hurry and decided to be safer than being faster. We reached Chambal around 10:15 am decided to stop at the newly opened restaurant called CHAMBAL SPICE for breakfast. We were the only customers at that time but their service is admirable, we were served with hot Aloo-Paratha with Curd and Pickle. It started raining again as we devoured the tasty non-spicy parathas and hot Masala Chai.
I asked Ayush to take the wheels when we started again after half hour break. Initially, I was guiding him but soon realized he is driving almost like a pro… and this was his first time driving on the highways. If you are a driver yourself but seating on the passenger seat, it becomes monotonous and boring, you feel sleepy. That’s exactly what happened to me, I fell asleep right after crossing Gwalior and only woke up after we had crossed Jhansi. It was over 100 km stretch that Ayush drove on his own without any assistance including maneuvering through the Jhansi Bypass which is a bit tricky and the roads are not very friendly. I felt proud of him. He insisted on carrying on till evening…
During my previous trips to & fro Delhi-Hyderabad, I used to fill-up the gas when meter indicated 25% remaining, we applied the same strategy and when the last 2 bars remained we searched for a gas station near Sagar (MP). It was 5:15pm and changeover time… I didn’t want him to drive as the lights started fading, on a stretch that has a sizeable bovine population scattered on the road. The situation was further aggravated with innumerable potholes throughout the route. Some were sporadically filled up making them speed bumps. Till there was daylight one could see the potholes and maneuver around it but as the lights faded and with the downpour, it was impossible to see the potholes or the improvised speed bumps… in quick succession we hit two very bad (deep) potholes but Taigun remained stable and we continued on our journey. As we neared Deori, it started drizzling which soon became downpour and continued till about Narsinghpur. Thankfully, it was dry as we approached Seoni where our destination Pench Jungle Camp was situated.
We were originally booked at Rukhad Jungle Camp on the NH44 itself but the persistent heavy downpour in the region had made the resort inoperable. Therefore, we were advised to reach PJC a further 30 km down the highway followed by 10 km through the jungle roads. Google estimated our arrival at the destination at 11 pm but we beat the estimate by 40 minutes and reached PJC at 10:20 pm.
We have stayed at Pench Jungle Camp on another occasion along with our friends, the Basu’s. It is a decent place but doesn’t warrant a second visit. In the name of being eco-friendly, the place has become very Spartan with minimum luxuries that one expects in a Resort accommodation. Anyways, we were there just for the night stay so it did not mattered much. Since, we were not sure about our ETA, had informed the resort to keep our food cooked and ready, hot or cold, were acceptable to us. Surprisingly, the food was still hot which we enjoyed with the Elixir of Life that I carried with me.
In the morning, we were ready to go around 7:30 am and went to look for the restaurant for breakfast. The place was getting cleaned when we reached and was told the breakfast would be ready in about 15-20 minutes. After some time we were served with a bowl of fruits consisting of Watermelon & Papaya along with a small glass of watermelon juice. This was followed by hot idlis with sambar (Deepika makes much better sambar) and coconut chutney, also Poha with green chutney. The food was good but not exceptional. The steward came to check if we needed anything more… I asked for a masala omlette while Ayush settled for a pancake which turned out to be “set dosa”!!
We put our overnight bags in the car and I went to the reception to settle our account. There was nobody at the counter… the guard came and called up someone who asked him to guide me to some inner office. I had paid an advance of INR 1800 and the final settlement came to INR 2461.40… I was carrying cash knowing well the poor network connections inside the jungle area making card/ UPI payment difficult. I offered 5 currency notes of 500 denominations… the person asked for change… I could find 450 in currency notes but he insisted on the balance as well… the coin section of my purse provided 2 five rupees coin which he accepted reluctantly and returned one of the 500 notes. I thought from my experience, in the northern part of the country, the hotel would have given a 100 note letting go of the change part in such a scenario.
When I reached, the parking lot, I saw Ayush standing by the car and looking intently at the front right tyre. My heart sank thinking we have a flat tyre which would mean driving slowly on the smaller spare tyre and getting in Nagpur City to get the puncture repaired. Ayush said, “Dad, look at this tyre, it has deformed at this point”. Initially I couldn’t see anything but closer inspection revealed a small inflation or bubble on the side of the tyre. I checked the spot but it as hard as the rest of the tyre. I told Ayush that we can’t do much at that point of time drive with caution and get it checked when we reach Hyderabad. On hindsight, we could have got it checked in Nagpur as well.
I asked Ayush to drive till we crossover into Telengana from where I will take it up. When we had entered the Jungle Road, there was Toll Booth some 50 meters ahead of us but courtesy Google Map guidance we came out on the highway bypassing that Toll Booth and saved some money and some kilometers as well!!
The newly constructed highway on Pench-Nagpur sector is a dream run with wide roads and no potholes. We zipped through the section with ease driving at a sedate 95-110 kmph and soon reached the Nagpur Bypass. There was a posse of Police some 100 meters away and we were flagged down. We thought it might be for over speeding but the signage had clearly indicated max speed 100kmph. The policeman came to the driver side window and asked for the license, RC and PUC. I told him PUC is not applicable as the car is brand new only a month old. Then we realized it was a ploy of MAHARASHTRA POLICE to do HAFTA WASULI. The policeman without a shame asked for money which we had give to avoid further harassment.
The rest of the journey till Hyderabad was uneventful barring the maneuvering of the potholes which remained in large numbers till Adilabad (Telengana) and sporadic downpours which slowed us down a bit. When we crossed Penganga River, a tributary of Godavari River, I knew we have entered Telengana… it was time for me to take the wheel and also fill up gas. I knew there was a HP Petrol pump in Dollara (Sri Ambica Filling Station) and told Ayush to keep an eye for it to stop.
Ayush meanwhile had done his research about the “bubble” on the tyre and became a bit paranoid and asked me to slow down from 100+ to about 80kmph because the bubble might cause tyre burst according to the SM posts. I assured him that if it was to happen, it would have happened by then… we had covered over 1500km by then. I asked him to find out Tyre Shops selling similar size tyres in and around Gachibowli, Hyderabad where we were going.
Fortunately, as we moved closer to Hyderabad, potholes on the road became less evident and most were re-laid with patchwork. After Medchal (one of the entry point to Hyderabad) we took the ORR which I maintain is the biggest boon to all Hyderabadis. Initially, Google suggested we exit the ORR from Exit #18 to Gachibowli but due to congestion at the Gachibowli Circle and at the Toll Gate before that, it altered the route through Exit #1 at ISB Road, Financial District. However, it was equally choked with evening traffic and became worse with sudden downpour. It took us almost an hour to reach the tyre shop opposite SLN Terminus Mall (Whitefield) on Old Mumbai Highway. The technician there reconfirmed the tyre burst theory and suggested we take it to the VW Dealer to claim warranty. We told him that would mean going back 1600km from where we started!! He checked his stock register and informed that their other shop at Madhapur may have the required size of the tyre.
Though, from the direction he provided, I could figure out where the shop was but Hyderabad roads especially in the Cyberabad area has changed much since I left the city 1.5 years ago. So we asked Google Map to assist us which it did through long winding roads much of which I could recognize.
The Madhapur shop did not have exact brand in the required size but suggested a wider tyre (new) or a slightly used same spec tyre (for which it stood guarantee)… buying the first means a set of 2 tyres plus a question of alignment. We negotiated for the used one and got it changed. We also requested them to check the tyre pressure of all the tyres. All of them barring the new one were over inflated and it became clear the bubble was caused when we the pothole because of extra air in the tyre. It was a costly lesson to learn which we will remember forever.
We had planned to visit IKEA to pick up some small items but postponed it to the following morning. Around 9 pm we checked in at Hyatt Hyderabad, Financial District Gachibowli just across the Amazon campus. We had thought of going to Fisherman’s Wharf, a Seafood Restaurant close to the hotel but driving through the city in such thick (and unruly) traffic had taken a toll on our enthusiasm so we ordered food (Oriental) in the room and poured ourselves SM to wash away our fatigue.
Following morning after a sumptuous buffet breakfast we went to IKEA on Hitech City Road. I wanted to checkout our erstwhile residential complex NCC Urban which is right behind the IKEA on NASR Boys School Road. But the road was under construction and the detour was a bit complex so abandoned the idea and proceeded to IKEA on Hightech City Road.
We left for Bengaluru around 12 noon and I handed over the wheels to Ayush as we entered the ORR. The ORR Stretch from Financial District to Shamshabad has been constructed under the supervision of my childhood friend, a civil engineer by profession. I have extensively used this part of the ORR during my 3 years in Hyderabad. Ayush drove with ease and soon we were on the Bengaluru road. There was quite a heavy traffic considering it was Sunday but then the same road also goes to Tirupathi besides Kurnool, Anantpur being the major towns on the route.
Somewhere in between Kurnool & Anantpur, we stopped at a KFC outlet (actually a food court in the making) and ordered for our respective dishes. The service is hopelessly bad… we waited for over 20 minutes before I had to give my piece of mind to the counter guys and only then our tray was made. They would call token no.45 and then the next call is for token no.49… what happened to 46, 47 and 48??? No answer!!
The sun was setting on the western skies giving a nice hue of colors (took few pics) and sky ahead of us was getting covered in dark clouds. I took the wheel from Ayush and proceeded at a good speed hoping that we might cross the cloudy stretch before it starts pouring but it wasn’t to be and the drizzle soon became a downpour and then a deluge. The visibility reduced to 10 metres and speed reduced to 30kmph besides becoming pitch dark at 6pm. Thankfully there were no potholes to negotiate but one couldn’t avoid the water logging at the low lying spots. I checked with Ayush if should stop like other vehicles had done but he said, “If you can drive slowly and follow the truck with reflectors then let’s move on because we don’t know how long this downpour will last”. It was a good suggestion as pretty soon we were out of the deluge and again speeding away on dry stretch.
We crossed Anantpur and saw the KIA Motors factory which I had last seen as a under construction unit nearing completion. On my last journey I had seen one or two Korean food joints around this factory but this time in the darkness couldn’t locate them. In any case, we were filled up with KFC Chicken and Fries.
We reached the outskirts of Bengaluru (Yelahanka) around 9pm and then followed the traffic on NH44 followed by Old Madras Road and finally 80’ Road to reach our destination at Defence Colony, Indira Nagar, Bengaluru. It was a total driving time of 36 hours… same as what Google Maps had predicted. I told Ayush that at any other time of the year I would have beaten the prediction by at least a couple of hours which I had done in all my travels to and fro Delhi-Hyderabad-Delhi.
Ayush has a nice 3BHK house which he shares with two of his friend and I was mighty impressed at the way they have kept the house clean and orderly. Even though I wanted to stay a bit longer but couldn’t do so because of my aging Rolfie and flew out to Delhi on a Vistara Airlines flight a day after. But before that on Monday evening, we went to The TOIT Brewpub and the famed NAGARJUNA Restaurant. The beers at the Toit was amazing however I didn’t find Nagarjuna food to be exclusive as some friends had said.
I hope the journey and the driving on the highway has given a life lesson to my son who drove throughout with great composure and like a pro. It was a daring drive of 2300km plus in the monsoon time and all those who were privy to our journey were a bit apprehensive. It was not just the highways but unpaved roads through the jungle in the darkness that kept us on the edge throughout.
I plan to take to the road again in about a year’s time to Goa when the Delhi-Mumbai Expressway will be operational. Surely, I will cover the distance in less than the estimated 12 hours…
By the grace of my dear friend Madhav…