It could have been a wonderful advertisement for the Valmikinagar Tiger Reserve (VTR), a major thrust area for the tourism and forest departments of Bihar. But, the potholes and ditches lined up all along the way ensured that the opportunity gave the state a miss and moved over to Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh.
The Automobile Association of Eastern India (AAEI), Patna branch, had planned a Patna-Valmikinagar car rally early next year to celebrate its 75 years of existence. The event was supposed to cover a distance of around 290 kilometre, and end at the salubrious Valmiki National Park, spread over an area of 901 square kilometre.
The organisers had initially decided to end the rally at VTR to allow the participants have a first hand experience of the flora, fauna, rivers, streams as well as the peaks of the Himalayas looming on the horizon on the Nepal side.
"Once we decided about the rally, it was imperative for us to survey the route and prepare a map with legends and descriptions. The turns on the way are also mentioned. The details are given to the participants, who rely on it to move ahead in course of the event," said TK Sinha, honorary secretary of AAEI, Patna branch.
A three-member team set out in their vehicles for the task, crossing the Gandhi Setu from Patna and then taking the state highway 74, which goes from Hajipur to Areraj. It was only when they switched over to the National Highway (NH) 28B to move towards Bagaha town close to Valmikinagar that the route turned nightmarish.
The 150-kilometre-long NH begins at Chhapwa and takes the Bettiah-Lauriya-Bagaha route to end at Kushinagar.
Amit Mukherji, AAEI executive committee member and organising secretary of the rally, who was a part of the route survey team, said, "The 40-km stretch between Lauriya and Bagaha is absolutely non-negotiable. There is no road at all. It took our car around four hours to cover the stretch. No rally can be organised if it takes such a long time to cover such a short distance."
The bad patch starts from Bettiah itself and quickly deteriorates to such an extent that smaller automobiles have to climb down the remains of the NH to save their bellies from being torn open. At places, the zagged ends are high enough to hurt any part of the chassis. The flanks have sunk so much that the metalled portion acts like an obstacle.
"We usually like having a rough section during the rallies, but it cannot be at the expense of the participants. You must see the buses travelling on NH 28B. They lean so much due to the ditches that all along the stretch they are precariously balanced. We returned completely disheartened," said Sinha.
A groups of tourists, courageous enough to venture up to VTR, were also extremely critical of the bad roads and the extra time taken to complete the trip. On an average, it takes 11 to 12 hours to reach the forest.
Since the rally routes are decided months ahead, the AAEI has now decided to have the rally from Patna to Kushinagar via Vaishali, Khajuria and Gopalganj. The dates would be finalised for February or March 2013. The organisers still want the rally to touch Bagaha on the way back, though it would be possible only if the highway is repaired in time.