Sunday Drive by Hormazd Sorabjee: Romancing the road trip
Who would have thought that driving is safer than flying? Certainly not in India, where someone dies in a road accident every four minutes. But the pandemic has turned everything on its head. With the virus still lingering, a lot of people find it safer to spend long hours (even days) on our highways, risking life and limb, rather than sit next to a stranger on a short flight. Compared to a plane, a car is your own private space, and it’s this form of isolated travel, which only a car can offer, that has unwittingly rekindled the romance of the road.
The new flying
Driving is definitely the new flying for distances up to 500km and there’s been a surge in road trips to holiday hotspots like Goa (from Mumbai) and Rajasthan (from Delhi). In fact, there’s no better time than now to take a long road trip which, other than a solution for those still fearful of flying, is possibly the most liberating thing to do after seven months of lockdown. This is why, on an impulse, I decided to drive from Delhi to Mumbai, something I haven’t done in years.
No doubt, the key of the BMW M8 I was handed triggered the urge, but there were other good reasons to embark on this cross-country drive. My colleagues from Autocar India were palace -hopping across Rajasthan in a pair of Audis and I didn’t want to pass up the chance to join them. So, a plan was quickly hatched to meet the team in Jaipur and spend a day enjoying the sights of the Pink City before hitting the road.
The Delhi-Jaipur highway, however, was choc-a-bloc with trucks. The first rule of survival on Indian highways is to give a wide berth to truckers who have a tendency to suddenly switch lanes. And this brings me to the most important rule of highway driving –anticipation. But anticipation comes with experience!
After a long and hard day’s drive, nothing beats flopping into the lap of luxury, which is what the fabulous Jai Mahal Palace hotel in Jaipur absolutely is. In fact, this lap of Rajasthan was in a way a drive from one lap of luxury to another, be it from the luxurious confines of the Audi A8 and Q8 to a fabulous palace hotel of the Taj. In Covid times, checking into a luxury hotel isn’t about just being pampered but staying safe. Everything at Jai Mahal is super sanitised and open spaces like the gardens, courtyards and verandahs are great for social distancing and further minimise the risk of infection.
But cocooned inside the Audi A8 is where I felt safest.
The 360km Jaipur-Jodhpur drive is just brilliant and illustrates why Rajasthan is by far the best state in India for a road trip. As you leave Jaipur, traffic thins and you are greeted by a smooth, wide and relatively empty highway that allows you to hold serious speeds.
The Audi Q8 and A8 in close formation hold a steady cruise and whilst the Q8 felt more at home on the lesser roads, the A8 emerged as the
highway king, silently and effortlessly gobbling kilometres at a rapid rate.
It was tempting to take a break at a dhaba and lounge on a khatiya, sipping hot chai, but hygiene levels are a worry during these pandemic times, so we chose the safer option of carrying packed lunches and enjoyed a small but forgotten pleasure – a picnic by the side of a road.
Quick progress meant that we arrived in Jodhpur early, which gave us more time to enjoy the sheer grandeur of Umaid Bhawan Palace, which dwarfed the Audis parked alongside.
The home run was the least enjoyable. From the moment we entered Gujarat, we hit traffic which got progressively worse as we neared Mumbai. Just 50km from home, I was caught in my first and only traffic jam in 1,700km. It’s not the ideal way to end such a fantastic road trip, so next time I’ll do it in reverse and start from Mumbai!
The views expressed by the columnist are personal
From HT Brunch, November 29, 2020
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