It has been a while since I went on a longish drive and I was just a little apprehensive about the 550 kms drive to Pune. I got conflicting reports on the status of the road - one alarmist and one super optimistic - and I averaged it out and concluded that it was just as it had been before. So we set off at 545 am, a balmy breeze setting us off, Anjali sleeping happily at the back, some retro music playing softly on the stereo.
The road till Zaheerabad was as it always had been, pretty decent. The toll road from Patancheru to a little distance ahead is a huge boon as traffic is at its densest here. A couple of hours of good drive and we came across a huge queue just outside Zaheerabad, with about 100 odd vehicles queued up on the double road in a disciplined manner. That is one of those things on the highways which are so endearing - the truck guys do not mess up these queues mostly and wait for the queue to clear. As a small car we zipped up on the empty lane like kings (confident that we could curl up in any of the small gaps between the trucks at any moment) until we came to a spot where the bystanders told us that there was an accident ahead. An interesting bearded man who looked like a madcap waved us on to a side road. No one was taking him seriously. 'Bada insuldent hua aage,' he said importantly, waving his hands. 'Woh road pe jaao, masjid ke peeche se nikal jaate.' I guessed that insuldent was an accident and decided to follow his advise and an RTC bus. We headed out to some kaccha roads, wondered if we were doing right and landed up on the other side. Of course many buses were busy blocking all sides of the road here and we slowly got off and zipped away thanking the old guy.
Zaherabad passed by and soon Humnabad flashed past and the Omerga sign as well. The roads in Karnataka were good. Anjali was up by now and having a great time at the back watching trees and vehicles and singing her nursery rhymes. The road suddenly narrowed and was bad as soon as we entered Mahrashtra and it makes one wonder why such a rich state should have such bad roads - the AP and Karnataka roads had been wide and good till then. These roads were half the size and full of pot holes. Thankfully the pot holes disappeared after a few kms and we soon went past Solapur. It was 1130 by then.
Someplace near Temburni, which is about 60 kms from Solapur, we stopped for lunch. But this stretch took us almost a hour and a half with heavy traffic that makes it impossible to go faster than 40 kmph. After a quick break we returned to the road which was now being made into a four lane highway (thank God) - but since there were many diversions we made slow progress. The road was bad in parts but overall was pretty good. The only thing that kills you is that it is two lane and there is lots of traffic making it impossible for you to go ahead. Some of the bridges are so fragile and narrow that you want to get off them quickly. Indapur, Bhigwan and then the toll road outside Pune comes as a huge relief for about 30 kms before the inevitable bottleneck before the city.
Still, we made it in about 11 hours, breaks included and the Santro gave me a good mileage of almost 19 kms per litre despite the many breaks in the road and sharp drops in speeds - from stretches where we do only 20 kms per hour to stretches where 100 kms per hour is a breeze. I was not too tired despite 11 hours on the road and we landed up at Raja's new house at Kondwa. A nice hot bath, a drink, a hot dinner - until we hit the sack at 12 am.