Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Road Trip!!!

So we bought a new car! The experience was surprisingly very smooth unlike some friends of ours who have been waiting for their car for the last 3 months. The decision took a long time but once we decided on the car, it took about 10 days for them to clear the loan and deliver the car with registration. I picked a nice red one with a spoiler( we are all fans of lightning mc queen ) and of course the boys were very happy with it.

The car is beautiful but unfortunately the roads don’t do justice to it. The potholed overcrowded roads are not fit for nice cars. The surprising thing is that regardless of the status of the roads people are still buying expensive new cars. We bought something that is on middle ground between basic models and luxury ones and even this one I think is overkill for the roads in Bangalore. The drive is smooth, acceleration great but the sad part is that by the time you pick up speed you would either hit a speed bump or get stuck in traffic. My advice, when buying a car in India pick the one with nice interiors and a very good air conditioner because you will be spending a lot of time inside the car J

So one week after we bought the car DH has the brilliant idea of taking a road trip to Hyderabad. He and the kids had been there a couple of times by overnight bus so he knew that the roads were nice. So, on a whim we decided to drive down there with the kids and the nanny in tow.

We wanted to start at 4:00 pm but it was closer to 6:00pm by the time we started and we got stuck in the office rush of the infamous outer ring road in Bangalore. If you are ever in Bangalore, pray that you NEVER have to be on the ring road or for that matter any road during office rush hour which stretches over a period of 2-3 hours in the morning and the evening.  We fought through the nastiness in Bangalore to hit the “freeway” around 7:00 and from there the traffic thinned and we could actually accelerate. That’s when we started enjoying the car for the first time J

Now night driving on Indian freeways is practically torture but we were determined to go to Hyderabad so on we went. The kids were really excited to be in the new car and thankfully tired enough to sleep through most of the drive there so we didn’t have to endure “are we there yet” every 5 minutes.

The road itself was very nice. And once we crossed into Andhra Pradesh there were no speed bumps either! Karnataka is infamous for “unauthorized” speed breakers on all roads. It doesn’t matter if it’s a national highway or an illegal road going through an illegal village. The local population invariable gets together and donates towards speed bumps which are actually multipurpose. One, they make sure any vehicle trying to speed (even within the speed limit) breaks an axle (That’s right! Actually break the axle). The speed bumps are so high it’s a miracle there aren’t accidents because of them.

The other “purpose” they serve is that of making drivers trying to speed by on a freeway slow down and notice the roadside eateries. How else are they going to survive if everybody just speeds by! So in an effort to support local businesses, the local businesses get together and pay for illegal speed bumps on national freeways.

Thankfully we were in Karnataka for only about an hour of the drive and then crossed over into Andhra Pradesh. Now AP also has “check points” which serve the same purpose of slowing down drivers on the freeway. Especially when the highway is going through a town. Of course they are also strategically placed close to eateries which would otherwise go unnoticed but who am I to judge?

Once in AP the drive was smooth until you saw headlights coming directly in front of you! Yes, you read it right. It is completely normal for vehicles, even the heavy kind, to drive on the wrong side of the freeway to avoid driving a few extra kilometers to make a U-Turn. It’s just easier to go in the wrong direction in the fastest lane, freak out some poor uninitiated driver driving happily in his/her lane!

But I think I was the only one worried about this. Everybody else just took it in their stride and changed lanes for oncoming traffic on a divided highway. It seemed very normal for people who have been driving here for some time! I actually screamed a couple of times and was sitting on the edge of my seat expecting some huge truck to come onto to our lane until we reached Hyderabad. Oh BTW some of the trucks driving on the highway at night have only one working headlight. So when there is something coming at you on a divided highway and it appears like it’s a two wheeler with only one headlight, DON’T be fooled. Just change your lane and maintain as much distance as you possibly can. You won’t find out what it is until it is almost upon you!

And tail lights are apparently only a suggestion. Imagine driving on a highway with the infamous Indian trucks and not knowing they are there until you are within 10 feet of them. Yeah, NOT fun! I almost thought tail lights were not required in India and asked DH as much. Of course they are required! On the other extreme, some truck drivers like to decorate their entire truck with flashing lights so you would think you are driving towards a wedding procession and not a truck!

So, night time driving was a little stressful and we decided to drive back early in the morning so most of the journey would be in daylight. Well at the end of it we decided night driving was way better! Daytime driving is a different beast altogether. I started the drive back from Hyderabad. Yes, that’s right! I not only drove the car, I drove it on a highway no less. For three out of the 8 hours that it took to get back to Bangalore. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be because it was early in the morning and traffic was light-er. I wanted to emphasize on the ‘er’ because I have decided that there is no such thing as light traffic in India. Everything is subjective.

During the day you can expect to see fewer trucks and you don’t have to really worry about missing tail lights because you can see traffic from a mile away. But there is a lot of foot traffic. That’s right foot traffic on the highway. Especially when you are passing through a town or village. The townsfolk are not the issue. The government built the highway through their village and their main street suddenly became a national highway. They just continued to do what they were used to. Open stores on the side of the street, walk their cattle on the road to get from one field to another, run across the street to get to the school or bus stop. Nevertheless it was scary to see a town come up and somebody suddenly crossing the street when you are going at 75 MPH.  I was thankful for the makeshift speed breakers/barricades they had installed right outside the village which forced us to slow down even though the posted speed limit said we could go faster. I finally understood the purpose of the speed breakers J

So on we went with some more traffic coming in the wrong direction, people dashing across the freeway, cattle crossing the street when you are going at 75 MPH. DH almost hit a cow that ran onto the highway suddenly and swerved just in time to avoid hitting it. As per him, he hoped the animal wouldn’t decide to turn back midway! It didn’t seem to bother anybody else but I was scared when I saw a woman on a two wheeler with her 7-9 year old son coming the wrong way on the freeway. Some things are just wrong.

One thing is for sure, you will NEVER be bored while driving on Indian roads. There is always something to keep you on your toes. The highway was actually very well paved so it was very easy to go into the US mode and relax only to receive a jolt when you suddenly saw somebody crossing the freeway. Sometimes with 100 cows in tow. Or even 150 goats. You take your pick.

As for city driving, I drove in Hyderabad city! Believe it or not, the traffic in Hyderabad seemed better than Bangalore or maybe I just got lucky! I drove the extended phamilee to Lumbini park from home in Padmarao Nagar. Yes! On Tank bund on a weekend and didn’t flinch once J. I LOVE automatic cars. I have been driving a little bit in Bangalore city but the traffic is horrible and I haven’t dared to venture on main streets here yet.

Other than the few people coming the wrong way on the highway, the drive was pretty good. I was amazed at the quality of the road but also appalled at the lack of public conveniences. DON’T DRINK WATER! I guess Indian highways are not set up to cater to families on road trips yet. Most places were truck stops with a few “family” restaurants here and there. Some even had decent bathrooms but you have to know which ones are the good ones J The food of course was as always AMAZING.  We even had street hawkers selling fresh fruit at tollbooths! I ate “Tati Munjulu” after almost 20 years and LOVED them J. In all, the trip was pretty exciting even if it was for reasons we hadn’t originally planned for J