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It had been some time since we went for a holiday, my wife and I. Well, about 5 months after a week-long foreign trip isn’t too long for a working man of limited means, but try explaining that to your wife. There had been a few smaller weekend outings in the interim, and a slightly longer half-week escapade too, but all that, apparently, doesn’t count. So when I heard about this Skoda Superb that needed to be ‘delivered’ (makes you feel like one Jason Statham for a moment) to Delhi from Mumbai, I thought probably I could coerce my wife into thinking of this road-trip as the small holiday she wanted. Knowing her liking for ‘taking it easy’ on holidays, and a fetish for well appointed (and expensive) hotels, I did not give myself much of a chance for being able to persuade here. Surprisingly, though, the idea caught her fancy and she agreed promptly.
A few phone calls were made to friends whom we’d would pick up enroute and in a jiffy we had a holiday plan that looked reasonably, if not extremely exciting. We started off from Mumbai at 10:30pm, having duly exceeded our scheduled departure time of 8:00 pm by more than two hours. A broken down BEST bus on the exit from Mulund saw us getting caught in jam on a road where I haven’t seen a traffic snarl in the past 4 years.
After wasting half an hour, we had hit the Ghodbunder Road, and the journey thereon was expected to be rather smooth. Except that it wasn’t meant to be. We hadn’t logged more than a few kilometers on the trip meter when the tyre pressure monitoring system warned us of low tyre pressure. This wasn’t good news, as it was late in the night, and putting the spare to use would mean that we wouldn’t have any back-up to rely on if the second tyre also went flat.
I got down from the car and checked all the tyres. Thankfully none of the tyres appeared to be worrisomely low on pressure, so the car could be driven some distance without having to replace the wheel. With some luck, we managed to find a tyre repair shop after a few kilometers. After having the tyre pressure duly checked, I concluded that the pressure loss was minimal, and it wasn’t as knotty a situation as it originally appeared. We could afford to drive on, without worrying too much about the tyres.
Our next stop was supposed to be Ahmedabad, about 560 kilometers from Mumbai. The traffic jam and the tyre fiasco had cost us a good one hour and we didn’t see ourselves arriving at Ahmedabad before 6:00 am. To make things worse, constant rain throughout impaired visibility and eliminated our chances to push the pedal and cover up for some of the lost time.
The road conditions, once we left Mumbai improved drastically. The road surface on the NH8 is in good shape, and four lane roads on NH8 with a median duly separating traffic from opposing directions allows you to maintain reasonably good speeds without taking any undue chances.
Old time English classics for music, snacks, reminiscing our courtship period and a few squabbles kept us occupied and alert. Toll booths kept appearing one after another, making us lighten our wallets and ensuring sleep was never in sight. This was the Independence Day eve and we were pleased to see the preparations in full swing at a McDonald’s outlet we halted at for a small snack and loo break.
The drive was fun, thanks to the interesting conversations, smooth roads and a very capable car under our behinds. While the dark surroundings meant there wasn’t much to see and appreciate, we did manage to come across a few interesting sights.
First was the fabulous Golden Bridge over the river Narmada. Our old friend and arguably the finest bike tourer in the country, Arnob Gupta had advised us to take a detour from the national highway into the city of Bharuch to beat the traffic jam courtesy the under-construction bridge on the NH8. We followed his orders and managed to beat the jam. In the process we also had the privilege of witnessing this fabulous, narrow, old-worldly bridge over the river Narmada.
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Built in the year 1881 by the British, this 820 meter long bridge has stood the test of time. Over the past 132 years it has endured floods, earthquakes and several other natural calamities, and as a testimony to the British engineering, is still functional, allowing cars to pass and providing a great alternative for transport, especially for the people of Bharuch and Ankleshwar. Another highlight was the sightings of the ever present Wild ass. The well built ass, painted with shades of golden brown on a white body was witnessed in hordes on the streets of Bharuch and Ankleshwar, roaming around nonchalantly in the hour of the dead.
We managed to touch Ahmedabad by 5:45 am. Unfortunately, our friend, whose place we wished to catch a wink at and travel to Udaipur with was located at the other end of the town. While there wasn’t much traffic on the city roads in the morning, a lack of familiarity with the streets meant we managed to reach our destination in Ahmedabad only by 6:30 am.
A few hours of sleep later, we hit the road again, heading for the city of lakes, Udaipur. On our way out from Ahmedabad, we came across some really gigantic chimneys, which I suspect belong to a power plant. While I still don’t know what they were, I do have some pictures to share with you. A little search on the Internet throws references to Torrent Power plant. I would appreciate if any readers from Ahmedabad could throw some light on the subject.
The drive from Ahmedabad to Udiapur during monsoons is incredibly scenic, especially the part closer to Udaipur. Known for its arid deserts, and dry, hot weather conditions, Rajasthan shows its flip side to you on this stretch. Pristine grass covered hills with manicured shrubs running across them look beautiful. The gorgeous weather, along with the structured flora made us think for a moment as though we were travelling through some European country. The beauty of this part of the country during the rainy season has to be seen to be believed.
We reached Udaipur in about 5 hours, driving at a leisurely pace and taking breaks along the way. We had already made our bookings, and we were using Google’s smartphone based navigation system to get to our hotel. As streets started getting increasingly narrow, we were a bit perturbed. Our worst nightmare came alive when we were told by the locals that the hotel we booked, boasting a plush rooftop swimming pool didn’t have space for parking.
Driving through the extremely narrow streets of old Udaipur, we managed to take the Superb where no other man has dared to take a big car. However, very soon we realized it would be extremely perilous to carry out the feat again, as oncoming two wheelers wouldn’t have cared two bits about scraping the paint of the car. We decided to park the car at a place suggested by the hotel staff, where the cars of other star hotels are also usually parked. We followed orders, deciding to travel locally using auto rickshaws and use the big Superb only for traveling to places out of the city bounds
The view from the hotel rooftop was astonishing to say the least. The massive expanse of the waters of Lake Pichhola with the pristine white Taj Lake Palace (arguably the best five star hotel in India) and Jag Mandir spawning out of it added significantly to the visual enchantment. That view from the rooftop itself made the trip worthwhile. While on one side we had the beautiful Pichhola captivating us, the other side offered the palatial Oberoi Udai Vilas and Leela hotels for a view, adding tremendously to the heritage look of the city.
Numerous old style terraces overlooking the lake with foreigners sitting and getting bedazzled by the astounding view made our chests swell with pride. If only this place was situated anywhere else in the world, it would have been one of the top global destinations for honeymooners and romantic couples to holiday. Yet, even with the government’s indifference towards promoting this place, the city has an unrivaled charm, and would bring a wide smile on your face with its traditional Rajasthani architecture, natural beauty and old worldly allure.
Far away in the distance, behind the assortment of some of the most luxurious hotels, you have the majestic Sajjangarh palace overlooking the city from a lofty hill. The beautiful palace built on the edge of the cliff makes you travel back in time. Towering above the world, keeping a vigil at the picturesque city, the palace instantly reminds you of Gondor, as represented by Peter Jackson in the motion picture depicting JRR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
On the opposite side of the lake, the grand City Palace peeks out from the cityscape adding further to the visual delight. As if there was anything left to complain about, you have several steeples of temples rising out on the horizon to add some more seasoning to this delectable visual delicacy.
With a marvelous view, amazing weather and some rare hospitality from the hotel staff, a memorable evening was spent with family and friends over a few glasses of beer and a variety of dishes which kept disappearing one after another all evening.
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Next day we planned to head to the slightly lesser known Udaipur Island resort located in the middle of the Jaisamand Lake, known to be the second largest manmade lake in Asia. Since the Jaisamand Lake is about 60 km from the Udaipur City, not many people travel towards this resort. An hour’s drive in the Superb took us to the edge of the lake, from where you have to hire a boat to reach the island. A half an hour boat ride takes you to the beautiful resort where you can have your lunch while soaking in the gorgeous view of the unusually picturesque water body peppered with small hills.
We spent the afternoon in the resort at lunch, generally having a look around and sprawling lazily on the pristine lawns. We weren’t particularly pleased with the food for the price, but we hadn’t come to this place for gastronomical pleasures anyway. We enjoyed the breathtaking view for as long as we could and managed to kill more time than ideal in the process. A nonchalant look at the watch suggested that we were short of time to reach the SajjanGarh Palace, also known as the Monsoon Palace – the Gondor like structure that fascinated us right from the time we first saw it from a distance.
We rushed back to the boat, and half an hour later, were gunning towards the Sajjangarh palace using Google Maps’ directions. As we had imagined, we were late. The road leading up to Sajjangarh is quite narrow and steep, and since the hill and the associated forest is a wildlife sanctuary, entry for outsiders is banned post 6:00pm.
Curse as we may the lacunae with our system, it helped us eventually get our way. We were allowed in, and a short drive later, were greeted by a majestic palace. Overlooking the lake Fateh Sagar the palace was named as Sajjangarh after Maharana Sajjan Singh of the Mewar Dynasty, who built it in 1884. Offering a panoramic view of the Udaipur city the palace was built to watch the monsoon clouds; hence, it is popularly known as Monsoon Palace. Previously owned by the Mewar royal family, it is now under the control of the Forest Department of the Government of Rajasthan and has been opened to the public recently.
The short visit at Sajjangarh turned out to be the highlight of our trip to Udaipur, and we cursed ourselves umpteen times for being too lazy earlier in the day.
The fag end of the evening was spent in the narrow streets of Udaipur window shopping and collecting some gift items for friends and family. By the time we reached back to the hotel, we were tired. But the weather, the wind, the food and the beer awaited us at the rooftop, and we simply could not forget the magical experience we had the previous evening. We made it a late night enjoying the food and discussing random things, with the lights of the City Palace twinkling in the distance – another day well spent.
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The next day we got up late, and made a two hour visit to the City Palace. The Massive palace is the residence of Arvind Singh, the Maharaja of Udaipur. A part of the palace has been converted into a luxury hotel, while the rest of it has been opened for public and houses a museum with a collection of arms, paintings, musical instruments and a whole plethora of articles from the olden times.
We planned to make Ajmer our next stop, where I wished to see my sister and get the Rakhi tied. The festival was just days away, and I wouldn’t be seeing her anytime soon after this instance, or so I thought. The road from Udaipur to Ajmer was well laid out, just like the rest of the NH8, and we made good time. However, the issue of animals grazing on the medians and loitering generally on the national highways came across as a potentially fatal hazard to me.
Villagers leave their cattle out in the open. These animals, when shooed away by farmers who don’t allow them to enter their fields, veer on to the highway, where the bushes and grass on the wide divider invite them for a feast. These animals cross the roads, sit on the fast lane, and even jump abruptly on to the road – becoming a potentially fatal hazard for the road users. We witnessed many accidents on our way to Delhi caused by these animals. The government needs to form patrol teams which collect these animals from the highways and fine the owners for letting them loose and causing nuisance to the public.
We managed to reach Ajmer by 5:30 in the evening. A generally dry Ajmer was pleasant and wet this time around. Good rains in Rajasthan meant that the Annasagar Lake was spilling over on to the road – a heartening sight.
We spent a few hours in Ajmer with my sister and then left for Jaipur – my hometown. The Superb absolutely murdered the distance between Ajmer and Jaipur via the Jaipur Kishangarh expressway. I spent a day with family in Jaipur, especially my mother. Little did I know at that point that this impromptu trip would turn into an instrument to let me meet my mother, the person I love the most in this world for the last time. The picture of here standing at the house entrance, wearing her magical smile which she adorned even in the toughest of times is the last memory I have of her. Usually reluctant to walk on her artificial knees, she decided to plod all the way to the main entrance of the house to see me off that day. Mothers…
The 250 km drive from Jaipur to Delhi should ideally be a breeze given the fact that the stretch was developed into a proper four lane highway years back. Except that it isn’t. Earlier a four lane highway, this section of the NH8 is now being converted into a six lane highway. Flyovers are being constructed at all the junctions. You are charged a hefty toll for this development, and in return, are given a piece of road which is worse than the erstwhile four lane highway. Work on all the flyovers was started simultaneously. And work on eighty percent of these flyovers has been stopped, simultaneously. What that means is that you have innumerable diversions, unpaved roads, long pothole ridden stretches and unending jams all the way to Delhi. Funnily enough, you pay through your nose for all this. Long live democracy.
It took us about five hours to reach Delhi, thanks to the fact that we were travelling on a Sunday, and traffic was sparse.
We landed up at a friend’s place in Gurgaon, and spent the following day and a good part of the day after enjoying authentic North Indian food in the streets of Old Delhi, visiting fresh beer breweries and mall hopping.
The Skoda Superb, 2.0 TDI DSG, throughout this period was our trusted steed which kept us absolutely comfortable, and helped us cover long distances at great speeds without breaking a sweat. Much has been said about this D-segment leader, and its unmatched qualities as a luxury sedan have set new standards for every carmaker to follow. Over a period of five days, driving close to 1700 km, the Superb proved to us yet again, as to why it’s the most complete value for money family car on sale in India.
You may want to drive faster, more premium and better looking cars. But as we have always maintained, the Superb, as we write this story, is all the car you need in this part of the world. The value it offers for its price is simply unbeatable.
And when your wife, who generally squints at the mention of a 300km road-trip doesn’t complain even once after a 1700km drive, you know you have gotten off from a very special machine – and the Superb, really is one!
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