Sunday, 19 June 2011

Driving, Indian road and bliss in the same sentence

Indian roads are hell; right ? Well, Yes and No. This blogger has characterised them as the most dangerous place on earth, even more dangerous than Iraq or Afghanistan here. But that's only part of the story. They can also be delightfully brilliant. Really ? Yes.

Some years ago, a wise old man, who was the then Prime Minister of India, conceptualised the Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) . The cities of Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai would be linked by world class highways. This is now a reality. Driving on them can be a breeze. Even 5 years ago you could not have dreamt that the words driving, breeze and Indian road could feature in the same sentence.

These four lane highways are truly world class. Not a pot hole in sight. No speed breaker too. Its actually a greater pleasure to drive on them than say in Europe or China, simply because the roads are often empty. These are toll roads, a concept still new to India and trucks haven't got used to the idea that they have to pay a toll. So they avoid the GQ. In any case they prefer to rumble on in the night rather than in the day. Ditto buses - most of them travel in the night too. Indian car owners simply don't do highways (unless you are experts like RamMmm or Kiwibloke, to whom I tip my hat). Cars are strictly to drop munni in school and to take madam shopping. Inter city travel is mostly by train or plane. So the GQ is largely empty in the daytime, except for stretches close to cities. No road works going on, very few diversions ......Driving nirvana.

Of course, the peculiarities of Indian roads won't go away in a giffy. Every kilometer or so, somebody is coming on the wrong side of the road. It is also perfectly acceptable for tractors to come in from a side road blissfully unmindful of the car that is bearing down at it at 130 kmph. And then there is the cow. GQ designers made a grave blunder by trying to have green grass on the median - presumably to sooth the eye. In India, where there is grass, there will be a cow. They want to chew their cud only on the opposite side of the road after a leisurely stroll. Expert GQ drivers know that when they see a cow, they stop - first they let the cow pass and then they know a calf is lurking somewhere which will dart across to follow mum.

Facilities have sprung up on the way. Lots of petrol bunks (gas stations, if you prefer). Restaurants have joined the dhabas; so ensuring that Rajalakshmi will suffer no weight loss during the drive. What is still missing is, of course, the loo. Indians being very conscious of environmental recycling, prefer to return nitrogen to nature.

The GQ is a real pleasure. All those who criticise Indian infrastructure, come take a look. And take a drive. M 25, the world's largest car park, will then feel positively medieval !

The old boiling frog analogy applies in reverse too. When things improve, we don't notice it if we are right in the middle of it. Roads in India are slowly but surely improving.


Sandhya Sriram said...

the minute we have the courage to create a pay and use service model and stop rambling around socialism, we get better value.

Just imagine, what would happen to the nation's railway, if we let private players also operate and use the networks already laid down... we will see the same transformation that we witnessed in the airline industry. - lowered costs or maybe we could pay a premium as well but definitely greater value.

Poor rajalakshmi will not be at the mercy of ramarathinam to decide which contractor will serve lousy food or provide recycled blankets.

But will ramarathinams ever let this happen? :-)

kiwibloke said...

The GQ and NSEW corridors are fine to drive on. While the median separated 4 lanes have helped reduce head on collision (Have seen several of them in the past during my circuits in India), it has spawned a new generation of accidents. Good roads, fast cars of today (in contrast to the Ambys and Fiats of the past) and the ABSENCE of a speed limit has resulted in many cars getting airborne. I was shocked when a good friend of mine boasted about having touched 195 on his Skoda on the Salem - CBE stretch. Death wish or something I guess. I've done the BLR-Chennai (325Km) in five hours, 3 on the highway,1 each getting out of BLR and getting in to Chennai. Hopefully we will someday get better inner city motorways (By then I will be gone to Kiwiland!) Thanks for acknowledging a petrolhead in your blog

Preeti Shenoy said...

Loved the way you wrote this :)Ramesh, I see in this post, a 'quiet acceptance' of Indianness with the brilliant tongue in cheek style of writing and the wit :)
(Somehow more than the content of the post, the writing struck a chord..Blame it on my 'i am writing' mode) :)


Reflections said...

Wow...sounds good;-D!!! But I'm going to miss those bumpy rides u soon as the plane touches ground in b'lore & goes gadgadgadgad over the runway[runways in dubai are smoother honest]I have this big grin on my face & until I reach home which is nearly an hr later the grin stays[gadGADgadgad] in place. Oh well ok it cd be bcoz I'm pleased to see my parents too;-D.
And the cows...I love them, oh u r right we stop, point them out to the kids proudly and take pictures;-D. I love my country and embrace her with all her faults but have to admit I have big-time problems with the loos and the customer service.
"Roads in India are slowly but surely improving." I notice...I do *pinching my throat*;-D.

Ramesh said...

@Sandhya - Absolutely true. Ditch socialism, bring competition in and all we have to do is sit back and watch the Indian engine motor.

@kiwi - Watch out for those sheep in kiwiland. Being more populous than humans, they have right of way !!!

@Preeti - Much honoured, coming from a star writer as you.

@Reflections - Ha Ha. The sight of N and family stopping to snap the picture of a cow:)
Try the GQ between Bangalore and Chennai. Better than Sheikh Zayed Road :)

Vishal said...

Why only GQ, come to Bihar (Nitish's Bihar) and Jharkhand, you would forget awful experience of 1990s if you had one. I was in Bhopal and Indore late last year. Fantastic roads. So was Tuticorin-Madurai highway. Awesome. Same with Chittur-Vijayawada piece. Roads in India have come a long way.

I wonder why they have not protected GQ from animal invasion?

P.S. - Whether Rajalaskhmi make good use of those dhabas or not, I am more than happy to see those dhabas with a television. Cannot forget my drive back to Gurgaon from Jaipur when India were playing England in world cup earlier this year. Courtesy one of such dhabas with a TV (backed by DG), could watch Sachin complete that glorious century.

RamMmm said...

Ha Ha Ha. Your points and acknowledgement acknowledged. Quirks will be quirks, no matter what and those are the natural speed-breakers.

As kiwibloke states, the NS-EW corridor and the Coimbatore-Kochi spur are just lovely to drive on. GQ set the standards for these corridors. Of course 195 kmph on such roads is suicidal. The Volvos have a car like acceleration and immense maneuverability and they are starting to be the yamas of the road. Poor Leylands, they would grunt and groan to hit 75 kmph. I could not imagine doing a Bangalore-Madurai in around 7 hours flat (~450 kms) even a decade ago, but now it is very well feasible, if we can minimize the stop-overs and this is with no mad driving.

I have also noticed some of the state highways to be immensely satisfactory to drive on and hope it stays that way.

kiwibloke said...

PS: had aa bit of the M25 last summer when I drove from Brighton to Inverness. Don't ask me why I did that mad 800km drive!

Ramesh said...

@Vishal - Yes many other roads are better, but I hadn't realised Bihar had improved too. Remember road journeys to Patna, Muzzaffarpur, Sindri, etc in the 80s. Awful roads. First time in my life I had been in a traffic jam of bullock carts !!

@RamMmm - Yes I suspect overspeeding by bus drivers must be common. I hear many state highways have also become very good. Vishal says even Bihar / Jharkhand has improved. Great progress.

@kiwi - Can't even imagine why you would want to do that. The road upto Inverness is magnificent though. Did that in 95 on a warm summers day - brilliant. Btw did you take the high road or the low road :):)

J said...

Funny you should write about this just as I was impressed that Bangalore roads no longer have pot holes! I remember the roads being a nightmare many eons ago when I used to live here.

Ramesh said...

@J - Roads in Bangalore have improved a lot indeed; but we are currently in the midst of a big upgradation - s lots of roads are dug up and we are back to square one temporarily.

Venkat.. said...

Being a civil engineer i imagine for more better junction free and signal free roads. sure ndian roads have improved far better than a decade ago in a very rapid pace (not slowly), credit goes to all that project managers who ensured the quality without corruption.

RS said...

Talking of roads, I was stunned to see the well-built massive 6lane/4 lane roads in TN on my last trip. Fabulously well planned, they are. Now I only wish the current govt does not bring down all of them

By the way, I prefer seeing cows and buffalos on roads rather than in zoos :D. Poor cattles, how do they know if it is a pasture or a national highway or a GQ?? Hmpf!!

Ramesh said...

@Venkat - So true. This improvement didn't happen by accident but by the dint of hard work of many. It takes a civil engineer to truly appreciate where the effort was - well done.

@RS - Yes, TN has its fair share of great roads - as long as you don't go on NH68 or NH 66 which are in competition with the moon for the highest density of craters !!

Trust you to have a soft corner for cows .

Venkat.. said...

Your aplaud goes to all my friends & seniors not to me.

These projects are gift by a concept called BOT, which was introduced and tested in india by L&T for the first time in 1996 at coimbatore aathupalam and later at chennai ECR. then widely it spreaded all over india and brought many projects like metro, Higways, Water desalination plants & more to come on. this BOT concept is the key for growth.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha...that sounds like a tongue-in cheek praise!
End a paragraph with 'Driving bliss' and then politely say 'Beware of cows and calves'!
I have not driven on one of them at all. Sounds like a real great experience. Your post has motivated me to try it soon. Should defineitely be a pleasure.

Ramesh said...

@Hema - Cows add to bliss you see; This blog is somewhat partial to cows. Read an earlier post here.

Ramesh said...

@Venkat - Very true BOT is a good concept. Back to what Sandhya says - Competition and a viable economic model are a sure route to progress.

Anonymous said...

LOL!!!...what a much for your bovine fetish!
Another interesting side of this blogger, I would say!!

Ramesh said...

@Hema - :)

Flowing Thoughts said...

Her Ramesh, loved this piece. I just happened to land up on your blog through a Preeti's site and I founf your style of writing amazing. The wit & sarcasm is worth mentioning.

Truly said 'Where there is grass there will be a cow".

I am fed up of these cows and buffaloes and so have dedicated my blog to them!

Ramesh said...

@Flowing Thoughts - Welcome and thanks very much for commenting. Much appreciate the kind words.

Indians and cows have a symbiotic relationship; don't we :)

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