If you love travel, you have to explore India. By road.
In my case, it was the opposite. I first hit the road in India, and then fell in love with travel. It happened over a weekend photography trip to the Himalayas in 2004. I drove the entire way, and the only time I have looked back since has been to reverse my car.
If you still need a reason to hit the road, I have seven good ones. Here we go:
1. Road travel puts you in the driver’s seat: Literally! Planes and trains may take you farther, but they decide where you stop and how much you see. Take the road, and you are in command. Now you are in direct touch with the scenes that flank you—so you can smell the fresh air, hear the train whistle, watch people, taste local food and touch lives. You can, in fact, map your corner of the planet, inch by exciting inch.
2. It lets you be surprised: The thrill of a sudden sea popping up or a sleepy village whizzing by. The way valleys open up and peaks pop up. Shirt-clad youth and skirt-clad tribals. Marbled bungalows and thatched roofs. Lush forests and bare-bosomed earth – this is essential India, and boy is it amazing….you never know what’s round the bend, and driving is the only way you’re going to find it. Cruising through Ladakh, the North-East, Gujarat and Karnataka has shown me untouched, unexpected, unforgettable India.
3. The roads are better and the loos are cleaner now: Gone are the days of scary, single strips of tar. Today’s highways are smooth, smart. I recently did a thousand kms (625 miles) journey from Pench National Park to New Delhi in 11 hours driving time – no kidding!! Take the rough patches in your stride and keep a sharp eye out for sleepy/crazy drivers: you’re still in India, after all! And if fear of unclean loos and unhygienic food has been your bane, smile! Since you last checked, good hotels have sprung up along major routes, and big food chains are never far. Mobile networks actually work, fuel stops abound, and pit stops no longer mean squatting into pits across your routes, Yes, emergency aid is still iffy, and you may not want to drive at night, especially in remote areas. But plan well, take your precautions, and you will do fine.
4. The food (ah!) the food: Cooked fresh while you wait, dhaba food lets you taste India in all its varied glory. Punjabi Daal Makhni, South Indian dosas, Maharashtra’s vada pav, cutting chai…five-star cuisine cannot match the pleasure of butter-dripping mooli parantha starring mooli plucked from the nearby field! Who needs to pack chips and biscuits when such divine delights are strung along the way?
5. The road lets you change your mind: No matter how much you research your trip, you will be offered temptations prompting you to change course. A hidden fort, a beautiful lake, apple plantations, a religious festival, marriages, local fairs – the more you ask around, the more to-dos will get added to your list. You may have to sacrifice many sights if you want to make it to your final destination in good time. But then again – isn’t the drive the destination in itself?
6. It can turn you into poet and photographer: Fasten your seat belt and prepare for a perspective-changing ride! Road travel teaches you to look at life with a fresh pair of eyes. There’s poetry in the mist rising off the field, and romance in the sunlit waters that splash off a buffalo’s back. You’ll meet quirky road signs that beg to be collected into a book – I created one! And you’ll bring back images that will forever be etched in your heart…village boys playing marbles, temple bells framed against snow peaks, fruit hanging low on trees, and the sky putting up its daily show—magnificent and free!
7. It teaches you life skills: How to fix a puncture. What to do when the road ahead is broken. Teaching your vehicle to “swim” through a mountain stream. Dealing with a bunch of goons. Learn as you go along! On the road, life is your textbook, and lessons abound.
So, rubber ready to meet road? Engine full throttle?
Happy journey! We travel. What do you do?