Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu - the Story

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu
Penning a motorcycle diary is way tougher than executing the ride. Sitting inside a capsule, sorting out a few trip photographs from a huge pile of them, scratching your head, fiddling with memories, searching for a right word to represent the real-time emotion, unidirectional exchange of silly smile with the cold laptop screen, tireless finger tutting over the keyboard etc might apparently sound like the most enjoyable process to participate in this crazy world. But take it from me, unless you've done all of these at a persistent basis throughout your nomadic life it won't be easy for you to appreciate my point. I am not shy to admit that munching those 6,261 kilometres in a span of 13 days while gliding over the Golden Quadrilateral and ticking off one item from my bucket list was less patience consuming than writing about it.

Once I sit with a wide open mind, kick out all imps of distractions and pamper myself with honey-bunny recollections of #GQRideWithBenu, there is simply so much to scribble! After all it was my first dream great Indian road trip, and that too on a butter smooth inline four engine. Don't worry, I'm not shifting to that free flowing writer mode anytime soon. Having briefed on the conception, planning and itinerary, today I'll share with you the Golden Quadrilateral ride story in a day-wise yet highly summarised form. In case you're not particularly comfortable with numbers, excuse me for starting this narration with a pinch of relevant travel stats. Despite my best efforts this article shall get lengthier and visually richer than its sibling posts. So, if you have poverty of time or a stable internet connection you better take a rain check.

Travel data from #GQRideWithBenu:
* Route taken: The Golden Quadrilateral circuit in a clockwise manner, starting from my hometown, Bardhaman (Click here to view the route map).
* Time of the year: Had started somewhere in the third week of February, 2018. The weather was so pleasant that I can confidently recommend you to plan your GQ road trip during the same time of the year. If I repeat the circuit in future I'll probably choose mid-February for a slightly cooler environment.
* Days spent: 13 days which included 11 days of actual motorcycling and 2 rest days.
* Distance covered ~ 6,261 kilometres.
Fuel burnt ~ 300 litres of Petrol.
* Maximum distance clocked in a single day ~ 790 kilometres.
* Overall journey time ~ 93 hours (including all brief physiological, recreational and mechanical breaks).
* Took overnight halts at: Gopalpur on Sea, Eluru, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hubli, Mumbai, Udaipur, New Delhi, Agra and Varanasi.
* States traversed: West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.

And here comes the slothful story teller...
Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu
Benu gazing at the greenish Bay of Bengal at Gopalpur on Sea.
Day 1: I was determined not to stretch my ride post dusk. "No night ride" policy sounds good, but it requires the rider to be disciplined enough to commence his ride early every damn morning. Morning shows the day, and I got late in flagging off from my home in the very first day. As a thumb rule in motorcycle touring one should cover the first 500-1,000 kilometres from his hometown literally in a jiffy. Then starts his less familiar zone where he is expected to slow down and gather traveller's bounties scattered throughout his way. Kolkata is roughly 100 kilometres from my home and decently connected by NH-2. Leave aside other official shits for which a public servant is compelled to visit his state capital, even for routine service maintenance of Benu I am bound to catapult myself onto the City of Joy at least once in every four months. This explains why my #GQRideWithBenu portrays so less of Kolkata.

As soon as you leave Bardhaman and touch NH-2 (NH-19 as per the revised nomenclature) occasional sideboards displaying AH-1 (Asian Highway 1) would surely boost your riding fantasy. It feels utterly surreal when you realise you're actually cruising along the longest route of the Asian Highway Network which connects Tokyo with Istanbul! As I neared Cuttack, few hillocks raised their heads to beautify the afternoon highway landscape. Once you cross the Mahanadi River you get onto the bandwagon of thick yet fairly fast moving city traffic of Cuttack which refuses to leave you until you drive past Bhubaneswar. Good part is you get to move continuously, and there are not many traffic signals to screw with your touring time. Although Barkul was supposed to be my checkpoint for the day there was plenty of time left till sunset. It felt more reasonable to ride further till Gopalpur on Sea. This tinsel beach town of Odisha was new to me and it turned out to be pretty impressive. I would be glad to write a separate blog post on Gopalpur on Sea.

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu
Unfortunately, NH-16 passes through the city of Visakhapatnam.
Day 2: A quick morning visit to the beach was compulsory before leaving Gopalpur on Sea. It was late morning as expected. While mounting saddlebags the motorcycle toppled off its side stand and fell flat on the hotel courtyard. Benu was my liability and the drop was definitely the result of my own miscalculation. The day was not supposed to start that way. I blamed myself for not being enough respectful to classical mechanics and its bitchy problems involving free body diagrams. I had realised it in the first day itself that Odia people driving on highways are not as aggressive as Bengalis. Any big motorcycle overtaking them doesn't make their blood boil. Even egomaniac SUV drivers who can't stand highway domination of superbikes, whom I encounter everyday in my home territory were hard to find throughout the entire Golden Quadrilateral ride across Odisha. As I entered Andhra Pradesh I was welcomed by infinite numbers of police barricades, placed strategically after every kilometre and sometimes even lesser. Most of those barricades were further decorated with brightly painted stacks of abandoned tyres and car chassis placed over highway divider. This was some proactive police initiative which I had never seen before.

Some drivers may see it as a thoughtless police drill. But considering, how inviting the Golden Quadrilateral tarmac is over majority of its length along Andhra Pradesh which happens to womb over thousand kilometres (maximum by any single state) of this highway network, I support the apparently annoying barricading thingy by police. The road is so good it is not easy to resist speeding. We all know- Speeding thrills, but might kill as well! So, how else the authority can hold your inside demon back? Unfortunately, NH-16 passes through the city of Visakhapatnam. It took almost an hour to get out of the city limit and discover highway freedom once again. I was already lagging behind the schedule and too much of compulsory braking had quaffed the average speed further. Eventually it became clear that reaching Vijayawada by sundown would be a distant dream. Weighing between the monetary loss (spent in booking my hotel stay at Vijayawada) and difficulties involved with night ride I decided to part with little money this time, and night halt at Eluru. After crossing the Godavari River post Rajahmundry it didn't take long to reach Eluru.

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu
There were ample road signs till Chennai to provoke me towards Kanyakumari!
Day 3: For the first time I was ready with Benu almost at the daybreak. It'll be mean to complain against the cosiness of my budget hotel at Eluru. Although I would have loved a slightly better ventilation the room was ridiculously large and well furnished for the price I had paid. Thereafter I realised that "hotels are pretty expensive down the south" is nothing but a hollow notion. You just have to have the right mind I guess. Road from Eluru to Vijayawada was fairly okay for riding, with frequent convoys of bullock-carts ferrying mammoth haystacks. Although NH-16 passes through the city of Vijayawada, I think the early morning hour saved me from the expected traffic jam. After getting out of Vijayawada you cross the bridge over Krishna River only to be greeted by an awesome six-lane portion of Golden Quadrilateral. The previous day had restrained my pace and desire to crunch miles. It was time to set Benu free. I throttled her hard, as much as she wanted me to, and kept sprinting like two panthers broken free of some circus cage. Trusting on the accuracy of my otherwise frail memory, such flying over the cloud continued almost up till Nellore.

Well, GQ shall keep blessing you six-lane driving runways (almost literally) at different stretches and you'll enjoy cruising on all of them. But there's a definite reason why I'm speaking so high of this Vijayawada-Nellore span. This particular road had enough vehicles moving at high speed to keep you always on your toes, yet there were minimum zigzagging by charged up vehicles, or blocking of the fast lane by dumber ones. Later you'll come to know where these driving nuisances were most common. After a good period of combating the wind-blast at 130-150 km/hr it felt sensible to top up my tummy with two separate varieties of Dosa at Chilakaluripet. In Andhra Pradesh they make the food spicier (predominantly rich with chilli) and hence obviously tastier for any north Indian tongue. Just to remind you, I hail from West Bengal which gives me cut-throat liberty to judge both the hemispheres of India like a line umpire. Hell yeah! There were ample road signs till Chennai to provoke me towards Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India. But I chose to remain loyal to my Golden Quadrilateral circuit plan, and got merrily soaked into the humid air of Madras by mid afternoon. Feel it someday, Madras caresses your heart way more tenderly than Chennai.

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu
Marina Beach is the longest urban beach of our country!
Day 4: Early to bed, early to rise, ensures the traveller reaches Marina Beach to catch the sunrise. Oops, it didn't rhyme. But I was there on time. The sky was yet to get lit. My hotel was barely 2.5 kilometres far from the beach. Wiki says, Marina Beach is the longest urban beach of our country. Definitely it deserves a separate photo story, where I can show you a clear February sunrise over the Bay of Bengal and praise this less sung Marina of Madras. Yea, despite its huge popularity I haven't heard from a single traveller who romanticises about Marina Beach. That's a pity! Till it was dawn somehow I was able to remain invisible, but as the sun went high I started feeling bit awkward walking over the coarse sand with a colourful helmet on. Unlike northern parts of India, Chennai doesn't carry the whiff of winter post mid-February. It was pointless to sweat out while staring at vibrant morning joggers (It's a guys' thingy) populating the Marina Beach Road. Returning to the hotel, mounting my saddle bags and checking out with a smile were parts of my daily ritual to which I had got accustomed by the fourth day.

To keep my breakfast episodes flexible I had been carrying a huge supply of Snicker chocolate bars. You just guessed it wrong. I'm not advertising for this brand. Honestly, those yummy bars are rich in carbohydrate and poor in protein. Yet I chose them over protein bars only because I prioritise my soul's desire over any fitness fact. Despite G-Maps' meticulous voice guidance it took almost an hour to get out of the busy city of Chennai. You can't blame the city in its peak office hours. Bengaluru was not far, and the road connecting those two cities was fairly inviting to say the least. Bengaluru was not in my initial #GQRideWithBenu plan, but halting at Bengaluru was the right thing to do. Pradeep, an engineer friend was waiting to receive and host me in B'lore. How could I override such brotherly warmth just to keep up with a drafted itinerary? It was bit surprising (read it 'disappointing') to find abundance of uneven roads throughout the "Silicon Valley of India". It came as a consolation that our Kolkata is not the only one with her pimples and wrinkles. My friend's wife and kids were away. Eventually, we refused to behave as adults, enjoyed that evening, even watched a flop Hindi movie and partied hard till midnight. Now don't ask me whether I prefer the sugarless version of coke.

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu
As we neared Chitradurga infinite tall, bright windmills joined in to enhance the visual appeal.
Day 5: The day started off late. For the first time in the trip I had a timely and wholesome breakfast. Presuming my flexible tummy capacity Pradeep had cooked a mound (literally) of egg-noodles and that's what I call an educated guess. Hubli was my destination for the day. Sole reason of halting at Hubli was to catch up with an old friend and cherish our good old days. Before leaving the city of Bangalore (sounds much sweeter than Bengaluru; what do you say?) I was fortunate to meet Pradosh, a veteran motorcycle traveller and my FB-buddy since quite sometime. His last venture comprised 34 days of motorcycle touring with an aim to touch 29 Indian state capitals and 5 union territories. We struggling tax-payers, who are not blessed to be affluent by birth, sometimes part with the little nest egg to feed our passion. We expect that investment to go right. If you are a middle class Indian with a passion for vehicles you can easily relate to what I just said. Pradosh had fallen for a Kawasaki Versys 650. Unfortunately, his dream Japanese super-bike turned out to be a lemon and Kawasaki India refused to relieve his plight. Of late, he has focused on bicycling, with a grand touring plan ahead. Truly said, when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade and lookout for that hidden bottle of vodka.

Bengaluru had more in store for me. Just when the traffic was easing out Benu got pulled over by a cop. Ouch, that was my first police encounter in #GQRideWithBenu and it earned me a ticket for over-speeding! Inside the city speed limit was 50 km/hr, while the speed gun had caught me at 80 km/hr. When I got an instant computerised receipt of the fine amount I paid to the official it made me deferential to the Bengaluru City Traffic Police. As Benu exited the city with measured steps, Golden Quadrilateral embraced her with an awesome stretch where it seemed perfectly illogical to drive below triple digit speeds. As we neared Chitradurga infinite tall, bright windmills joined in to enhance the visual appeal of afternoon highway vista. Despite sane driving I reached Hubli (also spelled as 'Hubballi') in broad daylight, even before Rajesh, my pharmacologist friend who was on his way ditching the exam duty. Call of brotherhood can make you do crazy stuffs I guess.

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu
Benu resting somewhere at Khandala to document the sunset over Western Ghats.
Day 6: Last evening we had non-vegetarian street snacks and little too much for our not so monstrous capacity. Just before the crack of dawn symptoms of food poisoning started manifesting in both of us. It affected my friend more and he felt too sick to get up from bed. I had a long day ahead. Mumbai was not so near. Ideally I should have bid farewell to Hubli by seven in the morning. Nausea was intensifying and it was time to build up mental determination for damage control. After puking my gut out, popping in few pills, sipping some ORS and lying still for next few hours I could finally chase away that dark cloud of uncertainty. Rajesh suggested that I should gobble up few Idlis. It was the most easily digestible thing in the hotel menu. By twelve noon Benu touched the highway tarmac knowing that there was fair amount of night ride on the cards. Initial few kilometres of the Mumbai Highway from Hubli made me apprehensive with its two-way traffic. Soon the road widened enough to facilitate Benu's urgency to munch miles rapidly.

The stretch of the Golden Quadrilateral after crossing Belgaum meandered along the Karnataka-Maharashtra state border for quite sometime before finally infiltrating Maharashtra near Kolhapur city. I would call it idiopathic, but it felt genuinely good touching the soil of late Thackeray sahab. It was my first time in Maharashtra and also the first day in #GQRideWithBenu which took me through few mammoth tunnels, most prominent one being the 1.3 kilometre long New Katraj Tunnel. After crossing Pune, names of places started sounding more familiar as I headed towards Mumbai. Those of you who're obsessed with the fantasy of rebirth I must clarify, it had nothing to do with my previous life, if I had any. The sense of familiarity was the byproduct of countless hours devoted to Bollywood movies. I was very cautious about staying away from the Pune-Mumbai Expressway. It doesn't allow anything having lesser than four wheels which includes- pedestrians, bicycles, bullock-carts and most unfortunately, potent contenders like Benu.

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu
The Gateway of India, Mumbai is illuminated every evening.
Compared to various unrestricted and awesome six-lane stretches of GQ I had covered so far Pune-Mumbai Expressway was nothing more than an another faster route in the map, at least that's what I did explain myself. Human mind can put up with myriad odds, but the idea of prohibition wakes up the worst rebel in it. Somehow my mind seldom craves for off-limit things. I gracefully embraced the old highway (NH-48). Ironically, for the greater part of its length the expressway runs parallel (not geometrically of course) to the old road, sometimes criss-crossing it in the form of broad fly-overs or underground tunnels, as if to lure motorcycle riders into breaking the law. As the sun slipped down the horizon, beautiful Ghat roads presented with steep twists and turns. Soon I passed by twin hill stations of Lonavala and Khandala, possibly most popular weekend getaways from the choking moisture of Mumbai. I halted for the second time somewhere at Khandala to document the sunset over Western Ghats. Even though it was a weekday the accumulated selfie-obsessed crowd was too thick to allow me capture crimson beauty of the isolated nature. It wasn't much of a sore at that point, as my main concern was to ride down the hills in that remaining few minutes of the dimmed daylight.

Anyway night riding was inevitable. After combating against high beam of oncoming vehicles for quite sometime I resorted to the apparently safe shortcut of plugging in the voice navigation of G-Maps near Panvel. In no time Google escorted me to the expressway. It wasn't Google's fault. G-Maps app available for iOS doesn't provide the separate routing option for two-wheeler. It was too late when I realised the blunder. I started cruising gently with my hazard lights on. Within a couple of minutes I was aggressively overtaken by a patrolling police vehicle with half a dozen of hands signalling at me to stop. Ouch it was the second time cop encounter in #GQRideWithBenu! My subtle manipulations fell short before the Maharashtra Police and ultimately obliged those bored cops like any other corrupted citizen. Rachit had insisted to crash at his place in Mumbai. My friend got late from his office. I was too tired for a guy's night out. So, we ordered everything we needed to carry forward our delayed evening session at midnight. Next day (Day 7) was a "No Ride" day, scheduled for absorbing essence of Bombay and the Arabian Sea. It was nostalgic to find double-decker buses which we have lost long ago in Kolkata. I wished motorcycles were allowed over the Worli sea link. Overall it turned out to be a fun-filled relaxing day. I'll talk about my mini yet highly satisfying Mumbai Darshan separately. The following day was going to be very long.

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu
Benu posing at the Gujarat-Rajasthan state border.
Day 8: The last day was slow, yet one of the most happening days of #GQRideWithBenu which of course wouldn't have condensed without brother Rachit's genial company. I had consciously kept my Bombay spin less ambitious so as to preserve the much required driving libido for the eighth day. Udaipur is really a bit far from Mumbai for someone who's determined not to drive after the sunset. I left Santa Cruz as soon as the sky soaked in some light from the upcoming dawn. It is true that Mumbai never sleeps. Even in that witching hour, decent volume of traffic accompanied me throughout the city, till I crossed the Vasai Creek and embraced the liberated Ahmedabad highway (NH-48) with an optimistic sigh. The soft light of daybreak can make any mundane landscape look dreamy. I chose to surrender my soul to the welcoming camaraderie of Golden Quadrilateral over seeing through the optical manipulation of nature. Till Vapi I kept encountering with myriad groups of weekend motorcycle riders. Most of them seemed content with their lives except few, who intimidated Benu by aggressively overtaking her.

Here's a message for my young readers- when a motorcycle (doesn't matter how elephantine it is, or how fast it is moving) with luggage pulls ahead of you on your home ground, just let it go. Get it straight, the poor guy is simply trying to wrap up his kilometre hunt for the day. It has nothing to do with you, your motorcycle, or your riding prowess. When you pursue such long distance riders, he imbibes a negative impression about your mental maturity and prevailing riding culture of your place. At Bharuch, we crossed Narmada River through the longest extra dosed bridge in India. Although the journey was mostly through alluring six-lane till Vadodara (call it 'Baroda'), traffic pattern was pretty much insane. I have never seen heavy vehicles zigzagging more and occupying all three lanes like I found in that Mumbai-Vadodara stretch of GQ! Vadodara introduced me to another gypsy soul, Sukla. We merely had brief interaction in a FB travel group while planning the trip. The kind lady had postponed her office chores and ignored the noontime sun to meet me at a half an hour notice. I was apprehensive of getting delayed if I entered the Vadodara city. So, she came out to the highway. Besides being a hardcore wanderer Sukla is an amazingly lively person, with an infinitely long travel bucket list.

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu
Lake Pichola as visible from the marvellous City Palace, Udaipur. 
From there I ditched GQ for a while and took the state highway via Godhra. Sole intention was not to bypass GQ, but to visit Godhra. The regional flavour intensifies as you downshift from national to state highways. It was kind of funny as it happened thrice consecutively. Whenever I halted somewhere to check the GPS location, some local came from nowhere for unsolicited help. Fourth time I ensured that there was no one around before putting the ignition off. Anyone can vouch for sound financial skills of Gujarati people, but not many would highlight their helpful nature. Eventually camel-carts arrived in the scene to assure me Rajasthan was not far. Despite the inevitable exhaustion, it was a pleasant experience driving through picturesque, dry and rocky terrains of northern Gujarat and Rajasthan. Being on the western edge of India helps you with a late sunset. Among those 790 kilometres clocked that day, luckily only the last thirty had to be covered in dark. The City of Lakes welcomed me with interesting murals, narrow streets bustling with tourists and most importantly, its intoxicating old world aura.

I wasn't a lone wolf there. Brother Yasin had travelled all the way from Palanpur to accompany me for two days of Udaipur stay. Our previous joint venture was motorcycling in Ladakh last August. Yes, we keep catching up and that's what good devils do. Our hotel was located near Hanuman Ghat, an extremely crowded area which can compete with Varanasi. The following day (Day 9) was Benu's rest day. A late breakfast was obvious. The City Palace and mountain temples were visible from our rooftop restaurant. I'll narrate the story of our Udaipur tottering in a separate article. The erstwhile capital of the Mewar Kingdom gave me a comprehensive glimpse of the royal Rajasthan and compelled me to contemplate on a future Rajasthan ride. We concluded the no-ride day with an engrossing folk dance show in Bagore Ki Haveli. Finding meat items might be little difficult when you're at Udaipur. So, it's wiser to try out delicious Rajasthani cuisine. Feasting on Dal Baati Churma sounds yummy on paper but I warn you, it is a heavy preparation. Do not overeat, otherwise you'll have to walk a couple of miles before dropping onto the bed, like we did. My next destination was the capital of India.

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu
Late evening ambience around the majestic India Gate was quite relaxing.
Day 10: The day started early and empty roads of Udaipur were just conducive to a quick exit. Early morning air felt so fresh. As I went past the outskirt of Udaipur, tons of piled up marble and granite sheets lying on both sides of NH-58 made me realise I was driving through the marble belt of India. There were countless marble sellers along the highway but everyone seemed to be too reluctant to keep an eye on their stock. I crossed Nathdwara, a town famous among Hindu devotees for its Shrinathji Temple. On the left side of the road one can see a colossal Shiva statue under construction. It was amusing to find trailers hauling huge cuboids of marble stone. I was familiar with marble slabs but hardly had the idea of such a form of this widely popular stone. Udaipur-Jaipur route passes through Kishangarh, the marble hub of India. Other than the marble extravaganza, the route acquainted me to vibrant turbans and bright magenta sarees gracefully worn by rural Rajasthani people. It was tough to resist the temptation of exploring the Pink City of India. For the sake of loyalty towards the ride itinerary, halfheartedly Benu continued onto NH-48 and bypassed Jaipur city. It was not so surprising to find dense volume of traffic all throughout the Jaipur-Delhi expressway.

Eventually, number of vehicles with Haryana registration increased and my dehydrated brain started stereotyping all SUV/MUVs, warning me not to outstrip any of them. My thug self came into play after a short while and reminded me I was driving in India only. That was enough to kick out the cautionary cliche and get back to my actual riding style. Trust me, not a single four-wheeler carrying HR license plate bothered to chase me with hockey sticks or illegal arms. When everything was moving right, something had to let down to counterbalance the smooth flow. All of a sudden, Benu got shackled by a standstill traffic congestion, about 80 kilometres west of Gurgaon (nowadays they call it 'Gurugram'). Somehow I bypassed the frozen traffic by taking the Rewari road and made it to the capital by dusk. Driving from Gurgaon to Indira Gandhi International Airport was pretty scary and exhausting. My hotel was close to airport area. Taking a quick shower I decided to summon a cab and conclude my day by visiting the majestic India Gate. Late evening ambience around India Gate was quite relaxing. Although there was no dearth of tourists, it hardly seemed chaotic or noisy. Sauntering down the Rajpath as I reflected on my journey so far, starting from Curzon Gate (at Bardhaman), to Gateway of India (Mumbai) and finally to India Gate (New Delhi), a blissful smile painted my face.

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu
Thankfully, Yamuna Expressway allows all vehicles irrespective of their wheel count.
Day 11: Destination for the day was Agra. There was no reason to set a tyrant morning alarm. Simple plan was to experience the Yamuna Expressway, reach Agra by early afternoon, get spellbound by the magic of Taj, watch sunset over murky Yamuna River, get back to hotel, gobble like a greedy goblin and fall asleep. Driving out of Delhi seemed easier than other three metros connected by the Golden Quadrilateral. You'll find speeding vehicles on random lanes right from the Noida-Greater Noida Expressway, which eventually leads you to the Yamuna Expressway. If you're sitting on a powerful machine it's tougher to restrain the Lucifer inside you from over-speeding. Thankfully, Yamuna Expressway (maintained by Jaypee Infratech Ltd) allows all vehicles irrespective of their wheel count. The authority expects you to pay the motorway toll and drive responsibly. Paying the toll (205 bucks for a two-wheeler) doesn't set you free to launch your rocket. There are surveillance system at regular intervals throughout its 165 kilometre length, and also three more toll plazas to monitor on your adrenaline spillage.

I understand it is not always possible to stay within the specified speed limits. As long as you are not drunk-driving, zigzagging or blocking the fast-lane, your moral compass shouldn't quiver at somewhat higher speeds, provided you are driving with complete sanity. If you're driving north of the speed-limit, at least take small photo-breaks in between toll booths and watch out for overhead cameras in order to avoid getting fined. After sometime, Benu sensed provocation from two sedans as they overhauled her. My poor baby got carried away and threw away her cool. Trouncing the Honda's pride was a cakewalk for her. Although the BMW sedan had a bigger head, the driver probably didn't expect an elephant to run past 210 km/hr mark. I knew it was crazy. The wind-blast post 200 km/hr was battering my neck. Benu was happily guzzling petrol like never before. My rational self woke up from its brief slumber as the BMW faded from Benu's rear-view mirrors. Wow, I had arrived Agra on the final day of Taj Mahotsav 2018! Soon I visited the Taj Mahal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and most hyped monument in the world. My Taj visit deserves a dedicated photo post. Sunset was nothing extraordinary though. Yamuna was too filthy to add octane to Taj Mahal's poetic quotient. Overall, what a day it was!

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu
Sleeping Ganges as seen from the steps of Jain Ghat.
Day 12: I was well aware of the disappointingly inconsistent state of NH-19 stretch of the Golden Quadrilateral. Moreover, Brother Yash was adamant that I must stop by Kanpur en route to Varanasi and lunch together. So, you see how necessary it was to start the day very early. My hotel selection at Agra had went wrong. No wonder, such risks are always associated with online booking. Poor ventilation in the room was potent enough to keep me semi-awake the whole night. I was desperate anyway to leave for Varanasi at earliest. It was encouraging to spot a exclusive cycling highway connecting Agra to somewhere beyond my knowledge. The innate laziness overpowers my love towards the nature. I've started kind of accepting that bicycling is not every wanderer's game. After last day's savage fun on Yamuna Expressway it was near impossible to resist the urge of choosing Agra-Lucknow Expressway over the usual NH-19. Spanning for a length of 302 kilometres, presently Agra-Lucknow Expressway is the longest expressway in India. Google-Maps suggested to exit the expressway at Etawah but that length wasn't good enough to hit my satiety centre. I paid the toll (200 bucks) for maximum distance that could be covered without getting too deviated from Kanpur.

Traffic was really thin and sense of boredom kept knocking my mind intermittently throughout that 100 minutes of unrestricted drive. As of now, although the toll receipt mentions a speed-limit there're no equipment installed in the expressway to keep a check. When I gave up my ecstasy run at Exit No. 12 Benu had already munched 220 kilometres of that flawless six-lane tarmac. It took much more than one hour to reach Kanpur as the road connecting the expressway to Kanpur was miserable. Yash was waiting for me in a dhaba that serves awesome food. The kid treated me to lunch and dropped Benu while trying to manoeuvre her. Remaining ride till Varanasi was long and uneventful. The daylight bottomed out before I could reach Varanasi. If you are a first-timer, this ancient holy city may overwhelm you with her unimaginably jammed streets, healthy bovine animals blocking your way, or puzzling network of countless mini lanes, but once you spend few days in this apparent chaos, you would wish to visit her again. I had rode to Varanasi October last year and spent three days in soaking its charm. Despite my previous plan of settling in a motel for the night, call of Ghats was too loud to ignore, and eventually did fight my way through the happily crowded city towards Jain Ghat to breathe fresh moisture laden air from the Ganges. For the first time in #GQRideWithBenu I felt really homesick while navigating through the bylanes of Kashi, and ended the day with rich inputs gathered from an acquainted albeit drunken boat vendor. 

Golden Quadrilateral Ride with Benu
It was amazing how Benu took this ambitious cripple safely back to his home!
Day 13: Subah-e-Banaras over Assi Ghat was nowhere in my plan. Well, I already told you I had started feeling homesick last night. As a traveller once you conceive the urgency of returning home, further travel plans don't excite you anymore. It was a very late "good morning". Quickly Benu took me out of Varanasi and touched NH-19. The highway started testing our patience with its endless diversions due to never-ending construction works post Varanasi. When you are already aware of the stringent pitch condition, as a batsman you just want to put a cucumber over your head and sportingly swallow the bowler's grin. After an hour of struggle, the road ironed out its wrinkles and Benu felt somewhat relieved. By then more than 90% of #GQRideWithBenu had been accomplished without any glitch and I was an afternoon away from my home. Perhaps this ride would have been too bland without this unexpected event. Somewhere in between Sasaram and Dehri-on-Sone, a blockhead motorcyclist crossed my path and gifted me an experience I wasn't familiar with, till that day. Ah, you guessed it right- it was an accident, and more importantly it was one of those road mishaps where you become the victim of someone else's moronic driving sense. All I remember are- getting flung away from the saddle, sliding for a short distance over the tarmac, head hitting the road divider twice in a row, and finally, looking up to discover a huge crowd encircling fallen two (Me and Benu) of us. 

It took me another few seconds to believe that I was alive. It was not exactly a near-death experience, but I can assure you it wasn't any less thrilling. Riding jacket, gloves and the messiah helmet had granted me another opportunity to pursue many more motorcycle trips in future. I and Benu sustained multiple injuries but none of those were too severe to call it a day. Bardhaman was roughly 460 kilometres from where we were. It was necessary to dress my wounds and inject painkiller to be able to push on till the checkpoint. Rest of the day was an interesting blend of pain, satisfaction, more pain and impatience. It was amazing how Benu took this ambitious cripple safely back to his home with complete control and valiance. Almost seven weeks have passed. My legs have healed. Benu is still in the workshop waiting for her parts to arrive. This weekend I'm heading for Sikkim. There will be few more articles on Golden Quadrilateral which I'll publish in quick succession after I return from the hills. I'll see you soon.

4 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness. The statistics and facts are so commendable. Such a huge feat. Unimaginable for someone like me...

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    1. Thank you so much for scrolling through such a lengthy blog post. Probably you're the single person who dared this feat. So, I guess you can easily drive down the GQ circuit :-P

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