Why do I drive alone? A non Corona story.

Tiracol Ferry

I am so tired of Corona stories – that I thought I would share a different one.

Why, as a woman in my beautiful country, India, do I drive alone? A frequently asked question or an expression of disbelief and, or censure.

It’s quite simple really, I drive alone because I don’t  find people who want to do what I want.

So why not take a driver? 

Because, in truth, along with my rallying cousin Hari Singh, and my, rallying friend Vijay(TT) Parmar, I am the best driver I know.

It also frees me to do as I please. Stop and stare, walk into a village fair, decide to do a shorter or longer day. Listen to the music I like. Eat or not eat. All the happy alone things that don’t require responsibility for another being.

I have not met many people who like travelling my way, or, whom I enjoyed travelling with. I mean wholeheartedly and happily. So for the most part, I travel alone, drive alone and in my youth trekked alone.

I was going to visit my daughters in Bombay and in Goa, I had lots of luggage, stuff that I wanted to give them and new stuff for a newly arriving baby, better in the car than trying to get on a flight.

The drive south was one I was wanting to do for a while. I was hoping to do a purposeless one, this became somewhat time bound. Still a journey that I enjoyed very much and share because I like writing stories.

The month is January – I mention daily driving times because someone may like to follow the route.

My first leg anywhere is my very beautiful drive down the mountains from the Kullu valley to the plains of the Punjab. It’s always an abundance of vistas that please. Mountains with snowy peaks to green orchards and forest, the river that gleams alongside, turning into reservoirs and canals but still the amazing blue water. Fields of green wheat separated by stands of tall poplars. Culminating in the gardens of my ‘Pind’ home.

From ‘Pind’ to Gurgaon is a drive that I drown with music.                                                                                                                                                        

Gurgaon to Ajmer 10:45 – 1600 hrs

 A painless journey, so far, good roads, no truck jams. It’s happy making to see the terrain change from fields of yellow sarson to the scrubby desert. There were camels and camels carts still, which was nice to note. I reached Ajmer just short of 1600 hrs. The Chitvan resort which Ajay suggested is just off the highway before entering the town and a nice, tidy place set amidst lawns. 

The staff is willing and helpful.The cold coffee was very good. The bonfire in the lawns was a lovely touch, reminiscent of many camp evenings. I got a very good tomato soup with slightly oily croutons. All in all very pleasant.

Tomorrow I shall head to Udaipur and the Titardi Garh castle. It should be interesting, because they called as soon as I booked and a charming gentleman gave me directions and advised which route to take. Specifically not the main highway, but a state highway. So it feels like another good day in the offing. 

16 Jan  10:15 – 14:15 hrs.

I’m seriously over estimating these distances. I think I calculate with hill drive syndrome, and these are broad flat roads with, so far, barely any traffic. Yes there are trucks – but rather orderly and I’m doing a very happy, photo stop drive.

The direction to not take the highway were endorsed by a truck driver I spoke to at the petrol pump. It’s apparently under widening construction and the trucks make for threading the needle driving, so I was very happy to find myself on this picturesque smaller road, with beautiful vistas of the low hills of the Aravallis and this lake filled part of Rajasthan.

Titardi Garh, is a little fort up on a hill. The young couple who are my hosts are charming, they have fixed 2 guest rooms in this somewhat crumbly fort, which was used to house a garrison of men and so not a palace fort. They have renovated and converted one courtyard for their living quarters. There is a lovely garden and they also grow their own vegetables and other staples in their surrounding farmland. All in all a great find. I have a well appointed room overlooking the village. Arrived in such good time that a nicely chilled beer is my compensation. Sitting out on the terrace watching women working in the fields below and lazy birds circling overhead, I’ve forgotten what I should do…? The very joy of time and space for nothing. Another bonfire and a drink, lovely people to converse with, a very nice dinner with Gulab jamuns – it’s my kind of travel.

From the Courtyard at Titardi Garh
Courtyard at Titardigarh

17 Jan 9:45 – 1600 hrs. Udaipur to Dahej 

A marvellous drive through the continuing hillocks of the Aravali’s into the rather lush fields of Gujarat. From flat roofed houses to weathered tiles, different garbs and road signs in a different language. Chai stop chats are the best. Took state highways instead of the National highway, again. In Gujarat they are amazing, better than anything anywhere else. This state is clean……! The trucks drive on one side and give way – an effortless, dream drive. I sometimes wonder how the same truck driver in UP who follows no rules, will do so in another state? What code do they follow – truck telegraph? I must ask the next time I meet a trucker.

Dahej, is a natural, deep water port of  historic importance as the map below shoes. The maritime history of this western coast is so full of romance and adventure. A trading port for traffic from Persia and as far as the Mediterranean. The Gulf of Cambay also is perhaps the site of a civilisation pre dating the Indus Valley. All of this wondrous stuff had my imagination on overdrive, not very practically and I was looking forward for the chance to visit the area.

Imagine my disappointment when I arrived in what has become a huge industrial estate. Obviously, there must be, somewhere, the bits that I might like to discover, put this trip did not allow that exploration. Luckily, because of the industry it had a good business hotel that was very happy to welcome it’s one, lone woman traveller.

Google maps and I do different time estimates as I said earlier- she said I would arrive at 1800 hrs, and as the journey  progressed it kept getting shorter. Finally arrived at 1600.hrs and a jolly good thing too, because it took me an absolutely hilarious two hours to get a transit liquor licence to buy beer to sake my fatigued thirst and to cool down as the weather gets warmer.

Gujarat is a dry state and that very life giving, cold, refresher after long drives is not openly available. Luckily, this nice hotel had a ‘wineshop’. Which was a very welcome surprise and I asked if anyone could buy alcohol here. 

No. No Madam, must have licence.

How to get licence? 

I will make for you, said the nice gentleman at the wine shop.

A delighted me thought, great, lets do this. 

First I had to prove that I had come from out of state, but I had no flight or train ticket. This lovely, confused man asks:

How you came then, madam? 

By car. 

 Ah, taxi. 

No my own car.

From where.

From Himachal Pradesh

Your car from Himachal? Yes

Your own car? Yes.

Then very good madam, we use registration of car for licence. Just like that, all sorted.

We needed many other identification papers and they had to be scanned and uploaded and by the end of this marvellous exercise Mr.Wineshop man and I were fast friends. Finally he says, done madam, what would you like to buy. It is by now 1800 hrs and the sun is way over the yardarm. So I ask for six cans of beer. 

6 cans!? Yes please. 

But you are here for only one night? Yes I am. 

A little disapproving of his new friend he gives me 6 cans. The hotel staff very kindly provide me with a little ice box and my evening is replete.

I did not drink all six that evening.

18 Jan 9:45 – 1600 Dahej to Bombay

Starting from Dahej, dear google took me through the heart centre of Baruch old town; markets, mosques, under the not ready flyovers and eventually over a one way bridge with two way traffic till we hit a bit of the highway which was functional and encountered the Bombay traffic. Stacked up traffic and delays, but its odd how when you know that it is a 19 minute delay, as per that all knowing Google, you relax through it instead of flapping and wondering how long it will be. Home in good time after another enchanting day of discovery. 

Not just the towns and people but also an understanding of the way the mind reacts. Being forewarned as opposed to left guessing about the size of traffic jams, somehow made it alright to be sitting and waiting.

 How much joy there is trying to drive, inadvertently through the tight heart of a little town, when there is so much to gawp at and you find an adventure rather than an inconvenience.

A few days in Bombay with my daughter, where I got asked multiple questions from all I met. About driving alone, being scared, being brave. I rarely know how to answer such. I have been travelling alone for many years and have always encountered pleasant, helpful, kind people. From truck drivers who have helped me change tyres, given me lifts and refueled empty tanks when I was young and thoughtless. To villagers who open their homes and hearths and share stories. Roadside ‘dhabhas’ with the best food who in the old days had ‘charpoys’ which you could sleep on. To be sure I only did that once – in the Punjab – where I felt rather safe surrounded by my turbaned brethren and an old truck driver befriended me. I would not suggest that be done now.

However, I think it is more the will to do and keep your wits about you – not put yourself in situations which could be difficult. Be polite and courteous and you get it in return. That’s my experience.

22 Jan 1020 – 1820 Bombay to Ganpatiphule

This was a long drive on really bad roads and left me rather exhausted. Took that main highway – which even here is under construction and a right mess, with those terribly driving trucks all over the road, making for tense driving with no pleasure time to stare and smile. 

The terrain through the ghats was lovely – but next time I will use my instinct and take the small roads. It was a sigh of happiness to get to the MTDC guest house, right on the beach, cold beer and terrible food. Nice large rooms with balconies to watch the sunset. Temple noise next door, an amazing beach which stretched for miles with people only concentrated around the temple. A place for long walks; sea, sun, solitude or crowds. Both in abundance. Fascinating.

23 Jan 10;30 – via sindhudurg to Deobag.

 A drive along breathtaking vistas, along the coast all the way, small, small road, no traffic. I had only heard about the empty coastline of Maharashtra. It was amazing to see the views of miles of cliff and beach, little fishing villages, huge river estuaries with colourful boats. Fisherman mending nets, a slow, easy pace to the little markets that we crawled our way through. Bundles of lush, fresh vegetables and packed market stalls. Nobody moves out of the road so was not possible to take photographs….just in the mind eye.

Arrived at the ferry point for the sindhudurg fort at 2:30. The ferry was below the jetty because the tide was low. There was no compunction on the part of the ferry captain to ask us to roll up, trousers, skirts, saris etc and wade out to it, seemingly a completely normal occurrence. 

The fort is in a state of abandonment with squatters living inside and little snack shops. However, the outer walls are still mostly intact and I could totally imagine it in its heyday gaurding the coast. 

The fort was built from 1664 – 1667, most of these coastal forts were constructed during the time of Shivaji, the great Maratha ruler, to counter rising Portuguese, Dutch and English colonisers occupying more and more of India like a slow tide. During his reign he was rather successful at curbing this tide, but as history shows, it was incessant and did eventually take hold and leave it’s own marks on our history. 

It was a story walking the ramparts. The gun turrets and batteries with their ancient pulleys were still standing. A little door at the bottom of the south side leading out to a sheltered beach must have been a hidden egress. I sat and stared and imagined those small boats, manned by brave men, heading out to battle the huge, sea faring ships of the would be colonisers. The Maratha navy was a green water navy and their battle tactics were guerilla like, heading out of their hidden inlets like stingrays, attack from the rear where the high mounted guns of the big ships couldn’t bear. Strike low at water level and retreat back into the inlets the big ships couldn’t get into. They had a string of Forts on almost every large inlet or port along the coast, well into Konkan. Unconquered and masters of the western coast of India till well into the 1730’s when their last great Admiral, Kanoji Angre died.

Ancient trade routes

From the fort I went looking for places to stay along the Tarkarli – Devbagh peninsula. Every home is turning into a homestay and tourism is on it’s way, however, it’s mainly local and still relatively unspoilt. There are posh resorts – stupidly expensive offering nothing of value and rather charming small places. Found a cabin on the beach – two minutes from the wine shop and that made absolute sense. Watched the sunset from a hammock between coconut palms, with my favourite chiller – pure, cliched romance, but romance all the same.

24 Jan 9:20 – 11:15. 

Waking to the sound of surf and wind. An early morning walk along an empty shore. A laze on the waves as they cradle you and wash away every care that ever was. Not that I have many, but that sense of being bathed in bliss only comes when you float on the water and allow it to wash, all but the moment, away.

The Tiracol ferry; I wanted to relive a childhood memory. When we lived in Goa in my teens, there were only ferries across the main rivers, none of the elaborate bridges that now exist. Today was another happy drive of climbing the ghat through lush vegetation, getting to the top, spreading fields of golden grass with the tiny road meandering through and distant vistas of ocean. Descend again to the next estuary and colourfully swaying fishing boats, lush vegetation and cheek by jowl village homes straggling up the hillside.  Just a happy, happy experience. The Tiracol ferry was exactly like the old ferries we crossed when we were young. Four cars fit in with myriad scooters and bikes. It cost 10 rupees. 

I had arrived in Goa, the hoardings said beer and wine and the Cross and tavern were kissing cousins. 

P.S. My father always said, they started to build the church and then set up the tavern next door to aid the building.

I hope reading it was as much fun as driving it.

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