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Old 5th January 2012, 14:14   #1
Join Date: Dec 2010
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Default Offroading in a Honda City - Circling Central India

Travelogue - Mumbai to Jhansi and back by Road

First a few facts – Jhansi is in UP, close to the MP border, located about 1200 Km by road from Mumbai. A search of the net and the Map My India Road Atlas, showed the straightest road route to be as follows: NH3 from Mumbai – Nashik – Dhule – Indore – Dewas – Guna – Shivpuri – Jhansi.
Since it was convenient to stay overnight in Mhow, which is next door to Indore, I decided to divide the journey into two legs, Leg 1 Mumbai to Mhow and Leg 2 from Mhow to Jhansi with a corresponding plan for the return.

Travel Plan - My initial plan was to leave Mumbai on 23rd Dec, overnight at Mhow, leave the next morning to reach Jhansi on 24th evening, spend Christmas and two more days there, starting back on 28th, reach Mhow, spend an extra day there and get back to Mumbai on 30th. As it happened, a last minute office requirement threw my leave plans out of gear and after a quick rehashing of travel itineraries and bookings, I finalized on leaving on 25th. This gave me only two days in Jhansi and an overnight halt at Mhow, since we wanted to be back on the 30th.

Day One 25 Dec 11 – Leg 1 (Mumbai to Mhow - 590 Km)Departure time was initially fixed at 0600 hrs, but a party at the Club the previous night put paid to an early morning and we could only leave at 0745. Fortunately, being Sunday the roads were empty and our exit from the city was easy. I had topped up the car the day before and done the usual checks. Since the car had undergone her routine service a month ago, with oil/oil filter change among other things, those issues were taken care of.

As there were four of us (wifey – Charu and the teenaged twins – Madhav and Kamakshee), I insisted that we travel as light as possible with each of us restricted to one small suitcase. The only one I could convince was Madhav, while the ladies of the family insisted on carrying larger bags and then some more. My fervent pleas that the car would be weighed down and the already low-slung City would sit still lower, were brushed aside as a few more bags containing gifts were added. There was clearly no point wasting breath on lost causes.
However, the image of removing the stepney in the event of a flat tyre, with all the bags piled up on the edge of the road, kept cropping up like a recurring nightmare. To his credit, Madhav did a great job of arranging all bags neatly.
Fortunately the roads were free and we could do a steady 70 on most of the Eastern Express Highway. Leaving the Kalyan Toll gate, I moved up to 90 – 100. On the open highway I cruised at 110. The ghat section was clear, however trucks tended to block the entire road forcing smaller vehicles to weave in and out between heavy vehicles and overtake from the left.
I had planned a breakfast halt at the Taj Gateway at Nashik, but we could only make it for an early brunch by 1130. The hotel staff was preparing for the Christmas party and service was rather slow, holding us down till 1300. With flyover construction in progress in Nashik, transit through the city was rather slow. Besides there are no direction signs and I did manage to take a wrong turn. A good thumb rule is to take all the right forks to stay on NH3. Nashik may give the impression of a small town but in reality it has quite a spread, which is not evident while approaching from Mumbai, but can be seen when driving towards Dhule. The city more or less continues till Ozar where considerable traffic is added on account of the HAL factory and town ship on both sides of the road.
Reaching Dhule, at around 1600 hrs being150 km from Nashik, we stopped to top up. Incidentally, that was one of the last petrol pumps to accept payment by card.
Large vehicles continued to dominate most of the traffic with relatively few cars and other light vehicles. The road remained good but in several places with construction / widening / repair work in progress, the double lane highway would merge into a single lane, restricted to single file traffic where speed dropped to 60 - 65. At one place there was a line of trucks standing on both sides of the road. It was a major checking point and being a double carriage road with a divider, traffic was at a crawl. I was advised to take the middle lane after the divider ended as that had been kept clear for cars and light vehicles. At another major toll gate probably at Manpur (MP), traffic was held up for atleast 30 mins probably due to their staff changeover.The trucks made their displeasure known with an ear splitting cacophony of shrill air-horns.
Mhow is about 30 Km short of Indore, when coming from Mumbai. Infact the first indication of Mhow is a sign on one of the overhead sign-boards, saying Mhow 64 Km. Somewhere along the way, perhaps 25 km later, there is a turn-off to the right for Mhow. One can either take the turn-off which takes you through a somewhat deserted and forested stretch over a rather rough road where the first time visitor may wonder whether he is on the right road, or, continue along the highway till a prominent circle where one road leads to Indore, another to Dewas and a third to Mhow. However I chose the turn off from the highway. The Map My India Road Atlas, shows Mhow to be sitting right on NH3, which is not the case, possibly due to road re-alignment when building the dual-carriage highway.

Mhow is basically an Army town, with orderly streets, well preserved churches and heritage bungalows. The roads are neat and largely free of traffic as can be expected in a cantonment. The terrain is rolling, typical of the Malwa plateau. Days during summer can be hot but nights are cool. In December, the day weather was pleasant and the nights chilly. Mhow market is well known for its artists and you can have your portrait or a replica of one of the masters made. The market also has a number of tailors catering to the floating fauji population, who can make a suit for you in a jiffy at a reasonable cost. Try the mithai and kachoris from Bhanwari Lal’s sweets when in Mhow. I understand his namkeens and hot jalebis are a hit. Mhow’s smocking embroidery work is also popular among ladies.
We reached Charu’s uncle’s place in Signals Vihar by 2000hrs after a friendly chowkidar guided us to his house. Then it was a nice stiff whisky topped off by an excellent dinner and a hot bath.

Day Two: 26 Dec 11 (Mhow to Jhansi 530 Km)
The next morning, was a refresher to our city-wearied eyes, when all the colours of nature came alive with dawn. I suppose I had forgotten that only in cities like Mumbai does a 10 x 10 space qualify as a “Master Bedroom”, everywhere else it would be a store for odds and ends. We re-discovered colour, nature, serenity, fresh air and open space once again in Col Sharma’s beautiful home. The previous morning we had been negotiating our way through the cacophony of Dadar and Sion and this morning, the loudest sound was a platoon of cadets jogging past on their morning run.

The City received a wash, courtesy the helpful mali. Breakfast was excellent ’mooli ka parathas’ and it was only around 1000 hrs that we could hit the road again. The only ominous note was a warning about bad roads beyond Dewas received the previous day from Charu’s cousin in Nashik, who had driven to Delhi a few months ago. He was quite emphatic that the road beyond Dewas was bad and completely unsuitable for our City. However as there seemed to be no alternative, we decided to press on.
Once again we’d forgotten how the rest of India lived. The trouble with Mumbai and living in the maximum city is that we make the mistake of assuming that because Mumbai produces more wealth than other cities and perhaps some states, we are the rightful inheritors of better infrastructure and all that is good in the public domain. Mumbaikars tend to confuse the ability to produce greater wealth with hard work, without realizing that the rest of India, while perhaps unable to produce as much wealth probably works harder, with far less creature comforts and is equally deserving of public conveniences. Every time a couple of potholes appear on Mumbai’s roads, the media goes to town with stories and “breaking news” of how bad things are. Actually if you want to know how bad roads can get, drive up to MP. The roads were unbelievable. After Dewas, the road deteriorated into an uneven surface covered with patches, forcing me to drop speed to 55 – 60. I wondered if this was the bad road, I was told about. How far from the truth I was, I would soon find out.
Then the potholes began, small ones at first, progressively getting larger and larger till they covered the entire road and could only be described as craters. The road appeared to have been gouged out in chunks at different places. In places, the potholes were as much as 6 inches deep, which meant that I had to take the City carefully around them to ensure that the bottom did not scrape. To cap it all, the road edges were rather steep as well, precluding any chance of going off the road. Where it was not possible to maneuver around the holes, I had no option but to go through. It wasn’t only the City that had it bad. The bulk of the traffic consisting of trucks had an equally tough task. The only ones who seemed completely unaffected were the buses plying between villages. Perhaps they knew the roads better than others or they just didn’t care, probably both. I also noticed that there were almost no cars other than a few jeep taxis and a few private cars. Certainly, ours was clearly the only City for miles around. The countryside was also sparsely populated and there were stretches for a few kilometers when we didn’t see another vehicle.

The route taken by us was thus: Mhow – Dewas – Maksi – Shajapur. Of the 64 km between Dewas and Shajapur, I reckoned nearly 58 km had been bad. I was worried for the City. The car had not been designed for off-roading and that was precisely what I was doing. I expressed my apprehensions as I didn’t know how far the bad roads would continue and I was conscious of the fact that a breakdown in that area would render us vulnerable. Besides we had to return the same way. Eventually, around 1500, I stopped at a wayside stall to consult some truck drivers on the condition of the road ahead. I had to take a decision whether to push further or to return. It had become clear to both Charu and me that driving on that road after dark was not wise as maneuvering around the potholes would be impossible. The local people advised me that after the next village, Sarangpur, the road was better (whatever that meant). Since we had about 2.5 hrs of daylight left, I decided to do the remaining 10 km to Sarangpur and see if things improved. Actually the road improved only about 10 km after Sarangpur, just short of Biaora, where we reached by 1600. We stopped at the MP Tourism’s Hotel Highway Treat, where Rahul, Charu’s brother, had advised us to stop for lunch.

Lunch was reduced to a few sandwiches and pakoras before we continued towards Guna. Till Guna the road was narrow but otherwise had a good surface and I managed 70 wherever the trucks permitted. After Guna, I had to head towards Shivpuri. I had been told that Guna to Shivpuri was also good, however a few kilometers outside Guna, once again the road disintegrated into a series of potholes and craters. By then it was around 1930 and pitch dark. According to the map I ought to have hit the Golden Quadrilateral Highway NH 76 from Udaipur to Shivpuri and Jhansi, several km outside Shivpuri. But either we missed it in the darkness and dust raised by the predominantly truck traffic or there was a mistake in the map. The road climbed up into hills and progress was slow maneuvering around the ditches and craters that spread across the road. Once again, I had to stay clear of the road edges as the drop was fairly steep. I opted to follow a truck with another following behind since that lighted up the road sufficiently. Driving became a family operation with Charu guiding me on the potholes and Madhav contributing his bit by advising me on oncoming trucks and Kamakshee looking out for signboards. We reached Shivpuri around 2030 and I enquired the way to Jhansi and the highway. I was told that I had missed the turn to the highway some way back but that I could get on to it further up as well. Strangely enough, after Shivpuri the truck traffic seemed to have petered out.
The first 20 km or so was along what appeared to be a state highway, which was otherwise in good shape, but completely deserted and appeared to wind through a forest. Nevertheless we soon reached the main highway, but then the milestones disappeared and I wasn’t sure whether to turn left or right. Naturally there was no signboard. In my mind we ought to have turned right towards Jhansi, however just as we were about to start towards the right, I spotted two men walking along and decided to ask them. Good thing that I did, because they immediately told me that Jhansi was the other way. After a full day of bouncing along narrow roads, the wide, smooth, dual carriage highway was absolutely luxurious and having reconfirmed the direction from a signboard that appeared after a few kilometers I increased speed to 90 and covered the remaining distance to Jhansi in good time, reaching the Elite Junction of Jhansi by 2230, where Rahul met us in his Xylo and led us to his house. Distance covered was 529 km, of which around 100 km was over what must have once been National Highway 3.
Jhansi was much colder than Mhow and the whisky and hot water was most welcome. As planned, the children stayed with Rahul and Mona, while Charu and yours truly checked into the White Tiger Retreat where a warmed room awaited us. The room was truly luxurious, as large as most ‘spacious’ Bombay flats, with separate bathrooms for both of us. Aaah, the pleasures of seniority. Completely decadent!
The summary of roads was:
• Mhow to Dewas – 50 km – good
• Dewas to Maksi – 36 km – first 6 km good, rest pathetic
• Maksi to Shajapur – 28 km – terrible
• Shajapur to Sarangpur – 27 km – as bad as it gets
• Sarangpur to Biaora – first 10 km bad, rest acceptable (no choice!)
• Biaora to Guna – reasonably good
• Guna to Shivpuri – first10 km and last 5 km good, rest bad
• Shivpuri to Jhansi – 100 km, superb
Total Distance covered since Mhow: 529 Km

Day Three 27 Dec 11 (At Jhansi)
As could be expected of any respectable and responsible senior officer, we slept on till 0800, when I called for bed tea. The TV entertained us with eighties movies songs for another hour till a call from Mona reminded us that we had two teenagers along and that it was time to head for breakfast. Sahib and Memsahib having retired to their respective bathrooms, we emerged refreshed and relaxed and a short walk took us to Rahul’s place.

As can be expected in any city outside SoBo, there was a daily power cut imposed at 0900 and we settled down to a candlelit breakfast. Not that we were complaining, seeing the spread that was laid out before us. The kids were least deterred by power cuts and instead set about exploring the substantial grounds and neighbourhood in the warmth of the morning sun, while the three of us,
Mona, Charu and me preferred to soak in the sunshine with cups of coffee, while we allowed the breakfast to settle. While Charu fulfilled Mona’s long pending need for Bollywood and other forms of gossip, I busied myself in the delightful pursuit of watching grass grow in the winter morning sun. Around the time the sun reached its zenith, I shook myself out of my reverie and accompanied the boys on a tour of the cantt. And then it was time for lunch!

Day Four 28 Dec 11 (At Jhansi)
The second day at Jhansi began in a manner similar to the first – a lazy morning, followed by a gargantuan breakfast, followed by more watching the grass grow. The girls decided to visit the Cantt market, while I stirred myself sufficiently to drive the car down to the nearest pump to top up. Cantt markets, whether in Jhansi or Ambala are the same everywhere.
I also did some feverish study of the Road Atlas, to try and find another route that would allow me to avoid the speed breaker roads that I had recently experienced. After studying various permutations and combinations, I settled on another route that would be slightly longer, but that which people vouched was better. That said, I was still skeptical, as the people vouching for the quality of the route was the Army, who I suspected probably wouldn’t make out the rough surface if they were sitting high above in a 7 ½ tonner. However I reasoned that roads connecting the state capital were likely to be better.
The route finalized was thus:
o Jhansi – Babina – Lalitpur – Sagar, via the Golden Quad Highway NH 26
o Sagar – Bhopal via Rahatgarh, Begumganj, Gairatganj and Raisen on NH 86
o Bhopal – Dewas -Indore – Mhow on NH 86
In my estimate the distance was 580 km, ie 50 km more.

Day Five 29 Dec 11 (Jhansi to Mhow)
This time I was determined to leave early and we left by 0700 on the route decided the day before. Once again, there was a difference between the map and reality, as I expected the NH 26 to leave from somewhere within or near Jhansi town, whereas I had to follow a smaller road till Babina Cantt about 30 km away and could join the highway only after that. The NH 26 was what every road should aspire to be and we cruised down the highway till Sagar 200 km away. Reaching Sagar at 0940, we stopped at a place for tea, before moving on. Our waiter in the resort advised us that the road till Rahatgarh was bad, but fine thereafter. (So what’s new?) The route took us through Sagar Cantt and the town, till we found our way to the Rahatgarh road. As in many other places, in MP, they didn’t believe in signboards and one had to ask ones way through the crowded city. Thereafter it was back to the by now familiar roads of MP. Quite obviously they don’t believe in good roads down there. The 40 km between Sagar and R’garh took me two hours. The good thing was that these roads were pretty well travelled with all types of vehicles plying and there were plenty of villages every few km.
For once the guy giving me the road advice seemed to know what he was on about since the road surface improved dramatically after R’garh. Short of Bhopal, after Raisen, the road once again became bad and we bounced along for the last 30 km. We reached the outskirts of Bhopal by1600 and took the bye-pass to avoid going through the city. The bye-pass marker does not say Indore but Jaipur, and it was a rickshaw driver who advised me to take that route as it later bifurcated into two, one going to Jaipur and the other to Indore. The bye-pass road was not very different from the by now familiar MP roads that we had thus far traversed so we felt at home. However, the Bhopal – Indore corridor, SH 18 (incorrectly marked on the map as NH 86) was what really impressed me. It was not only smooth, but well laid out and one could do 120 easily. I managed to make it to Dewas, just as it was getting dark. Thereafter I decided to slow down to a sedate 60, to avoid missing any turns. After a brief stopover in the Mhow cantt market, we reached Col Sharma’s place by 2100.
Total distance run: 650 km. I had made the mistake of not wearing my sunglasses early enough and by the time we had dinner the hours of staring at the sunny tarmac were getting to me. I was exhausted after 13 hours of driving, many of them over rough roads.

Day Six 30 Dec 11 (Mhow to Mumbai)
Perhaps it was the fact that we were now on the home run and the quality of the road was assured, that led me not to push everyone to leave early. Eventually we left at 0920, topped up along the way and headed back on NH3. After the roads we had endured, the NH3 was bliss. We were on the outskirts of Nashik by 1500 and reached the Arty Centre by 1545, where we had a late lunch at the home of Gautam and Chanda Segan. Chanda is Charu’s cousin and we had visited them last in April when they had just moved into their house. By now, their lawn was looking fabulous and we would have loved to enjoy the warmth of the evening sun and their hospitality further, but by 1700 all of us bundled back into the City for the final stretch home, reaching SoBo at 2100. Distance run 592 km.

I had covered a total of 2400 km in four days of driving. The car performed very well, considering that the Honda City is just that - a city car and not an offroader. Many of the roads I traversed could not be described as roads. Considering the constant hammering the car received and the fact that each day the car ran for a good 12 - 13 hrs and the load carried, the car returned a good mileage of 16.7 km/l which in my view was excellent. I complement the makers of the car for the quality of their product. I do wish that the car's ground clearance was a little more, at least 170 mm. It would have saved the car from many underside scrapes. I would strongly recommend anyone planning a trip to use a GPS Navigator. Also there are relatively few clean loos along the way for ladies, so you could consider carrying a set of four rods and a length of canvas to give privacy to ladies.
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