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Old 31st March 2011, 12:34   #16
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Day 9: Car Service & Leh Sightseeing

By the time we reached Leh, the car was due for a service. Not bad, eh. In less than a month, we had clocked almost 4500km in the Bolero. Of course, this also included all the small trips around Hyderabad we went on to ‘break-in’ the beast.

The wife and I were feeling our normal selves after a night at Hotel Khangri. We decided to check into one of the numerous guest houses along fort road for three reasons:
  1. Khangri was too expensive at Rs. 1500/day
  2. For some reason, the place had no hot water
  3. They didn’t serve non-vegetarian food since there were very few guests staying
Hotel Mayflower was good. At Rs. 600 a night, it suited our budget and our needs.

Post breakfast, we went to the Mahindra service centre. The place is an all-in-one service station – Mahindra, Maruti, Toyota, Tata, etc. – with a Maruti and Mahindra dealership. We didn’t know it then but it being the day of Dashehra, the centre was not working at full strength. Again, the AP registration of the Bolero came to our rescue and the owner of the place quite agreeably called his mechanics to service the car.

It was lunch time by the time they were through servicing the car. We decided to grab a bite at Leh View Restaurant located in the main market of Leh. We ordered for Chicken Thukpa, a Tibetan dish, which we totally relished, and rounded the meal off with delicious mutton cheese momos. I rather like the momos .

We tried to get the car pooja done since it was Dashehra. Unfortunately, by the time we located the Hare Krishna temple the pujari was busy in the festivities for the evening. The Leh Polo Ground was the arena for burning Ravana. It was my first such visit to a Ravana burn. I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams that I would witness such a scene somewhere in the Himalayas.


Leh Palace, Leh

Neither of us was very keen to stay till the end of the ceremony. We drove up to Leh Palace. The palace is deserted. It was built by the king of the region to fight off the armies of Kashmir. It is an impressive structure, which affords some breathtaking views of the city. In hindsight, it was a good decision to leave the Polo Grounds midway through the revelry. We had the best possible seat in the house when Ravana was scorched.


View from Leh Palace of the Ravana fireworks

In the evening, we took a leisurely stroll of the market and ended up buying four Pashmina shawls.

To be continued…
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Old 31st March 2011, 13:13   #17
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Day 10: Leh Sightseeing (150km; 9:30 am)

The day started with breakfast at Gesmo, which is a German bakery run by Ladakhis. It was a King’s breakfast – eggs, juice, potato fries, bread, and coffee. I am a big fan of breakfast. May be I am making up for all the lost breakfasts during the four years of my engineering.

As all the husbands out there know, wives indulge in souvenir shopping. They may or may not buy something for themselves but they want to buy stuff for their friends / relatives back home. I don’t understand the rationale behind this. What do I know? I am a man. I am not meant to understand women. Anyway, since we had a few hours to kill we decided to shop away from the main market. Seasoned tourists know it all too well that you get the same product for much less when you shop outside the main market. As a case in point, Budhist prayer wheels sell for less than half the main market price in the shops around Tibetan Refuge Market.

On our way up to Khardungla Top, the highest motorable road in the world at 18,380ft, we picked up a Military Policeman who wanted a ride to the TCP (Traffic Check Point) at South Pallu. Incidentally, the man also happened to hail from Bihar which is also the place yours truly has his roots in. Once we reached his TCP, we were almost royalty. We were served tea and snacks. Two men accompanied us to Khardungla Top. The souvenir shop which is run by the army had closed for the season. However, they opened the shop for us. Again, we were served tea in the army bunker there.

The world's highest souvenir shop at 18,380ft, Khardungla Top

We spent quite a while with the army jawans on K-Top. Two men were on their way to Siachen. We met one jawan who had come back from the glacier. He had some gritty tales to narrate. He weighed 74kg on his way up, and returned four months later weighing only 59kg. They were a group of 22 men of which only 6 returned. The 16 men who died succumbed not to enemy fire but to the weather.

K-Top is something else. It is half the height at which a commercial airliner flies. The oxygen in the air is rare. The army has put up signboards warning people not to stay there for more than 30min. Else altitude sickness will set in. We experienced slight light-headedness, mostly due to the extremely cold winds. The soldiers told us that it gets worse in the months of winters when the trees are bare. If what we experienced were better conditions, I can’t even fathom the difficulty that these jawans face manning their stations all through the year. I mean, we tried to climb a hill. Within a couple of minutes the lungs were burning, screaming for air. And these jawans run up and down in full combat gear! I salute these men who make it possible for us to sleep peacefully at night.


View of the road from atop Khardungla Top - I have been with women less curvy than this.

From K-Top, it is a descent to Nubra Valley and further on is the Siachen Base Camp. We couldn’t go to Nubra Valley because of paucity of time. Next time. As they say, once you get Leh’d you get Leh’d some more.

To be continued…
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Old 31st March 2011, 13:19   #18
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Day 11: Pangong Tso (350km; 5:30 am)

The best is reserved for the last. This tradition, it is believed, gained momentum during the time of Swami Vivekananda. The organisers ensured he was the last speaker so that the audience waited for the duration of the programme. Useless trivia aside, our last day in Ladakh turned out to be our best day in Ladakh.

Pangong Tso (tso means lake) is about 150km from Leh. The climb begins after the military camp at Shakti, located about 50 odd km from Leh. The road is good for most parts.

Starting at 5:30 in the morning has its advantages, as we discovered. On our ascent to Changla Top (the world’s third highest motorable road), we were greeted by the local wildlife. Mostly we saw horses, mules, donkeys and goats. But we got lucky more than once when we spotted antelopes, rabbits, and even a mountain fox. Sadly by the time we could get our cameras out, the fox disappeared.



Mountain Antelopes

At Changla, we had complimentary tea courtesy of the Indian Army. From Changla, it is a descent all the way to Pangong. There are a few patches of pasture land on which yaks and donkeys graze.


Changla Top - World's third highest motorable road

Then the place reveals its very own party piece – a shimmering stream running along the road that reminds you of the setting in the song ‘Kaisi Hai Yeh Rut Ki Jisme’ from the movie ‘Dil Chahta Hai’. Be very cautious, though, especially of sporadic ice along the road. You don’t want to drive over that.




And then there is the lake itself. Seen from afar, it appears to be a desert oasis which in reality it would be had the water not been salty. Quite strange having a salt water lake at 14,500ft. The water source is snow melt, which is fresh. It dissolves the salt from the lime-rich soil as it flows into the lake.

I am not going to get verbose in trying to describe the beauty of the lake with its myriad shades of blue, green and brown. Words are mere crutches. The pictures shall do all the talking.










On the way back, we stopped to take a few pictures of the open expanse of sandy desert. Seriously, if you were blindfolded and dropped there you would probably believe you were in the deserts of Rajasthan.




The day couldn’t be any more perfect. Or so we thought. Mother Nature surprised us with this gift of a pair of herons engaged in their mating dance. The pair almost posed for the camera.


The almost perfect end to a perfect day

We must have been about 30km or so from Leh when I decided to take a detour on an impulse. It was almost as if the cosmos had conspired to show us the best time ever. Before our eyes was paradise, miles upon miles of it. This is just the kind of place one dreams of.




The perfect end to a perfect day

The Ladakhi terrain is quite different and exotic, unlike any terrain I have been to. Like a drug addict, now that I have had my fix, I will keep going back over and over again.

To be continued…
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Old 31st March 2011, 13:27   #19
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wonderful pics bro, good to see them again
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Old 31st March 2011, 13:27   #20
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Day 12: Leh – Kargil – Drass - Sonamarg (360km; 5:30 am)



We had read, heard, and seen it in a television commercial. But we didn’t believe it until we saw it with our own eyes. Located about 22km from Leh on the Srinagar highway, the phenomenon that is Magnetic Hill is just that – a phenomenon. Defying gravity the hill pulled a loaded Bolero weighing more than 1.9 tons (we checked the weight at one of the modern toll booths in Punjab that has weighbridges installed) against the gradient. We achieved a speed of almost 80km/hr without any help from the 2.5l engine. Awesome! Not satisfied, we double-checked to be completely sure. Reversing the car down the slope was possible only when the engine screamed at 3000rpm.


Continuing in our tradition of giving a ride to army men, we picked up a couple of MES (Military Engineer Service) engineers who wanted a drop at Kargil. They narrated some interesting tales to us, some of them unprintable for reasons of political incorrectness. They did confirm that the new Manali-Leh road should be ready in 2-3 years. And it will be an all-weather road. Now that is sweet music.


Somewhere between Leh and Kargil

When I was about 12 years old, I met this man on a train to Jaipur. Those were the romantic days of a metre gauge track linking Hyderabad and the Pink City. The train stopped at least thrice an hour, and each time this gentleman would de-train and drink water at the station. Curiosity finally got the better of me and I asked him to explain his actions. He very simply stated that he was literally emulating what our forefathers used to say about a wise man, “Yeh aadmi budhimaan hai. Isne ghat ghat ka paani piya hoga. (This man is wise. He must have had water at every watering hole.)” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the saying referred to a well-travelled man.

Anyway, 16 years hence the man’s words are still with me. When travelling, I make it a point to drink from every stream. And when the stream happens to be the mighty river Indus, it seems too good an opportunity to pass up. Indus River is the cradle of our civilisation. I believe only the most fortunate among us get to drink from it.





The mighty River Indus

Kargil is midway between Leh and Srinagar. A few kilometres on is Drass. Considering the gruesomely bloody war fought in the area ten years ago, the sector is peaceful. Barring the military camps and the odd Bofors gun aimed at the enemy, there is no indication of the proximity to the Line of Control. Until you come across signboards that read, ‘Caution: The enemy has eyes on you.’ that is.

Between Kargil and Drass there is an imposing wall. The wall was built to shield military convoys from the sight of the intruders who had the annoying habit of blowing up trucks carrying vital supplies. With local help, this wall was erected overnight. You can truly appreciate the enormity of the task only when you see the wall for yourself. The wall guards a path of almost half a kilometre.

The main battle was fought in Drass, the most difficult conflict being the recapture of Tiger Hill. Drass is the second coldest inhabited place on this earth with the lowest recorded temperature of minus 60.5 degrees Celsius.

Every Indian must visit Kargil and Drass. This is the only way to fully grasp the sheer impossibility of the task that was at hand. More than 800 men laid down their lives for the love of their country. The least we can do is honour their valour.

Drass has a war memorial that commemorates all the brave men of the Kargil war. The names of all the martyrs are listed on a wall. Stand in front of that wall for a few minutes. The ethereal tranquillity that the place makes you feel is unparalleled.





Kargil War Memorial, Drass

The original plan was to drive up to Srinagar. However, a J&KTDC resort in Sonamarg made me change my mind. Tiredness suddenly hit me after 360km of mountain driving. We decided to call it a night. This was the cheapest accommodation of the trip at Rs. 400 a night.

To be continued…
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Old 31st March 2011, 13:59   #21
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lucifer1881,
The mountain antelopes you are refering to, are the 'Himalayan Thar'. Lucky to sight and photograph them.

Nice write up and photo's.
Regards,
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Old 31st March 2011, 14:17   #22
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Day 13: Sonamarg – Srinagar – Jammu – Chandigarh (740km; 5:30 am)

On this leg the only objective was to cover as much distance as possible. The Kashmir Valley is absolutely beautiful. The greenery is stunning, more so when you have spent almost a week in the barren mountains of Ladakh.

The 90km between Sonamarg and Srinagar took us less than 90 minutes. It was lovely to be able to drive on smooth asphalt again. The car responded, going quieter by a few decibels.



Between Sonamarg and Srinagar

The valley is stunning, no doubt. But I could not understand the fuss over this statement made by someone I was once briefly acquainted with:

Kashmir ek jannat hai. Yeh mujhe tab pata chala jab maine Kashmir chhoda. Isse pehele main sochta tha ki har subah aisi hoti hai aur har shaam aisi hoti hai.
(That Kashmir is a heavenly abode I only understood when I left it. Until then I assumed that all mornings and all evenings were as beautiful.)

On the outskirts of Srinagar, we stopped at a CRPF check point to ask for directions to Jammu. The jawans took offence that we were not planning to tour the valley. They tried their best to convince us that the electronic media always blows things out of proportion when reporting on Kashmir. The valley is peaceful.

We quite agree with the jawans. Our experience in Ladakh had made us realise that all these news of Chinese incursions were more hot air than substance. And as we drove in the state of J & K we realised how much bunkum is dished out to us in the name of news. I mean the bar has been set pretty low by the fourth estate. But when it comes to reporting in strife-torn areas, the media manages to slither from right underneath it.

Less than 100km from Srinagar is Jawahar Tunnel, India’s longest road tunnel at 2.531km. Once you cross the tunnel, you enter the region of Jammu. Take time out to halt at a clearly earmarked view point that gives you the first view of the Kashmir Valley. It is gorgeous down there.




First View of the Kashmir Valley

Jammu is almost 500km from Sonamarg. Somewhere between Jammu and Pathankot the ghats come to an end. Usually that is a reason to not rejoice, but when you have spent a week in the mountains clocking over 2000km it is more than enough reason to let out a gleeful yelp.



Between Srinagar and Jammu

We stopped at a Bharat Petroleum filling station about 40km before Jallandhar. Surprisingly, for about a 1000km between Manali and Srinagar the only filling stations you find are of Indian Oil. Anyway, the BP filling station has a McDonald’s attached to it. For those of us who do not belong to Punjab, finding a McDonald in the middle of the highway is a thing to behold. We decided to grab a quick bite before setting off. By the way, most filling stations in Punjab (even those in the middle of nowhere) accept credit cards.

By this time, night had fallen. On the single carriageways of Punjab night driving is not all that problematic. Or so I thought. While overtaking, I failed to spot the wide load on a tractor. Wham, the right-front of the Bolero rammed into it at over a 100km/hr. For a second I didn’t know what happened.

But what a car! She kept moving as if nothing happened. Neither a drop in speed nor misbehaviour in handling. About a couple of kilometre later I stopped to inspect the damage. The right fender had caved in, the Plexiglas cover of the headlight was broken, the mudguard was gone, and a large piece of the bulbar was missing. Despite all that, the headlight still worked!




The crash!!!

We were about 60km from Chandigarh. The car drove beautifully. She saved our lives that night, the same way she had about 10 days ago. Post this incident, I have become a firm believer in making cars as solid as possibly. Forget what those crash test results show. Crumple zones are one of the ways to cut costs by using flimsy material.

At Mohali, we checked into a hotel. The following day we would try to get the car fixed.

To be continued…
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Old 31st March 2011, 14:22   #23
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Day 14: Chandigarh

Imperial Hotel is located in Phase I, Mohali. Like most hotels in the tri-cities of Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula, it is overpriced. It is especially overpriced if you decide to eat there too.

Post breakfast (which is about the only complimentary service in the hotel), we drove down to Goel Motors, Mohali. It is located on the right side along the first dual carriageway as you enter Mohali from Ropar. We had called up the 24 hour Mahindra hotline prior to reaching the service centre.

A special mention must be made of the Mahindra hotline. When I told the lady who answered the call about the accident her first response was, “Sir, do you need any assistance?” It is these little things that warm the cockles of your heart, more so when you are quite shaken and bruised.

She noted all the relevant details and assured me that someone from the nearest service centre would get back to me. She was right. I received a call from the body shop manager of Goel Motors, Mr. Satwinder Singh. He was unavailable on the day since he was attending a funeral of a close relative. However, he facilitated the entire repair process.

The car was badly banged up. But the Mahindra people assured me they would fix her (after all that the car and I have been through, it feels wrong to address the Bolero ‘it’) up before the end of the day. Not having anything else to do, the wife and I decided to watch a movie.

We went to Sector 17 and got tickets for ‘Wake Up Sid!’. Considering I had been a movie reviewer at some point of time in my life, I should have developed the knack to discern a watchable movie from an unwatchable one purely on the basis of its start cast and title. Apparently the architect in The Matrix Reloaded was right when he said, “Hope. It is the quintessential human trait, consequently the source of your greatest strength and greatest weakness.”

I know the movie has been lapped up by the urban youth, which could mean one of two things. The urban youth of today wouldn’t know good taste if it hit them in their balls. Or I should buy a tractor and settle down in an agrarian life. It isn’t that the movie is terrible. Seriously, when you watch a movie with extremely low expectations as I did it takes something extraordinary to make it god-awful. It’s just that you have to wait till the very end to find something that you have never seen previously in any movie – the end credits.

Around 6:30 in the evening we reached Goel Motors. The car was almost done. And a fantastic job they did too! The car was good as new. Credit to the mechanics, and credit to Mahindra too for making such solid cars. All that we had to replace was the windscreen washer bottle, the front right fender, and the broken headlamp and indicator.

Later in the evening, we had dinner with one of my friends who I had not met for 13 years. It is nice to catch up with old friends. I should make a mental note to do it more often.

To be continued…
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Old 31st March 2011, 14:32   #24
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Day 15: Chandigarh – Kurukshetra – Delhi – Agra (420km; 5:30am)

Two weeks on and suddenly I was reminded of this part in a Bon Jovi song:

I am so far away that each step that I take is on my way home

Though neither of us wanted to admit it, the accident had taken its toll on our mental strength. We originally intended to visit Amritsar and Wagah Border on our return leg. Those plans were shelved.

Also, a big family event in Delhi was scheduled around the time we were passing through the city. My father and sister had come down too. Personally, I am very fond of relatives as long as they are not mine. However, since my dad and sis were in Delhi already we thought we might as well join in.

From Chandigarh to Delhi it took us a flat 3 hours. In fact, we were at my uncle’s place in four. That has to be some kind of a land speed record. I am sure someone must have done it faster, but I doubt that it was done the day after an accident .

The family thing done, we went shopping in Delhi. Given a choice, I would have loved to hit the highway home instead but when my sis and my wife get together there is not much I can do to sway opinion. Around 8pm the ladies were decently satisfied with their efforts. We had a quick dinner along the highway and called it a night at Agra.

Day 16: Agra – Gwalior – Guna – Bhopal (540km; 6:30am)

Wah Taj! We were in Agra, which meant the four of us (my wife, dad, sis, and I) had to see the Taj.

So far in the 15 days on the road rain kept away. On this day, the heavens literally opened up. This was around the time of the great flood in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. There was standing water all over Agra. In fact, about a kilometre or so before the Taj the Bolero waded through knee-deep water for about 500m.

It being a tourist city, everyone wants to make money off you. We wanted to hire four umbrellas prior to entering the monument. The man hiring them out quoted Rs. 150 a piece! After much haggling, he hired out all four for that amount.

But man, what a place! Imposing, striking grand, magnificent, majestic, and even a little ostentatious. The Taj is all this and more. But spend some time gazing at its wonder. Absorb in some of its ethereal beauty. And it fills you with a sense of mystical calm. Nothing else can replicate the feeling.


Wah Taj!


The Taj Entrance Gate


The Banks of Yamuna


Bhabhi and Nanad decide to take a tanga ride at Agra

We had the famous North Indian kachoris for breakfast and set off for Bhopal.

Somewhere after Guna, we came across a green object of mystery. And lo behold! It was a replica of the Statue of Liberty.


Statue of Liberty, not at New York

The rain never let up. I have driven in rain, but never this kind of continuous pitter-patter. To cover the 540km to Bhopal took us over 12 hours. Partly, it was the doing of MP’s roads. Mostly, it was the rain.

Day 17: Bhopal – Itarsi – Nagpur – Hyderabad (860km; 5:30am)

We woke up to some more rain. We drove in rain. Lots and lots of it. There was so much rain that it was 2 in the afternoon when we reached Nagpur, a mere 300km from Bhopal. This despite us stopping only twice – fuel and breakfast.

We had lunch at Haldiram’s. It confirmed what I always believed about the place – over-hyped and over-priced. At 3pm we set off again for Hyderabad.

I know I have written this before, but I have to write about it again. The Nagpur-Adilabad road is an absolute nightmare, especially if you have to do this in fading light. Fortunately, rain left us at Nagpur. Rain on this road is a death trap. I tried to make up as much time as I could, the idea being to cross Nirmal before dark.

That didn’t happen.


What colour is my car? Black or brown or just plain dirty? Two days of rains did what 15 days of dry weather couldn't.

We finally cross Nirmal around 7:30pm. This is when I breathed a sigh of relief. The road now is the most beautiful stretch of road ever built by anyone anywhere in the world – four lanes of pure driving joy.

About 60-70km from Hyderabad, I realised I was nodding off. I handed over the wheel to my sis, sat on the backseat, and instantly went into a comatose state. I woke up only when she pulled into the parking lot in our building.

Over all, the wife and I had driven 6735km in 17 days.

The End.

PS: Thank you for all your encouraging responses.
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Old 31st March 2011, 15:04   #25
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You have a great travelogue going and the pictures are stunning. Keep it up.

Quote:
Originally Posted by lucifer1881 View Post
Day 13: Sonamarg – Srinagar – Jammu – Chandigarh (740km; 5:30 am)

The valley is stunning, no doubt. But I could not understand the fuss over this statement made by someone I was once briefly acquainted with:

Kashmir ek jannat hai. Yeh mujhe tab pata chala jab maine Kashmir chhoda. Isse pehele main sochta tha ki har subah aisi hoti hai aur har shaam aisi hoti hai.
(That Kashmir is a heavenly abode I only understood when I left it. Until then I assumed that all mornings and all evenings were as beautiful.)

To be continued…
Pardon my ignorance. I haven’t been able to understand the context here. What exactly are you saying while referring to your brief acquaintance. The reason I am asking is because I share those sentiments and I might be able to explain....

Quote:
Originally Posted by lucifer1881 View Post
Day 13: Sonamarg – Srinagar – Jammu – Chandigarh (740km; 5:30 am)

On the outskirts of Srinagar, we stopped at a CRPF check point to ask for directions to Jammu. The jawans took offence that we were not planning to tour the valley. They tried their best to convince us that the electronic media always blows things out of proportion when reporting on Kashmir. The valley is peaceful.

We quite agree with the jawans. Our experience in Ladakh had made us realise that all these news of Chinese incursions were more hot air than substance. And as we drove in the state of J & K we realised how much bunkum is dished out to us in the name of news. I mean the bar has been set pretty low by the fourth estate. But when it comes to reporting in strife-torn areas, the media manages to slither from right underneath it.

To be continued…
Trust this because it comes from a Native: What you see/hear via 4th estate is just an iota of the reality. What you see as a tourist Visiting J&K (including Ladakh) is actually 1/100th of that Iota. Period.

Saying that, I do not in any case mean to dissuade people from spending time in Valley (either specially by traveling to the place itself or while they are traveling through it towards Ladakh).
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Old 31st March 2011, 15:08   #26
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Great write up Rohit. Enjoyed every bit of it. Keep the threads coming, I know you got loads and loads to share.
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Old 31st March 2011, 15:18   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lucifer1881 View Post
Day 15: Chandigarh – Kurukshetra – Delhi – Agra (420km; 5:30am)




What colour is my car? Black or brown or just plain dirty? Two days of rains did what 15 days of dry weather couldn't.

We finally cross Nirmal around 7:30pm. This is when I breathed a sigh of relief. The road now is the most beautiful stretch of road ever built by anyone anywhere in the world – four lanes of pure driving joy.

About 60-70km from Hyderabad, I realised I was nodding off. I handed over the wheel to my sis, sat on the backseat, and instantly went into a comatose state. I woke up only when she pulled into the parking lot in our building.

Over all, the wife and I had driven 6735km in 17 days.

The End.

PS: Thank you for all your encouraging responses.
What have you done to her!!! It has zero rear visibility. Must have been tough to drive.

6735 KM in 17 days is not a simple feat. I salute your spirit and determination.

Drive safe and yes; wipe off that mud while driving. It helps to have a clear rear view

Last edited by sanjaykaul : 31st March 2011 at 15:21. Reason: .
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Old 31st March 2011, 15:19   #28
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What a beauty of a travelogue! The best that I've read till now. Gave it a well-deserved 5 star. Although, I wish you had spent some time in Bhopal (my hometown) too.
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Old 31st March 2011, 15:21   #29
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Default Re: From Africa to Leh - The Journey of Two Souls

Very good reading! BTW, how many KMs did you log in?
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Old 31st March 2011, 16:01   #30
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Default Re: From Africa to Leh - The Journey of Two Souls

Fantastic write-up! Your choice of words and ability to describe is awesome.

You seem to be aficionado of Hindi oldies. I liked how your travelogue is interspersed with trivia and associated stuff. 5 stars!
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