Thursday, February 08, 2007

There and Back Again - Part 9

As many people have gathered from some of my non-travel related blogs, I am a bit of a fan of driving. That being said, there's nothing I enjoy more than a road trip. In India, travel by road is more or less a necessity and it affords a person quite a bit of enjoyment. In some of my previous blogs I have complained about traffic and the congestion on the roads but that is almost always limited to the highly developed areas where the number of cars has long since surpassed the road capacity. But once you move out of the cities, be it Bombay, Pune, Delhi or wherever, you have open roads that allow you to enjoy the sites and see the parts of India that are among the most beautiful and most 'real'.

One of the improvements in recent years was the advent of the Bombay-Pune Expressway that runs almost the full 170 kms between the two cities. Previously anyone travelling to these cities was limited to taking the old 'highway' which was basically a two lane road in both directions which was full of slow moving vehicles and other hazards that made the trip a bit slower. Still, the pace was slow enough to allow you to enjoy all the local sites and sounds along the path and made the journey an interesting one. You would hit long stretches of country followed by a brief pass through a small town or village. Often times these were the best places to stop for a bite to eat. As in the US, the best places to eat are not always the fanciest of restaurants but rather the small little shops, or dhabas, that serve everyone for not a whole lot of money. You sometimes don't want to know what all went into the preparation of certain dishes, but there's something a bit... nostalgic about stopping along a roadside dhaba and having a quick bite.

I remember touring South India several years back; we were en route to Bangalore after a visit to the southern most tip of India. We had already had lunch, but seeing as how the day was rather hot we decided to get something to drink to help cool us off. Along the road we saw a coconut water stand. If you've never had it then you don't know just how refreshing it can be. All of us had one and as we stood by the road watching the cars pass by, I couldn't help but think how many times this scene had been played out over the years and how many more times it would be played out. Every region or village has some food item or the other that they are known for; be it a sweet dish, snack item or main course. My family and I have always maintained that when you visit a new place, it is best to sample the cuisine of that region. So, when on the road, you have to eat at the roadside dhabas.

When we first made the trip to Pune after many years in 2000, we were still travelling along the old Bombay-Pune Road that took us through all the small towns and villages. I didn't know it was to be one of my last trips along that road. Now the expressway has made travel times much lower but it has also moved us away from all of the small villages and towns. The highway is more or less like the highways we have here and it has cut a path through the countryside. On occasion you will see a town or village in the near distance but the authorities have elminated the old roadside stalls and dhabas. You can get food at the designated rest stops, but no longer will you find dhabas at sporadic intervals. For me personally, it's taken a bit of the fun and uniqueness out of the travel on the roads in India but at least I can say that I was able to experience it.



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