Leaving Hotel Garuda Residency and finding NH-5 was pretty easy. We tanked up the car and set off. By the time we left the town, it was nearing 6.00 in the morning. My wife kept paying the toll along the way and saved the receipts. I will make a list of those as well. The road was fantastic like we found it between Naidupeta and Ongole. (On day 1 we found that between Ongole and Vijaywada, the road is being broadened, so you can expect the average speeds to come down a bit.)
After Vijaywada, the road in entire Andhra Pradesh is just amazing till the Orissa border, at Ichhapuram. We reached Ichhapuram around 3.00 in the afternoon. Before that we faced some stiff peak day traffic while crossing Vizag, but that wasn't much of a bother because Vizag is a beautiful town. It has the distinct smell of the sea from the right and the sight of the hills to the left. We could see boards pointing to the port and planned to visit it on our way back. Last time we did Vizag in 2007 Jan, we did a trip to Araku, but missed visiting the port.
Vizag is 386 km from Vijaywada and we reached around 11.30, clocking real good time. But it took us about 45 minutes to cross the town. We reached this distance in 25 liters of petrol. I was happy with the FE overall. Sayantani sounded pretty optimistic about doing Bhubaneswar, which is 429 km from Vizag. But memories of our last trip loomed large in our minds. Last time, in 2006 December, we suffered for about an hour at Ichhapuram, and to do Bhubaneswar, you have to cross Ichhapuram again. It was a chance we had to take.
As expected, at Ichhapuram, trucks entering Orissa had lined up and blocked the left side of the road. We had to move to the other side and keep going. Very soon we realized that even the other side is blocked by ongoing traffic. I really didn't understand how the oncoming traffic managed with their road being blocked as well, but for me, trying not to be sandwiched between those huge trucks was the primary concern. Luckily for us, this impasse lasted only ten minutes as the idle truckers doubled up as traffic cops and helped clear the traffic. All this without the help of the administration. The few policemen at the checkpost were busy getting their palms greased.
So we entered Orissa without much ado after all. What next? According to the map of the GQ http://nhai.org/gqmain_english.htm, only 37 km of the entire stretch is under construction and the rest is done. But if you cross Berhampore, you are suddenly taken off the road into a village that leads to another village. The condition of NH5 in Orissa is so pathetic, you wouldn't know where you are going. There are long traffic jams on narrow roads. There aren't any milestones to tell you where you are. The villages of Rambha, Balugaon, and Ganjam have three railway crossings between them, and getting stuck at any one of these can make life very miserable for you. By the time we crossed Ganjam, about 100 km from Berhampore, we realized that the NHAI map is seriously misleading. Bhubaneswar was still about 90 kms when we came back on the golden quad, but by then it was already 7.00 and very dark. We finally reached Bhubaneswar at 8.30 that night.
We should have listened to Arnab of IndiaHighways and checked in to Ridge Residency on the highway. The room they showed us was pretty rundown and we thought of finding a proper hotel inside the city and went in. Unfortunately, we missed out on the last room at Arya Residency, a decent hotel in downtown Bhubaneswar. What we eventually settled for was so pathetic, we ended up rather grumpy. The room was small, the toilet unusable, and the bedspread kinda creepy. The food came at 11.00 in the night and by the time we slept off, we had already started fighting with each other.
Day 3, Dec 26
The Disprins we had downed the previous night freshened us up the next day. We left early to avoid any more fights and the moment we hit the road again at 7.30 that morning, we felt very excited. According to our calculations, we had another 400 km to go. But hey, what does the milestone say? It says Calcutta is 493 km! How come? And then came many confusing milestones, one after the other, saying very contradictory things. The next one said 421, another 491, and yet another 405. Because all were pointing towards Calcutta, we kept going. And then the milestones got uniform.
We knew that the Orissa-Bengal border is also going to be a painful experience at Jaleshwar, but this time Jaleshwar was a breeze. The roads all the way from Bhubaneswar to Jaleshwar are being constructed, so do NOT believe the NHAI map at all. All you get is a single lane, with the other one being used by the local farmers to display their harvest.
After Jaleshwar, as we entered West Bengal, the roads were fantastic once more. But there was something strange that I noticed in this state. All the way from Andhra to Orissa, at all the toll gates, there are smiling, nice people collecting the fees. They wish you happy journey, smile generously when you say thanks, and make the next leg of the journey that much more pleasant for you. In West Bengal, somehow, NONE of the toll collectors had a smile on their face. They didn't make eye contact, they didn't respond to my "thank you sir" even once, and they had no helper standing outside to collect the toll and make the entire process more efficient. Poor Bengalis don't love the jobs they are doing because all of them perhaps think they are cut out for superior, intellectual things. Everyone is grumpy and full of some strange attitude, and the experience of an outsider is nothing short of entering a city infested by rude Parisians.
We reached Calcutta by 4.00 in the afternoon after a lazy day's drive. The Alto, as I mentioned in my first log, behaved superbly. It is a fill-it, shut-it, forget-it car, and responds to the throttle pretty quickly. For 3.93 lakhs on road in Bangalore, it is a real value-for-money, go-anywhere car. Now it has to take us back to where we really belong: Bangalore.