Distances don’t mean anything for the Indian road. It is just an approximation for people who want precision on paper. What matter is the knowledge of the road and the word of mouth. I woke up after a great sleep on bird songs, actually it was a cacophony of birds’ songs that I even recorded, and I got in the car to Allahabad at 6:00 am. The road in the morning is empty and it is pleasantly cool.
It is a pleasure to cruise this way in the Indian landscape, a timeless one. Villages are waking up, people were going to the temple for Navrati, cows were already roaming. We drove on a perfect road 2-3 hours and I shared my breakfast of daily oranges with the driver thinking that such a long drive day can turn in a shorter one. The official numbers of hours for this length of road is between 9-10 hours to 10-12. Around 10:30 am we had only 75 km left to Allahabad. What is 75km in US. Just a drive to buy bread….But here is India and anything can happen. And it happened the road becoming very bad. But bad means a lot of things. It can be just rough, or very rough or like the one we were driving on that was looking like it was bombed and craters were all over. The driver had to stop the car to figure out how to pass. And it went like this for 10 km driven with 10km/hour.
Of course we wanted to get info of what to expect further down. And , optimistic as they are, the guys we asked said that is fine. And it was fine for 4-5 km and became bad again in the same manner. It went like this for about 30 km and even more and at one point it disappeared completely under heavy construction. Here we took by mistake the motorbike track that proved just too narrow 1-2 inches at a specific pass, so the car had to be pushed by volunteers to fit between two mounds of dirt. Meanwhile one car shock got broken and it started to clunck and the driver wanted to fix it in a TATA shop at the entrance of Allahabad, but it was supposed to take too long and I told him that is no need because you can run like this and the only drawback is it may make noise. Been there done that! On the road we saw, as usual in India, a lot of accidents involving trucks, that my driver repeated what I knew: they happen during the night when the drivers drinks, use dope and drive in the same time.
Allahabad was not exactly on the way but very close but I wanted to go there and see the Sangam, the confluence between Ganga and Yamuna and, by tradition, the Sarasvati underground and mental river, a very important place for Hinduism and the place that hosted Maha Kumbha Mela from three years ago. We got in the city around 1pm, after 7 hours drive and start driving towards the Sangam just to find there, on the positive side a full fledge celebration for Navrati, the festival that will end tomorrow but on the negative side a dust storm with hot wind that made visibility terrible and made me and camera caked in dust. It was very bad and unpleasant and I could not stop thinking what if this dust storm would have happened in Haridwar when we were already caked in dust in the tents. In any case the whole thing cut a little my desire to go in Allahabad in three years for the Kumbha Mela.
We left quickly after less than an hour and we drove on one of the “very good road”, a four lane road, to Varanasi with no events, just a clunk here and there from the busted shock. We arrived in Varanasi around 5 pm, after about 11 hours if we put the hour spent in Allahabad, and got to Hotel Surya with its beautiful interior courtyard that proved to be very nice but quite far from the ghats. I took a quick shower and got in a tuk-tuk, letting the driver to go and fix the car. The traffic in Varanasi is like taken from a movie. It is so busy and jammed that it is a show in itself. It is different than in Vietnam being very diverse in vehicles, animals and people but on the same magnitude. I got at the Ghats on the Gang and after a walk by the river I stopped for dinner at the shi-shi Lotus Lounge with pillows on the floor overlooking the Ganga and with splurging prices of $3/dish, comparing with the $1-2 that is the norm, for the SOHO type Shahi Paneer.
Tomorrow we are driving to Bodh Gaya, returning to Varanasi for the last days of the trip. After dinner I started to scout for a hotel on the ghats that I may use after our return to Varanasi and I settle for Leela, being to late and dark to find others. The better hotels, like the one I stay in, Surya, are far from the city, about 4 km, but I needed to find a hotel on the Ganga for convenience. In the evening, walking to Internet, I did some research in guesthouses but one was full and cheap the other one was expensive and not so sure that it was empty. I have to call tomorrow and see. It was an interesting incident with the tuk-tuk driver. We discussed for a RT price from the hotel to town for Rs 100. He did not want to accept money when I left into the town because he wanted to be sure to get the RT. So I made the arrangements for him to pick me up at 10 pm and I was wondering how he will find me.
But when I was walking back to the appointment place, the Mazda Cinema, he was on the street waiting and he got his fare and a little extra because he took a longer road. Another interesting thing I found beside tons of CD stores with lots of good music, it was a German bakery selling chocolate cookies, brownies and espresso. Quite different from Jeere Rice and nan!