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The odyssey had been planned and the anticipation was building up. Ganesh, my sister-in-law's husband, and I were setting out by road from Thane, near Mumbai, to Delhi by road.

Confucius said a journey of a thousand miles begins with a step.

Actually, it begins with planning and preparing!

Where do we stop? What if the car breaks down? What if our tummies go awry considering we would be eating all kinds of food at various dhabas [roadsides eateries on the highway]? Would it be too hot? Too tiring...

The itinerary was chalked out. Since both of us had never driven such a long distance before, the idea was to take it easy while maintaining a good speed. Someone in a hurry can do the entire Mumbai-Delhi 1,400 kilometre stretch non-stop in 24 hours; experienced car drivers do it in two days flat with one night's break, usually in Udaipur.

We decided to do it in three days, since I intended to break the first day's journey in Vadodara (Baroda).

My four-and-a-half-year-old Santro (manufactured by Hyundai) was serviced. New tyres were placed on the wheels. The rear seats were rolled over to make way for luggage and we were set to go.

From Mumbai, two highways make their way to Delhi: the older, National Highway 3, is also known as the Agra road since it goes via the city of the Taj Mahal, the imperial capital of the Mughals, and Madhya Pradesh. The newer National Highway 8 goes via Gujarat, Rajasthan and Haryana.

Incidentally, the grand Golden Quadrilateral plan, envisaged by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government, covers NH-8 for many miles, particularly at the beginning and at the end of the highway. Only in the middle, after Udaipur, do the GQ and the NH-8 go their separate ways before merging again after Jaipur. So the journey would also be a chance to drive along the upcoming GQ, being touted as India's version of the autobahn. For most heading for Delhi from Mumbai, the preferred option is the NH-8, which has less traffic bound for other destinations.

We started on September 28, a day after Anant Chaturdashi, when Ganpati idols in their multitudes are immersed in water across Maharashtra and those parts of Gujarat where Maharashtrians reside in large numbers (which is pretty much all of the eastern Gujarat belt from Vapi to Ahmedabad).

Text: Amberish Kathewad Diwanji
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

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