India has 3,300,000 kilometres of road, the world's second largest network after the US, which means that it would take you a minimum of six full lifetimes to travel all the roads all over India. That is if all the roads were as nice as NH-8 from Dahisar to Surat. In the past ten days, I have travelled more than 1750km on roads, and because I took some rather interesting routes I saw bits and pieces of India I would never have seen otherwise. It all began with a trip down to a beach and a fort, but that was just the beginning.
After the veshthi-ed one presented a budget where he did nothhing major, much to chargin of CNBC and NDTV Profit, but the one industry where he did make an excise cut is the one industry that I cover. Which meant that I had to start calling people and asking them how this move would impact sales, growth, yada yada yada. You call them up and you start talking and they tell you tales of how the budget is good because of its rural focus and the investment in power plants - ewe need much much more electricity. But they somehow try to skip the issue of the part that involves them. Until you ask it point blank, and then they tell you tales of how they will have to take a hit on stocks already in showrooms (because the new reduced duties are only applicable from April but the price cuts were applicable from March1) and then they carry on saying how the industry might not have enough capacity to meet enhanced demand - well until another 400,000 units of capacity comes online by the middle of 2007 - Maruti's second plant at Manesar (250k units operational by November) and Hyundai's second plant (right behind their first - initially 150k units by June-July). And of course, you gotta be lunatic to buy a new Tata Indica for private use, because despite putting four hot models in the car, it is an awfully 'dum dum' purchase.
Why? Because I was to spend 1050km and over 28 hours sitting in one on Thursday and Friday. The Indica looks sensible from the Diesel point of view and the fact that it is comparitively large, but its rather uncomfortable over long distances. Hopefully the Swift Diesel expected late this year might change the market dynamics in that segment a bit.
The reason I was stuck in an Indica from 8.15 on Thursday morning - I was dispatched to find out a bit more about this H5N1 thingy in the places where it had hit. Found out a lot, still kinda iffy on the entire conspiracy angle theory, but the poultry industry has been hit hard from an economic perspective. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about bird-flu, and while the TV Channels and the newspapers went beserk on the need not to eat poultry, many questions were not asked and many people were not met. I'm still eating chicken, though I will avoid the "Chicken Mela's" being organised because those can be disgusting. I should know, I saw one in Nashik. Oh yeah, and the grapes from Nashik are awesome, I got two kilo's of big, black grapes for Rs 20 a kg, a third of the price that these grapes would cost in Pali Market. Anyway, this was one of the better assignments I have been sent on in a long time, and I really enjoyed it, though my shoulder blades are still feeling as if someone drove a nail through them at eight different places.
The drive though uncomfortable because the seats had awful support (something you begin to notice after five hours in an Indica) was extremely pictureseque. The list of various National and State Highways we crossed on the two-day drive was quite long, and in order they were (some roads repeated) - National Highway (NH) 4, The Bombay-Pune Expressway, NH50, NH3, Maharashtra State Highway (SH) 17, Maharashtra SH23, Gujarat SH15, Gujarat SH80, Maharashtra SH9, Maharashtra SH13, NH6, Maharashtra SH13, Maharashtra SH7, NH3 and NH8. And I must admit that the Maharastra government takes relatively good care of its State Highways, in Gujarat the roads are decent but not that great. I also drove through the Gir Forest, the home of the Asiatic Lion, and no, I didn't see any lions. What I did see was extremely thick teakwood forest and some very unique hills, whose origins date back to the geological time when the Indian plate was still drifting out in the ocean and before it collided with the Eurasian Plate. That is really ancient - these hills were over 100 million years old and were also part of the reason why the soil around Nashik is so fertile. I have some pictures of the trip up on my Flickr Photoset please go over and leave your comments there!
The trip through the Gir Forest took us through Gujarat's Dangs District, and the western edge of India's tribal belt. The tribal areas of India look almost the same as they did a few centuries ago (other than the innumerable VHP flags all over the place), and other than the occasionaly brick house, homes are built in very much the same way. However, something did strike me out here and while on the Maharashtra plains, the biggest revolution to happen in rural India in the past two decades has been Hero Honda. Not anything that any government has done, but the introduction of a reliable, fuel-efficient motorcycle has changed the way some of India's most remote areas communicate. Please don't talk about mobile phones, an entire movie could me made just using my expressions and my exasperation as I kept on looking forlornly at my handset hoping for a signal - that said most taluka headquarters did have connectivity, but most of those were miles apart. Not a good thing when you have to attempt to make a phone call for a story.
Back to the point, people who used to trapped inside their villages, without any means of communicating with the wider world - buses used to come once a day at best - now can move around with ease. Hero Honda may not be solely responsible you might argue, what about Bajaj and TVS? No doubt that they have also played a role, I saw many Bajaj and TVS bikes, but the super-efficient two-wheeler revolution was brought into India by Hero Honda and whatever Rajiv Bajaj says about them being a videshi company, this is one company that has changed the face of rural India.
Well, I returned at some 2 in the morning, was at work filing by 11.30 and was in Silvassa to meet a friend by late Saturday night - and the quality of NH8 rteally impressed me, its even better here than the Delhi-Japir stretch of the very same highway at its other end. In the meantine I also discovered that I had turned 10,000 days old a few weeks ago, and I have officially used up 40 per cent of the days in my 25,000 day life. Damn!
Anyway, I should post a bit more regularly this week. Do check out the photos. And I am uploading one image here which is quite funny - I saw it at a dhaba a few kilometres outside Thane on the way back from Nashik. Quite useful for lighting fires.
PS: Sorry for the double post, I deleted it, but Bloglines should still show it. Blogger has been acting up of late. And did the Oscars really surprise anyone?
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