Story By: Olympia Bhatt The night in Nagpur was without respite. Temperatures soared, sweat covered every pore of our skin as Luppy and Vasco enjoyed their evening walk with new smells, sights, and sounds of the highway. The heat was taking its toll on them as well. We were happy that the journey so far had been without a glitch but the road ahead seemed challenging and daunting in the peak Indian summer.
After all, the next leg of our journey was Orchcha, a small historical town near Jhansi. Interestingly, Jhansi is in Uttar Pradesh (UP) while Orchcha is in Madhya Pradesh (MP) even though the two are hardly 16 kilometres apart. Our preference for stay was Jhansi town or cantonment, wherever we found a place to crash. And no, we did not choose Orchha for the beautiful historical ruins or the riverbed which is supposedly a lovely picnic spot in winter. No prizes for guessing it was for our canine companions, for whose joy and comfort we had chosen Fagun Haveli as our night abode.
We were extremely wary of driving in MP because bhp forum had mentioned about the bad quality of roads. And it was going to be the longest drive of our journey, about 600 kilometres in the scorching heated hinterland of India. We were in for a pleasant surprise.
We began at 5.45 am in the morning, forcing ourselves out of the soothing AC. We took National Highway (NH) 47, which in some places was also called NH547 Chindwara road. This route went through Sagar, one of the major towns en route, leading to Jhansi/Orchcha. We were a little flummoxed as Google Maps continued calling our route as NH44 though in places it was NH26, NH547, making us wonder if we were on the right track. We surmised that as long as the road is tarred with milestones around, there was no other place to go in the open barren lands of MP.
The good quality of roads was the least expected part of this leg of our journey. We had given our homestay our arrival time at around 4 to 5 pm, keeping in mind the bad quality of roads. But it turned out to be much better than what we found in Maharashtra. Even when we swerved along the hills of Satpura forest range, in the early hours of the morning, the roads were unfailing in their steadfast support along the drive.
The best part about this highway was how it bypassed going into the town, and we could continually drive without slowing down. This turned out to be a problem as well in terms of food as there are very few dhabas en route and if you do not stop for the cluster of dhabas near main town areas, then it just stretches of a continual drive with little village marking our distance. The village names on the way ranged from amusing to unexpected. So a Bhainsa was on the way before we came across Bhaisai, not before coming across Ata, Gauna, Betna and Bangaria on the way. The heat and dust slowly encroached through the mirrors of the car and we drove faster and faster for some cool breeze of the ac at our destination.
Alas! The early arrival was no boon as some electrical work was ongoing for that homestay, and there was no electricity! In the peak summer with temperatures hovering at 50 degree Celsius, their generator in a state of disrepair, I was in a worse state than our dogs, who were by far the happiest to find an open compound and wet earth to run around and keep cool.
The ominous signs of awry had appeared on the way. We had to leave NH44 and go via the cantonment to reach this haveli. And crazy Google maps took us through the narrowest historical routes, thinking that was the shortest and fastest route available. Our poor little brio trundled along mud tracks which functioned as makeshift roads or rocks and sewage puddles that, at times, brought my heart to a stop. BB was extremely cranky about driving that short distance and would have preferred to drive on the buttery smooth highway.
Later, I also concurred with him as the no electricity made me gasp and pant like a fish out of water. After 4 hours once the power was restored, the voltage was so low that the ac functioned erratically and barely managed to do anything except pretend to operate. I could not catch even a wink of sleep in the hot night as well in spite of being tired and drained by the summer heat.
I waited for the morning and the final leg of our journey, the night when we could sleep in the comfort of our home.