A Chaotic Drive To Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Abode Of Peace’: Santiniketan — Part II

Images: Ritabrata Mukherjee & Indrojit Sircars

A traffic jam in the middle of the highway, all the way to Bardhaman town which was 20 kms away! What had happened? After some inquiries, it turned out that it was a combination of a severe road accident in town and some completely unrelated protests that had led to a total halt in traffic that usually went through the town.

By this time, it was really hot and we chose to get onto the extreme left of the highway. Any more left and we would have been off the road level!

Miles and miles of traffic on a highway! Note that we are on the extreme left, on unpaved ground.

As per standard Indian driving customs, a foot of progress in front saw every car trying to pounce in order to fill that space. Very annoying.

After half an hour of being stuck, everyone’s patience was running out. Whether we looked forward or back, there was miles of traffic. And we had to keep our engines running for the most part because we had to adhere to the stop-and-go practice that the rest of the traffic was following.

I looked at the temperature gauge on my car, it was getting hot, much beyond halfway. I was getting very hot! Apart from that however, things seemed normal.

Much to our relief, we got off the highway onto a two-lane road

The W124 200 started to have idling issues, and was running extremely rich. The Jeep owner was concerned about fuel. That tank under its driving seat was running out of petrol fast.

Suddenly, a gap opened up. We could go from the extreme left of our side of the highway, cross the trough in between the two carriageways and get on to the other side. A number of cars seemed to be doing that. It looked perfectly alright until we realised that the slope down and up out of the trough was pretty steep.

With little choice in hand, we went for the trough one by one, having negotiated our way from the left side to the right side of the highway. The Jeep, the mountain goat that it is, of course had no problems. Neither did the Dodge (thanks to large tyres).

And we find ourselves in an unknown place & the Fiat missing!

Our three Mercs, however, had a tough time. The W124 did a little better than the W123 and my Ponton. Despite our most careful attempt, the W123’s underbody definitely kissed the soil, so did my Ponton, and the rear mounted muffler took the brunt of the force.

Once we were on the other side (the wrong side) we exited the highway as fast as we could, on to a two-lane road and then stopped to regroup. We then realised that we were missing the Fiat! Where was it?

A couple of phone calls later, it turned out the Fiat owner had found another gap in the ensuing chaos and was on his way to Bardhaman town, away from all of us! He told us to carry on and that he would catch up with us, somewhere.

The Fiat safely in between the other cars in the blazing heat of mid-day

We really didn’t know where we were so we inquired at a number of roadside shops on how we could get back on the right route again. Some discussions later and with the help of GPS, we were on our way to a road that would hopefully take us around the main town of Bardhaman, instead of into the town. Evidently, many other travelers had the same idea and this road of hope was thick with traffic. Parts of it were also being widened and weren’t paved.

There were a number of undulating troughs (un-metaled) on the left of the stretch and the Jeep and Dodge made quick work of them. The three Mercs had to be cautious since our cars rode much closer to the ground. Plus, my car started to make a metallic rattle from the rear every time it went over an undulation.

A halt for gas

After what seemed like an eternity (progress was slow, and in the mid-day sun it was terribly hot, dry & dusty), we finally exited this road and skirted the town.

The Jeep was in dire need of petrol by then so we stopped at a gas station when we were told by a passerby that there was an ‘old looking’ car that had stalled on the highway causing a huge traffic jam. Our Fiat friend!

This wasn’t good news.

The W124 at the back is an early example from 1985, with an M123 engine carried over from the W123 series

We exited the suburbs, stopped and gave a call to our friend in the Fiat who confirmed that his car had started and was on his way towards us.

While we stopped, I asked the two mechanics to investigate the source of the rattle that was coming from the rear of my Ponton. Turned out that when I crossed the trough, the impact with the ground had misaligned the brackets holding the rear muffler and the muffler kept hitting the trunk floor. Some adjustments later and it seemed that things would be okay.

Then, out of the blue, much to our delight, the red Fiat was spotted in the distance, approaching at break neck speed! Before long, we were six again.

Tired & covered in dust, we finally reach Santiniketan

Off we went, in the blazing heat. It was already around 2:00 pm and we had told our host at the guest house in Santiniketan that we would reach between 1 and 2. Shortly thereafter, I received a call from our host to check where we were and I told her that we were still some way off, about 60 kms.

The six cars performed well, but due to our convoluted route, it took us a long time to get to the town of Santiniketan. This was a route that we had never taken before.

We passed by unending fields of paddy, interspersed with coconut and other palm trees.

What a welcome sight, our guesthouse with ample parking

The dry, hot air was taking a toll on us and I felt a little bad for the cars. These cars, especially those from the 1950s, had not been designed to run for long periods in stop-start traffic, in close to 40 deg Celsius heat.

But I was impressed with the Dodge. That was the car I thought may have a problem but it didn’t break a sweat.

After another hour and a half, we finally reached the outskirts of Santiniketan and I felt a slight sense of achievement. We stopped to regroup and figured that the Fiat and the W123 weren’t with us, they had gone off in another direction, again! Another half an hour later we were six, making our way into town.

Our much overdue lunch comprising of a delicious Bengali thali

What a relief, we had been driving from 6:30 am and it was now 4:00 pm!

To most people outside India, it would seem bizarre that a 150 km journey could take this long. In the West, one would probably cover the distance in an hour and a half. But in India, in routine traffic, 150 kms would take you at least two-and-a-half hours in a modern car and double that in an older car.

As I entered our guesthouse for our stay, I had a broad grin on my face; not only were we in a large area in lush greenery, but there was ample place to park our cars in a line. And it was peaceful, that’s why we had chosen Santiniketan.

All fresh and clean, ready for our journey back to Calcutta the next day!

We had done it! For the first time on record a group of six historic vehicles had driven out of Calcutta to another town for an overnighter and we barely had any problems (I mean car-related problems).

Of course, we had to head back the next day but I was sure it would be a less eventful journey.

With everyone’s mood now better aided by a cool evening breeze, we settled down into our sprawling guesthouse, had our much overdue lunch and planned for our dinner!


Sign in or become a deRivaz & Ives member to join the conversation.
Just enter your email below to get a log in link.