I remember my father being a hardcore roadtripper. Nearly every other weekend, he would pack all of us, three kids and a wife, in his Fiat Padmini and drive across Kerala, Tamil Nadu or Karnataka. His love for the road was as uncharacteristic as everything prevalent in 1970s and 1980s India. He was hip without knowing it!
In a few years, after I got married, I began haranguing my husband to travel. This was the 90s and “travel” was not a big word. Travel simply meant bi-annual vacations to visit parents, or more commonly, to go on a pilgrimage. I was happy to visit my parents, but had no particular interest in temples or other places of worship.
Remember that this was also a time when air tickets were exorbitant and trains, filthy, delayed and uncomfortable. The roads across the country were no better – there were a few patches of national highways that made driving a joy but mostly we encountered state highways that were not only narrow, but also very badly managed, and thus, dangerous.
Soon though, I was unable to contain the urge to travel by road and in 1998, right after we bought our first car (with our sweat, blood and tears, I might add), I began coaxing the husband into taking a roadtrip – from Vizag (Vishakhapatnam) in Andhra Pradesh (where we lived) to Cochin in Kerala, where my parents lived.
The hubby wasn’t very pleased because he wasn’t and still isn’t the travelling type. His idea of a holiday is to laze around. Back then, he had just learned how to drive a 4 wheeler and was concerned that he wasn’t ready to drive on the highway just yet. I, his driving teacher, assured him that he was and very reluctantly, he agreed.
Now we needed to figure out the route so off we went to the nearest book store to look for maps. One of the popular bookstores in the city had a steel rack with bright red maps called TTK Maps. I picked the India Road Map. It cost all of Rs. 30.
Over the weekends preceding our trip, we’d open the map on our dining table and chalk out the route we could take. Once again, take a moment to imagine looking at the names of towns and cities on a paper map, not knowing anything else about them – having no information about fuel pumps along the way, places to stay in or eat in etc. The bigger towns and cities were named in Bold and we assumed that we’d be able to find a clean place to stay in for the night.
As a rule, we stuck to the National highways and though one leg of the journey was to be on a State highway, this was a highway I was familiar with, thanks to the numerous trips dad had taken us on.
The map was printed to scale and it was laborious to figure out exact distances between towns. The husband’s map reading skills were put to good use (they’d been taught how to read maps as part of their training in the Armed Forces). When we finally managed to chalk the route, it was 1500 kms long. We decided we would take three days to drive, not exceeding 500 kms a day and to not drive at night.
In the wee hours one morning in October 1998, we started our first roadtrip in a car. I was reminded of the trips dad would take us on – we had enough snacks for the way, and the biggest bag was full of cassettes of our favourite music.
Before the day ended, we had a breakdown (an electrical fuse gave way), a punctured tyre and had to stop at a small town to make up for lost time, but eventually we made it to my hometown in Kerala in three days!
Through the route we took notes, marking distances and cross checking with the distances we’d noted and were pleasantly surprised when we realised how accurate the map had been! In the roadtrips we took after this first one, we relied heavily on the TTK Map – including the time when we drove over 2000 kms from Vishakapatnam to Delhi with our 4 month old angelic daughter, ensconced safely in the backseat of our sedan in a custom created baby seat!
After that first trip, one of the things I began buying, in addition to being an avid collector (and reader) of books, were TTK Maps, to all the Indian states I’d have loved to drive to and explore. Soon I had collected over 20 of them, including maps of historical places and cities like Delhi, Agra, Jaipur etc.
I never fulfilled most of my travel-by-road dreams as household, children and a career took precedence over the travel bug. Each time we’d shift a house, or go away on posting, I’d painstakingly pack the maps with the other books, feeling a slight pang, but never regretting it. Somehow I just knew I’d travel at some point in my life.
In the nearly twenty years that have passed since we bought our first TTK Map, so much has changed in the way we travel. On the click of a button you can get directions, distances, landmarks and what not. Places to eat, stay, fuel pumps, hospitals are all marked and available in real time.
But I miss those days! I miss the lazy afternoons spent chalking a route at leisure and squabbling about the distances over cups of coffee and snacks. Most of all, I miss the surprises that awaited us on the road – you’d just never know what to expect. To a travel junkie, thats the biggest high of all!