The camels look a bit more relaxed than their minders at this point. Perhaps it's because they aren't in full military attire. They are waiting patiently in the blazing Jaisalmer sun to flag us off, so we hurry through our last-minute checks. This is definitely the driest place in the country, no question about it.
But soon, accompanied by the beat of a traditional Rajasthani drum and sharp salutes from the men in uniform, we drive through the grand archway of Suryagarh, our starting point. The Audi Great India quattro Drive is underway. Next stop, Jaipur.
Now you may associate Rajasthan with old-world beauty and centuries of tradition, but when it comes to its highways, the state is as modern as ever. Well, for the most part. On our route to Jaipur, via Jodhpur, bad stretches are so few and far between, we are genuinely unprepared when we do encounter them. But good as any roads may be, you'll always find your fair share of 'interesting' motorists along the way. Like for instance, the touts on the desert road, who will follow you for kilometres on end at whatever speed, trying to sell you an evening of debauchery on the sands. These guys will buzz around your car relentlessly and recklessly until they get your attention, and our pair of pristine Audis with their quattro livery certainly caught theirs.
We start out on NH15 and switch over to NH114 at Pokharan. It's pure bliss right upto Balesar, when the road surface takes a sudden turn for the disastrous for a whole 25km. Having to gingerly inch the Audis' noses over this stretch really tears chunks out of our average speed, and all the tractors we'd overtaken earlier snigger as they calmly coast past us.
Things ease up as we move onto NH112 and then NH14, with only a few unruly truckers to sully our progress, but we've been here before, and we know what's ahead. It's NH8, a glorious six-laner that will whisk us straight to Jaipur. So we endure a few bottlenecks, several cars coming the wrong way, and an uphill wait while the longest train goes by, but then it's upon us. Google Maps even tries to throw us off with some 'shortcuts', but we know better. It's almost midnight by the time we roll into our hotel in Jaipur, but even after nearly 650km, we're not even that tired.