From familiar territory to the unknown. We left behind Nagpur pretty early in the morning. What lay ahead was a mystery. All this while, we'd had a fair idea of the roads that we would be navigating. This time though, there were no such helpful pointers.
We took the NH 69 out of the city and got onto the NH 26B past Savner town. Thankfully, the roads were in pretty good knick and the traffic wasn't too heavy either. So far, so good. As we entered Madhya Pradesh, the landscape started to change. Hills appeared in the distance and shrubberies of green dotted the red earth for miles around. Our luck with the roads, however, ran out soon. There was a lot of ongoing construction and diversions were yet again, the order of the day.
Past Chhindwara, we stuck to the NH 26B up to Narsinghpur. It was at Narsinghpur that we needed to decide which route to take. All the roads ahead were unfamiliar and we needed to choose one that would throw up the least amount of construction, diversions, broken patches and traffic. We realised google maps can only help us out to an extent, so decided to ask locals for some help. We decided to make these enquiries over lunch, but were now presented with another peculiar problem. There didn't seem to be too many dhabas or other eateries along this stretch of the highway. Instead, what there were in plenty, was wedding halls. We passed at least a dozen before finally asking at one whether they would serve a small group of four people instead of a full blown wedding party. Not only were they gracious and cooked up a great meal for us, but also gave us fantastic directions about which road to take to Orcha.
So, past Narsinghpur, we took the NH 26 ahead. The road continued to be in decent shape. What posed a problem was the cities, towns and villages we passed on the highway. There were locals, their livestock, kids, all on the highway. You had to be extremely careful when manoeuvring these roads because at any point, someone or something could pop out in front of you. This made progress a little slow and was quite irritating. The Gobind Sagar lake near Lalitpur, around a 100km from Jhansi, provided the ideal spot for a break. It was the first major water body along the highway we had come across in all day. The sun was setting over the misty horizon and flocks of migratory birds were settled across the water. It was well worth having a cup of chai there, before we set on the final stretch.
It got dark pretty soon and although we had been told of a shortcut to Orcha that would supposedly save us time, we decided to stick to broad, open highways instead of interior roads which may throw up too many challenges our way, especially at night, with a near Rs 40 lakh car in tow. Our route via Jhansi would take us up to Uttar Pradesh before we cut back to Madhya Pradesh.
As we neared Jhansi, a new problem reared its head; we were running low on fuel and we hadn't spotted a single fuel station for the last 20-30km. Anxiety mounted as the range kept dropping and finally, we hit zero. We couldn't stop on the highway, which was pitch dark, a quality of darkness rarely witnessed by those of us used to living in cities. Also, we'd been warned against stopping at lonely places.
Fortunately, the Mini has a 5 litre reserve even after range goes to zero and this carried us on till we found a small pump on the Jhansi bypass road. But this little detail my co-driver Rahul decided to not tell me about till we'd reached Jhansi. So for half an hour, I'd been prepared to be marooned on the highway, fend off dacoits and light a fire to survive the night there. Quite the epic scenario I had imagined.
Orcha is about 20km from the city of Jhansi and it took us little over an hour to get there. It was late, we had driven for nearly 600km and were exhausted. The Madhya Pradesh experience would have to wait till next morning.