The persistent clamour of the avian sisterhood quarrelling for chirping rights woke me up. Morning was glowing from under the dark cover of the night. A twitch formed in the back of my head and ran down the neck as I consulted my watch from the bedside. It was four in the morning, and despite having slept only an hour, I realized why I had set the alarm.
We were hitting the road. After over a hundred days of house arrest, we were hitting the road. In an hour from now, we would be on the highway, headed for IIT Roorkee, where my partner’s belongings had lain unattended, and probably peed upon by legions of pillaging silverfish. Being the incorrigible outdoors guy that I am, I would be tagging along for the gedi. Oh, yeah, that same disreputable north Indian activity with a name that sounds equally disreputable, and practised usually by miscreants equipped with motor vehicles.
Setting Off Early and Catching the Sunrise
We hurried out of the unsightly, faux metropolis, our eyes glued to the window. Nothing spectacular, but the mere satisfaction of being let out once again overshadowed every dopamine-releasing experience I’ve ever had. The great outdoors and a cool early morning, with our car zipping past face-masked early risers on an empty road, took me back to first year of college, when, deprived of travel, I would submit myself to AK Ramanujan’s poem Highway Stripper. Trust me, few things in life trump an early morning drive. Throw in the sights of the typical Indian freeway, and the experience is undisputedly supreme.
Driving Past Old Towns and Quirky Sights
Having passed the aspirational, quasi-urban residential behemoth of Rajnagar and the customary amusement park with a façade that is clearly a bait for spoiled kids and indulgent parents, we entered dusty, old, Modinagar. Having always ignored it whenever I’ve travelled to the hills via NH334, its small-town aura, which I now have no qualms according that overused adjective, quaint, struck me.
Vestiges of its old self peer from the cracks of half-hearted attempts at renovation, as do decaying, yellowing complexes with arches and pillars fleetingly reminiscent of the Georgian aesthetic of Delhi’s Connaught Place. Its rickshaws and clunky “tempos”, plying around town, are so old and battered that they could become art installations in the time to come.
As the car whizzed past the otherwise busy road splitting the town, I couldn’t help turning my head constantly to look at the town’s many colleges, named after its many Modis. Had it not been for the virus, I would have got down and ventured into its lanes for a sip for the famous Modinagar Shikanji or the famous lassi at a Garhmukteshwar dhaba.
Plan Your Own Highway Gedi
At a time when grocery visits feel like a matter of privilege based on who in the household gets to do them, getting out for a drive/ride is surely something else. A gedi trip is just like a day trip to somewhere close by—think Mathura, Alwar, Agra, Garhmuktekshwar, or even Delhiites' favourite, Murthal—with the added enjoyment of the way. It's about engaging with the route without being in a hurry to reach somewhere.
Rule number one is to set off early—before sun-up, preferably. The traffic is more manageable in the late wee hours, and it is cooler than later in the day. Watching the sun come up and the pristine sky over the lush fields and thickets sheltering farmer settlements at that hour is second to none. If not, pick a pleasant day with a rain forecast.
Driving past zestful bullock-carts, wacky restaurant advertisements and rowdy trucks with their behinds advertising signs bemoaning heartbreak, jilt and a vaudeville detachment towards life is another reason to go for a drive on the highway. The places that you encounter in these parts are the towns and villages where the proverbial real India lives, at least according to the new wave of small-town movies being made in Hindi.
Don’t forget to have fun—it’s a gedi, remember? Highway dhabas are a legit cultural phenomenon in any part of India. The first ray of sunshine calls for a sumptuous breakfast of paranthas at Murthal for those headed to Punjab via the Delhi-Ambala Highway. Highway dhabas are also known for their light-on-the-pocket anytime meal fix of sweet, milky tea, and instant noodles. Take enough breaks to click some memorable pictures or do it when you take a fuel break. And to relive it all later, try recording the drive, at least at the time of daybreak.