Okie ... for the uninitiated, lemme start from what Golden Quadrilateral is. It is a set of roads connecting the four metros (Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai), and happens to pass through some other major cities also. Like Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Pune, Bangalore, Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam(Vizag), Bhubaneshwar, Kanpur ... etc. The road is an all out express highway, with 4/6 lanes and a big divider. Along with bypasses around almost all the towns and fly-overs on all railway crossings, this road provides connectivity with safety and speed - precisely the moto of NHAI (National Highway Authority of India). The detailed map and other details of this project is available at the NHAI website (www.nhai.org)
Me just came back after an epic bike trip from Bangalore to Visakapatnam (Vizag). Most part of the trip happened to be along the chennai - kolkata section of the golden quadrilateral. Around 1400 kms out of a total 2200 kms. Just check out the trip log and photos at my Web Site => Visakhapatnam Trip.
I have travelled on some other sections of the Golden Quadrilateral too, like a good portion of the Mumbai - Chennai leg passing through Bangalore. But the section passing through AP seems to be the best so far.
These roads could be the pride of our nation and while zooming through some of the sections of this road, pride is just what I felt. Pride that our nation is getting there ... we too are not far behind!!!
But, four days on this highway just put me into thinking mode. Who really benefits from these roads? Ok ... I cant ask this question without stating some of the facts I have seen.
1. Toll : No toll for 2 wheelers. They are anyways not expected to use this highway :) For 4 wheelers, the toll is about Rs. 15-20 per section. A section is about 40-60 kms. So, the total toll for somebody travelling all the way from Chennai to Kolkota in a 4 wheeler will come to about Rs. 600. For trucks, this figure is almost 4 times. Around a whopping Rs. 2500. Yes, the road also gives you some improvement on mileage and time taken. And NHAI need money for maintenance. But isnt this sum too high from a travellers perspective?
2. Wrong side driving : Most people dont seem to like the big divider and just goes on the wrong side with utter dis-regard to rules and other vehicles. This includes everything from cycles and bullock carts to 4 wheelers and trucks. Too dangerous a situation.
3. Pedestrian crossing : Villagers does not seem to have an idea of what speed these vehicles are travelling. Again a dangerous situation.
4. Cattle crossing : Cattles grazing in the grass filled dividers (the greenery in the dividers is created artificially) and moving around the road. This is even more dangerous.
5. Small business establishments along the old roads : Hotels, Petrol pumps, Tea shops ... etc along the old road, mostly around some villages. What about them? The traffic through the villages is sometimes very critical for these people. On the stretch of road from Nayudu Peta (120 kms past Chennai) to Visakhapatnam I had to take 5 diversions into the old roads. Kavali, Singarayakonda, Medarmetla, Tadepalli Gudem and Yellamanchili. All these diversions go through villages and small shops like I mentioned before. What, after the roads are completed here
6. Lack of facilities currently : Yeah ... the facilities are coming up and will be good enough. I am sure. But, right now, there are not enough quality hotels or restaurants en route. Most of the petrol pumps doesnt have a properly functioning air pump.
7. Lack of awareness and facility for people : Morning time is toilet time and most of the people who does not have good toilet facilites come to the roads. In plain day light on road side ... believe it or not. Will anybody dare to stop on the road side after seeing this?
I remember the times when I (along with hunderds of other people) have to wait in some place like Airport Road (Bangalore) for some VIP movement. I am sure most of the people must have similar experiences. Not even being allowed to cross the road and being made to stand in the sun for somebody (who's time is considered more important than hundreds of people like me) to freely use the roads. Couldnt help thinking about these villagers the same way. How would they feel on being honked at and scared by fast moving vehicles, who wouldnt have the time to take a diversion and visit their tea shops? Couldnt forget the image of a mother telling her young kid pointing at our bike and saying something to the effect of 'Be Careful of Those'. Who wants to be looked upon as a villains? Obviously, all this is considered development and, being the person I am, I can only be proud of the Golden Quadrilateral. But is it really useful to everybody in the country?
Another thought that came across my mind was a travel that I did 4 years ago, from Waynad to Bangalore, accompanying a friend transporting his belongings here. This was before I started driving, before I baught a bike or car. That is when I first saw speeds like 80 and above. And couldnt quite below that I am travelling at this speed. "80? Are we really going at 80?" Thats what I asked the driver. And he said "Looks like, I havent gone at these speeds myself. May be a problem with the speedometer". Nowadays, if I see a speedo showing 80, I might ask "80? Cant we go a bit faster?"
Just couldnt help thinking that these villagers, who are being honked at, may not even realize the speeds at which the vehicles are coming. They may not even have a hint on maneuvering at speeds beyond 100 km/h. They may not have travelled beyond their villages and probably never seen a speedo showing 60. How would they realize that getting from Chennai to Kolkata is a difficult and time consuming task and this need to be made easy?
Who else will realize? The truck drivers have already paid their toll. Moving around these roads, while the construction is on, was a tough job. Even in day time. I dont want to talk about night time, when some of the diversions (to the next carriage way) is unmarked and gutters are plenty. The truck drivers already suffered because of development.
How about other people driving along these roads? They should be as scared as the villagers. Have to be so alert. Dont know when somebody is going to cross the road, dont know when a truck come from the opposite side, dont know when a cattle is there in the road, dont know when you will see a truck parked in the road with stones around it ... dont know ... well ... I guess I conveyed it. Do these people have any other choice than honking?
I hope things will settle down with time ....... villagers will get educated, drivers will start respecting the sanctity of the roads and most importantly there will be some sort of speed limits in these roads. Then is the time that the Golden Quadrilateral will truly be the pride of our nation ........