Sagar, and Army Life. .

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
Trip End Oct 01, 2006

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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Stayed another day in Nagpur, to catch up on writing and e-mails, and then it was off toward Sagar, another 350 km away. Waking up at 5, and taking the usual hour to finally find my way out of the city, finally I was on the road, and thought that I could cover the distance easily, with time to spare. .
Not quite. .
Some distance up from Nagpur, the NH 7, at least a decent road, and sometimes even a proper highway veers off toward Varanasi, and so I had to take a road, still part of the North-south section of national highways toward Sagar on the way to Agra.
"Highway" could not have been further from the reality. . The road became a one-lane blacktop with rocks poking out of it, and of course, I thought to myself that it wouldn't last too long, usually the bad sections, apart from what I experienced in Karnataka on the way from Goa, don't last very long, and soon are replaced by newer roads upon which I can make 60 kph, at least, if not 80 or better.
Not so. .
The "road" wound through some low ghats (hills), I had to struggle to overtake the huge trucks on the berm, through the sand, and there were washouts and potholes in the low-lying areas. The temperature was a searing 45 degrees, about 112 for those who work in that other scale, and I had to take frequent rests from the heat and pounding of the bad road. I was glad to be solo, at that point, as the extra weight would have been dangerous on that road. North-South Highway India, from that point, to Sagar? 9 on a scale of 1-10. . . The Karnataka stretch was about 8.5. .
Through small villages, farming villages with houses of brick and terra cotta tile roofs and no electricity or running water, the people not smiling, only staring, over low ghats with dust and soot blasting me from all sides, I carried on, with only occasional reprieve from the punishment of the road. A hundred yards of smooth road was like heaven. My back started to complain. .
After the next decent-sized town the "highway" turned slightly better, and I saw a Dhaba that looked decent on the side of the road. I stopped in for the best paneer masala I have ever had, and about a half gallon of water. It was 2 pm, it had taken some three hours to cross just 60 kilometers.
Talking to the men in the Dhaba, with my growing Hindi vocabulary, and their bits of English, they told me the the road would get better, Sagar was only another 120 km from there, an easy three hours. .
I hoped so.
Hydrated and back on the road, I headed there. At one point, the RR crossing was broken, and while waiting, I went and had chai and pani with a dealer of sugarcane crushers. . I could not get out of there without playing a song or two on guitar. Another half-hour spent. Sagar was only "2 hours. . " so I did not worry too much. .

The road did not get worse, but it did not turn into "good road" even by Indian standards.
The thing is, when there is a pothole, they do the smartest thing you can do. Just fill the potholes with really sharp rocks the size of a man's fist with razor edges, pour a little thick oil over it, and then put a couple of tree fronds over this, moving on to the next one. Yeah, really smart. . The danger of puncture came closer the further I went.
Finally reaching Sagar near nightfall, I asked everyone I saw in Hindi, where was guesthouse? Finally they sent me into the Cantonement, an actual army base, and, stopping at random by the officer's mess, Three men in Hindi gave me directions.
One of them got on the back of my bike and took me to see the three choices. Gohil was a corporal in the Indian army, his job was in the "arty" guns unit. This meant "artillery" of course, and probably has it's own Hindi name, but "arty" would suffice. What do they do, fire pretentious paintings and sculpture at the enemy, hoping they will give up? Do they play Serge Gainsbourg and fire Gauloises at the unsuspecting foe? These "arty" guns do not sound so effective on a real battlefield, unless you're fighting the intellegensia, or perhaps an incursion into Soho, or some place. .
All that aside, I will let the Indian Army's secret weapon stay secret. Gohil and his "arty" friend Vinod came by the Hotel Deepak, and we went across the street to the bar to share a couple of Kingfishers and try to communicate. They brought us out peanuts with our beer, I told them about America, and they told me about Indian army life. Gohil 's assignment is in Kashmir, in Srinagar, where I expect to go at the end of this journey's leg. I can see how the arty strategy might work against maoist rebels, they do not like pretension, and so may just run for the mountains. . .
A couple of good men. Vinod had to go back on duty, so we had one beer each, and I, being tired, went back to my room for a good sona (sleep) and bade the gentlemen goodnight. Sagar seemed quite friendly, but in the morning, I would travel on. .
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