The first factor in travel is the vehicle. There was a time not so long ago when in India we had a choice between an Ambassador and a Fiat. Then, along come the Maruti smaller, sleeker, and much more affordable. Now, there are new model launches from multiple automobile companies every month. Cars have become bigger and better, and with that has come greater comfort in long-distance travel.
I remember some of our Rajasthan trips of the past. The best mode for long-distance travel a decade ago on those roads was a jeep. The roads were called thus only because one could not call them anything else. Cars would not survive those roads! Times have changed. During the last trip I did in September, we rented a Toyota Qualis. The same roads which I used to shudder driving on seemed so much better. Every year, more of the roads improve.
On the Surat trip, we went by our Honda Accord. En route, I saw all types of car models. Even the smaller Maruti 800 models can offer a pleasant experience on the roads now. But with growing prosperity, the Indian upper classes have been buying a variety of cars and using them.
The Honda is the sixth car I have used in my life in India. I remember us having an Ambassador when I was very young. Then, we had a Fiat model. During my short stay in the US, I drove an old Buick I wanted to be able to pack up and return to India at short notice, so wanted a car which would not lock up a significant investment.
When I returned from the US, I drove a Maruti 800. I used to do a lot of city driving until I had an accident one night. Blinded momentarily by the headlights of a car coming from the opposite direction, my car hit a lamp-post with the bulb falling and shattering the windscreen of my car. Amazingly, nothing happened to me even though pieces of glass were all over the front seats. After that, I decided to get a driver. (That is one of the luxuries of living in India. A drivers salary is about Rs 5,000-10,000 a month. ) The next car was a Maruti Zen. I liked the compactness of the car. We then got an Opel Astra. And finally, four years ago, a Honda Accord which we still have.
I am not much of a car model person. I look at cars as serving the need of going from point A to point B. As long as that happens well, I am fine with any car! I can barely identify models looking at them. We havent been much into the long driving thing, so the car has been mostly used for local driving. We end up doing about 10,000 kms a year in the car.
Although the choice of cars expanded, the road conditions left a lot to be desired. However, as I discovered on my road trip to Surat, that has begun to change and the road revolution has begun.
Tomorrow: Real Highways