Stops are inevitable when driving long distances. In the past, the choice was limited to petrol pumps and nondescript restaurants whose toilets one shuddered to visit. All of this changed when we stopped by a Reliance petrol pump en route to Surat. That is the shape of things to come.
Built over a large area, the Reliance petrol and diesel outlets also have what they call an A1 Plaza. These plazas (and I stopped by one in each direction) are inviting and clean. They have a standardised food menu, with plenty of seating space. The food service was quick, and the quality decent. The toilets are absolutely clean. There are signs for the various facilities available. There are even some beds for resting. DishTV plays out in the background. Overall, it has been very well planned and executed. On the return journey, I found myself looking for the Reliance outlet to fill both petrol and the stomach!
The Reliance outlets are not that frequent en route. But what I can already see happening is that competition from them will force the others to upgrade facilities. This will make travelling and stopping a pleasant experience.
The other interesting change has been the availability of the mobile data infrastructure. I have been saying for some time that Indias mobile data infrastructure is amongst the best in the world. Even though the operators are focused on getting new customers for their voice and SMS plans, the reality is that they have built extremely good data networks also. I used my mobile with Hutchs GPRS service en route and got very good response time all along the way in a car moving for the most part at over 100 kmph. It was a reinforcement of what I noticed when I travelled through Rajasthan.
Taken together, the combination of good cars and highways, along with improved stopover points and ubiquitous connectivity, is going to start bringing a change in travel attitudes in India. I think people will be more open to taking weekend outings armed with the Outlook Travel Guides exploring new places in the vicinity. Already, Lonavala and Pune are but short drives from Mumbai. Mahabaleshwar is becoming ever closer with the improving road. A journey which used to take the better part of a day (Mumbai to Mahabaleshwar) can now be done in less than half the time. With increasing air connectivity to a greater number of places, the number of destinations which can be reached in 4-5 hours is increasingly rapidly.
This mobile lifestyle will also enable a discovery of India. There was a time when it used to be so much cheaper and better to travel to destinations outside India. Part of the allure was shopping. Now, with the mall mania reaching epic proportions in India, even that is less of a reason to venture beyond Indian shores. Our own country, which once had become alien to us, is now becoming much more accessible and inviting.
Tomorrow: Random Thoughts
TECH TALK Revolution on the Roads+T