Having decided to make this trip, I had to plan my itinerary. Once a date is frozen, planning various aspects of the travel becomes even more energised. It inspires you to study and enjoy planning. We would cross the Indian border from Manipur to Myanmar on 16 April 2017. Keeping a buffer for unexpected events, we plan to reach there a day in advance. I back-calculated to fix a departure date from home. I laid down some basic principles:
- No night-driving. Of course, we drive carefully. But we cannot control how others on the road drive. It is said that the highest number of drunk drivers are on road between midnight and 3AM. Supposedly, fatal crashes are four times higher at night than during the day. Right from the time I started driving in 1973, I have preferred to drive only in daylight. On rare occasions, I drive at night, that too only on well lit roads that have dividers. For long drives, I make it a point to start early in the morning and break for the day by 3 or 4PM. So, you safely reach the destination by sunset, even if there is any delay due to congestion.
- Comfortable number of hours per day. I initially considered driving 8 hours a day. Normally, for a full day’s drive you need an extra 30-35% of drive time for rest and food breaks.
That would mean a total travelling time of 10 to 11 hours a day. A 6AM start gets you to the destination by 4 or 5 pm. This is not difficult. Especially, with Pushpa taking up a couple of hours of driving, it seemed quite comfortable.
Once Nishi confirmed to join us, I revised the drive time. 8 hours in the car for two and a half months is a bit much. To maintain excitement till the end, I had to make it interesting and not tiring for the child. Till we reach the Indian border, I revised the drive time to an average of about 6 hours per day. Including breaks, it would still add up to 8 hours a day. A little delayed start every morning, say at 7 or even 8AM would take us to the revised destination by 3AM. That gives us enough time for a comfortable breakfast, have lunch on the way and reach the destination by the time we are ready for a mid-afternoon snack. It also left scope to spend about 2-3 hours to visit interesting places around the destination or on the way. Or just relax.
- Break from driving. After every 3-4 days, I scheduled a day’s rest. At most, we could go for nominal sight-seeing. I’ve made a list of interesting sites on the route.
- Booking accommodation – tricky business. Our dates of travel coincide with peak holiday season: March-June. Choice hotels during this period are booked well in advance particularly at tourist cities, forest resorts and sanctuaries. It is important to have right spots to stay in places like Darjeeling, Gangtok, Cherrapunjee, Kaziranga etc. The earlier one books, the better the options.
- Selecting accommodation for the 24 nights in India was a little tricky. It was necessary to consider certain important factors. I prefer hotels on the highway rather than those in the city. That would save time of negotiating downtown streets.
- If we find out about spots worth visiting but unknown to me as of now, we should have the flexibility to change the itinerary. That would mean changing hotel bookings. Therefore, even if it meant paying a little more, I opted for bookings that allowed cancellation or changes free of cost.
- We need a decent hotel each day. If we are tempted by a good hotel, and cut our journey short on a particular day, it will be difficult to cover the extra distance, the next day. At the same time stretching longer on a particular day to get to an attractive hotel can make the journey tiring.
- We know many people who live in towns that are on our route. They have graciously asked us to stay with them. It is always a pleasure to stay with relatives and friends. Staying with them give us time to interact on the local conditions, activities and culture. But many a time, a lot of time is lost in formalities. Excessive insistence in eating is a problem that disrupts the digestion system – which we cannot afford. Hence, we have chosen to decline some of these offers.
After considering these parameters, I booked accommodation. I had a real tough time to fix locations on certain stretches like Mumbai to Ayodhya and Varnasi to Darjeeling.
Of course, there have been many revisions in the itinerary. And every change in itinerary, even it is of a single day resulted in a series of changes in accommodation. With every change, I changed hotel bookings. I don’t want to miss out on any sites, just because I had to put in some extra effort. I did not lose my patience. Though confusing and complicated, I started enjoying and learning out of it. It is good I had ‘free cancellation’ terms in my bookings!
I have revised my itinerary almost 10 times and I had to change hotel bookings on all 10 revisions!