There are several ways one could drive from Lucknow to Varanasi, if one wanted to. One way leads through Raebareli, a small town known more for its political affiliations than anything else, then through Kunda near Pratapgarh, known for its strong arm politicians, and finally skirts Mirzapur to reach Varanasi. Mirzapur city, and district, fall under the Vindhyachal region, home to the Vindhya mountains which have been the source of several myths and folklore. But let me not get lost into stories about cities, and mountain ranges, and the legends they have spawned. Let me talk about the routes which lead to Varanasi, the city which lives within me, and Vaishali, and both of us collectively. This route, through Raebareli, Kunda, and Mirzapur, takes a little longer than the other two of the three most common routes, since it goes through towns and other populated areas, and thus the average speed of the vehicle is reduced. This was the reason that we did not choose this route.
The other way is through the newly constructed, and much hyped, and eagerly awaited Purvaanchal expressway; Purvaanchal meaning ‘Eastern region’, a term used to refer to the eastern part of the state of Uttar Pradesh, the ‘northern state’. This route is the longest of all routes, and yet is supposed to take the shortest amount of time since it skirts all towns, cities, villages and any populated areas of any sort. It is also built on an elevated corridor and is barricaded, and thus the average speed in this corridor can be expected to be much faster than when we travel through the other routes. However, this highway had been hurriedly completed, to adhere to deadlines and because of political compulsions, only a few days back, and work was still in progress on some sections of this road. There were no lay-bys, or pit stops, or restaurants, and no KFCs or McDonalds on this highway. Also, we were not sure which sections of the highway were still incomplete, or if the exits from the highway had been built or not. Thus this route too had to be abandoned.
Last of all was the ‘traditional’, time-tested route which exited Lucknow, and reached Varanasi through Sultanpur, and Jaunpur; the last city being known all over the country for its hand woven carpets. The average driving time on this highway could be expected to be less than six hours, accounting for a couple of tea breaks or nature calls. This highway was also being renovated and converted from an unpainted, two-way, metalled road into a six lane, barricaded highway. And thus it was this route that we selected, and found ourselves driving on, that winter morning.
We made good time and, even though we stopped along the way once or twice, to stretch our legs, and to have tea, we soon found ourselves crossing Jaunpur, and approaching Varanasi.
The city and its outskirts, I had found out during my last visit to the city, had changed perceptibly due to the sustained development efforts of the local, state, and central governments during the last several years. And thus the Varanasi we entered was cleaner, and more beautiful, and had wider, and better roads than we remembered from our time here in the city. We had never imagined that such a transformation was possible for a city as old as Varanasi.
To be continued….
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