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Highway blues

Highway blues
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First Published: Fri, Jul 25 2008. 12 30 AM IST

Chairs await customers at Wagheshwar Dhaba & Snacks Corner on the NH4
Chairs await customers at Wagheshwar Dhaba & Snacks Corner on the NH4
Updated: Mon, Nov 03 2008. 11 00 AM IST
So what if there aren’t many petrol pumps? So what if the journey takes more time to Pune? So what if there aren’t many good eating joints? Riding on this, I never worry about reaching the destination on time. I feel like riding forever.”
Chairs await customers at Wagheshwar Dhaba & Snacks Corner on the NH4
The Mumbai to Pune stretch of National Highway 4 (NH4) that goes right up to the east coast in Chennai, tells many stories and backpacking biker Rahul Bodas’ is one of the happier ones.
“And, it’s less crowded, much smoother than the past and zero toll,” he adds.
Bodas is referring to the Rs140 toll tax motorists have to pay if they want to use the faster route to Pune in Maharashtra from India’s financial capital—the six-lane, high-speed, access-controlled Mumbai-Pune Expressway.
The rundown eateries, vanished auto mechanic shacks, deserted fuel stations, and desolate cigarette and ice-cream vends on NH4, however, have sadder tales to tell—of disappearing traffic and an end to thriving businesses.
“The expressway was opened in May 2000, and from the very next day I saw customers at my restaurant falling by 70%,” says Nandkishore Sakhre, 55, owner of Sagar Gardens restaurant in Khopoli, a small town on the the older highway.
Ketan Pawar of Lodhivali village says finding buyers for his prune plums has become difficult.
Today, Sagar Gardens is nothing more than a couple of large rooms and a porch full of shelves lined with broken glasses, rusted window grills and cobwebs. Its journey to dereliction is repeated at once-plush eateries such as Delhi Darbar, Dwarka Inn and Ramakant Village.
The auto mechanics have vanished, leaving behind empty, oil-stained shacks. The fuel stations, once jammed with cars, buses and trucks, now shelter stray cattle, and the attendants idle away their time watching cricket matches on TV.
It wasn’t always like this. Through once dense forests and dangerous cliffs, this former military road between Panvel and Pune was built in 1804 by British general Arthur Wellesley, the first duke of Wellington and younger brother of Richard Wellesley, governor-general of India between 1798 and 1805. Later, John Malcolm, Bombay’s governor between 1827 and 1830, opened the road to the public and India’s first mail cart rumbled to Pune.
Rajendra Sakhre stands outside his desolate restaurant Ramakant Village in Khopoli, a small town on NH4
Before the expressway was built, NH4 was the busiest national highway in Maharashtra. According to records at the Maharashtra State Roads Development Corporation, nearly 5,000 vehicles drove on it daily in 1999. After the expressway opened, in the first year the number dropped about 15-20%, with larger drops in the years following. Last year, just about 6,732 vehicles traversed the highway daily, compared with its swankier cousin carrying 25,441 vehicles.
Rajendra Sakhre, owner of the once-popular Ramakant Village restaurant, recalls the busier days. “The food outlets were flooded with foodie travellers on their way to Pune on weekends. Over weekends we used to be under huge pressure, having many Mahabaleshwar-Matheran bound travellers,” he remembers. “Many Marathi theatre personalities, Bollywood stars were frequent visitors.”
The Mumbai-Pune Expressway flows under a bridge of the newly repaired NH4
Now, Sakhre’s Ramakant Village is nothing more than a dumpyard, looked after by a sleepy attendant.
Smaller businesses, too, are hit. Ketan Pawar, a teenager from Lodhivali village who spends about half a day trying to sell prune plums by the roadside, sold his wares on a recent day for Rs50, but says it was a rarity.
Santosh Prajapati, 30, an ice candy seller, keeps waiting for customers at Rajmachi Point, a place where he used to make Rs800 a day. He is happy if he manages to earn Rs300 now in a day’s work. “I have lost the love for my job now,” he laments.
Some old loyalists, however, hang on.
P.G. Shelke, a 40-year-old trucker, makes it a point to drive on NH4. “I am a daily driver on this road for the past 15 years. The old road is a tar road, so a semi- or fully loaded truck holds a good grip here. On the concrete expressway, there is a danger of losing the grip as the tyres keep tossing,” he reasons.
“On this road I can happily halt anywhere I want, and give a ride to hitchhikers to make a few extra bucks,” Shelke discloses.
So what if there aren’t many petrol pumps? So what if the journey takes more time to Pune? So what if there aren’t many good eating joints? Riding on this, I never worry about reaching the destination on time. I feel like riding forever.”
The Mumbai to Pune stretch of National Highway 4 (NH4) that goes right up to the east coast in Chennai, tells many stories and backpacking biker Rahul Bodas’ is one of the happier ones.
“And, it’s less crowded, much smoother than the past and zero toll,” he adds.
Bodas is referring to the Rs140 toll tax motorists have to pay if they want to use the faster route to Pune in Maharashtra from India’s financial capital—the six-lane, high-speed, access-controlled Mumbai-Pune Expressway.
The rundown eateries, vanished auto mechanic shacks, deserted fuel stations, and desolate cigarette and ice-cream vends on NH4, however, have sadder tales to tell—of disappearing traffic and an end to thriving businesses.
“The expressway was opened in May 2000, and from the very next day I saw customers at my restaurant falling by 70%,” says Nandkishore Sakhre, 55, owner of Sagar Gardens restaurant in Khopoli, a small town on the the older highway.
Today, Sagar Gardens is nothing more than a couple of large rooms and a porch full of shelves lined with broken glasses, rusted window grills and cobwebs. Its journey to dereliction is repeated at once-plush eateries such as Delhi Darbar, Dwarka Inn and Ramakant Village.
The auto mechanics have vanished, leaving behind empty, oil-stained shacks. The fuel stations, once jammed with cars, buses and trucks, now shelter stray cattle, and the attendants idle away their time watching cricket matches on TV.
It wasn’t always like this. Through once dense forests and dangerous cliffs, this former military road between Panvel and Pune was built in 1804 by British general Arthur Wellesley, the first duke of Wellington and younger brother of Richard Wellesley, governor-general of India between 1798 and 1805. Later, John Malcolm, Bombay’s governor between 1827 and 1830, opened the road to the public and India’s first mail cart rumbled to Pune.
Before the expressway was built, NH4 was the busiest national highway in Maharashtra. According to records at the Maharashtra State Roads Development Corporation, nearly 5,000 vehicles drove on it daily in 1999. After the expressway opened, in the first year the number dropped about 15-20%, with larger drops in the years following. Last year, just about 6,732 vehicles traversed the highway daily, compared with its swankier cousin carrying 25,441 vehicles.
Rajendra Sakhre, owner of the once-popular Ramakant Village restaurant, recalls the busier days. “The food outlets were flooded with foodie travellers on their way to Pune on weekends. Over weekends we used to be under huge pressure, having many Mahabaleshwar-Matheran bound travellers,” he remembers. “Many Marathi theatre personalities, Bollywood stars were frequent visitors.”
Now, Sakhre’s Ramakant Village is nothing more than a dumpyard, looked after by a sleepy attendant.
Smaller businesses, too, are hit. Ketan Pawar, a teenager from Lodhivali village who spends about half a day trying to sell prune plums by the roadside, sold his wares on a recent day for Rs50, but says it was a rarity.
Santosh Prajapati, 30, an ice candy seller, keeps waiting for customers at Rajmachi Point, a place where he used to make Rs800 a day. He is happy if he manages to earn Rs300 now in a day’s work. “I have lost the love for my job now,” he laments.
Some old loyalists, however, hang on.
P.G. Shelke, a 40-year-old trucker, makes it a point to drive on NH4. “I am a daily driver on this road for the past 15 years. The old road is a tar road, so a semi- or fully loaded truck holds a good grip here. On the concrete expressway, there is a danger of losing the grip as the tyres keep tossing,” he reasons.
“On this road I can happily halt anywhere I want, and give a ride to hitchhikers to make a few extra bucks,” Shelke discloses.
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First Published: Fri, Jul 25 2008. 12 30 AM IST