Road trips for me have usually meant traveling from Delhi to nearby hill stations, and most of them have not lasted more than four or five hours. So, when last year, my parents decided to visit their native place near Jhansi, a road trip was the last thought on our minds. Unfortunately, Indian Railways beat us to a long waiting list, setting our travel schedule behind. Flights were out of the question since my parents have difficulty flying. So, I started looking at alternatives, when I came across an interesting travel blog on Savaari.com about how a road trip can be more experiential than a regular flight or a train ride. And Savaari was ranked as one of the top car rentals on Google. The February weather was perfect for road travel, without tiring ourselves out and even my parents seemed pleased with the idea.
So I booked a reliable and licensed taxi service in Delhi for a day-long journey. It was a nine-hour drive via Taj Expressway and NH 44. We planned to take the route through Delhi – Mathura – Agra – Dholpur – Morena – Gwalior – Datia – Jhansi.
Delhi to Agra
The drive till Agra was quite uneventful and something we had done before. We made our first stop near Mathura for tea and breakfast. But it was beyond this point when the drive started to get interesting. We passed smaller villages outside suburban Agra. I was hoping the roads would be quite similar to the highway that we had left behind, but I was in for a surprise. The wide tar roads transformed into narrow, unpaved ways, passing along fields on both sides, with smaller tea shop and village shops at occasional intervals. Fortunately, having booked a comfortable Agra to Delhi taxi paid off. The best part, however, of this stretch was the zero traffic and we seemed like the only travelers on the road, except for a few small trucks and tempos carrying villagers. After the initial adjustment with the bumpy ride, I focused on the natural landscape that flanked the rural roads. Most of it was barren, yet had its own beauty.
Agra to Dholpur
We made our first major break near Dholpur at a small town called Mania. The driver took us to a local roadside eatery with clean bathrooms and fresh food. Although it was a highway dhaba, it looked far different from what we see around Delhi. We were on the borders of Rajasthan and it was evident from the local dialect and the way they dressed.
Once we entered Dholpur, I noticed the shifting landscape and how the air also felt different. We cruised through the hinterlands of this ancient town. This was on the easternmost edge of Rajasthan and its old structures and architecture were typical of the state. We crossed semi-urban areas and the suburbs sitting along a river, and very soon we were out of Dholpur and into the famous ravines of Chambal.
Dholpur to Chambal
Once known for being the land of ruthless and infamous dacoits of India, Chambal now lies oblivious to the world, with its little population of farmers, rural traders, and a handful of tourists. My dad and our driver were sharing stories of the times when the entire population of Chambal would shudder at the mention of names like Daku Man Singh, Paan Singh Tomar, and the famous Bandit Queen – Phoolan Devi. And now, Chambal is undramatic with its silent valleys and poor villages. The Chambal River, which was once a terror bed is now a rafting camp for tourists. We crossed Morena and Bhind through the rocky and dusty roads overlooking the ravines and the meandering river.
Chambal to Gwalior
It was late in the afternoon when we landed in Gwalior. From the unassuming Chambal to the city of royal heritage was surely a leap. We passed along the fringes of Gwalior and headed towards NH75. But it was also time for a quick tea break. It was quite a clean and unhurried city and we decided to make a little detour and take a quick look around before we head towards Jhansi. After all, what is the point of such a long road trip, if one cannot pause and enjoy the place on the way? We ventured into the main city and like typical tourists, headed to the Man Singh Palace. Next, we stopped for lunch at the city market and indulged into local food. Before we took the highway, we also made a stop at the Gwalior Fort. It sat on a hill, little outside the city and was the most spectacular structure of Gwalior. It was also a local hotspot.
Gwalior to Jhansi
The last phase of our journey was visually the most significant. As soon as we crossed the city perimeters and the highway, we landed on narrow, rustic roads cutting through mustard fields and dry forests painted in sunset glow. This was the best view I had on this entire trip until we reached Jhansi.
From the historical lands of Delhi and Agra to the ancient town of Dholpur, followed by the silent valleys of Chambal, and finally, through the royal city of Gwalior, the road to Jhansi was truly an exciting one!