For half a day, we roam around eastern Goa trying to find a road that's marked on a few maps, to northwestern Karnataka and Dandeli. But the real-life roads peter out into mining tracks and then into nothing. One arrows into a forest, beautiful surroundings but the surface narrows and rapidly deteriorates into pebbles, until we decide it is futile and turn around. Long way around then, west and south to Netorli and Canacona, then branch off just before Karwar, up the ghats on a road that's mostly OK, but has a few dirt track stretches. And splendid bamboo stands, languorous (or is that "langurous"?) langurs, occasional drongos, hills overflowing with trees.
NH-4A on the way back from Dandeli has a stretch, supposedly 8-km long, that someone describes to us as "hell". He gives us directions so that we can avoid most of it, so we are left with only "two km of hell" (he actually writes that on the map he draws for us). This section is pure red mud and stones and potholes, traffic on it easily 95% trucks that don't much care for either potholes or dust or the small red car that's trying to negotiate the former two without snapping in two. (Ours).
Following his directions mean we come up to this stretch of the highway along roads that themselves range all the way from dirt track to excellent tarmac, the excellent tarmac making up the last stretch that ends at the notorious highway. We know from several hundred metres before we hit "hell" what's coming: we see a strip of red mud perpendicular to our progress in front of us, we can see the trees above us, so fresh and green as we approach, turned absolutely red by the dust. In much the same way, we know when the crummy stretch is about to end, because we can see the trees returning to green. To our relief.
It soon became a joke. Driving south on the Goa highway were dozens of those curious chassis-only Tata trucks -- you know, wheels, long bars making up the undercarriage, steering wheel, seat with a very windswept figure sitting in it. I mean, dozens.
But on this day, every single one of them was a left-hand drive beast. Were they heading somewhere to be exported?
(If a certain someone, you know who, reads this -- OK, I got the joke. You don't need to bash me on the head with it again).
Red Maruti van tried for perhaps 45 minutes to overtake us. He'd get on our tail, sometimes even pass, but then would slow down significantly on the uphill stretches. (Are these vans sort of underpowered, especially when filled with 5-6 adults and bags?) Then catch up again and jockey about on our tail, trying to overtake.
Eventually, we stopped somewhere to buy bananas. The red van shot past us and vanished.
Five minutes later we got rolling again; not half a km ahead, the same Maruti van has just been in an accident. It is clearly his fault -- the van is all the way over on the other side of the road, and has just hit a Qualis that must have been trying desperately to get out of the way. Amazingly, nobody is hurt, though the Maruti driver is rubbing his shin and a youg girl from the Qualis is weeping in her mother's arms. But both cars look like writeoffs; their drivers' sides, especially the wheels, are smashed and twisted.
After checking that everyone is OK and asking if we can help in any way, we move on. I'm more than a little sobered, because I realize that despite myself, there were a couple of times this morning when I drove like that Maruti guy did.
Must be a particularly bad day, because we pass at least two more accidents that seem similar.
And off and on through the day, I wonder as I drive: who is a good driver? A guy who weaves expertly through traffic, overtakes at the narrowest opportunity and gets to where he's going those few minutes faster than the next driver? Or a guy who drives in such a way that his passengers feel safe and comfortable?