It was April 2007. The school year was winding down, Sam was getting ready to move away from India and head back to the US. Doug planned this trip that sounded almost un-doable. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone but a hard-core confluence hunter. We took a personal day on a Friday and drove from New Delhi to Amritsar and back, stopping at three consecutive confluence points along the way. We drove a round-trip to avoid any backtracking – if we were going to spend close to 24 total hours in a car together, we at least needed to see some variation in the sights along the way. We kept pretty close to the 75E meridian, stopping at 30N, 31N and 32N – none of which had previously been documented by the confluence project. And interestingly, all of which are located smack in the middle of wheat fields.
If you drove from Delhi to 30N 75E, you’d get the impression that India was mostly truck-repair garages and roadside tea stalls. The aspect of confluence hunting that I love the most is that the hobby forces travelers off the road, past the veneer of highway-side shops, and into the essential heart of the area. And the essential heart of the Punjab is agriculture.
We left Delhi on National Highway 10 at some horribly early hour, which is really necessary on a trip like this. The first several hours, even way before rush hour started, was spent stuck in traffic and diverted around construction. By 6 AM we had made it to the village of Hisar. By 7:30 we were in Sirsa. We were covered in navigation equipment – from a GPS-and-laptop combination in the back seat to some detailed topographical maps prepared by the survey of India in 1913. In between some of the larger towns we started to see rural India at its best: goat-herders carrying baby goats, herds of water buffalo stopping traffic on the highway, ladies with arms covered in tribal bracelets carrying bundles of sticks or straw on their heads. We got to the point where we had to start leaving the highway and looking for smaller roads towards the confluence; roads too small to appear on Google maps, and too new to appear on the Survey’s topo maps. We stopped once we were near the village of Laliana, and asked random passerby for directions, consulted our laptop and GPSes, and backed up and turned around now and then, but we eventually got to a narrow dirt farm road going in the right direction. My favorite part is always when the road trickles down to where you can’t drive any more and you’re forced to get out of the car and hike to the CP. We traversed some fields of wheat, zigzagging along the irrigation canals, and getting slowly closer. We had to avoid some areas where chaff was being burned in giant hot smoky flamepiles. Most of the villagers and farmers ignored us, but a few took an interest. It’s easier to explain that we were tourists interested in farming than it is to explain why we needed to go exactly 300 more meters in that particular direction. But we got a guided tour from a wheat farmer with a water buffalo, who came with us to the CP and posed for photos. It was 11:45 AM when we parked and 12:04 PM when we “zeroed out” at the spot.
This entry is intended to be read with the entries for Confluence Points 31,75 and 32,75. All of these conquests comprise the hat-trick that Sam Linker, Warren Apel and I scored at the end of April, 2007.
A few months earlier, while staring at a stack of ungraded freshman writing at the American Embassy School in New Delhi, India, a vision came to me. In it, an angel appeared: “and lo,” spaketh he, “behold, my child, the power of Global Positioning technology. Go and conquer—not people, not kingdoms—but three confluence points in a nifty little row. And speak of this to all ye see.” I graded a couple of more papers and then began planning this Holy Trinity of cp hunting.
Confluence points are only separated by seventy or so miles. Who can’t drive that, right? What you must remember is that seventy miles in India can feel like 700 miles. What with that which stipples the roadways--farm animals, unmarked speed breakers, a bajillion villages, nut job bus drivers, railway crossings, and camel carts that can be bested by a glacier—travel is never quick and easy. One will often complete an entire day of stop and go, nauseatingly curvy road travel and marvel at the millimeters covered on the map. So, hoping to nail three cps in the course of a couple days was a tall order.
It just so happened that most of the Punjab—the bread basket region to the north west of Delhi—had not been logged. 30, 75; 31, 75; and, 32, 75 sit in a straight line and, according to the Degree Confluence Project, had not been visited and logged. A couple of factors made these three cps even more attractive. First, because the Punjab consists of flat, unobstructed land, the cps would, theoretically, be approachable even if we had to walk a bit. Second, the path to visiting these led us over two fairly well-traveled highways—Highway 10 to the northwest from Delhi and Highway 15 that would lead into Amritsar from the south. There would be only a relatively short stretch of small country road, so said the map. Third, Amritsar was reachable in a day’s drive. This was important, for we could not bank on reasonable accommodations along the way—not in Hodunk, India. Finally, in all my five and a half years living in India, I’d still not seen Amritsar, which happens to be the home of one of the world’s religions, Sikhism; the city houses the amazing Golden Temple. This was a must-see.
Taking a personal day from work, Warren, Sam and I had hoped to avoid the notorious Delhi traffic by leaving Gate 3 of the American Embassy School at 4:30 AM on 27 April, 2007. Surely, we’d be able to exit the city limits to the northwest and make some good time down Highway 10 before the birds stared chirping. Silly us. Due to “Diversion” signs that were clearly set up by inmates of the local asylum, we soon found ourselves only a few miles from school, fixed firmly in a morass of tuk tuks and truck trucks. We sat and sat and sat and sat; finally, we exited Delhi proper at around 6:00 AM. Frustrated, but not disheartened, we motored on. Sammy felt a bit ill and reclined in the back while Warren and I visited everything from the Great Buddha Empty to Britney to the recent Atlantic to what we’d do for a million bucks. We munched Trish Apel’s sinful, chocolate and peanut-loaded trail mix and grooved with the hum of the road and Warren’s funk mix.
After many kilometers of a northwest trajectory, we began to head due north at the town city of Sirsa, still in Haryana. At this point we’d been driving many hours and had consumed only crackers and trail mix. We were looking for a place to stretch and eat. This, my friend, is where road tripping in India can become a drag. A restaurant. A bleedin’ restaurant. Nothing fancy. Just four walls, a fan, a table, chairs and a kitchen that can produce dahl (spiced lentils) and chapatti (flat bread): I’m not asking for the sun and the moon. As I’m sure you can sense, these “luxuries” were not forth-coming. We kept motoring on, searching for anything. Nothing appeared.
Until…a dhaba. Now, normally I’m all about dhabas—small roadside shacks that cook up said dahl and chapattis. Peppering the edges of Indian highways, dhabas amount to truck stops. They often offer an overhang to provide some shade; in this shade, one can usually find a number of charpois—bed frames strung with thick rope. Here, a trucker can take break, drink some chai, have a smoke, fill the belly and even grab a snooze—all for a couple of rupees. These truck stops, however, suffer from a bit of ill-repute. There are a number of reasons why the trucker dhabas, in general, have this flavor. It is fairly well understood that these roadside stops often double as brothels. AIDS has been spread in India, in large part, along the trucking routes. Next, one questions from where the water comes to make the chai and dahl. Perhaps from the fetid cesspool/toilet off to the side, you say? Perhaps. Finally, if you are familiar with truck drivers in the west…they are often more rough and tumble types than I (hard to believe); now picture an Indian truck driver—one who lives in his pared down, 110 degree cab for a couple of dollars a day. Now, imagine three goofy white dudes stopping off at one of these places: “Heah Guys, what up? What’s cookin’? How’s the dahl here?” Indeed, by the time we’d left the dhaba where we stopped, I thought it unusual that my ten rupee plate of watery, undercooked dahl cost 100 rupees. Anyway, we ate there because there was nowhere else to eat. Actually, I should say that I ate. Warren sat stirring his dahl with the same chunk of chapatti for a half hour and Sam, still a bit ill, nibbled while I gorged. They smart. I dumb.
As we approached 30, 75 the temperature started to soar. The end of May in the plains of north India is approaching the hottest time of the year. By June, the temperatures would be topping out at around 125 degrees. At April end, we were “comfortably” at 100. Just the right time to do some slash and burn farming, no? Sure enough, as we approached 30, 75 we looked off to the right to see flames consuming wheat field stubble and farmers on the periphery, presumably controlling the burn. Amazing. When we rolled down the window, we could feel the heat radiating off of the field from a quarter mile away.
We meandered north toward a small city called Bathinda. Eventually, we turned in to approach the cp. We traveled down dusty dirt roads until the path no longer accommodated our Qualis. We began to walk through fertile and fallow wheat fields, traversing well-established, cement-lined irrigation canals. We met a friendly farmer by the name of Bhuta Singh and his bovine along the way. 30, 75, itself, sits in a furrowed, harvested wheat field. Only the stiff, crew-cut stubble remained, making the surrounding landscape even hotter and dustier. We claimed victory, snapped our shots and began to hike back the roughly half mile we’d walked from where we had parked the vehicle. Of note were the many hemp plants that lined the path. Hemp grows freely in many parts of India; here it was abundant. At this point, however, we were far more interested in A/C than THC, so we hopped into the Qualis and sped off for 31, 75.