Bike trip to Chennai from Palakkad? Not worth it! Learn from my experience

Three national highways with numerous tollgates and concrete jungle on either side makes it a boring tiresome 540-km journey.

I started at 6 am at Palakkad and ended the journey at my home in Chennai at 7 pm. For the way back, one day later, I started at 12 noon and ended the journey at 1 am next day. It was 13 hours on the bike, each time.

Route Highway Distance Time (onward/return) Speed (onward/return)
Palakkad-Salem NH544 (Salem-Kochi Highway – NH47) 211 (from my place) NA/4.5 hours 50/50-30
Salem-Ulundurpettai NH79 (Salem-Ulundurpet Bypass) 140 (to NH544 headend) NA/3.5 hours 60/40-70
Ulundurpettai-Chennai NH38 (Vellore-Tuticorin Highway – NH45), NH132, NH32 and NH48 (Delhi-Chennai Highway or Chennai Bypass) 191 (to my suburban hometown) NA/5 hours 70-30/50-30

Original Route
Using PC at home, I decided that the shortest route would be to first go to Salem on NH544, then via Thiruvanamalai (via Kalvarayan Hills), Sriperumbadur and Poondamallee (Poonamallee/Poovirundamallee) to my suburban hometown in Chennai. I printed these maps on paper but they eventually became useless. I forgot to carry my data SIM and I could not use mapping apps on the go. There was no need for them, as I rarely had to leave the highway. My only worry was missing some road sign and overshooting an important turn. I got reassurances from people/police to be sure that I was on the right way.

Onward Journey
From Palakkad to Salem, I rode at 50 kmph on the NH544, as that was the highest fuel-economy speed on my city commuter bike. After leaving the national highway at Salem, I had trouble finding the scenic route to Thiruvannamalai. People I asked on the road told me to proceed on NH79 and then take a diversion to Thiruvannamalai after a few kilometers. I did that but my speed was hampered by mofussil traffic. I then decided to return to the highway again. This was an empty highway (although with numerous tolls) and I increased my speed to 60 and soon became comfortable with it. This highway ended in NH38 and I increased the speed to 70. (The bike’s engine vibrations becomes noticeable at 60 and become annoying at 80.) I saw two accidents involving motorcyclists on NH38. I tried not to assimilate the visual details but became unnerved nevertheless. I reduced my speed to 50 again. At Chengalpattu (Chingleput), Chennai city traffic began piling up and speed was 30 at most. Before entering the city, I found NH48, which bypassed the city and took me to my hometown. They were still constructing NH48 during my earlier visits. By this time, though, it was dark and the traffic was slow at many signals. I can drive only at 30 in city traffic at night.

Return journey
It was raining when I started back. There was no rain from Tambaram onwards. Because of the accidents I saw earlier, I decided not to go beyond 50 on this leg of the journey. I reached the Ulundurpettai junction after 5 hours.

From the NH junction to Salem starting point for Salem-Kochi highway (NH544), it took 3.5 hours. For the first one to one-and-a-half, I decided to do 60 to 70 because daylight wouldn’t last until Salem. When it became dark, the speed dropped to 40 for 2.5 hours.

I reached the NH544 at 8.30 pm. NH544 and NH79 are not connected. I had to go through some Salem city traffic to reach NH544. Just follow the directions towards Coimbatore. From there to my home, it took 4.5 hours to cover 200 km highway and 13 kms of mofussil route.

The highways

  • NH 544 – Salem-Kochi National Highway (still marked as NH47): This highway starts from Salem, goes through Erode, Avinashi, Coimbatore, Palakkad, Thrissur, and ends in Kochi (Cochin).
  • NH 79 – Salem-Ulundurpettai National Highway. It ends in NH38, which connects to Vizhuparam.
  • NH 38 – Velore-Tuticorin National Highway. It passes through Ulundurpettai before branching off to Thiruvannamalai/Vellore at Vizhuparam.
  • NH 132 – Vizhuparam-Tindivanam National Highway. It connects Vizhuparam from NH38 to Chingleput.
  • NH 32 – Chingleput-Nagapattinam National Highway. It connects Chingleput with Chennai.
  • NH 48 – Chennai Bypass Road. This highway bypasses Chennai city and connects to NH16, which goes to Andhra, Orissa and West Bengal. Bangalore visitors also take this route before branching off. NH48 passes through Chennai northern suburbs such as Porur, Anna Nagar & Puzhal and is the easiest route from Tambaram, Vandalur, etc.

NH38, NH132 and NH32 were still marked as NH45.

Map of NH544 highway - from Palakkad to Salem

From Palakkad to Salem, take the Salem-Kochi National Highway.

Map of Salem city with locations of NH544 and NH79

You need to travel across Salem city to reach the other highway.

Map of NH79

Salem-Ulundurpettai HIghway takes you to NH38

Maps of NH38, NH32, NH132 and NH48

Three highways (NH38,NH32,NH132) take you to Chennai. They are still marked as NH45. The fourth highway NH48 is Chennai bypass.

The good

  • The only good thing about these highways was the fact that there were no potholes.
  • There were many eateries and fuel pumps all along the way and finding one was not a problem. In the onward journey, I had dosa and pongal. I like pongal. I should remember to take more of it. On the way back, I saw two billboards at an eatery that caught my attention. One said “steam cooking.” The other said, no artificial flavors, preservatives, ajinomoto (monosodium glutamate) or colors. It was a vegetarian restaurant called and run by Only Coffee India Pvt. Ltd. Every dish in the meal tasted very good. Even the bitterguard (which I never eat) was good. Unlike in many restaurants, the rasam had real whole black pepper. The place was clean. Their specialty seems to be coffee but I did not order. It was lunchtime and I don’t take coffee more than once per day anyway. On the way from there, I saw a few more Only Cofee stalls but they don’t seem to be related.

The bad
Some stretches of the highways have medians, which block the light glare from oncoming traffic. This makes driving easier. Speeds at night on these stretches can be as good as in the day. The problem is that they are not everywhere. So, driving at night is difficult.

The ugly

  • Unlike toll collection areas, there is no lighting on many stretches with heavy traffic.
  • The lanes are not marked in many stretches. If you have to ride on the fast lane, you end up exhausting the fuel quicker.
  • On bridges, the third lane disappears to an abrupt stop or goes to an elevated footpath. Both are dangerous at night.
  • Bright decorative lighting used by some buildings on the sides of the highway are distracting. Two-wheeler headlights cannot compete with such lighting. Car headlights are brighter.
  • People living alongside the highways are considerably inconvenienced by them. I found people wearing dark clothes and riding bicycles at night without no backlight bulbs or reflectors. They may get easily knocked down by motorists. Car drivers just blare their horns and speed through unattended crossings
  • At night, I found some trucks cutting into the highway from service lanes without any horn warning or backlight bulbs or reflectors. They were so covered in dirt that I couldn’t see them until the last moment. They moved in mysteriously like dark apparitions. I wondered if they were assassination attempts. Compared to bus drivers, highway truck drivers are more safety-conscious. So, these unusual incidents were perturbing.

Toll roads are stolen property – stolen public property
The main excuse for having a centralized government is that citizen or local governments or even state governments cannot create nation-wide infrastructure. People expect the government to efficiently run the post office, construct and maintain roads/bridges, and provide a cheap/reliable supply of water and electricity. No Indian government is able to do any of this efficiently. Instead, they don’t just tax us but they lecture us and order us around. Our sellout netas are not only taxing us to benefit private parties but are also bequeathing those tax revenues to foreign lenders. Already state governments have been increasing property taxes because they are unable to pay foreign loan installments.

Previous prime ministers from Nehru to Rajiv Gandhi diverted a lot of tax money to start government-owned companies (PSUs) and give our country a strong industrial base. For prime ministers from Manmohan Singh onwards to Narendra Modi, who owe their post to foreign intrigue, the mandate from their foreign controllers is to sell those same PSU assets. Indian prime ministers have been given disinvestment targets and their finance ministers assiduously tried to meet them against all public opinion. The financial papers are full of “inspired” op-eds reprimanding the government for not meeting the disinvestment target set for the year. The asset sales are anti-national in more than one way. Government’s own expenditure (on itself) is very high. A good amount of plan expenditure is swallowed up by debt repayment (foreign and domestic), opaque and over-priced government contracts, evergreening of bad debts on the balance sheets government-owned banks (NPAs are almost always loans given to chamchas of politicians) and useless mindless and counter-productive schemes like MNREGA.

There are numerous tollgates on these highways. Government has surreptitiously privatized these roads. The roads were earlier public property. Now, a private “company” with a minority stake with the government owns the road. I think even government transport corporation buses are also paying the toll. The toll is highest for goods-carrying trucks. Even for small stretches, they are being made to pay nearly 600 rupees. What they get in return is just a pothole-free but poorly lit two-lane highway.

These tolls are inflationary if you consider the tens of thousands of rupees a truck driver has to pay over a long trip, say, from Delhi to Tamil Nadu. The amount of unnecessary waiting at these toll gates are a drain on national productivity.

Some day in future, when India is unable to pay its debts, IMF/World Bank will order the Indian government to sell its remaining stakes in these “public-private partnership” toll companies to foreign bond holders and lenders. Indian currency would have depreciated a lot and these stake sales would not even cover one interest payment. In the past, IMF/World Bank had used the same trick on countries like Columbia, Chile, Costa Rica, Brazil, Greece and Argentina. Ultimately, the owners of these highways will be foreigners. If India is unable to pay its debt, foreign lenders will ask the toll rates to be increased. Just as PSUs built in the Nehru era at great cost are the targets of “disinvestment” today, the toll roads will one day hawked by the government to pay back its debts. A future finance minister will earn his stripes by “boldly” selling these toll roads to foreign buyers.

In 2011, Greek government officials tried to sell of public assets on the cheap for private equity outfits at a London hotel. Greece was suckered into incurring unmanageable loans by European banks and Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs.

All foreign loans and all the “reforms” are packaged with the intention of Western interests picking up Third-World public assets at a low price. Even Chennai Metrowater was transferred out of government control because it obtained a small World Bank loan. Now, it works at cross-purposes with Chennai Corporation. One of the conditions placed on Indian state electricity boards wanting remain in the national power grid is that they cede government control. The power regulatory authorities, “power genco” and “power transco” utilities that have been formed in various states are the result of World Bank/IMF instructions, even though neither national power grid corporation nor the state electricity boards are borrowing any money from them. The “independent” power regulators and generation/transmission utilities have been formed so that one day a future government will be able to sell them to a foreign lender. Won’t these “independent bodies” eliminate political interference? Only juvenile thinking would indicate that. There are no limits to private greed. When Tamil Nadu decided to build its own solar farm, a private power seller sued the government citing the new “reformed” electricity laws. The government decided to build its own solar power generation utility because the price offered by private producers was too high. The power seller claimed in court that government has no right to generate power on its own but instead should buy it from private producers. This is how traitors in the power ministry framed the laws and sabotaged the nation’s future. In 2013, Cyprus grabbed money from savings account holders to prevent banks from going bust. This executive loot was later called bail-in and several countries quickly pass bail-in regulations so that banks can continue to lend to dubious politicians and their chamchas, foreign and domestic. In India, Modi and Jaitley tried to pass a bail-in law and disguised it as the “Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance” or FRDI. Modi government withdrew the attempt for now. Oh, please, it is a reform! World Bank will probably punish him.

And, how was my trip?

After three hours on the bike, a$$ hurts. Back of the neck hurts after four. Holding the throttle for 13 hours cannot be good for the wrist. Although a night’s sleep is enough to feel normal again, the mental toll is too much. Riding at night is just nerve-wracking. Riding for the first time on an unknown route is annoying, particularly if you don’t have good maps. I don’t know how Motorcycle Adventures or Rosie Gabrielle does it. Rosie is even more crazy because she uses a big bike on which she cannot sit with both feet on the ground. There are many Indian bikers who have posted online about their been to trips north and south and east and west. How is riding India, with its toll gates and drudgery, a pleasure? You may ride your bike to get a lot likes, but I am afraid it might give you just piles. Many of these bikers wear expensive and tight-fitting protecting gear. I wore the standard Indian shirt-and-pant. On the way back, I wore bathroom slippers instead of shoes because of the rain. I noticed that rushing wind had dried the skin on the back of my palms and that it had become white in some places. It is an acceptable case for gloves. At night, it was slightly chilly on the Coimbatore route. Otherwise, my clothing had no problem. My luggage consisted of clothes, toothbrush n tongue cleaner, and extra footwear. Ear plugs were very useful. On the way back, I forgot where they were. They were in my shirt pocket! Some bikers carry their whole wardrobe, the kitchen fridge, and enough camping gear to furnish a model outhouse. They are overdoing it a bit I think.

From now on, the max I will do one way on any journey will be 100 kms. That too only if the route has good scenic views. No long tar road trips and concrete jungle views for me.