Highway hypnosis

It was so much easier driving downhill from Arunachal while I was privileged to have one expert of highway construction at my front passenger’s seat
Highway hypnosis

Kamal Baruah

(The writer can be reached at kamalbaruah@yahoo.com)

It was so much easier driving downhill from Arunachal while I was privileged to have one expert of highway construction at my front passenger's seat, whose experience was shared with untiring enthusiasm. It was interesting to hear about the Indian Army, when they could reach the NEFA frontier despite incredible challenges to fight the Chinese with the help of mule power. We were fetched by mules carrying supplies for forward posts at Kargil over 19,000 feet in hostile weather and on highly risky tracks. Things were normal then that are strange now. Today heavy vehicles, even copters, take over the function of mules. If mules could understand this, they would simply shrug.

Not long ago, I came across donkeys working in early 2010s for hauling our cargo all day long without complaint. They set stairs for a wireless base at Siot hillock near the Indo-Pak border. Now roads are designed well, helping vehicles for adequate grip from rubber wheel to go up a very steep incline. Ironically, the ancients had no theodolite to measure the angle in the horizontal and vertical planes, therefore no knowledge of land surveying. When a road had to be built up a hill, the team of prospectors would lead a donkey or a mule up the incline. The donkey would not go straight up along the shortest route, but would instinctively follow a path with a moderate incline or grade.

My co-passenger kept talking about the geometric design of the road we came across. As the surface produced great grip, I felt like entering the world of Formula 1 racing. I looked through the windscreen, seeing the landscape flow quickly past. It passed through a terrain with cross slopes, while moving the steering wheel at ease and effortlessly. I glanced at how fast my alloy wheels were spinning through the digital cockpit and didn't hesitate to press the horn to draw world's attention. There was continual beam of indicators at U-turns to let others know in which direction I would be turning.

The consultant engineer didn't care in which direction the car was moving, so long as I remained in the driver's seat. But he suddenly pointed towards navigation at touch-screen infotainment system and drew my attention to a line 'why roads are often curved?' I responded with a blank look as my eyes stayed on the road. "It is highway hypnosis". Curves provide control to drivers. If at all possible even bridges aren't constructed in straight line. Driving straight continuously increases the chance of drivers' fatigue. Lack of visual simulation and change of action might fuel accidents.

The Kolia Bhomora Setu reminded me of the danger of driving straight. At one point I once faced difficulties while navigating in the middle but quickly regained control of my thoughts to conquer it. It's a long bridge of over 3 km in length and really dangerous as the thick fog plunges the road over the bridge often. I gently released the accelerator pedal a little bit to control the speed. As we got out on the four-lane NH, I set the cruise control at about70kmph to maintain a constant speed without the use of the accelerator pedal that made me feel me at ease.

It was much less tiring while I saw traffic signs run away like a human in a rain storm, but a rectangular road sign brought attention for an instant it appeared - 'Speed Limit' - you can't drive faster any longer than the posted speed under normal, safe driving conditions. Every highway is taxed for raising funds and its maintenance. It's necessary to provide certain infrastructure, needs and security, but at the same time, toll tax failed to keep passengers in comfort and convenience. A toll plaza near Sonapur triggered long queues as its infrastructure proved to be wholly inadequate.

The hustle and bustle of the big city had begun as we approached Guwahati and at the same time, clogged streets have caused some deadly delays in emergency responses. However, unruly drivers create chaos, while public transports are the most disobeyers. City buses are slow, doing dilly-delay tactics and halt intermittently, thus blocking the left lane. Are speed limits to be set for minimum speed also? Three-wheelers ply on whims and fancies, occupying auto rickshaw stands at every nook and corner illegally. Slow-moving rickshaws make a situation worse on main roads. Motorists are in the habit of honking all over. Besides, there are VVIPs and ambulances blowing horns uninterruptedly. They must stop it while on the move and use horns sensibly once the road is blocked. The use of high beam is prohibited within city limits, but are we aware of it? I saw my city fail through unmethodical planning.

Police failed to keep a close eye and enforce any sort of discipline. They are just forcing fines on defaulters. Traffic management should understand the flow of traffic during peak hours. The congestion near malls, restaurants, schools, offices and hospitals is the cause of concern. Road users must comply with the rules of the road. Notwithstanding these speed bumps, we chased hassle-free travelling to manoeuvre comfortably on the different surface of the street. It was s striking, exhilarating 300-km journey from the hills to the plains that was geared to bring real goosebumps to our journey.

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