The Golden Quadrilateral: India’s First Modern Highway Network
Author: Bob Rupani
Publisher: Rupani Media
Price: Rs 1,950
Describing the Delhi to Kolkata leg of the Golden Quadrilateral — India’s first modern highway network — Bob Rupani rolls back to the 16th century Afghan ruler, Sher Shah Suri, who built the medieval version of the ancient Grand Trunk Road. “Kos Minars (mile pillars) constructed by the ruler can still be found on this stretch,” the author, who is also a noted auto journalist, writes. Rupani’s latest book is as much about history as it is about geography. It is also about culture. The description of the Delhi-Kolkata stretch takes the reader through very different cultures — Vedic, Mughal, gun, farming, driving and Bengali.
The Golden Quadrilateral highway network linking Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai comprises 5,846-km of divided (having a central verge) four or six-lane roads. It is the largest highway project in India and the fifth-longest network in the world. The massive project began in 2001, by 2005, two-thirds of the work was completed and the project ended in 2012. The author notes that when he drove on it in 2015, it was almost all finished, with work on in some places to convert four lanes to six.The Kolkata to Chennai section describes the unspoilt beauty of Odisha and coastal Andhra Pradesh. This region with pristine beaches, dense forests and a whole lot of culture remains largely untapped as far as tourism is concerned.
There are two chapters by Gautam Sen, another noted auto journalist. One follows the Chennai to Mumbai stretch of the highway, and the other is an interesting section titled ‘The Times They have Changed’. Over a few pages, Sen takes the reader through India’s automotive history, from the Ambassador to Fiat to the Maruti stable. It is supported by an invaluable set of black and white photos of roads, people and cars, from the 1950s to the 1980s.
For the last leg of the Quadrilateral, from Mumbai to Delhi, Rupani takes the wheel. Throughout the book, the text is interspersed with beautiful photos of roads, traffic, people, monuments, nature and wildlife. This does interrupt the flow of the text, but then, one wouldn’t get the whole picture without the photos. Regrettably, the road trips are not logged for time and distance. Enthusiasts might want to go on these journeys, following in Rupani’s treadmarks. A journey time-line would have helped.
The author’s introduction has a lot of data on the road transport sector. It also talks about the challenges one faces driving on Indian roads. Rupani writes, “Most Indians are still to learn how to drive on a divided highway.” As an auto journalist, I have driven on numerous sections of the Golden Quadrilateral, in parts and over the years, and I fully endorse his observation. Another interesting observation is how STD booths and milestones have all but disappeared from the Golden Quadrilateral. The foreword by R C Bhargava, chairman of Maruti Suzuki India Ltd (the author travelled the Golden Quadrilateral in Maruti vehicles), is informative. Among other things, it emphasises the importance of infrastructure for economic and social development — a highway represents economic development, but it is also a major tool for national integration. By means of this instrumentality, a book on the Golden Quadrilateral is not only about progress. It also touches upon the eternal verities of Indian culture and society.