First-person account: A 6.5-hour nightmare on Mumbai-Pune Expressway
Waking up to heavy rain in Pune on Sunday morning, I decided to leave three hours early so I could make it in time to work in Mumbai.
As a fortnightly commuter on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, I had the routine down pat I knew the fastest service, picked the best seats on the Volvo bus and assumed a three-hour buffer would compensate for any mischief caused by the monsoon.
But nothing could have prepared me, or any of my fellow passengers, for the tragic landslide that wiped out two lives and brought the E-way to a standstill. Having started the journey at 11.30 am from Wakad one of the last stops out of Pune we were making good time. It was after a 15-minute layover at a food mall at Lonavla, that trouble began.
Passengers wondered why the bus driver had chosen to stray off the Expressway, instead manoeuvring the bulky bus through the winding Old Mumbai-Pune highway. It was only later, when we rejoined the Expressway that we saw the traffic snarl, stretching as far as the eye could see.
Pic/ mid-day user
Movement on the highway had slowed to a crawl, but most commuters assumed it was because of the heavy rainfall. To the driver’s credit, he had already heard about the landslide but waited before sharing the news with us to prevent stirring panic. An hour had passed and we had barely moved; it was at this point that someone got a frantic call from a family member asking if they were okay.
The landslide had already made it to the news channels. Passengers got nervous after the driver confirmed this news and added that the landslide had claimed a few lives as well. By now, everyone was receiving worried phone calls from friends and family and news was trickling in about the landslide and the 15-km-long traffic jam.
The bus conductor handed out water bottles to everyone and requested that we stay calm. It took three hours, but around 4 pm, the bus finally cleared the gridlock. By this time, we had already spent over four and half hours on the bus and many felt the need to attend to nature’s call.
So, for the second time in the same journey, we stopped at yet another food mall. This time, there were rows and rows of buses waiting outside. The queues outside the women’s toilets were even longer. Women shoved, pulled and bickered so they could have their chance earlier.
After the second layover, order was restored and it was smooth sailing thereon. The driver did his best to make up for lost time; mindful of this, each passenger thanked him before alighting at their stop, as did I, as I got down at Dadar nearly six and half hours later, miraculously still in time for work!