City Travel – Yamuna Expressway, Greater Noida
Delhi to Agra and back.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
There are no dhabas, no burger joints — not yet. Neither is there a rail crossing. You will not pass through a single town. The Yamuna Expressway takes you from Delhi to Agra in less than 2 hours. Bhopal Shatabdi Express, India’s fastest train, takes 2 hours and 11 minutes. A Tatkal ticket for Bhopal Shatabdi Express costs Rs 370, while on the expressway cars have to pay Rs 320 (one-way).
Opened in August 2012, India’s longest six-lane highway is built as a public-private partnership project by the Noida-based infrastructure conglomerate Jaypee Infratech Ltd and the Uttar Pradesh (UP) government.
Constructed at a cost of Rs 12,839 crore, the expressway has five toll plazas, 41 minor bridges, 70 vehicular underpasses, 76 pedestrian underpasses and 183 culverts. Running along the eastern bank of the Yamuna, the 165km road starts from Greater Noida in the National Capital Region and ends at the Kuberpur Crossing in Agra, UP, about 14km from the Taj Mahal. The torture of braving a trip to this city though the traffic jams and small towns of National Highway 2 is over. The only obstructions on the new expressway are the toll plazas.
With Agra continuing to be at civil war with traffic, the journey is smoother than the destination. Indeed, it is an experience. The maximum permissible speed for cars being 100 kmph, the access-controlled expressway, meant exclusively for high-speed vehicular traffic, barely lets you feel the countryside. Since it is built at a level higher than the surrounding landscape of sugar-cane fields and brick kiln chimneys, commuters can enjoy an elevated view.
At several places, the expressway gently slopes up and down. Occasionally, there are broad angular curves. There are no irritants en route. On-the-way towns like Mathura are reduced to mere names on signboards displayed at key exits. There are no fuel stations along the expressway, just a few makeshift tyre puncture repair stalls.
The villages appear to be as serene as the buffaloes grazing in the distant fields, making it difficult to comprehend that the infrastructure project was delayed, among other factors, by protests over the acquisition of farmland.
In fact, while driving past Jagarpura village in Aligarh district, The Delhi Walla stopped by a large gathering which, one of the participants said, was commemorating the anniversary of the “martyrdom” of two farmers killed in police firing during a land acquisition stir in 2010. The speaker was threatening to block the expressway. A contingent of UP police stood on guard.
The atmosphere was relaxed on the rest of the stretch. Village boys sat on the steel crash barriers waving at cars. Near a village called Karsauli, near Agra, one boy dressed just in underwear was doing push-ups on the median that divides the expressway, seemingly unafraid of and oblivious to the cars speeding on both sides. Till recently closed to traffic, stretches of the expressway became a sort of community space for the youth of villages that lie along the route. Some travellers took a break by parking their cars on the shoulder lane to pose for mobile phone cameras. A few urinated on the metal barriers.
Near Agra, a signboard warned about nilgai, but the animal remained as elusive as the river Yamuna. At the toll gate, a giant board showed a list of very important people, such as secretaries and commissioners of the UP government, who are exempted from paying the fee, a reminder that old India cannot be fenced out completely.
On the Yamunabahn