Tell someone that they ought to head to Jhumri Talaiya and in all likelihood, you’re going to sound rather insulting – if the person is bigger than you, you might even be nursing some bruises. The thing is, Jhumri Talaiya has become a Hindi metaphor for a place that is so far away from the rest of the world that it appears to have fallen off the map. It’s the Indian equivalent of Timbuktu, the back of beyond, the middle of nowhere, the end of it all. Funnily enough, when I asked my dad a few days ago if he’d buy me a lathe machine for my birthday, he replied with many unprintables and something that ended with Timbuktu. That got me thinking – if I couldn’t afford a lathe for myself, there was certainly no way I could land up in this town situated in Western Africa. However, I had wondered whether there was a place like Timbuktu here in India that has become an analogy for the ‘back of beyond’.
As these things usually pan out, I was given the keys to a spanking new Mahindra Thar and was told to go and discover a part of India not many people know of. It seemed like a perfectly good idea at the time – drive straight into the boondocks of India. Besides, you never know what you could run into there – maybe even a lathe machine that was being sold as scrap. Online maps say Jhumri Talaiya is a mere 2,027 km away from Mumbai. ‘Seems pretty straightforward’, I thought to myself, and so Joshua, Suraj (an old friend of mine who’s an ace with old British motorcycles) and yours truly set out in search of this place that has featured in numerous old Bollywood dialogues and several songs.
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