20-Nov-2008 -- I collect antique maps, especially of India; and that’s how this adventure started. Looking at these old maps—some of which have large blank spaces in areas where the cartographer had no information—my husband’s cousin-in-law, Nikhil Gupta, was reminded of the Degree Confluence Project—another kind of partially completed map—and introduced me to it. Imagination was immediately engaged; the thought of visiting an undocumented confluence was thrilling
Being neither young nor particularly fit, any remaining North American sites were way too rigorous for consideration. But my husband, Dinesh, was born in the Rajasthan region of India, and we visit the area frequently. As we planned our 2008 trip, I kept an eye out for likely confluence sites. 26N, 74E seemed a possibility. We would be traveling by car between the cities of Jaipur and Jodhpur, and the site lies only about 5 kilometers (3 miles) south of National Highway 14. Dinesh and Paula, our travel companion and long-time friend, were both willing to give it a try.
Hoping to make up for a lack of physical prowess with excessive planning, I spent cheerful hours in preparation. (I suspect some polar expeditions have been accomplished with less deliberation.) I got a GPS unit and took a class on how to use it. I bought a compass and taught myself to use that, learning, for example, that the declination of Rajasthan is virtually zero. I practiced my new skills one Sunday in the Santa Monica Mountains with the Los Angeles Orienteering Club. But mainly I developed an intimate relationship with Google Earth. From previous experience, I knew that for smaller roads, Indian maps offer little more than suggestions and possibilities. And even when accurate, they’re nowhere near detailed enough for a project of this sort. Google Earth, on the other hand, is the ultimate in route accuracy and detail—at least where its resolution is fine enough to allow you to actually see landmarks on the ground. But Google Earth wasn’t going to come with us to the confluence, so our daughter, Emma, a cartographer, showed me how to make printed maps from it. I determined a Route A and an alternate Route B to the confluence point, and with manic obsession established waypoints and calculated distances.
Wonderful as it is, Google Earth is also inconsistent, offering clear images of some areas, while others are just blurs. This presented our greatest challenge. The confluence point itself was easily visible, but much of the land between it and the main road was incomprehensible. Our turn-off point from National Highway 14 was a guess, and we spent about 40 minutes of trial-and-error driving, through terrifically narrow village streets, looking for the dirt road that we knew would lead to the confluence. Bemused villagers asked where we wanted to go—a question to which there was no quick answer.
The next thing I knew, enthusiasm and determination had me charging recklessly through a landscape of thorn bushes and scampering up a surprisingly large berm for a better view of the terrain. But eventually we found ourselves at a known waypoint on our Google Earth map, and from there it was a straight shot of about 3 kilometers (2 miles) to our goal. A straight shot, but not without a few challenges to keep things interesting. The dirt road was sometimes narrower than our car, and at one point the vehicle had to squeeze through the diminutive arch of a toy-sized railroad underpass, earning our driver a hearty round of applause.
Although there are farms in the vicinity of this confluence, the exact point itself is in desert scrub—all thorny bushes, sandy soil, and the occasional grazing goat.