Why spend money on flight or train tickets, when you can drive? It’s more economical, but more importantly, it’s more fun. You can see the landscape and cultures slowly dissolve into each other rather than the jump-cut arrival on an aircraft. A driving holiday does require a little bit of planning and preparation, but then, that’s half the fun.
The biggest question, where do you go? While everyone flocks to the same old popular places, eating the same food and doing the same things they do at home, you can take a different route. A country as vast and diverse as India is pregnant with possibilities. It’s hard to pinpoint a place, but here are four suggestions from the four corners of the country. Treat them as suggestions. Do your homework. Most important of all, drive safe. More exhaustive information on all these destinations are available in earlier issues of Autocar India.
Ideal car: Big hatchback or small sedan
What to expect: Cherrapunjee, especially in the monsoon, is like James Cameron’s planet of Pandora in the movie Avatar. Cherrapunjee offers a traveller many moments of magic but the jewel on its crown are the living root bridges. Put a visit to the root bridges on your bucket list. These bridges aren’t built — they’re grown! Grown from the roots of a species of the Indian rubber tree, it takes 10 to 15 years for a bridge to become fully functional.
And then there are the splendid waterfalls. Foaming, angry white water cascading down the green mountains. The bigger ones have names like Nohkalikai, Nohsngithiang and Kynrem, while the numerous smaller ones remain unnamed but are equally glorious.
What we have described is just about half of what this place offers. For the rest, go and find out yourself.
Ideal for: For those who crave activity and adventure rather than a sedentary holiday. And those who love driving since the 50km drive from Shillong is one of India’s best.
Suggested place to stay: Holiday Resort Village Laitkynsew, Cherrapunjee.
Yes, that’s how green Cherrapunjee gets in the rains.
Ideal car: A quick sedan
What to expect: Canacona is the southern-most taluk of Goa, flanked by Karnataka and the Arabian Sea.
Unlike the more popular stretch of beaches between Candolim and Vagator in north Goa,
the southern part of the state sees less tourist activity. So, you don’t have that many fancy resorts and fine-dining restaurants as you’d find in north Goa. And neither do you have long lines of traffic, noisy families or the clutter that is generally associated with Indian tourists.
The most compelling reason to go to Canacona is its beaches. The two most popular ones are Palolem and Agonda. Of the two beaches, stay at Palolem if you like to party in the evenings. Agonda, in contrast, is quieter and more serene. South Goa is home to some Olive Ridley turtle-nesting sites. If you want to see this immortal cycle of nature, drive down to Galgibag beach, which is about a 40-minute drive from Palolem.
Ideal for: For those who want a quiet holiday away from the crowds, yet not be completely cut off. And who love the slow life.
Suggested place to stay: Art Resort Goa, Palolem Beach.
Where: Alleppey, Periyar and Munnar
Ideal car: Big hatchback or small sedan
What to expect: It is called ‘God’s Own Country’, and it really is. Cochin is a great place to start your exploration of Kerala. Thekkady or Kumily or the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary which, for all practical purposes, are the same place. The sanctuary encompasses 777 sq km with a 26 sq km artificial lake. It is home to the bison, sambar, wild boar, elephant and tiger. From Thekkady, you could continue to the manicured tea estates and the crisp mountain air of Munnar. Or you could retrace your steps and head for Alleppey and the backwaters of Kerala. Not to be missed is an overnight stay on the water highways, in a houseboat. The boat has a three-man crew including a cook who will whip up delicious meals for you. But be careful, since the roads are narrow and the bus drivers are mad.
Ideal for: For those who like and can afford the finer things in life. Foodies will also appreciate the offerings from Kerala’s kitchens.
Suggested place to stay: The Oberoi MV Vrinda, Allepey.
The stark beauty of Spiti Valley is unforgettable. But take care, this route is not for inexperienced drivers.
Ideal car: A 4WD SUV
What to expect: Most Autocar India readers would have driven the Manali to Leh road. And if they still haven’t, it’d be on top of their wish list. But what most people don’t know about is a drive that is even better — the Manali to Shimla drive through Lahaul, Spiti and Kinnaur. If you ever drive this road, it’ll always remain bookmarked in your life. No matter how much someone might tell you about it, no matter how much you have read about it or seen in pictures, it’s all insufficient. This is the abode of the gods, Indiana Jones and Star Wars. This could be the landscape of an alien planet. The drive will take you to Kaza, Tabo and Nako through some of the most spectacular and desolate landscapes in India.
Ideal for: Adventurers, explorers and those who don’t mind roughing it out. You need to be a good and experienced driver to do this trip.
Suggested place to stay: The Nomad’s Cottage, Losar, Spiti Valley.