It’s been a while since I’ve travelled anywhere and even longer since I took a nice long road trip. So, I was really excited to be on Honda’s 10th Drive to Discover tour. The trip itself – Bangalore to Goa – is nothing epic or new, the kicker though was it was not the direct 10 hour route but rather a circuitous route traversing South West towards Mangalore and then making our way north along the Malabar Coast to our journey’s culmination in a small town in the South of Goa.
Day 1: Early arrival and onward to Chikmangalur
My alarm went off at 4:30am. The current regulations ask for you to be present at the airport a good 2 hours before a flight, so an 8:15am flight meant I needed to be at the airport by 6:15am in the morning. The hour and a half aboard the flight was spent fidgeting and trying to catch some sleep – it was my first flight since the lockdown and I was stuck with a centre seat, wearing a PPE robe, not the best way to start of a journey.
800km trip to Goa would see us drive through Chikmangalur, Mangalore, Kundapur and a number of other towns.
But at Bangalore the drive only commenced after lunch, so the intervening hours were spent mingling with other participants and members from Honda’s team at the Taj hotel near the airport. Post this I was introduced to, or should I say paired up with, my driving partner for the trip and of course also our vehicle for day 1. Yes, for day 1, it was a different car every day. Honda had their entire line-up from the Jazz to the gen 5 City prepared. We began our journey with the diesel WR-V and what started out as a convoy exiting the city quickly devolved into a ‘you’re free to drive off’ as we hit the open highways.
Wide four lane highways out of Bangalore made for a speedy journey
The road to Chikmangalur was mostly an open four lane highway which was smooth for the most part though in some places the car did tend to bob over uneven paving. The diesel made for a very effective cruiser, bring it up to speed, drop it in sixth and cruise effortlessly and overtaking too wasn’t that much of an issue. I did get a brief go at the petrol WR-V on a later day and from what I can say, comparatively, I had to keep the engine on the boil to gain speed at a faster rate. The one feature in the car that I ended up appreciating on that day was the driver side cup holder near the side air-con vent. Leave a bottle there for half an hour and we had refreshing cold water to drink during the drive.
Our first stop was the town of Hassan for early evening refreshments where we switched drivers. Our next halt was at Yagachi dam – briefly – before pushing off further down the road onto a narrow by-road skirting the dam reservoir for a more picturesque location. By the time we hit the road again the sun was starting to get low on the horizon and eventually when we touched Chikmangalur night was upon us, though our drive was yet not over. Our hotel, the rather lavish Trivik Resort, was located a good hour away from town, up a quiet and rather remote hillside – particularly by 8:00pm at night near when we pulled into the gate.
Both day 1 and day 2 saw us arrive at the hotel post sun-down.
Day 2: Moring photoshoot, Mangalore and Kundapur
Day 2 started early as well since we took the WR-V out to the nearby Mullayanagari Peak for a short photo session. While we only went up to where the road ended, the view down from higher places was quite spectacular. By 10:30am, breakfast was done with and we were given our car for the day, the Honda City CVT. Driving duties too were split before the start of the day with me going till Mangalore and my co-driver picking-up thereafter.
Road to Mullayanagari Peak did offer some spectacular views.
The roads out of Chikmangalur weren’t as wide as the four lane National Highways but trees and greenery on either side more than made up for it in beauty and progress was brisk with the occasional halt to snap a few pictures. We also encountered a lot of diversions with road widening work evident on more than a few stretches of the National Highway. However, this was a build-up to what I would say was the best piece of road I’ve ever driven on – leaving aside the elevated approach road to the Mumbai airport though that doesn’t really count.
Not all smooth sailing, there were plenty of instances of road works along the way.
Climbing and descending the ghats on NH 73 was some of the smoothest stretches of roads I had the chance to encounter. Essentially a two lane road - though there's no centre line - it's wide enough to let two cars pass, near butter smooth and outside of a remote patch or two and a few rumblers, no real surface imperfections to unsettle the ride. The City just glided down the winding roads and through smooth hair-pin bends. I could have pushed the car a little more on these kinds of roads but I was perfectly happy to turn the journey into nice leisure cruise on this road as the City really felt smooth and well poised coming down. Leaving the ghats behind we arrived in Mangalore closer to 3pm, settling in for lunch at Gajalee.
The route through the Charmady Ghats on NH73 were some of the smoothest roads on the entire trip.
Post lunch, driver detail was swapped and we set off – once again on smooth four lane highways and multiple bridges over beautiful back waters lined with trees. A number of detours followed as we tried to find an ideal place to get some pictures near the coast without getting stuck in the sand. By the time we reached out hotel in Kundapur, it was past 7:30pm and our day ended with a Covid test #signofthetimes and an open-air dinner.
Day 3: The home stretch – Welcome to Goa!
While my co-driver went off with the City for some early morning pictures, I got to sample the petrol WR-V and the petrol Amaze – the latter eventually becoming the car assigned to us for the day. After some nice early morning photo sessions on the coastal stretch of NH66, we returned to the Hotel for breakfast before setting off for Goa, though not before topping off our tanks.
Section of NH66 outside of Kundapur runs right along the coast. Quite scenic.
As mentioned previously, the 1.5 diesel WR-V on day one felt much stronger – might have to do with the 200Nm of torque as against the petrol’s 110Nm- with the petrol Amaze and WR-V requiring a little more aggressive throttle inputs to pick up the pace more urgently. As was customary, our drive to Goa wasn’t straight forward. A diversion off the highway towards the coast found us in a small fishing village while at a later excursion took us to a fishing dock where we could take in the sounds and smells of the local fish market.
Another excursion saw us pass through the town of Murudeshwara and stop in front of the Murdeshwar temple greeted by the magnificent gopura behind which stands the statue of Lord Shiva.
Murdeshwar temple gopura one of the tallest in India.
As we progressed further down NH66 we came upon more roadwork, entire sections of roads carved out of the mountainside or in the process of being carved into the mountain side to speed up the journey. The lack of lane markings in sections and the smooth surfacing also indicated that some of these section were very much new.
Our lunch halt for the day was in Karwarat, at the Hotel Amrut. Post a delicious lunch I found myself in the driver’s seat as we traversed the last of the highway in Karnataka and into Goa. As we crossed the state checkpoint, the four lanes dropped back to two and what was once wide flat roads turned into one that went with the contours of the land. The drive in Goa was scenic to say the least, greenery on either side of roads that alternated between a wide four lane and a narrower two lane going up and down hills with small towns dotted along the way.
Some sections of roads cut through the landscape and seemed quite freshly paved.
A few customary photo stops along the road and by 6pm in the evening we were pulling into the hotel and our final stop of the day – Azaya beach resort in Benaulim. A few hours to freshen up and we found ourselves at the beach celebrating our last night as everyone would fly or drive out the next day. The compact Amaze ended up being a good partner for the day with many of our diversions – not road works diversions - taking us to narrow roads off the highways where the compact dimensions really did help.
The one thing I noticed in every car I drove is that no matter the model they were all spacious up front and comfortable to sit in for extended periods of time, the back seat was reserved for empty bottles and a small carton of snacks. For the highway, the 1.5 diesel was the better bet than the 1.2 petrol only for its pulling power and additional gear which allowed for better cruising. The City’s cabin too was impressive and the digital dials were quite clear and informative though the lane watch camera – never did figure out how to turn it off – did lead to some confusion. Every time we flicked the stalk for the indicator, the camera activated the central touchscreen and bye-bye navigation screen. A little irritating when there are two turns close by and you want to confirm if this is the right turn.
Overall the trip was tiring to say the least – given the daily early mornings and hours behind the wheel - but the experience was super. From smooth drives on the well paved highways, the beautiful views out in the countryside, to sticking our phones out of the sunroof to get that nice driving video for social media (no we did not stick our necks out that’s just plain unsafe). The trip was indeed a welcome one and that it was after such a long time only made it all the more sweeter.