The Konkan coast of Maharashtra doesn’t get the love it deserves. Maybe that’s down to the fact that it’s right next to that one other state that’s famous for its beaches and its seafood, which people flock to by the thousands throughout the year. And maybe that’s for the best, because it means, should you want to go on a road trip, you can have the Maharashtrian coast – with its own incredible beaches and seafood – all to yourself. There’s just so much to enjoy here too. There’s the sand and the surf, good enough to rival anything else the west coast can offer. There are the Alphonso mangoes – world famous, by the way. And you can’t call yourself a foodie if you haven’t sampled the rather unique Malvani cuisine native to the region. Oh, and there’s one more thing...
The roads. You could potentially visit any stretch along Maharashtra’s coast, and chances are you’ll be treated to breathtaking views and sinuous stretches of tarmac punctuated by quaint little villages. But I’m interested in just one very specific section today. It’s just under 30km long and snakes its way between the towns of Ganpatipule and Ratnagiri. It’s got variety too; one moment I’ve got the sea breeze in my hair and the sound of crashing waves in my ears, and the next moment my olfactory sensors are being assaulted by the odour of fresh chlorophyll as I careen up one of the many small ghat sections. It’s got bends galore, dips and crests and even a few straights – challenging, unpredictable and fun, just brilliant! And all this in a place not too far from either Mumbai, Pune or Goa. Who would’ve thought! But as you might be able to tell from the pictures, this isn’t what you’d call sunbathing season. There are big, grey clouds rolling in and out with the waves, and the precipitation levels are unpredictable at best. The results are mixed – the foliage shines a brighter hue of green than what you usually see in these parts, but some small patches of road aren’t quite as smooth and grippy as they are in the summer.
Of course, the right car can make matters a whole lot easier, and in this weather on a road like this,I don’t think it gets more right than this one. This third-generation Audi TT is still an absolute style icon, and instantly recognisable as nothing else but an Audi TT, but it’s more aggressive, more purposeful; a car that wants to be taken seriously this time around. It’s hard to tell exactly what the locals’ take on the styling evolution is, but their reaction, universally, is a big, toothy smile and India’s equivalent of a thumb’s up – the ‘A-OK’ gesture. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t entirely convinced. In a completely unfair assessment, I thought it would not be fun to drive because of how stylish it is. Even on the inside, it’s gorgeous – five years ago, this is what a concept car would have looked like. It’s elegant, it’s uncluttered, it’s modern, and it’s driver-focussed. It puts a smile on your face the moment you step in, it soothes your mind out on the open road, and when you want to go fast, like I’ve just decided to, it puts the controls exactly where you expect them, with zero distractions.
Malvani: one of India’s most underrated cuisines.
Not just a pretty face
That’s all well and good, but all TTs have had great interiors. Audi says this one is better to drive, but then they would, wouldn’t they? The answer becomes clear as I take a seemingly lazy left-hander around a tall cliff, and a huge beach comes into view down below on my right. My gaze flicks over for half a second to get a glimpse of the new topography, and in that one instant, the lazy corner has suddenly decided to turn in on itself. I told you it was challenging. I tug the nose back in and the rear of the TT scrabbles away at the damp blacktop. But the car catches it, shifts some torque to the front axle, ESP feathers the brakes, and I’m nudged gently back into line, the silliest grin plastered across my face. That’s Quattro for you – safe, but also loads of fun. This only goads me on as the road narrows and winds down towards the water. I’ve got a clear view of the next few corners, and there’s not a soul around; time to really open it up. Dynamic mode on the Drive Select system really ekes out every last one of the 227 horses from the 2.0-litre turbo motor. There’s a lovely gurgle coming out of the twin exhausts, much hairier than a four-cylinder motor has any right to make. Most of all though, the car feels light and taut and precise, and such a joy at my fingertips – the marketing fluff is true after all! And since it’s so compact, it’s making light work of this superb road. Anything larger, lower or heavier would have been too much of a handful.
With scenery like that, you’ll want to step out, but with a cabin like this, you’ll want to stay in. It’s just gorgeous.
Toast of the coast
I spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the area. And of course, stopping to gorge on some needlessly spicy but oh-so-irresistible Malvani fish. There are a few more neat little roads just beyond Ratnagiri, and even the lead-up to Ganpatipule on the other side is pretty spectacular. But I keep coming back to this same stretch. In fact, since it’s not all that long, I drive it a few times over. I memorise the corners. The locals are now used to the sight of a bright red Audi TT cruising past with a giggling fool at the wheel. This is the polar opposite of an eight-lane motorway. It’s not for straight-line speed, it’s not for billion-horsepower supercars. It’s for handling and finesse, it pushes you to drive. You could just as easily enjoy it in a family hatchback if you’re up for the tussle. But to do this great road justice, you’ll want a great car. And as I make my 27th blast down to Ratnagiri for the day, I can’t think of any that would be more perfect than this.
Mountains to your left, the sea to your right, and a narrow sliver of damp tarmac in between. Petrolhead bliss.
You can approach this wonderful stretch either from Mumbai and Pune to Ganpatipule in the north or Goa to Ratnagiri in the south. Either way, the road is pretty well demarcated. It’s only when you get to either Ganpatipule or Ratnagiri, that you must make sure not to continue on NH4 (though this has its own share of fun stretches), but instead make your way to the coastal road, which is also known as Arrey Warrey road. Smell the sea air and you’ll know you’re on the right track.
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