With holiday season kicking in, I planned to have a road trip and visit a beach. I shortlisted Mangalore, after dismissing Pondicherry and Chennai for no particular reason; I didn't consider Pondicherry, mainly, because the person who was "supposed" to accompany me, suggested the place. I in fact, preferred Goa but knew that I couldn't drive so far. So it was a drive to Mangalore then!
On 13th, the Sunday morning, I was still planning things, wondering when to start, what to do when I reached there. To stop my mind thinking too much and wandering, I decided to start immediately and get going. So was it!
The time was already 40 past 9 and I had to drive for more than 350Kms. It felt insane to start at this time and end up driving the last bit in the dark, alone!
Nevertheless, I started packing with couple of jeans, Ts and a water bottle. I put my car on crash diet by removing the rear seat, mainly to improve mileage and in turn pickup and handling too. Well, I know it's not a Ferrari and had no intentions in creating Scuderia out of F430. Still...
With everything ready, reciting a small prayer, I started!
It was pretty calm on Hosur Road as it was Sunday. The unfinished elevated highway looked quite elegant - probably one of the best looking flyovers in Bangalore. The road had one single swooping line from end to end unlike few of the recent inferior flyovers.
I stopped at Shell and tanked up the fuel. Set air pressure at 34 psi on all 4 tyres as they were already warm. I set 32 for the spare tyre as it was cold and not loaded.
There was not much traffic until I hit Peenya. Tumkur Road was completely dug up for an elevated highway of its own. As we had to make do with just the left over of that road with every lorry, auto and bike driver fighting for the same piece of road, it was a very slow drive until I took turn towards NH48.
Even Bangalore to Mangalore road was not spared from road works! But thankfully, it was not clogged like Tumkur road, so I was pretty relieved.
It was a long and mostly straight drive with some long curves thrown in now and then. The ride on the road was pretty bad- partly because the road was not very smooth and partly because I had removed my rear seat and set tyres on high pressure.
I stopped at a Dhaba on the way for lunch, when I had chance to look back at my car and see how it is doing.
The car was doing great so far. The engine was fantastically smooth and so was the gearbox. The only complaint is that it didn't give me confidence to push beyond 70kph. Maybe, it's the choppiness again.
Keep it below 70 and it was well planted. That's pretty slow on highway I admit, but it was enough for me.
So as you might have already guessed, I was not breaking any speed records for now. I was just relaxing with one had on wheel and the other hand serving my mouth with drinks and fiddling with music system trying to find a FM station once I left Bangalore.
I was just enjoying the drive and overtaking Lorries now and then (as they were the only ones slower than me).
After couple of hours drive, I reached Hassan. For about 2 or 3 km, this road was entirely straight - probably, the longest straight bit on NH48. Unfortunately, potholes scattered the road just like sunlight scattered from the clouds above.
For now, I had clocked around 200Kms on my trip-meter. My shoulders were hurting and so was my bottom; it was time for a small break!
I stopped at a lovely village with the picture above capturing metaphor of the same - a rusty house with sloping roof and a shop attached. The shop in typical style had sweets/toffees in large bottles kept on table in front for display. In front of house was presumably a bus stop with Grandpa waiting under tree for bus with his Grand daughter who was of course not bothered to stand in shade.
This was a well needed break because what's lying ahead was the real test to my car and my driving skills. It was time to say good bye to flatlands and say hi to one of the most prominent mountain ranges in the country - the Western Ghats.
After covering around 250kms, I reached the Western Ghats. In many ways, I would say the actual experience of the drive starts from here.
The road is no more straight or flat. The stretch is not laid to make the distance shorter but it is laid around the hills on the path chosen by nature. So the road has more twists and turns. They rise, they dip. Take a bend and immediately you are surprised with another; you brake hard and take this one too, but before you realize, you are thrown a hairpin.
It is seriously hard work, this. So, its time to put the other hand back on steering wheel and concentrate!
Miss a turn and you are bound to hit a tree or fall rolling down the hill.
With less than half an hour drive, I reached Sakleshpur. The town was more like Chikpet in Bangalore with narrow road full of people and shops. It looked like old Bangalore.
Cross the center of the town and you are here for a treat - beautiful greenery and excellent view over the valley and hills surrounding the place. I felt like putting up here for the night, but continued as planned, towards Mangalore.
There were more series of bends, downhill and uphill sections that treat drivers with joy that no normal road could. I was so involved with driving that I didn't remember to take any pictures. It is so addictive that I felt like going back and doing it again.
Just as I was enjoying driving to the fullest, the well laid tarmac disappeared! The road seemed to have been eroded by a heavy storm. It was so bad that I lost close to 2 hours covering this section with speed barely crossing 10kmph. With this speed, I realized it would be dark before I crossed this section.
It is unfortunate that the most beautiful section of NH48 was also the worst maintained.
This stretch of road was definitely a car breaker with several cars stopped at the side of the road to either change their flat tyres or to let the engines cool.
Though the road rattled the guts out of my car, it soldiered on bravely.
Once a while, when stopped for a break to reassemble your shuddered bones, the beauty of the nature soothes your angry mood and prepares you for the next bit of off-roading.
After losing considerable amount of time, I reached the foothills of Ghats barely before sun set.
With no experience what so ever in dark on highway, I was about to do another stint of driving on a road which had relaxed considerably, but was still no straight road by any means.
After 30 kms of bone shaking drive through the Ghats, I was happy to find a continuous stretch of tarmac.
Dark set in soon! This being my first drive ever on highway in dark, I was nervous.
This is what you see when driving in the night - just the bit of road lit by the head lights of your car. This is when you wish you had cat eyes to have the ability to see in dark.
You have to concentrate on the farthest bit of the illuminated patch and gauge corners.
Even worse, if you find an oncoming vehicle in a corner, all you see is your windscreen lit with a bright light and nothing else. Maybe, this is why they say when you are about to die you see a bright flash of light in front of you.
You'll have to calculate the distance and corner angle and blindly dive in hoping the corner is still there and it is of the same curve.
10 to 20 kms of my drive in the dark, I found an indica ahead of me, maintaining my pace. With this car in sight, the corners were heaven again. All I have to do was follow this car with him doing all the calculations. As the road was still twisty, it had become another piece of entertaining stretch. It is pleasant driving in dark with cool breeze on your face and road looking a bit more challenging than it would have during the day.
After a few kilometers, the car ahead slowed down and stopped for a break, so I was left on my own again. I was not going to slow down though; the tailgating had given me much needed confidence. I maintained a steady speed of 70 and was covering distance quite well. I was overtaking bigger cars like Ikons, Vernas, who were trashing me during the day. The added advantage of driving in dark is that the oncoming traffic lit the trees and road from corners alerting you of their presence. This means, you can overtake vehicles without the fear of expecting a vehicle approaching from a corner, in a 2 lane road.
It was a risky drive nevertheless, with roads still bumpy and potholes here and there. There were one or two instances where I was too close to the edge of the road that I almost slid off it. Another risk is taking chance with your car in the night. What if the car broke down? Considering what my car has endured, it was amazing how this little city car was doing. It never missed a single beat! Though, it would have helped if it had tighter road holding and longer 5th gear, I overall came satisfied with the performance of my car.
10 or 20 kms to Mangalore, the road deteriorated again. I was hardly moving. After another half hour of careful and stressed drive on potholes and broken road, I saw a toll gate! They were collecting money for the piece of road which didn't exist. When asked for what they are collecting cash when there is no road, with the usual govt staff attitude, he asked me to complain it to his superiors.
Anyways, another couple of minutes drove me to Mangalore. I looked for a hotel and checked in. I was completely drained of energy, with my right knee and shoulders aching badly.
I had dinner and threw myself on to the king-size bed for a good night sleep.
After a sound sleep, the next day morning, I woke up all fresh! The first thing I did was - ask for directions and get to the beach.
I reached Ullal beach with around 10 mins drive. With the huge blue sea in front of me, I was so excited that I didn't realize I was now on loose sand.
Inevitably, my car got stuck in sand!
With some help from friendly fishermen around, I got out of trouble soon and parked my car safe out of sand and took a quiet walk towards the sea.
So here I am, ending my trip at the Beach!!
It was an amazing drive over all kinds of terrain that one can possibly imagine in this part of the country!
When you head on such a trip, you realize that driving is more than your regular commute to office. You realize driving is a pleasure!
--Signing off VBR