Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Post 497 : Meeting God in his own country….(Mumbai - Hubli - Kerala - Banglore - Mumbai drive)

Prologue : Vinod Panikar, a colleague & a friend of mine is a complete auto-phile (am not sure such a word exists, but excusey mua my tiny liberties). He has been wanting to do a driveathon ever since he bought a Civic (about 1.5 years ago). Vivek bought into this aspiration in the recent months. We almost drove to Kerala in October 2008 for Santosh Vishwanath’s wedding (another ex-colleague)….but then the plan fizzled away. But this time, it was different.

For starters, we did not have too much of a plan, save one goal – drive to Kerala be back. Some of these wild ideas work best without a plan (aha!! the Joker speaking again) – for if you plan, you end up figuring out enough reasons why “this” is not going to work. So the brief was simple – Mumbai-Kerala and back in 5 days.

Vivek and Vinod were ready and signed up. I was unsure wifey would make it to this (we all knew it was going to be strenuous, and India is most unfriendly(read lack of loos) to the female traveller) – but surprise surprise she signed up, she could not afford to miss not going to Kerala (I am confused with this sentence, 2 negatives and a “miss” – f*** it, all I wanted to say – she had to be part of it…)

We decided to cheat on our bare-bones plan. We decided to leave on 24th evening and gain some extra time at Kerala.

Travelogue : 24th Dec 2008 (Wednesday 5pm) to 28th Dec 2008 (Monday 7pm)
Cast : Wifey, Vivek Menon, Vinod Panikar and me
Cars : We took only Vinod’s car, a black Civic (thank god, some of us still think like Henry Ford – we will buy a car of any color as long as it is black….I find the arguments which people to not buy a black car ridiculous - “it is very beautiful, but very hard to maintain”, “it heats up quite a bit”, “one scratch and it will show” – my response, guys get a reality check – would you not marry a beautiful partner, because she is tough to maintain, or she has a temper, or blemishes show easily – and if you are going to tell me that a car and a partner differ – serves you right – drive the beige car and screw the shrew …..I can’t fight against an empty cranium that serves muddle head arguments.)
More on the car later, just one point, we could not have chosen a more apt vehicle to meet God – the transporter was just as divine.

Odometer for the trip : 2980 kms door to door

Route :
24th - Day 1 --> Pune --> Kolhapur --> Belgaum –> Hubli (approx 550kms) (throughout NH4)
25th - Day2 –> Hubli –> Manglore –> Kasargod (380kms) (though NH17)
26th - Day 3 –>Kasargod—> Kannur –> Calicut—>Trichur (approx 450kms) (through NH17)
27th – Day 4 –>Trichur –> Coimbatore (120 kms) (State highways)
28th – Day 5 –> Coimbatore –> Banglore –> Chitradurga (via State + NH4) (approx 600kms)
29th – Day 6 –>Chitradurga –>Hubli –>Pune –>Mumbai (700kms via NH4)

Point to note about the route :
- We were told to take NH17 and hence we took it during the onward journey. Use that crappy advice only if you plan to make this journey in about 3 days. NH17 is fuck-all, opt for NH4. NH4 is definitely the more longer, but much faster and easier on the car machinery. (We must thank Vinod, he was the first one to see through the NH17 sham).

Stays :
24th – Day 1 – Hotel Hans @ Hubli. Clean good 3 star equivalent. Very close to the highway. Tarrifs about 1800+taxes. A good hotel, decent breakfast, good courteous staff. IMG_0007 IMG_0002

Recommended for a good stay. Overall (based on cost and expectation from the place, 3- meets expectation, 5 –exceeds, 1 – miserable) – this place deserves a 4.
25th – Day 2 – Deira Residency - Kasargod @ Kerala – very cheap and clean hotel. Does basic stuff, but has AC, clean beds, hot water. Cost us about 1300 per room. Definitely not 3 star. Does not have it own restaurant, uses a nearby one. So-so food (though the warmth was great. Overall 3
26th – Day 3 – Dass Continental @ Trichur – Clean good hotel. Almost a 3 star, except for a few finer points like noise insulation and food choices. 2000 per night. Food was so-so. Overall 3
27th – Day 4 – CAG Pride @ Coimbatore – definitely the best hotel in our list. 2800 per night. Stand out 3 star. One of the best hotels in that class I have stayed at. Food was great (both at dinner and breakfast). Extremely courteous staff. Overall 5
28th – Day 5 – Aishwarya Fort House @ Chitradurga, Karnataka. 1250 per night for an AC room. Gigantic rooms, loos and balcony. Very so-so food @ Dinner and outstanding @ breakfast (best one of the trip). Passable but serves an important purpose of halting during the trip. Overall 2

How we met God in his own country:

Day 1
- We left Powai @ 5pm
- Halt after Pune (15kms later) at around 830 @ Joshi Wadawaley (a good homely joint, a favorite of mine, highly recommended) for the night meal.
- Vinod had switched on his Garmin GPS (later referred to as GRAMIN). A text to speech converted to a lady’s voice helped us through the travel (“you will be reaching Puunnn in a 100kms”). I like the technology, is precise and especially useful driving within a “untamed” country like India.
- I drove the CIVIC for the first time. Had I driven this a month ago, I would have bought the civic instead of the CITY. This vehicle is a dream come true. Its ages ahead of the Santro for just 3 times of its price. There is a 10x benefit for a 3x price increase….I fell in love with Vinod’s Civic the minute I hit the road driving. My closest experience to a sports car. I hit speeds of 178 during the trip (on other days during “day driving”)
- We reached Hubli at 1.30am. Driving into the city, we were surprised to still see quite a few people on the streets. Hans is 6kms off the highway. Checked into the hotel at 2am.
- No food except for grilled sandwiches + tea was available. Key point to note, we got sandwiches made in sweet bread – ahem!!
- Closed the day at 630kms

- Breakfast @ Hans – Eggs and Tea Cake (they were very well made and fresh)
- Started driving at 10am
- We had a “oh no” moment, when Vinod was pushed off the shoulder by an oncoming bus (at 120+ that loss of traction was overtly compensation by our skipped hearbeats). My theory – accidents happen – the sign of a good driver – how soon in split seconds do you recover and do the right thing – Vinod scored handsomely on this parameter – he recovered like a rally champion – within a few millisecond we were back on the road – business as usual.
- Lunch @ Pandurang International – So-so food, but crappy service and loads of attitude from the manager. Nothing memorable about the hotel, save the name, almost like Gangubai Hillton Towers….get the drift??
IMG_0013 IMG_0015
- Throughout Kerala/Banglore trucks seem to prefer bumpers made of old tyres. Was a very unique innovative way of dealing with the risk over the highway.DSCN2851
- At 6pm we halted at Sharad International Hotel. Crappy hotel with a menu like a book, but very little but Tea and Onion Bhajis to offer. The menu was hilarious though!!
- By 9pm, wifey needed to have nature’s break – we searched @ Kasargod – no options – finally requested a shady lodge – MM Lodge – had to pay him 40 for using his loos.
- We were 400 away from Trichur at least, I was driving and continued to travel through dense ghats and crossed a police checkpoint. (about 35kms from Kasargod).
- Vinod had some epiphany and asked him road to Trichur (he looked at us incredulously and said) – Trichur, this goes to Manglore (oh fuck!! screwed by an elephantine dick!!)
- We drove back 35kms to Kasargod and decided to hunt for a hotel there (by now it was 11pm).
- We did manage to reach a good hotel called J K Residency, but it had no rooms available.
- Deira Residency seemed the only other liveable option. We crossed our fingers and drove into that place. Rooms were available (Hallelujah!!)
- Food ? “No Saar, kitchen closed”. We persisted and requested and we got 8 rotis, 3 egg curies and 1 ghee (nie) rice. What I liked was the fact they were sweet enough to accommodate the request of 4 lost city dwellers. (Full marks to them on that account).
- Closed the day at 1140kms

Day 3
- Breakfast at the sister restaurant of Diera was Egg Curry + appam + cherupayar (moong).
- We started at 9pm out.
- Good thing we had not stretched the previous night. The roads in Kerala are horrible. The planning is obnoxious. Every 5kms is a town (ON THE NH), every town has a roundabout without directions – you can either rejoin the highway to go back to the previous town, time is not an premium, neither is petrol, nor is the destination important….hail red flags and Lucky Strikes.
- We had lunch @ Fortune @ Kochi. Great clean place, good food, lousy service. Thats again a Kerala thingy – a throbbing 20 table restaurant will have 2 servers who are loaded to death and you are agonised that you have to live through it. Clean Loos. Definitely a recommended halt. 3 star hotel – 4 of us ate complete set meals for 710 ….beauty of coming out Bombay is that the world around seems so cheap and affordable.
- We reached Trichur @ 830pm. Planned to stay at Vishnu Resort Hotels, who offered us awesome rooms (the resort itself is awesome) but only till next morning. We being who we are said “fuck it” and moved onto other options.
- Miss Poornima @ Vishnu Resorts – she is the GM recommended Dass Continental, whereas our friend Santosh Vishwanathan recommend Joy Palace. Poornima veered us away by suggesting that the place had police raids (in retrospect that was the largest pile of bullshit ever heaved on us!!)
- Dass Continental turned out to be crowded decent place (I like Hotels only if they are crowded). I remember on the hour of checkout – a lackey named Arun Nair (Marketing manager) came upto me and spoke in chaste Hindi – hindi in Kerala is rarer than spring water in Sahara. I lapped and drank
Arun – How was your stay?
Me – Good. Decent clean hotel would recommend to others.
Arun – Sir, Joy aur Ashoka Inn bhi clean hai, lekin aapko Dass ke paas hi vapaas aana hai (pause) unke paas Arun Nair nahin hain na….
- On the night of checkin we had nie dosa and cups of tea.
- After dinner we walked to the Trichur Vadakanathan Temple.
- Day ends at 1510kms

Day 4
- Morning we drove to Vinod’s inlaws place (his inlaws are sweet and loving in a very South Indian way…will not forget them and his uncle easily – a nice portly chap who seemed very intelligent – far too intelligent (and worldly wise) to blend into the settings we met him in…
- Awesome Putt-Kadlai for breakfast followed by Yellow coconut water and tender coconut.
- Drove to Guruvayoor temple.


- Had a 1-1 with the lord :-)
- Could not have lunch @ Elite – because we reached at 145pm and they had by then run out of rice. Vinod was disappointed. Supposedly this was the second time this had happened to him.
- We did shopping. Bought chips, sweets
- Vivek bought a brass vessel used to keep rice and make payasam and a vallakh (the lamp)
- I bought a few small brass articles and a wooden wall sculpture. (I truly like to be surrounded by fascinating complex art forms….I think it gives my home character and depth).
- We reached back at Vinod’s place at 4pm
- Ate fresh boiled tapioca garnished with curry leaves and green chilly. It was awesome.
- Reached hotel at 5pm and exited out at 6pm for Coimbatore.
- Reached CAG Pride by 8pm.
- Went into the restaurant at 830. We had chilled beer. Vinod had chicken wings cooked in pepper and he loved it. I had egg biryani (which I could not taste because of a blocked nose), Vinod (again!!) helped me finish it and thought it was brilliant.
- At 1630 kms we ended day 4

Day 5
- We left at 8am (only day we left before 9am – and invariably it was I who with a weak bowel and late bathing kept everyone else waiting).
- Vivek drove onto Salem. The road was not really the best though not as bad as Kerala
- We halted at Salem for lunch @ Apoorva. Only place we had meals on Banana leaf.DSCN2937
- This is at the junction where we start off onto the Banglore Road.
- I took off from Salem and our luck changed ;-) with the roads I mean. We drove straight through to Banglore.
- After Banglore we halted at a deserted Reliance Petrol Pump – Sree Krishna Hotels – which served nothing but tea. – Vinod had a fun conversation with the waiter
Server – Sir, sit.
Vinod – Kya Milega?
Server – Bonda, Onion Bhaji
Vinod – Aur Kya
Server – Gobi Manchurian
Vinod – Aur Kya
Server – Chai
Vinod – Theek hain, baaki logo ko aane do(we were in the loo)
Server – Tum batao na tumko kya chahiye. Baaki log unka choice batayenga.
- We finally had tea and biscuits and left
- Reached ChitraDurga @ 8pm
- Checked into Aishwarya Fort House
- Crowded hotel (I like crowded hotels…I know I am repeating myself)
- Food was crappy. Beer was good and cheap. We paid 75 for a 65 MRP bottle.
- Rooms were gigantic.
- Ended day at 2205kms

Day 6
- Awesome breakfast of fresh IDli, Kesar Bhath and Upma – fresh, piping hot. Great Masala chai, had 4 cups of it.
- Left at 93opm
- Drove straight to Hubli. Halt at Kamat’s for Tea and Clean Loos
- Next halt at Pune Joshi Wadawaley which we reached at 4pm
- Straight home @ 2980kms @ 7pm

Random Musings
- Roads condition – Kerala (Pathetic) – Maharashtra (unbelievably good) – Banglore (good in most bits)
- Small winding roads in Kerala with huge potholes were classified as NH in Kerala
- Gokula Nalanda Restort 60 kms from kannuar and 40kms from kasargod – looked like a very good one...
- Speed-breakers are car scrapers. None of them are designed for a ground clearance of 160mm which is what a city and civic deliver.
- Speed breakers on a highway – absolutely asinine. At one point on Chitradurga 15kms from the main city- we were coasting at 140kms @ 7pm when 3 absolutely back to back rumblers broke our backs (and almost our darling civic’s axle)
- Salem had a huge Shivling Temple with some 100 odd visible Shivlings
- Next to it a huge property being developed by the Vinayaka trust.DSCN1706
- After you exit from Chitradurga towards Hubli, some 50 kms later, a huge Buddha statue.

- If you travel, do it with like minded people. Till now it was always me and my wife. That worked well.
- Vinod and Vivek were perfect buddies through this. Their approach to the drive was exactly like mine. It made the whole journey so much easier for all. (Thank you both buddies).
- Travel in a good car. We drove the CIVIC for 3000kms in 5 days, not a single PSI of pressure leaked of its tyres and we did not re-fill it even once. Awesome car.

Last word:
- I used to bike long distances. After ages, I felt like that again. All my previous car trips now seem like a build up to this one. This one was liberating and almost spiritual. I hope to do many more soon.
- Next stop Leh ?? Anyone

Vivek and Wifey

The Civilised Beast and Me


Bad spellings @ Ghatkopar


A click genius called Vinod…


A beach near Manglore.

DSCN1685 DSCN1686 DSCN1687 DSCN1688 DSCN1689
Bad Spellings @ Sharada International


Sunset on the last day from the car….


wifey and me first day clicked by vivek


I am obese…I eat fast food and drive fast trucks


vinod, vivek and wifey


The name says it all…Sastha Wine Mart


Garmin aka Gramin @ Work


Brilliant snap (by Vivek) of a man who is seeing his entire life (truck) pass by in an instant :-)DSCN2978

Windmills along the way

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