A Monsoon Ride…
For most parts of the country, the beginning of Monsoons mark the end of the tourist season and we chose this time of the year to travel by road. Our initial plan to complete a 7000 km circuit and touch the southernmost tip of mainland India (Kanyakumari), came to a dreadful halt near a small town called Dabra on Aug 10, 2012. Since we got together, we do not remember a time when we hit rock bottom. Now, we were faced with two choices, one- to mull over the unfortunate incident or re-plan So, like the phoenix who rose from its ashes, we decided to make the best out of what was left of our vacation. So we picked our other vehicle which was a Petrol Car and reworked the fuel expenses and eventually decided to drive up-till Goa only. In the initial plan, Goa was just one of the halts and no way we could have seen Goa the way we did. In one way, the journey was one of the longest impromptu trips we had ever taken.
Day 1, 13th August 2012- Gurgaon – Nashik, 1250 km in 19 hours
The surface of the roads starts to mimic craters on the only natural satellite of our planet. Every now and then, one is punished for not driving a Moon-buggy. Hardly 2 km on the road, our loaded car went into one of the craters of Gurgaon road and it resulted in two loud jolts. We stopped. With a sinking heart, Neha’s foot pushed the accelerator pedal towards the car floor – something had changed. The car had not come out unscathed, the silencer took a blow. The sound of the car’s exhaust had gone a whole octave lower. There was more bass, more masculinity in the sound of the car now. The sound was exasperating, however, we had no choice but to live with it. To our understanding, the crack in the belly of the silencer would have only cause temporary discomfort, till the point our brains filtered out the background noise. With this interruption, we now decided to move towards Jaipur. We would have wasted 10 minutes deciding the approach to Nasik and now we were moving towards National Highway 8.
Automatic Position Reporting System or APRS in short, is a real time tracking system developed by Amateur Radio operator WB4APR, Bob Bruninga in 1982. With the recent advent of a-GPS technology in cell phones and the freedom Android operating system gives, an application APRSDroid was developed which enables real time reporting of speed, bearing, altitude and location interlaced on Google Maps on http://aprs.fi We realised around 5.30 am that we had forgotten to switch on the APRSDroid application and by this time we had covered almost 70 km. One more realisation happened around 8 am when we were bypassing Jaipur – the cigarette lighter socket was not functioning. This meant that we could not charge our phones and this was not good at all. We halted and went down on the car, diagnosed that the fuse was missing (could not figure out why the fuse was not there- the crater incident?) and installed a new fuse and we were good to go.
For breakfast, we had mutton biryani which Neha had cooked the previous night, keeping the trip in mind. By noon, we were cruising towards Chittorgarh when incessant rains lashed upon us. Unnerved by it, we continued our journey, though at a reduced speed as visibility dropped significantly.
The transition from great to worst road conditions can be profoundly experienced on this stretch. As soon as one takes the clover leaf to move towards Nasirabad, the requirement of the vehicle changes from a sedan to a hovercraft. This part of the road was low lying and partially flooded which made the conditions a degree higher than worst. A bird’s eye view of the road below would have been like an army of angry ants marching towards a destination. The condition of the roads continued till we reached Nimbahera bypass. The bypass is via MDR 11A and eventually it meets NH 79 once again.
Around 4 pm, we had reached Lebad after crossing Neemuch,
Mandsaur and Ratlam. We were to go first towards Pithampur and then to Manpur. However, we came across a newly laid road (which as per the Google maps was only a partial road) and it helped us bypass Mhow and Pithampur and we reached Manpur.
By 7.30 pm we were 130 km from Dhule and our ETA to Nasik was 11.30 pm. We reached Dhule at 9.30 pm and by 11.30 pm we had entered Nasik. We had covered 1250 km in less than 24 hours on Indian roads and this was a feat in itself. What made it even more exciting was the monsoon season, which makes driving tough and the HVK members who were tracking our every single movement on road via APRS. The active route consultation with HVK members was not only helpful but superbly fun.
We checked into Hotel Sai Saya arranged by Neha’s schoolmate, Rahul Bajaj and then we went into a deep slumber owing to non-stop driving of 19 hours! Who thought that we will wake up in Gurgaon, Haryana and sleep in Nasik, Maharashtra the very same day.
Day 2, 14th August 2012. Nasik and around
We were up by 8am and got ready for a much relaxed day. Wheel alignment and balancing was one of the important agendas of the day due to the minor incident the previous morning. While we were getting ready to move out, we met, Rahul Bajaj, who guided us on the local garages. After getting the car fixed, we headed to Ozar, a Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) township where Neha spent her childhood.
We revisited her school and happened to meet one of her teacher from her school days. She told us that she was going to retire in the next few months. After a few Canon moments we headed for Pimpalgaon, where Neha lived for sometime before moving to the township. We saw the house her family rented and had a chance to meet the building owners as well. From here we headed back to Nasik and met Rahul en-route the vine
yards. He came along with his family to York Vineyards and we had some nice wine tasting moments there. The taste of wines still is fresh in my memory as I write these lines. Later that evening, we had traditional food at one of the theme restaurants - Sanskruti and then retired to our hotel for the night.
Day 3, 15th August 2012 - Nasik to Belgaum, 600 kms
We drove throughout the day. The initial plan was to touch Goa and visit Belgaum on the way back, but then I did not want to cross the Belgaum – Goa stretch at night, as I always wanted to show Neha the beautiful landscape on this route. Thus, we decided to halt for the night at Belgaum. We crossed Pune in 6 hours and got badly stuck in the heart of the city. Ideally we should have taken the NH4 bypass but a series of confusions arose when we took a wrong turn and the navigation system when clubbed with inputs from the locals forced us to drive to what I would term as Chandni Chowk of Delhi. After Pune, we stopped over for a nice lunch at a roadside eatery called Mama. This was around 3 pm. From Pune to Belgaum, we found some very good roads and we had touched Belgaum around 8 pm.
I studied engineering in Belgaum and when I left this city in 2003, the roads of Belgaum were something. This place receives rain for more than 6 months in a year and most of the potholes are filled with reddish muddy water. Nine years later, the Belgaum – Pune road had a new eight lane by-pass which, if navigation had not alerted us, we would have zipped by the city. Somehow, we managed to find our way and entered the city through its worst patch – the Fort Road. It was time to test my long term memory now. A lot of reference points had not changed, yet, the city proudly shouted of the penetration of organised retail in India to tier 2 & 3 cities.
We checked into Uday Bhavan near Third-Gate. The city has 3 major railway crossings, colloquially called as Gates and these are such prominent landmarks that addresses are referenced against them. Next, we went out to have dinner at places where I used to eat as a student. It was disappointing to know that Uday restaurant and Pai restaurant had shut shops many years ago. We had the first sea food of the trip at Hotel Sea Rock, which was close to where Pai used to be there. After dinner, we drove around in the city and finally crashed into our hotel for much needed rest.
Day 4, 16th August 2012- Belgaum to Goa, 120 kms
Next day, we woke up and found our room overlooking a house which was quite old and large. After clicking some photos, we got ready and had breakfast. We now, visited my engineering college – K. L. E. Society’s College of Engineering and Technology. Boy, it had changed, and changed a lot. The department of Biomedical Engineering had shifted to a floor above and everything was different. Met some of the old professors and chatted with them for a while. Now, I wanted to take Neha to the Punjabi Mess where I usually ate all those years ago. The couple who used to run the eatery had shut it down and shifted somewhere and we could not locate them. Next, we went to see the house
where I had rented a room and stayed for about 2 years. We met the lady of the house and she was glad to see us. We bade her farewell and headed towards Goa.
There are several routes to Goa that one can take- I never liked the national highway.
It was always too crowded and non scenic beauty on the way. The Amboli Ghat route via Sawantwadi is preferred route of my people, but not as beautiful as the Tilhari Nagar route. Before starting, we refuled and got the air pressure checked. Just when we turned left on the Belgaum Amboli road for Tilhari Nagar, we stopped to mount the GoPro Hero HD2 Motorsports Edition camera on the car and I saw that the rear left tyre was loosing pressure quite quickly. While I was examining the cause of this leakage, the nozzle broke into my hand and came loose. This was something, we were not prepared for. Our puncture kit did not contain an extra nozzle assembly and thus, we tied a wire on the nozzle and rolled toward Belgaum. We came across a few puncture repair shops but no one had the nozzle in stock. We continued to move towards Belgaum and finally found a shop which had the piece. After getting the tyre repaired, we restarted our journey towards Tilhari Nagar.
The roads did not exist. It appeared as if there were roads millions of years ago and now just ruins remained to drive on. On this route we were totally cut off from the world, cell phone reception was not available and we were on our own completely. If the car broke down, we would have to wait for the next generous passer-by for help.
We reached Tilhari Nagar and had lunch at the small sleepy hamlet of a town. After lunch, we resumed our journey to Goa and soon we were on the popularly dreaded Ghat section. Before we started our descent we went off-road to a spot from where the entire view of the valley could be seen. There was a dense blanket of cloud and we were in it. It was quite windy and it started to rain when we reached the spot and we could not stay there for long.
We entered the state of Goa around 6.30 pm. Two Amateur Radio Operators helped arrange our stay at a government accommodation near Panjim. We checked into the accommodation and then went out for dinner at one of the river side restaurants in Panjim.
Day 5, 17th August 2012- North Goa
We started our day by driving down to Fort Aguada near Sanquelim beach. Years back when I used to visit Goa, a ship called River Princess had broken anchor and strayed ashore. It got stuck near the beach and was a center of attraction for many and an eyesore for few. This vessel had now been removed. We got some really good shots at the Fort which is over looking the sea. Thereafter, we went to the Lighthouse but the sun was too harsh and we decided to skip stepping out and burning ourselves. Next, we drove upto the Aguada prison, which I thought was a tourist attraction but was proved wrong. It was a functional jail. Anyway, we started back towards Calangute and had brunch. Then, we headed for For Tiracol which is at the northen most tip of Goa and one has to take a ferry to reach there. It was a good feeling to drive our own vehicle into the ferry. Tiracol fort has been turned into a heritage hotel and as expected of heritage hotel, the tariffs are exorbitant.
On the way back, we stopped at Ashwen beach and then at one of my favourite beaches – Anjuna beach. Here we had some sea food and relaxed for a while. By the time we moved and reached back to Calangute, it was dark. Had dinner at Calangute and headed back to the accommodation.
Day 6, 18th August 2012 – Anjuna, Vagator, Baga and Casino Royale
Visited the Anjuna and Vagator beaches. Trekked to the Chapora fort and then spent the late afternoon at Baga beach. After sunset, we went to splurge money at the live-floating casinos of Goa. The casnios have opened up receptions on the banks of the river Mandovi. A ferry takes you to the ship in which the casino is being run and the cover charge includes a buffet dinner along with unlimited booze. So, at a place where booze is the cheapest in the country, free booze would still bring immense profit in gambling. Neha had been to a casino is Nepal earlier but for me it was my first experience.
The initial few games, we doubled our money but after that we kept on loosing and loosing. Who knows if it is all rigged. After loosing a significant amount of money, we decided no more bets and called it a day.
Day 7 , 19 August 2012 – Vasco Harbour and Calangute beach
We had one of the most amazing foods in Goa at the Sheela restaurant en-route the Vasco harbour. We had shell fish (clams) and had patole – a Goan sweetdish made out of rice and coconut and wrapped in turmeric leaf.
We saw a private ship building yard on the way and decided to stop over and check it out. When we came back, we saw that our front right tyre was low on pressure. Till this day, I feel that someone punctured the tyre on purpose – as I could not find the puncturing agent while fixing it. Why someone would do that, I don’t know.
After reaching the harbour, we found out that the area where one could go earlier was no off-limits. We requested the CISF guard to let us through but he did not allow. He suggested that we could ascend the hill and look at the harbour from there. We climbed on the huge cemented walls and sat there for hours looking at the sea and later visited the place which was suggested by the guard. Later that evening, we returned to Calangute and spent many hours walking down the Calangute market and its beach.
Day 8, 20th August 2012 – Panjim Market, Spice Plantation and Palolem Beach
We were moving out of the accommodation which was arranged by our friends and migrating south. I knew that an amateur radio operator lives in the vicinity and I wanted to meet him before we left. The caretaker of the guest house had no clue about VU2SMS. Luckily, I ran into a gentleman who called up Manju, VU2SMS. Manju, took us to his home and showed us his radio shack and also gave us a QSL card. We said 73s and started for Panjim market. We bought some gifts and then headed towards the Spice Plantation. We had some difficulty looking for the spice plantation. The plantation tour and the buffet lunch were worth every penny spent. The only disappointment was not being able to have elephant bath. The mahout who manages the elephant was on leave and hence could not experience elephant giving bath to people sitting on its back by filling water in his trunk. After enjoying the tour, we left that place and headed south.
We reached Palolem beach in the evening and checked into Hotel Draupadi adjacent to beach. Took a stroll in the evening and booked our self a boat ride next morning to Butterfly beach and Honeymoon beach. We had some great moments on the beach.
Day 9, 21 st August 2012- Palolem Beach
It was about to rain when we got up and our boatman asked to us wait for a while before he would take us into the water. We started an hour later but could not spot any dolphins. After some Kodak moments we came back. Thereon, we went to see the fort – Cabo-de-Rama. We trekked inside the runis of what remained of the fort and then checked out a couple of beaches in South Goa. Later, together we had some playful moments swimming in sea that evening. Thereafter, we bought booze to bring back home.
Day 10, 22nd August 2012- South Goa to Surat, 890 kms, 18 hours
Neha was feeling home sick and I could not get enough of Goa and its beaches even if we setlle there. I guess, she was stressed about the incident of 10th August 2012 as lot of money was at stake and thus she wanted to be back home. Between the two of us, I am the spendthrift and she is the banker. She would save and save and I would just want to spend and spend. Anyway, that is a topic for another blog post.
We started our journey around 4.30 am from South Goa and our target was to reach back home in 2 days. We took the NH17 till Mumbai and then NH8 from Mumbai to Surat. Reached Surat around 9 pm and we decided to break for the night. By the time we entered Surat city and checked in, it was 11.30 pm and we just slept.
Day 11 , 23rd August 2012 – Surat to Gurgaon – 1160kms , 22 hours
The wake up service, called at 3.30 am in the morning and after grabbing a quick breakfast of sandwiches and tea we were on the road once again. We took a detour at Baruch and crossed the Narmada from the city as on NH8 a 10 km long traffic snarl was building up. We reached Jaipur at 6.15 pm and it took us more than 8 hours crawling on NH8 to reach home. Another journey sucessfully completed with my sweetheart.
Even though the vacation did not go as per the initial plan, we still covered 4600 km on a 12 year old petrol car. The car which has a mileage of more than 100,000 km did not give us any trouble except for wheel alignment issues twice which we gave ample warning to act upon. Isn’t this much better than a brand new lemon car?
The route we chose, sometimes by guidance of the HVK community and sometimes by missing out the correct roads, gave us a view of beautiful and green landscape. No photographs, no words can encapsulate within themselves the feeling that one gets when you step out on the green moors. The feeling when light drizzle tickle your body and fresh breezes kisses you- this is something to be experienced and only a monsoon ride can make you go through this!