From Honda City to Amaze, Jazz and WR-V, the 10th edition of Drive to Discover may have been organized in Covid-19 times but it was a getaway like no other.
In a drive which had masks becoming as important as seatbelts, the Honda drive was three days of scenic mountains, spectacular beaches and much more.
The significance of a road trip has increased manifold in Covid-19 times. Whether a short trip to the nearest hill station or a well-planned drive escapade to the beach, depending on where one starts from, a car can indeed be a person's best friend as most of us remain bound at home in 'Work From Home' scenarios.
Little wonder then that when the Honda Drive to Discover in its 10th edition was announced for March, I was instantly thrilled to pack up and ship out. 'Where' didn't even matter. But that it was a three-day drive from Bengaluru to Goa was much like the proverbial cherry on the cake. It may not have been a drive through the far-flung wilderness but in Covid-19 times - when the threat from the pandemic remains omnipresent, there was much to discover apart from the road, the scenery and local colours, smells and tastes. There was a need to discover oneself too.
For someone in Bengaluru wanting to be in Goa, it can be a straight-fire 10-hour drive. But the joy was in the journey and not in the destination this time around. As such, with a small bag packed neat with essential supplies, I landed in the capital city of Karnataka from the capital city of the country - mask, shield and excitement firmly in place.
Opening Day, On the Front Foot:
From a still pleasantly chilly Delhi to a warm Bengaluru noon sun, the transition was already afoot. With no luggage to pick from the conveyor belt - ah, the sense of freedom which comes with only a carry-on bag, I walked the short walk to the Taj hotel right opposite the airport here.
Quick temperature check? Done. Spray some sanitizer? Sure. Fold your hand in Namaste or fist bump? Either. It was great to see familiar faces once again - both from the Honda team and among the participants. A rather leisurely lunch and a presentation about the trip later, we were all set to make our way to destination No. 1 - Chikmangalur.
Just outside the hotel building, Honda had neatly lined up all the car models it currently offers in the country. "Would it be the Jazz or the WR-V?" "Oh, there are several Amaze cars here." Random thoughts sprinkled through the mind just as the sight of a dark grey fifth-generation City at nearly the end of the pack caught my sight. "That's yours for the day," confirmed the good folks at Honda.
Each car was being shared by two participants. Each car was packed with snacks, and more importantly, small sanitizer bottles. Each participant had a mask on. And one-by-one, off we went.
The post-launch flag-off meant the sun was at its most fierce and while the heat wasn't unbearable, the air-conditioning on the City was turned all the way up as I took the wheels of the City ZX with its manual transmission and its 1.5-litre petrol engine. What was a convoy soon became a 'drive-as-you-want' move through the outer limits of Bengaluru. Once this City moved past the city skylines though, this roadtrip was truly underway.
The four-lane highway towards Chikmaglur is as good as it gets, for most parts, and the City kept its steady pace. Not once did I feel the need to move down to a lower gear for an extra bit of acceleration but that could also be because the highway was relatively deserted.
Once the green foilage on both sides of the highway began giving way to more concrete, it gradually became evident that our tea stop was approaching. We quickly turned into the small but bustling city of Hassan, stretched out, before setting out once again.
As the early evening sun began falling into the horizon, I fell into the passenger seat - slightly reclined, pushed right back. The only time I felt the need to get up was to reach for the eight-inch infotainment screen to change the local radio station. On a side note, it was a first time I heard Kannada music and the fact that I kept listening to it the whole time till we reached our destination would reveal what I thought of it.
There was, however, one more stop that lay in the waiting. Just a little beyond the over 1-kilometre-long Yagachi Dam near the city of Belur, was a beaten path that led to a picturesque spot. One by one, most of the convoy cars followed in. Quick clicks, skillful U-turn and it was back for the final stretch of the day.
By now, dusk had truly set in. My co-driver switched on the head lights and picked up pace as the City gained momentum on the narrow state highway before gaining elevation closer to Chikmangalur. This is also where I chose to turn the AC off and open the windows - no artificial air can come close to matching the crisp 'n' natural forest air. Yes, the lack of streetlight on the winding hill road up to our resort did require an extra bit of attention - the City also having to be brought down a gear lower ever so often - but the car held its own on patchy pebble-ridden patches to slot home clean.
The prize at the end of what was a long day? The lavish Trivik Resort, nestled in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere and yet with a sprawling expanse to match any luxury resort anywhere else.
New Day, New Scenes
After a long day that began in a cab to the Delhi airport, the second day dawned at leisure. The eyes opened from the bed and fell upon lush, green hills of Chikmangalur that spread in front of the massive balcony. The evening tea from a day before may have been a rushed job but I took my time to soak in the aroma from the black coffee in the room while also soaking in the sights and sounds of this hill station right from the room itself.
A mechanical tone from my watch told me it was time to hit the showers, get ready, pack up, grab a bite and move to the lobby for the day's drive ahead. This one was going to be in the diesel WR-V. It was also - once again - time to put the manual gear stick to the test as we began our climb down. 20 minutes, the cars lined up at a quaint fuel station for a refill before once again driving off, this time for the town of Kundapur which would be our home for the night.
The drive today was a bit bittersweet. The climb down from our resort was beautiful even though traffic movement had increased significantly. And once we moved past the city of Chikmangalur, the ghats made for an interesting venue to put the WR-V through its paces. While no sloucher in lower gears, slot it to the top gear when the road permits and this car kept cruising like a boss.
On climbs and descends though, the WR-V had a vastly different demeanor but still munching miles with a scrumptious appetite. Heck, as my co-driver appeared to drift into a slumber, I inadvertently entered into a 'let me pass' duel with a popular hatchback ahead. Whether it was because the road was slightly narrow, or because of constant traffic from the opposite side, or because the car ahead was woefully slow and unwilling to give up its lead, or because I wanted to keep safety as priority - it took 30 minutes of tailing at a distance before an overtaking opportunity arose. And when it did, the WR-V roared forward - lower gear slotted, steering right and then left back into lane. Even cheap thrills need patience to be appreciated and especially because road safety and rules ought not to be subverted.
Closer to Mangalore, around 90 minutes before, the highway suffers from frequent detours into single lanes because of road work. And this is the bitter part of bittersweet mentioned before. The WR-V though, kept its wits about and while I kept it through the second gear through these patches, there wasn't much rumbling either the car or my still sprawled-out co-driver.
Once we did reach the outskirts of the port city, it was back to picking up pace again. The WR-V rushed back into triple-digit speeds and I ended my five-hour drive at the designated place for lunch. Bring in the prawn fries and calamari, please!
No car, and I repeat, no car can feel as comfortable as the WR-V did once we were done with lunch. Trudging back to the wheels with bellies absolutely full, it was time for me to once again take the passenger seat. There was a 90-minute drive still to go and we made good time on a four-lane highway that went straight up to the town of Kundapur. This time, we checked in well before the sun had gone into hiding, leaving rest of the evening free to unwind at the UVA Meridian hotel with a water park right next to it.
Final Day, Final Say:
Honda may have planned the best for the last because what lay ahead was a run right along the coast towards Goa. The third day dawned especially early for me as I joined a smaller group in exploring the quaint beaches near Kundapur.
At 7 am, half a dozen Honda cars, including my silver Amaze, drove off towards Kodi beach for a photoshoot. I would, however, chose to drive on for a more secluded spot. A random left - because the coastline was continuing - brought me to a small spot right by what appeared to be a beach undiscovered by tourists. Careful not to drive the car on sand, I parked the Amaze precariously close. 10 minutes in, it was time to head back to the hotel for the actual flagoff for the day. The petrol motor inside the Amaze, complete with its CVT - helped it race back with intent.
The entire team checked out of the Kundapur hotel at around 11.30 and this time, we got the Amaze with its CVT gearbox and it was truly time to sit back and let the shifts do their own thing.
The around 260-kilometre between Kundapur and Goa is an absolute feast for the eyes with the coastline running for most parts by the NH 66 that begs one to hit triple-digit speeds and remain there. The Amaze truly came into its own as I picked up pace and at higher speeds, the rev-bands were timed to perfection. The steering-wheel does lighten a tad at triple-digit mark but the calm demeanour of the car otherwise held up well through the day's drive.
En route, there was a quick stop at Murudeshwar, home to the world's second tallest Shiva temple. The statue towers over the surroundings and is visible from quite a distance. With devotees thronging the temple and many more on the adjoining beaches, we ensured our stop was brief at best before heading out once again.
As milestone after milestone came and went by, the final destination of our three-day drive began inching closer. And then, all of a sudden and without much warning, a sign welcomed the car into Goa and thanked us for visiting Karnataka. The road became noticeably narrower, lined on both sides with big advertisement hoardings of casinos, restaurants and, of course, alcohol brands. Yes, we had arrived.
Our hotel for the night -Azaya Beach Resorts - was about an hour from the state border and we checked in well before dusk to enjoy some spectacular sun-setting views which truly put down a spectacular curtain on three-days of spectacular driving experience.