Road trips – what’s your excuse? Excuse # 111 – Colleague’s wedding.
Sometime in the month of April, an unsuspecting colleague gave his wedding invitation, the wedding was to be held at Kannur, Kerala. Immediately, our travel antennae shot up – what a perfect excuse for a road trip ! Kannur, a town in north coastal Kerala, was on the other end of the country at a distance of almost 1000 kms and letting go of an opportunity like that was unthinkable. Maps were drawn, websites researched, reservations were made pronto. For the next couple of weeks, Kerala was the key word. Wayanad, a popular hillstation in the Western Ghats, was enroute and that was where we were headed for the trip in addition to attending the wedding.
The journey begins
At the unearthly hour of 3.30 AM on 28th April 2012, a team of 6 and 2 Figos began the cross country drive to God’s own Country, Kerala. On day 1 of the trip, we were to reach Vadakara, the groom’s hometown, 900 kms from Hyderabad via Bangalore-Mysore-Bandipur-Sultan Bathery-Thamarassery-Vadakara. The entire drive was on NH44 (NH7 has been renamed NH44), our favourite hunting ground, upto Bangalore and NH212 from Mysore. Our cars are so attuned to NH44 now, all that we need to do is put them on the highway and they would take you to Bangalore!
By 4 AM, we were on NH44, dashing down at speeds greater 140 kms/hr. The first stop was at the toll gate at Jadcherla. If you ever travel from Hyderabad to Bangalore and back by road, budget Rs.1000 towards toll fee. This road, awesome as it is, is not very friendly on the pocket, with toll fees in some places going upto Rs.80 ! Having said that, you wouldn’t mind paying the toll because of the amazing driving experience the road gives you. Earlier this year, this writer took a train to Tirupati via Bangalore rail route. Having been spoilt by NH44 into expecting super fast speeds, it felt weird when the train arrived at Jadcherla, 2 hours after leaving Hyderabad. On the NH44, Hyderabad to Jadcherla takes less than an hour !
Greeting the sun at Kurnool
We stopped again, somewhere near Kurnool just as the sun was gracing the day.
It was time for a cup of coffee that one of the boys’ mom had very kindly made for us at 3 AM and sent it along in a flask, moms are the best, aren’t they? Kurnool came and went in no time, the summer dried Thungabhadra River and another toll gate announcing the arrival of Kurnool.
The highway stretches before you, smooth and classy and the cars have a ball on the road. It was breakfast time soon and we were on the outskirts of Gooty. Hotel Ravi Teja (wonder if the owner was a fan of the Telugu not-so superstar) was our pit-stop for a breakfast of idlies and dosa, which the waiter served us sleepily. What do you expect at 7.30 AM?
The good thing about this route till Bangalore is that it is just one straight road and there is a major town every 2 hours, ideal for a quick break. Hyderabad-Kurnool is a 2 hour journey, Kurnool – Anantapur takes exactly 2 hours with Gooty in between and from Anantapur, Bangalore is another 2 & 1/2 hours. From Kurnool, we drove non-stop until we reached the outskirts of Bangalore.
Enter Karnataka !
For some people, every time they cross the Bagepalli toll plaza, there is a child-like excitement in seeing the sign boards suddenly written in Kannada ! Just before Bagepalli, there is a petrol bunk on the Andhra Pradesh side of the border, we filled our car tanks here because diesel cost a rupee more in Karnataka !
If you drive at a consistent speed of 100-120 kms/hr, the 570 kms distance between Hyderabad and Bangalore can be covered in 6 & 1/2 to 7 hours on this road, including breaks.
There are some beautiful sights as one approaches Bangalore, amazing how the landscape seems to change the moment you enter Karnataka, from the arid lands of Rayalaseema, you are suddenly at a higher altitude dotted with hills and coloured with the greens ! It was quite a sight to see this lone mountain covered by clouds in the middle of summer !
The scene changes as Bangalore gets close, from the chaos of one city, you reach a chaos that matches the other, if the chaos in Hyderabad is because everybody thinks he descended from the Nizams, in Bangalore, it is insane traffic going neck to neck on narrow roads, coupled with infrastructure constructions that never seem to end. To give credit to Bangalore, atleast people have some regard for rules, unlike Hyderabad where of all the senses people have lost, road sense ranks at the top (this is not the discredit the city in anyway, you can’t help but fall for the charm of Hyderabad) !
We reached Bangalore by 9.45 AM and by the time we came out of the city traffic and were on the Bangalore-Mysore Highway, it was almost 11 AM, it took us a little more than an hour to wade out of the traffic. The Mysore highway was no better, no complaints on the road but on weekends, the traffic is as good as or as bad as the city roads, not surprising because these two important cities are just 3 hours apart.
Gabbar Singh’s den !
The drive between Bangalore and Mysore is interesting, one passes through Ramanagara, where the film Sholay was shot in the nearby hills. The hills have been named Sholay Hills, hence.
Channapatna or the Land of Toys as the sign board says, is known for wooden toys and Maddur, famous for the Krishna temple which has also become a landmark for some good eating joints – the popular among which is Adigas. This is where we stopped for lunch. The place was crowded and finding a place to sit was a huge task, we somehow managed to find a place and had our fill. The food is a proof of why the place is always full !
It was past 2 PM, when we were finally back on the road and reached Mysore around 3.30 PM. From Mysore city, one has to take the Ooty road upto Gundlupet, from where there the road splits, one to Ooty and the other one to Bandipur. We stopped again at Gundlupet for a cup of tea, if you wonder why the travelogue is always about food and chai, well, these two are the most revered things in a traveler’s life. What is a journey, if not a chain of experiences, filled with sights, food and chai ! Whether we remember what we saw or not, we certainly remember where we stopped for food and chai.
Greenery, thy name is Bandipur !
We started from Gundlupet by 5 PM and from here, the eye can process only one colour – Green ! The highway passes right through the Bandipur National Park and it is green for miles together as the Western Ghats slowly take shape and the forests become thicker by the mile.
Oh, you just wish you could stop, wander into the forest and get lost in the greenery ! Towards the edge of the Bandipur National Park, there are thick Bamboo forests, with the bamboo grass shooting up into the sky. We’ve seen bamboo grass here and there but never a bamboo forest.
Welcome to Kerala
The forest ends at the Kerala border, what a moment it was to read the sign welcoming us to Kerala ! For a majority of us, this was first time we were setting foot in Kerala.
From here the Western Ghats become more prominent and the ghat road takes over. It was cool and pleasant even in the peak Summer. As dusk turned into night, we reached Sultan Bathery, a small town located in the mountains. These towns are very scenic – quiet, peaceful and surrounded by mountains. By 7.30 PM, we reached a tiny town on the highway called Lakkidi which has a Cafe Coffee Day ! After a short power break and after much confusion about the directions, we reached Thamarassery. The road conditions of NH212 were good but it wasn’t a 4 way. The difficulty of a double road hit us just after Thamarassery. After a short power break, we resumed the drive.
A dare devil drive !
From Thamarassery, the actual ghat road begins. It is a ghat road like no other. The entire NH is on the ghat road and goes right on the edge of the mountain with oncoming vehicles brutally pouncing upon you from the corners ! In the darkness, we could make out that we were in the middle of massive mountains and driving on the edge. If that was not enough, there was sudden cloud cover, making visibility difficult and then it started raining ! An edge of the mountain double road, rain, darkness, cloud cover, poor visibility, buses and lorries literally jumping out of every turning – scary enough to have our hearts in our mouths ! The scene scared the hell out of us, especially people of Figo2 because it did not have fog lamps and the road was not properly visible under its headlights. Figo1 took over with its superior headlights and fog lamps to lead the way and bore the brunt of the monster buses and lorries, there was absolutely no scope even for a small mistake and the drivers of Figo 1 and 2 deserve an ovation for their driving skills !
900 Kms !
We finally heaved a sigh of relief at the end of the ghat road by the time we reached Balusseri and the coastal route took over, it was almost 9 PM by then. The last 50 kms to Vadakara via Koyilandi seemed never ending and 9.45 PM, we hit the goal – reached Vadakara after a marathon 17 hours drive across three states !
The groom came to meet us near the hotel where he had reserved accommodation for us, after a brief chit chat session where we narrated our heart-stopping experience, we checked into the hotel. At 10 PM, we set out to have dinner at a nearby restaurant. The food, served with a warm glass of water in Kerala style, was heavenly after a tiring day of travel.
When we got out of the restaurant at 10.45 PM, walking back to the hotel, a 5 minute walk, was an experience in itself. Literally everybody on the road was heavily drunk and were swaying, every person seemed to bang straight into you in their inebriated state ! Avoiding people, we reached our hotel and drifted off to sleep, recounting a day when we had breakfast in Andhra, lunch in Karnataka and dinner in Kerala, a day when we woke up in Andhra and went to bed in Kerala ! We had explored a sample of the scenic, cultural, linguistic and culinary diversity of India.