Four best bros, one car, ten days. It might sound like a movie script, but this was a little dream of ours that was realised today as we cast off from Bombay, albeit much later than planned. Having witnessed and been part of a scintillating President’s Fleet Review on 19 and 20 Oct, this was a much awaited and relieving break.
Our focus areas for this trip were a drive in the Nilgiris with a stay at the revered ‘Defense Services Staff College’, Welington and the annual pilgrimage to Goa (hopefully with a couple of days at the Sunburn festival). En-route we were to halt at Belgaum, Bangalore and Chikmagalur before returning in time to Bombay for the New Years.
As is always the case with a gang of reckless boys, our start was delayed. Well that maybe an understatement considering we were still in Bombay when we had lunch at 1330hrs. But with enough drivers aboard and good roads expected ahead of us, we were not too worried. Our vehicle of choice was my humble yet comfortable Hyundai i20. It took four and their luggage in comfort, and at least after day 1 I can say with confidence that it stays stable on the highway with ABS providing an enormous peace of mind (I believe it came in use more than a couple of times).
Till Pune was the familiar terrain of Lonavla, driving on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Thereafter we joined NH-4 which heads towards Bangalore (to all those who would have noticed my usage of the ‘older’ names for cities, I strongly despise this renaming-for-cheap-publicity epidemic). The next 50 kms were a mixed bag of roads, from smooth to jarred, but what really slowed the pace was the incessant local traffic and commercial spaces along the highway.
I had stayed at Lonavla from 2000-04, and since then the changes to the exterior of Pune were dramatic. It has become far more chaotic and the construction is seemingly endless with hardly any break in the prosaic cement structures. Even the once famous “Pancard Clubs” logo, which many quoted as a landmark, was now hidden from view, pushed into insignificance by the grotesque blocks of concrete.
Sadly there was nothing of mention to write about along the entire route except that the roads are a pleasure to drive on. We could safely sustain speeds in excess of 100 km/hr, except for stretches where errant two-wheeler traffic with their unpredictable changes of directions made the smooth roads a bit pointless. However even the good roads in Mahrashtra were better the moment we crossed over into Karnataka, with the tarmac status upgraded to ‘super-smooth.’
Despite our late start, all these positive factors contributed in us reaching Belgaum just a shade before 2100 hrs. Now started hunt for accommodation and while our first choice would have been the army detachment, however it was at the other end of the town, hence we decided to avoid the extra time that we would have to spend driving through city traffic. We found the PWD guest house right next to the highway, which seemed comfy and clean. Sadly it was booked for the night, and the amiable staff directed us to a decent hotel.
Redirected from there too, we were shown to Hotel Keerthi which had an AC room for us for Rs 1,500/- (with extra mattresses for the two additional occupants). The room itself turned out to be huge, clean and surprisingly comfortable for its cost. But the pleasant surprises did not end here, and the hotel’s bar served an array of drinks, with a 60ml peg of Old Monk available for a princely sum of Rs 60!!!
Nothing could have ensured a better end to the day than couple of drinks with great friends reminiscing old days and making plans for the future. Plans that ranged from the absurd to crazy, yet plans only we could manifest. Detailed strategies were also discussed for the modus operandi at Goa, and wingmen were designated with an oath to help their respective bros find a pretty new friend. On those hopeful (and utterly hopeless) thoughts we called it a day and hence shall I end this recount of events. Till tomorrow then…