This is a report of our driving trip to Goa from Bangalore we did a few years ago(2002 November). I had written this account in bits and pieces in my personal weblog. I am compiling them together in a single post and re-publishing it here
For sometime we had been planning a long trip on the roads of western coastline of Karnataka and Goa. Last weekend being a 4-day holiday, it was the best time to realize it. The plan was to take a car and leave Bangalore on Thursday evening, enter the coast near the town of Honnavara (translated, means something like 'El Dorado'!) and drive north till Panaji and return to Bangalore around Monday evening or midnight. It was actually tough to find people to fill the car(!), so at the end, there were three of us leaving Bangalore instead of originally planned four.
View Driving - Bangalore to Goa and back in a larger map
Road, driving map - Bangalore to Goa and Back
The problem of making decisions started even before we began the trip. The question was 'what car to take'? The options were to take my car, another fellow traveller's car or to rent one. The criterias for selecting the car were comfort, speed and tolerance to bad roads, and economics. It would cost big time to hire a car but getting a big car would mean a comfortable journey. Finally we rented a car from a rental company, as this would also shield our cars from risks of a long journey. After working out our choices on the cars, we zeroed in on a Ford Ikon. Our choice turned out to be a good one. At the end of the journey, we are glad we took this car and not any thing lesser. As a good part of the journey was spent with the car, this travelog may also end up being a review of the car, and the roads we passed by. Of the three of us, only two could drive and we decided to drive alternately as directed by fatigue. But for both of us, driving happened to be more fun than tiring business!. Since we had a car, we packed in as much stuff as we could without worrying about having to carry too much luggage. To quote an example, I took three sets of footwear with me. Without the car, I would have settled for the one I would be wearing. There was not much effort required in preparing the car, as the rental company had it in a fairly good condition.
We designed our routes with the help of tracks from India over land(a website that no longer exists) and maps of India.
We left Bangalore around 6pm Thursday. As usual, we were late against the planned 4-30pm. The first day's plan was to reach Shimoga as early as we can and catch some sleep there. The road to Shimoga comprises of 70kms of National Highway 4 from Bangalore to Tumkur and 200kms of National highway 206 from Tumkur onwards. The whole journey is slow and painful. The first part of the journey has very high traffic. Though the roads are empty from Tumkur, we face many bad stretches of road that makes things no better. The car performed pretty well in both parts of the road. It had the much-needed pickup for overtaking in the highways. Shocks performed beyond our expectations in bad stretches. The only problem was the vibration in the steering wheel at speeds above 100. I was surprised to see that in such a sturdy car. We drove at speeds of around 70 to 120kph. Driving at 120s would normally not have been possible but we had a leader to help us out on the road. For nearly an hour, we tailed a Hyundai Accent that was going at very high speed. We discovered it is a good idea to tail another vehicle in the night than driving on the open road. That way, we have little to worry about visiblity problem and safety in fast driving. The driver of the Accent seemed to have a good control over his car and was driving at fairly high speed. We would not have managed such speeds if we had not tailed him. We reached Shimoga at around 12-45 in the might. After deciding to rise at around 6 in the morning we hit the bed thinking of the next day's drive.
On the night of day one, the music system in the car had suddenly stopped working. This was the worst thing that could happen to all of us. No music for next four days! Lot of you would agree that it would be something tough to live with. So first thing in the morning, we called the 24-hour helpline of the rental company and asked them how they could help. Naturally, there was little they could do sitting in Bangalore. Since it was too early in Shimoga, we could not find anyone who could get the system in shape. So cursing our luck, after a good breakfast, we hit the road around 7am.
We had to continue on NH 206 for next 160kms. Next destination was Jog, which is around 100km away from Shimoga. The road was fairly decent and we cruised on smoothly. On the way, we stopped in the town of Sagar and found someone to have a look at the system. But that did not help and we had to continue without music. We reached Jog around 10am. I have probably been here a 100 times but it is always nice to come back once again. We stood there looking at the waterfall for around 30 minutes.
We then went around the waterfall to the cliff where water goes down. It is a great view to bend down from the top of the cliff and see the water falling. And we were at the perfect time of the day to see the falling waters forming a rainbow. It was very beautiful. Words fail on describing this. I just sat there on the cliff speechless for a few minutes, seeing the majesty of the 900ft fall.
Our next destination from here was Murdeshwara, also called Mrudeshwara I think. Jog is the starting point of drive into the Western Ghats. It was my turn behind the wheels from here. 🙂 The road thru the Western Ghats is very picturesque and goes thru dense rain forests, hills and valleys. The stretch of around 25kms was great fun to drive. We stopped on the way at a Vista Point to have a look at the Sharavathi valley.
A few words about the Sharavathi valley: This is one of my favourite places and I have been seeing this place since my childhood days. But the place was totally different this time around. They have built a dam against the flow at the end of the valley. The result is a much-widened river, lot of trees submerged and huge amounts of forest lost. The river is now so jampacked that in within a distance of 20kms, there are 4 dams built into it! Now there are lot of places where you see concrete where all you would see before was trees trees and more trees. I wish people were saner and leave the pristine river and valley undistrurbed. I wish they learn to protect the nature before they destroy everything and is too late.
We drove 70kms more to reach our next rendezvous, Murdeshwara. We were there at sometime around 2pm. This place is an (almost) island with a very narrow landmass joining it to the mainland. I was here around 10-15 years back. Then, the island was a small hill with a Shiva temple built in a small portion of the island. The narrow landmass joining the mainland was asphalted and both sides of the road were beaches!!
I was at surprise here too. Where there was just a temple in the island, now there is a big hotel right next to the sea, there is a restaurant built a few meters in the sea and a whole lot of new constructions. More than all that, the most shocking thing was that the hill itself was brought down to make way for some more construction!! It is actually illegal to construct anything within 200m from the seashore, but that did not seem to deter any
We spent rest of the day near the beach. It was good fun. We walked around the beach for sometime, played frisbee for half an hour and then got into the water and stayed there until the sunset. After 7, we went inside the temple and spent some time there. Around 8pm or so, we left Murdeshwar and went to Honnavar for the night's stay. I feel this was the best of all the 4 days of our trip.
After two days of journey by car, I slowly began to realize a few things that I found missing in the car. It did not have a remote fuel lid, remote boot opener and driver side power windows. The gears and clutch were hard but that was probably because of how old the car is and when was it serviced. The music system was nowhere close to the one that I was used to. And air conditioning was pathetic for the size of the car; it used to take ages to bring the temperature down. Probably I was pampered a bit with my car, but I did feel those are essential things in a car, never mind they are only accessories. Handling and driveablity of the car were excellent and that was something really important. At least, the 'josh machine' lived up to its nickname. In the next part of the journey, we had to travel on National Highway 17 all the way north until we reach Panaji. The highway runs close to the coast and sometimes you can get a good view of the sea from the road. Road was in pretty good condition and driving was a breeze. After driving for an hour or 2 the road was going on a hill and we noticed a beautiful beach around 2kms away from the road. It was a pretty long beach and the there were a lot of green hills near the shore. We drove down near the beach for a look. It was mostly empty but for a few fishermen. We asked them if they could take us to an island we could see from the beach. They seemed to be willing but circumstances not. It was very windy that morning, so rowboats would take a long time, and the only mechanised boat available there was short of fuel. So we just whiled away for half an hour near the waters, taking pictures et al and continued furthur.
Next, we stopped on the way at Karwar port. Unlike some other ports, these people were letting in visitors for a small fee. So we went inside and even got a chance to take a look inside one of the 2 ships parked(anchored) there. They were not very big ones though.
After Karwar was our last destination in the route: Panaji, Goa. As soon as we left the borders of karnataka, the road turned bad and narrow. We drove for a few more hours till we reached Panaji and arrived there for lunchtime. The first thing we did after lunch was to get the music system repaired(Thank god!). Around 4pm or so we started off exploring beaches near Panaji. The first one was Calangute. It is probably one of the most well known beaches here. It was too crowded so we got off the place quickly and went to next place. I think the name is Baga beach or something. This one was crowded too, so we just continued. A little after sunset, when there was still some light, we reached Vagator beach. This was a good place and fortunately not very crowded. We walked into the beach and sat there looking at the sea for an hour or more, and found an accomodation near the beach. This became our base camp for our furthur explorations in Goa.
Day 4: Chaos and Confusions
So here comes the 4th day, the last full day in Goa. It was a good day of learning how disordered and chaotic can an unplanned trip can become. Our agenda for the complete day: watersports. For all of us, this was the major attraction of Goa, even more than the famous beaches. The previous day, we had gone to nearby Taj Holiday Village inquiring about it, only to be told to come again the next day and ask. In the meantime, we also had called up Barracuda Diving about what we can do tomorrow, and again did not get much detail.
We called Taj in the next morning to find out that there weren't any interesting options. So the first thing, we simply headed to 'Cida de Goa' beach resort near Miramar, Panaji where Barracuda Diving was supposedly located. On asking, we were given some watersport options in the resort, like WindSurfing, speedboat and more. But Barracuda Diving had recently shifted to Marriott beach resort that was a 10-minute drive from there. So there we go to Marriott and finally met people from the diving school. Our plan was to Snorkel and spend the day while understanding whatever we can about diving. But it so turned out that the boat that goes to diving site had left around 30 minutes back and the next schedule is 2 days later. We were stranded with nothing much to do for the day. It is too hot to get into a beach or something during mid-day. We then decided on whiling our time till evening and return to 'Cida de Goa' to learn some windsurfing there.
So, with lot of time to spend, we entered a nearby Barista and spent half an hour. From there, we went to Old Goa to visit the 17th Century built Church of St Francis of Assisi. Old goa is nearly 20 minutes drive from Panaji. All these times, we were talking how good an idea it was to take a car here. Without one, we would have been stuck to one or two places and could have moved around very little. The St. Francis Church also housed a museum and had some paintings from the Portugese days. Believe it or not it was the first time in life I was going to a Church! I was moved by the majesty of the place and the calmness that it evokes. Strangely, I felt the same good feel that I had felt under the stars when we were sitting the previous night on the Vagator beach. We lit candles and sat in the Church for sometime. I felt I could sit there silently and spend all the day. Visiting the Church was a good decision and that made the best of the day.
We returned to Panaji from there, finished our lunch and again went to Barista. Around 4pm, we returned to Cida de Goa to try windsurfing. It so turned out we had not done good homework again. They had no staff to teach you windsurfing, so all you could do is hire a surfboard and hit the sea if you are a pro. Same with snorkels too. So the remaining options were the not really pleasent ones - like parasailing, speedboat rides and the like. So just to minimize our disappoinement, we bought some boat rides and returned from there.
The only bright spot of the day was visiting Barracude Diving School. Karen from the school informed us about some promotional package where they introduce to diving gears and also give you a session in swimming pool(FYI: you have to begin in swimming pool even for a profession course). And one such session is scheduled in a 'Sun Village Resort' the next morning. So planning about that, we returned to the basecamp after dinner. We then went to Vagator beach(that was around 9pm I guess) with some mats and torch and decided to spend some time in the night there. The evening tides were rising and the sea was much more active than the previous day. We were there for an hour or so watching the tides and the stars. I think it is really nice to sit in a beach during the night than day, as long as you don't get into water. Nearly 30 minutes after we were in the beach, we noticed lot of crabs were coming out of their hide. Since they were small and stayed away from us, they were not a problem. But after an hour we saw the numbers growing and wherever you see, there were crabs crabs and just crabs. To me, it was nice to see so much life around even near a populated beach, but it was definitely not a good idea to stay there any longer. So we left around 10pm and hit the bed. We had one night and almost half day more in Goa.
Day 5: The last day
Missed an update from the previous day: We also visited a lighthouse nearby after sunset. Until now I used to think light houses are a thing of the past but apparently that is not true.
From the hill where the lighthouse is located is a panoramic view of lights of Panaji city at night, and Mandovi River near the sea. We saw quite a few boats and cruises enjoying the night on the river. We all wished we were in one of those boats and also contemplated on buying boats and living near the shores. 🙂
This day, 4th November 2002 was the last day in Goa. Only thing that was remaining to do was to go to Sun Village Resorts at 10-30am to get a hang of diving and then start driving to Bangalore. We got up fairly early and decided to checkout nearby Arpora Fort. It was a good idea to go there. Fort was located on a hill with very long view of seashore. One side was the Vagator beach and to the other side, sea water made an entry into the land, forming a bay. Or was that a river? There was no one around whom we could ask, but from the map we had, it looked like a bay. Looking at the sea and the waves not from the beach but from somewhere a few hundred feet high gives a completely different picture.
We returned from the fort and drove to the resort. Had a filling breakfast there that lasted beyond lucnhtime. 🙂 When we came out of the restaurant, the diving crew had already arrived. There were a few people already in queue and we had a bit of waiting to do. During the wait, I had a fairly long chat with the divers and got to know a bit about the sport, the fish you get to see down there, some enjoyable experiences of the divers and a lot more. One of the guys was telling about a story where he was standing still in water, and fish would come to him out of curiocity, repeatedly bang into his goggles while he got a close look at the fish. He also talked about some friendly fish that would let you swim with them in the school. All that made me all the more enthusiastic about diving(marketing?) and there, my turn had come to dive. I put on the gear. It consits of a belt with some heavy metal piece attached to it to ensure that you can get down the water easily, a pair of long shoes you might have seen in tv that helps you move forward, a jacket that has the air cylinder attached to it, an air regulator/mouth piece to inhale water from and goggles. Even wearing all that was not a simple job. 🙂 After putting on the gear, I struggled a bit to get used to breathing with the mouth but soon got used to doing that. Then it was all like a breeze going around the pool. It was a good experience. We all returned back hoping to come back for a full time course, time and money permitting.
So there we started our drive back to the city around 12pm. Even the drive back was good. Most of the drive was thru a lot of greenery. After half an hour or so, we entered the western ghat region and started steep and curvy climbs.
The picturusque drive lasted for nearly 45 minutes when we reached the planes of Deccan. We drove on continuosly for 4 hours and arrived near Hubli. We had to pass via Hubli-Dharwad bypass road that seems to be a newly built toll highway. The road was surprisingly good, wide, away from villages and was almost deserted. We got a chance to put the car on a stress test and managed to reach speeds as high as 150kph, very safely. Must say this is faster than the speed limit in many states in US. Even after this, the road was pretty decent all the way till Bangalore. Most of the time, we stayed at 90 to 110kph. It helped us to reach the city a little earlier than projected - at around 12-30am and we were able to catch some sleep that night, before heading to work the next day. And the next day, I woke up to the grind, again. :-))