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Old 14th January 2011, 20:43   #1
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Default The Big Southern Sojourn

"You guys are mad"!

Familiar words that we usually hear before undertaking any long drive. My wife and I are slowly turning out to be roadies and the star of the whole exercise is our now 6.5 yrs old Opel Corsa GLS 1.6. Considering we are technically overdue for a change, we decided that we go on a trip that will be the swan song for our ol' trusty.

We'd been planning to visit Kerala for a long time and the opportunity to drive down beckoned. Did the planning and booking and got the car checked during the first 2 weeks of December. Faced a slight scare 2 days before we had to move out when the hook for the boot latch came apart! Possible rupture due to a fault in the casting that grew over time. Called up National Garage for a possible replacement but they first took some time to get over their amazement at this happening and then expressed their inability to help. Took it to the local garage wrapped in scotch tape and got it welded

Anyway, christmas was the day, and we started on our big trip.

Some stats on the trip:

Distance covered - 4250 kms in 9 days

Route taken - Mumbai - Goa - Bangalore - Munnar - Kochi - Kovalam -
Kanyakumari - Madurai - Bangalore - Mumbai.

Fuel average - 13.89 kmpl (including city travel of 180 kms)

Average speed for the trip including breaks - Mumbai - Goa 45 kmph, Goa - Blr 55, Blr - Munnar 52.25, Munnar - Kochi 32.5, Kochi - Allepey 62 kmph, Allepey - Kovalam 35 kmph, Kovalam - KK 60, KK - Madurai 92 , Madurai - Bangalore 56, Bangalore - Mumbai 60.

So off we were at 9:30 am from Mumbai. Hit the expressway pretty soon only to encounter a mile long jam just before entering Lonavala that took 1.5 hrs to clear thanks to our esteemed Police force in 2 nos. selectively stopping vehicles for checking! Tried to make up time on NH4. The last time we traversed this route to Goa was in 2008 and the traffic has considerably gone up. Not to mention slow moving trucks on the right side and that too overtaking another slower moving one
Road verdict: Xpway, NH4 were top notch in quality, no issues at all. Took a right from Sankeshwar towards Gadhinglaj-Ajara-Amboli ghat-Sawantwadi-Banda (patchy road but could make decent speed there). Moved to NH17 from Banda and that's where the bad road started for about 10 kms or so till the smooth Goa portion came up.

Stayed a day in Goa to get over the stress from the first day's drive. Started for Bangalore the next day at 7:30 am and took the NH17, NH4A (Khanapur) route to reach NH4. Encountered the Kali river valley basin for the first time and was it spectacular! The place is breathtakingly beautiful.

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The road on NH4A was pretty good till Goa limits and on moving into Karnataka the patches started to appear. In some cases, the craters were covering more area than the road itself. Sometimes, it was smoother to go on the craters than try and catch the road :-) The road got better once we took a left towards Khanapur.

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The mistake we made was to not reach NH4 via Belgaum. Instead just before Khanapur, we took a right taking a state highway that would go on for 20 kms and reach NH4 at M.K. Hubli. Worst decision of our trip - the whole journey took an hour meandering through the worst roads (in many parts non existent) and going through the lean mean galis of a couple of villages. Finally reached NH4 and continued till Bangalore entering from Yashwanthpur after going over the outstanding toll road access. Thanks to T-Bhp, we safely navigated the 3 speed breakers around Haveri! Totally understand what people without prior knowledge would have gone through!! Some other observations on our drive through NH4.

Encountered great deal of local traffic driving on the wrong side in the opposite direction!
The Big Southern Sojourn-dscn4879.jpg

NH4 is not yet complete. 2 diversions come about between Haveri and Rannebenur where the rail over bridge is still under construction. This does delay matters if the railway line is closed for the train to pass.
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On the lighter side, encountered interesting 'danger' signs that we usually capture on our camera. Here's one of them
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Day 4 - we started from Bangalore at 7:30 am to beat the office rush towards electronic city. Amazing road towards electronic city and great buildings on both sides to look at. Smoothly transitioned into NH7 and what an outstanding highway it is. Took a pitstop at a small teastall next to a weigh bridge sign and my wife spotted a dosa tava where the guy was making malabari parathas (or parotas as it gets spelt in most places down south). In that shack of a place, we ate the best malabari parathas we have ever had! We liked it so much that we stopped on our return as well by doing a rough calculation of the time we took a photograph there and average speed from Salem using our log book :-) For those interested, it is on the left side, just after crossing the flyover that goes past Sambandham Spinning Mills that lies on its right. Turned right on NH49 from Dindigul and reached Munnar at 7:30 in the evening.

NH 49 was great till we started climbing up the hills and thereafter it went from patchy to bad, to very bad and back to patchy and finally turned better as we started closing into Munnar.

NH49 before the uphill climb
The Big Southern Sojourn-dscn4960.jpg

Needless to mention Munnar is where the real 'God's own country' exists.
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Our Corsa at the parking for the national park
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This marked the midpoint of our trip. Will be posting more shortly. Thanks to hvkumar, ampere, v&v for their valuable inputs on my previous post seeking info for our trip.
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Old 16th January 2011, 23:46   #2
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Default Re: The Big Southern Sojourn

Before we move ahead on the travelogue, will leave you with a glimpse of the Matupetty lake in Munnar. Another spectacular sight.
The Big Southern Sojourn-img_0829.jpg

Day 7 - We started from Munnar at 7:30 in the morning, worked our way through the winding roads of NH 49 towards Ernakulam. Traffic on the road was almost non existent till about 9 AM post which a few vehicles started to show up. Single carriageway, double laned all the way, the road was of a very good quality with hardly any potholes. It still took us 4 hrs to reach our destination on MG Road in Ernakulam owing to horrendous traffic at the intersection of the road leading on from NH 49 and NH 47 and a confusing signal
The Big Southern Sojourn-dscn5174.jpg

Spent the day in Kochi visiting Mattancherry, Fort Kochi and the Marine Drive and drove around MG Road towards the night searching for a good place to eat. Much recommended: the restaurant in the Grand Hotel on MG Road. Next day we started again early in the morning for Allepey from Ernakulam on NH 47 and reached there by 8 AM. The road was mainly double carriageway 4 laned from Ernakulam with it getting shortened to a single carriageway 2 closer to Allepey. Took a motor boat ride through the backwaters and got an up close and personal look at the other side of God's Own Country.
The Big Southern Sojourn-dscn5305.jpg

Forgot to mention about food. All this while we had been gorging on appams, idappams and red rice along with sea food in kerala style curries and chana masala for breakfast. Also had meals with the red rice en route to Kovalam from Allepey for which we started at about 10:15 AM but reached only by 3:30 PM. One starkly observable fact about Kerala highways is the density of population that lives/works exactly off the highway. This makes driving through the state a bit of a challenge as one is constantly encountering local traffic. Had meals just before Trivandrum at a place called Hotel Al-Saj. Nice location where one can drive in, park near a hut and then occupy the hut for lunch/dinner or go into the dining hall. Great food as usual!

We spent the evening at Kovalam beach and Lighthouse beach which was connected by a raised walkway with a row of restaurants alongside. The lighthouse beach has more of the restaurants and beach beds and possibly calmer waves as well. Most of the tourists seemed to hang out at the Lighthouse beach and Kovalam beach was more frequented by the locals. Spent new year's eve on Kovalam beach which suddenly transformed into a mass of humanity wishing each other Happy New Year as the clock struck 12. Just after that we left for our homestay as we had plans for the first day of the new year.

The Big Southern Sojourn-dscn5424.jpg
Yup, you guessed it right. 5 AM - we sneak out of Kovalam, actually not sneak but move out in the quiet of the early morning and rushed through
the streets to reach NH 47 towards Kanyakumari to catch the sunrise from the southernmost tip of India. Had already checked on websites regarding sunrise timings and we had 90 minutes to cover the distance, park our car and head out for the viewing. The road towards Kanyakumari changes colour and texture immediately as one moves into Tamil Nadu. The quality of the road deteriorated to a great extent and only got better when we were closing onto Kanyakumari. Did manage to reach in time though, but as you can observe in the pic, we just caught a filtered glimpse of the sun through the cloud cover that had already enveloped the night sky.

Nevertheless, again took pictures, turned around and saw the mess that the beach is in, felt really sad that an important place like this be meted out such treatment and then moved towards Hotel Saravana for breakfast. In our pursuit of reaching in time for the sunrise, we had thought of parking near the jetty but the police had cordoned off the entire area and were asking everyone to park near the beach that was about 2 kms away from the jetty. Found a nice unused, slightly broken back lane that was not policed and parked our car comfortably with room for many others For those who may want to park here, look for Triveni Guest House on your right if you are driving towards the jetty and take the next right lane. The corner is marked with a lot of direction boards for various guest houses.
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Started from Kanyakumari at 8 AM towards Madurai on NH 7. The road was single carriageway till city limits and then there was a bypass road going towards the right flanked by windmills where the dual carriageway started.
The Big Southern Sojourn-dscn5446.jpg

This was the road where we let our Corsa really rip through and reached outskirts of Madurai by 10:30 with an average speed of 92 kmph! Spent the next 3 hours getting into the city, parking at TPK Road, then getting onto an auto to take us to Meenakshi temple, wearing a free dhoti from a nearby artifacts shop (I was wearing shorts that day), entering the temple using the Rs.100 ticket and then standing in the various lines for each darshan and then finishing off with lunch.
The Big Southern Sojourn-dscn5468.jpg

Thanks to an elderly couple in front of us whom we got talking to and wherein the lady was a teacher in the temple trust's school, we got superfast darshan as she made it a point to get us into the line much ahead than anyone else. Thanks to them, we completed the entire darshan in half an hour and then spent the other half hour gazing at the beauty of the temple. Post lunch, it was familiar road to Bangalore and we entered the city at 7:30 pm through Electronic city, MG Road till Frazer town. Had dinner and slept early to embark on the final leg of our trip and the longest - Bangalore to Mumbai. On our way back though, before reaching Salem, we did stop at the tea stall to again gorge on the delicious malabari parathas :-)

Final Day - We started at 6:30 am from Frazer town and zipped through the
toll road out of Yashwanthpur onto Tumkur road, i.e. NH 4. Just outside Bangalore we encountered fog!
The Big Southern Sojourn-dscn5480.jpg

Familiar road again and this time we stopped at very few places as the prospect of completing at 1000 kms within a day was looming large on us. Did manage to catch 'meter coffee' on a roadside tea stall that was fantastic and then stopped for lunch at the Kamat Upachaar restaurant after Belgaum. Post lunch, we entered Kolahpur and that is where the tough drive began. Tourist, truck and tempo - all kinds of vehicles on the road and it was a maddening 4 hour drive till just after Satara when the traffic speed came really down before Pune. Thankfully, most of the traffic entered Pune and we took a pitstop at the Cafe Coffee Day before the Hinjewadi flyover. Thereafter it was a smooth ride till Mumbai through the expressway and we reached Chembur at 10:30 pm in the night thereby making it a 16 hour journey. Culminated our journey in Bandra at 2 in the night due to our Chembur halt with friends who had kept much needed dinner ready for 'weary travelers'. The trip was finally completed in the intended time with perfect adherence to schedule. We were quite amazed at our own feat and decided to toast on it the next day in the evening.

A few things that helped us achieve our objectives:

1. Team-BHP - Look no further, it is all here. Research through the archives gave quite a fair idea of what to expect.

2. Prior booking for accommodation - After a long drive, the last thing one wants to do is to look for decent accommodation. Pre book it.

3. Carrying windscreen cleaner fluid - Works like a charm, gives the much needed clarity for highway driving. Keep a couple of newspapers for cleaning as well.

4. Being attentive to possible problems - Our radiator had sprung a leak on the uphill climb to Munnar due to the bad roads in between. The moment I saw the temperature gauge climb up by 10% from the normal, I checked for possible problems and figured out the leak. Had I not known it, I could have been stuck very badly.

5. Following in speed - While driving over 90 kmph, reaction time becomes limited. It is better to follow another vehicle in this case to take care of surprise potholes and speed breakers.

6. Shortcuts may not be short - Having driven through a rural road in Karnataka at 20 kmph for an hour to reach NH4, I doubt if I will make the same mistake again. Larger roads may be circuitous, but at least you can speed up on them.

7. Keeping a log - Memories or malabari parathas, logging your trip has its own advantages.

8 - Sleeping early, waking up earlier - Beat the city traffic and increase your average speed. Aim to sleep before 10 pm so that waking up at 5 or 6 am is not a problem and you are fresh for the remainder of the day.

That's all from our end on the trip. We have already started getting ideas for the next one but I guess that is at least a year or more away. Leaving you with a pic of another looney danger sign that we encountered on our return trip.
The Big Southern Sojourn-dscn5506.jpg
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Old 17th January 2011, 00:10   #3
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Well-executed drive, and a lovely photo of the Mattupetty Dam in Munnar!
Tips were most useful.
Please share with us some info on the hotels you stayed in.
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Old 17th January 2011, 10:32   #4
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Goa - Stayed at D'Souza Guest House in Candolim. Sparkling clean place. Basic room with bed, AC (not required though), fridge and no TV. Room service for basic beverages and some food. It is about 50 meters from the Kingfisher villa.

Bangalore - Stayed at a company guest house.

Munnar - High Range Club. Not sure if one can get accommodation directly. We went through the reciprocal access of our Delhi Gymkhana membership.

Kochi - Hotel Aishwarya off MG Road. Decent room. Cleanliness was a slight issue as there were a couple of roaches but didn't seem like a huge infestation - more like stray entries. Decent rates.

Kovalam - Jangar cottage. It is close to the Lighthouse beach road and is recommended only if one has access to a vehicle to move about otherwise one should pick a property on Lighthouse beach road or Kovalam beach road. Well appointed and clean rooms with access to the common kitchen, drawing and dining rooms. The property wasn't well managed as I believe it is changing hands.

For most places we figured out stuff through TripAdvisor that has pretty much become our bible for travel accommodation. Can answer specific queries as well as we researched quite a bit before booking these places.
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Old 17th January 2011, 11:02   #5
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Lovely trip and quite a befitting swansong for your car!Thanx for sharing.
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Old 17th January 2011, 14:00   #6
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That was quite a trip. Hats of to you for making such a long trip.

Originally Posted by buz View Post
It still took us 4 hrs to reach our destination on MG Road in Ernakulam owing to horrendous traffic at the intersection of the road leading on from NH 49 and NH 47 and a confusing signal
The signal has seven lights - maybe to match VIBGYOR??
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Old 17th January 2011, 15:31   #7
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@ RanjitP - Thanks. We too were quite amazed at the reliability of the car but the caveat is that quite a few of the electronic components, fuses, etc. (basically the irritating show stoppers) have got changed in the previous year. I guess the car has returned on its reliability cycle because of all that.

@ Mallumowgli - I just saw the colour green

Last edited by buz : 17th January 2011 at 15:31. Reason: Misplaced emoticon
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