The Great Monsoon Chase: Delhi To Kerala and Back

codelust

Shyam
It was an itch for which the scratching is imminent once the second half of the year rolls into view. After head-butting with all the 'taxing' problems and the usual ruckus with work, the desire to get behind the wheel becomes impossible to ignore. Last year the same itch saw me attempting a solo run to Kasol and wound up going to Leh via Manali and returned via Srinagar.

This year, the itch showed up again and even though the heart was saying Spiti and/or Leh, the mind was not in it. With the unpredictable weather and other things to be considered, I just did not feel comfortable in doing the trip. On the other hand, I was due my regular visit to Kerala and I have always wanted to drive on the Kokan coast, so it was finally decided that I will drive to Kerala from Delhi and it would be planned as solo run, if I could find anyone along the way, well and good; if I could not find anyone, no sweat.

As of writing this only one half of the journey has been done. Family matters have delayed my return by over a month, I will update the log as and when I can on my return journey when it beings in about a week's time. The first half was done over 9-days, 3600 KMs of driving with halts at Vadodara, Pune, Goa and Kasargode.

Since this was going to be a long drive and a solo run, I took almost a week over the date I had first picked for departure because I did not feel prepared enough for it. Soloing over such long distances requires you to be in the right frame of mind and to be well rested. It is not for everyone and you need to have a real love for being on the road, failing which it is an endless boring trip of hours and hours of roads and trucks.

The travelogue won't be one of the typical one of those that you typically find posted here. I'm not that great at photography and over time I have come to realize that I am driver first, a bit of a traveller second and not at all tourist. So most of photos are of roads and more roads, which quickly get absolutely boring.

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Between Pune and Goa, before Anmod Ghat.
 
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codelust

Shyam
Drive day 1: Delhi - Vadodara (1100 kms)

The Route:

Moolchand - Gurgaon
Gurgaon - Jaipur
Jaipur - Kishangarh
Kishangarh - Bhilwara
Bhilwara - Chittaurgaurh
Chittaurgaurh - Udaipur
Udaipur - Ahmedabad
Ahmedabad - Vadodara


In keeping with tradition and the bonus of escaping traffic I plan to flee Delhi as usual past midnight. Once again, I find it very hard to sleep any bit before I start on a midnight escape and wind up leaving it a bit late, closer to 1 AM. By the time I am done tanking up and taking on more supplies from the In & Out at Moolchand it is 2 AM and the first few kilometers start rolling off for the long journey ahead.

The NH8 used to be my favourite road over half-a-decade ago when I would want to ride out early morning to clear my head, so I am pretty familiar with it. Over the years the road has lost most of its charm and even 100 KMs on, it feels like an extension of Gurgaon. Typical of that downhill slide, I find a traffic jam outside Bhiwadi at 3AM. It takes about 15 minutes to clear up and we are running again, with the dark night and trucks alone for company.

At the Behror toll I find a cop who wants a drop to Jaipur and by then it has started to rain pretty heavily. What good is a monsoon chase without some good rain, huh? As the rain increases the visibility drops and we tear through some major pools of standing water along the way. I had finally retired my stock JK Vectras on the Swift that had served me well over numerous trips to Himachal, various highways and the unplanned trip to Leh. 47,000 KMs of excellent service. The new ones were some strange SEA-only Bridgestone ones called MY01, which came highly recommended from my trusted tyre chap. I was a bit apprehensive about them, but after 5000 KMs on them, I can say I really love them.

Looking at the rain, the cop tells me that whenever Ashok Ghelot comes to power in Rajasthan, it rains and it rains and it rains even more. At 6 AM we hit a rain-drenched Jaipur and I drop my fellow passenger off. The city is still only slowly waking up. Even though I had done only 260 KMs by then, I decide to top up the fuel in Jaipur and set off again on the NH8.

At 7 AM the GVK Expressway comes up and thus starts the awesome stretch of roads where you can easily do 120 kmph+ for extended periods of time. Private transport is pretty sparse on these roads and 90% of the traffic are just trucks. Unlike the NH1 or the other roads that I frequently travel on, this road does not have too many options to eat once you leave Jaipur behind you. After a while I stop for breakfast with cup noodles, some fruit and green tea by the roadside.

This was a journey with no fixed plans and it was moments like these that made it something that you absolutely cherish for your entire life.

At Kishangarh I peel off the NH8, skip Ajmer and head for Chittaurgarh via Bhilwara and Gangrar. The roads and the scenery is pretty much the same all over here, only difference being that it was a lovely shade of green all over the place due to the rain. In fact, it was hard to believe that I was going through Rajasthan through that time.

I rejoin the NH8 past at Udaipur at 1:00 PM. By now I had covered 700 KMs and been driving for 12-hours. Udaipur was the first option for a stop for me, but I decided that with such good roads I wanted to maximise distance covered so that if there were to be any bad roads/unforseen delays along the way I could then afford to take it a lot easier.

This was the first time for me in Gujarat, which came up soon after Udaipur. I was astounded by how green the state looked, especially since I had no clue what to expect there. I was closing down on Ahmedabad and running low on fuel and had to decide if I should push on till Vadodara. It was 4 PM by then and I had covered 917 KMs since I started driving a bit after midnight. Called up a friend who works in the state and asked which - Ahmedabad or Vadodara - was a better option. He asked me to aim for Vadodara and booked me into Hotel Rainbow there, which was absolutely sweet of him.

My first brush with NE1 was awesome. It was a lot crazier than the Mumbai - Pune Expressway. The listed speed limit for cars was 100 KPH on the road, but vehicles were easily doing well over 140 KPH. I pushed the Swift to see how fast it could go. Hit 145 on the GPS and called it off. At those kinds of speeds in cars like mine, you are dependent 100% on luck than ability to keep you safe.

Using the GPS unit I had no trouble finding the hotel, which was a pretty good deal for Rs 750 a night. At around 7 PM I stopped for the day. 1100 KMs done, 17-hours of driving and covered four states. Food was ordered, a much-needed shower was taken. For a largely vegetarian state, the hotel had some awesome chicken curry that I took a chance on. Went off to sleep early for the next day's drive which would see me through Bombay and stop for the day at Pune.

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Dark and rainy start. Those are not stars, but dirt and raindrops.

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It rained through the morning.

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The roads were mostly like this.

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Straight as an arrow.

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Typically Rajasthan.

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Before Udaipur

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Udaipur, done and dusted. I tried tagging the Dzire up ahead, but he was doing 120 and I had no desire to go beyond 110. I had a long long way to go.

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The vehicle formerly known as Moti Aunty, now rechristened as 'tavala' thanks to the girlfriend who thinks she looks like a frog. 'Tavala' is frog in Mallu.

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Brunch, sort of. Wai wai, Kahwa some fruits.
 

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codelust

Shyam
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Inside Udaipur

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Inside Udaipur

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Inside Udaipur

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Inside Udaipur

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Crossed over into Gujarat

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Gujarat

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Beautiful skies over NE1

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You are on National Expressway 1

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100 KPH limit
 

codelust

Shyam
Drive day 2: Vadodara - Pune (670 kms)

Route:

Vadodara - Ankaleshwar
Ankaleshwar - Surat
Surat - Vapi
Vapo - Ghorbunder
Ghorbunder - Thane
Thane - Pune

In what was probably the dumbest decision on my drive, I decided to have a lazy start to the day considering I had to cover only half the distance of the previous day's drive. By the time I got to the NH8 it was almost 1 PM, which would lead to much heartache later.

The reason why I would need a lot of time on this stretch is due to the fact that I'll be passing through Bombay (at least the outer areas) and that would lose me a lot of time. I had not taken any of that into account and merrily started after wasting half the day.

The stretch is a marked contrast to the previous day's drive. Most of the driving is through the industrial areas of Gujarat, there is absolutely nothing worth seeing there and in most places the air is so polluted that you'll have a hard time breathing and the stench is awful most of the times. The road has very heavy truck traffic and some insane truck drivers. Altogether an experience that you want to get over and done with as soon as possible.

Things improve a lot once you get into Maharashtra. Things are a lot greener there and the roads too improve a lot, that is until you close in on Mumbai. Since it had been raining throughout the time and I was getting into town around peak hour traffic (7 PM), it was absolutely miserable. The good roads gave way to craters and the traffic became absolutely chaotic. I have always disliked Mumbai for the lack of space and the crazy traffic drive was just the thing I did not want.

I had decided to take HVK's directions in finding the shortest route to the Mumbai - Pune Expressway and got one turn wrong after Ghorbunder.If I had followed the instructions to the last letter it would have saved me a lot of trouble, but I am known for getting directions wrong and I got one badly wrong here. Pretty soon I found myself heading in the direction of Nasik and then I had a lot of trouble finding a place to turn around on the road. The traffic and rain was making me really miserable.

So I decided to follow the GPS this time and it very helpfully gets me on to the Mumbra Bypass. Now, if you have not been on the Mumbra bypass, it is an exercise well worth taking. It is a curvy, moon-scale crater ridden, truck infested in the middle of nowhere road. If you ever want to learn offroading, get on this road when it is raining. To my sheer delight I discover that one of my brand new Philips bulbs seems to have conked off. It is dark, can't see a thing, it is raining and there are trucks all around me that are disappearing and reappearing from massive craters filled with water. And the cherry on top - the horn also conks off. What more can a man ask for?

I lose well over 2 hours getting out of that mess and eventually find the Mumbai - Pune expressway only to find half of Mumbai already on it. There are few traffic jams along the way with a lot of reckless driving by people in their fast cars. I stop midway to take on some fuel and that is the first real break I get in the day with my jangled nerves all over the place.

In the meantime I try to reestablish contact with the friend with whom I was to have stayed in Pune. As my luck would have it, he turns out to be the only person in the world who has a worse sense of direction than me. After much running around, including paying the same toll twice (second time in the day it happened to me due to going down the wrong route), I finally find my friend and his place and crashed out for the night over some booze I had picked up along the way.

The aftereffects of the booze left me feeling pretty sick the morning after, which meant the plans of going straight to Goa was thrown out of the window. But the good part was that my friend who is actually a Goan agreed to hop on for the drive into Goa.

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Leaving Vadodara and rejoining NH8.

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Had high hopes when I saw this stretch, that things would be good again.

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Lovely roads, again.

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Hmm... what could those clouds possibly mean?

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It could only mean the obvious...

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More rain!

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Which is always much better than the miserable humid heat in these parts.

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Dark and dusty, painted on the sky..

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No moonshine, but plenty of teardrops to follow!

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Maharashtra border coming up!
 

codelust

Shyam
What a road to drive !!
If you like driving, you should drive down to Kerala. I'd taken the wrong road once I got into the state, but otherwise everything pre-Mangalore was amazing.

Loving the road photos...
That is one downside of driving solo and covering huge distances, most photos are of the roads. After the first two days I could not make out the difference between the photos. They all are just black tarmac with one white line going along the middle.

Glad you liked them :)
 
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