This year hasn’t been kinder to anyone, and it’s been 8 months it has stayed this way. We were reminiscing our travels in 2019 and rueful that we have spent most of the year at home sitting it out. How does one travel with so much uncertainty around safety, people and distance.
And then it hit us. A self-driven car on a road trip is your own secure & affordable bio-bubble. Add to it the fact that jobs and education today (atleast in urban India) is online which means you can work for anywhere as long as you can connect, you don’t even need to take leaves if you plan well. And, Corona means less folks/traffic on the road, a better sense of hygiene. So, the best time to take a road trip is now!
We decided to make a mountain out of a road trip by planning an elaborate 1600km drive from Bangalore to Goa and back. We stretched it to 11 days and I took only 2 days off and had a whale of a time. In this blog, I have listed my experiences down by each day so that you can see for yourself how much you can pack and have fun. Check it out –
Route Taken from Bangalore to Goa:
Bangalore – Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary – Jog Falls – Gokarna – Candolim (North Goa) – Varca (South Goa) – Palolem – Murudeshwar – Maravanthe – Kudremukh – Hassan – Bangalore
Day 1 (Saturday): Bangalore to Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary (275Km) | (Actual Drive Time 4Hr) | 1 Stop near Arasikere for eating our own breakfast by the roadside
Started at 6am in the morning, drove out of Bangalore through the Mangalore Highway till Hassan, and then turned right towards Arasikere, Karur, and Birur and into Jungle Lodge’s run River Tern Lodge at the edge of the Bhadra reservoir by 10:15am. Beautiful property, with a few cottages set up on a small island that is connected by a hanging bridge (which is where we stayed). We did a Jeep Safari in the afternoon (spotted a Leopard but pretty far) and a beautiful boat safari next day morning. Boat safari here makes a lot more sense because of the huge variety of birds, including the River Terns.
Day 2 (Sunday): Bhadra to Gokarna via Jog Falls (250Km) | (Actual Drive Time 4.5Hr) | 1 Stop at Jog Falls for 45 mins
Finished Morning Boat Safari and then a big breakfast by 10am and left at 10:30am. Reached Jog Falls at 12:15pm, left it by 1pm – too sunny, less water and too many people it being Sunday. The road till Sagar from Bhadra is not scenic but from Sagar onwards it was a beauty. The Ghat section from Jog to Honavar was lovely green, absolutely no traffic and pristine black top. From Honavar to Gokarna, the road is being developed so its narrow at many places and it slows you down in parts. The beauty is that some portions of the road are close to the Sea and makes compelling visuals.
We reached our Hotel (near Om Beach) by 3pm. Had lunch, rested awhile and then went to Kudle Beach in the evening and then walked to Om Beach to watch the sunset from its cliffs. No crowds and blissful.
Day 3 (Monday): Full day working remotely from Gokarna
Fantastic feeling to work when the views are serene with sound of water and greenery all around. Finished work by 5pm and then drove to figure out the hidden Paradise Beach but GPS delivered us wrongly to a dead end so ended up watching sunset at a different and unnamed beach while taking office calls and meetings.
Day 4 (Tuesday): Gokarna to Candolim (165Km) | (Actual Drive Time 3.5Hr) | No stops
I took leave today because it was meant to be packed. Left Gokarna early morning at 9:15am after breakfast and drove out to the coastal route that takes one to Goa thru Karwar and then Canacona, Margao, Panaji into North Goa. The road till the border at Goa is currently pockmarked with development work and the 4-lane in many stretches is WIP, therefore killing your speed and requiring extra vigil on the road. The roads near the Karwar Naval Base are pathetically maintained specially for delivering discomfort to drivers. Road changes for better as you enter Goa and the winding Ghat sections from Palolem to Cavelossim have always been a nice drive. Thereafter, on to Margao and again the painful experiences of road widening between Margao and Panaji makes driving absolutely joyless. Gone are the visuals of green fields and the peaceful views of Zuari River. Once at Panjim, the new bridge delivers you beautifully to the locality of Nerul from where the charms of North Goa take control. We reached our Hotel on Candolim Main Road by 1pm.
Went to see the Parra Church (some personal business) and then sat down for sunset at one of our favorite places – The Olive at the top of Vagator beach. A little rain in the evening made it a wonderful sight. We went back to Candolim beach at night and instead of Calamari or Cohiba, headed to the newly opened Tomatoes at the beach for a peaceful meal of Pomphret and King Fish with a beer. Bliss
Fort Aguada, Goa by Travel Jaunts
Day 5 (Wednesday): Full day working remotely from Goa
Day long video meetings made absolutely delightful by the fact that you are in your beach wear sipping mocktails while attending to work. Productivity triples :-). The family went for a dip in the Candolim Sea; we all took a break to eat lunch together. Work ended at 6pm and rains came up. We drove down to one of our all-time favorites – Thalassa at Vagator, only to find that they have now shifted to a new location by Anjuna River. The vibes were unchanged though the place is bigger now. Tourists haven’t yet descended into Goa and it’s the first time I saw 50% occupancy in Thalassa at dinner time.
Day 6 (Thursday): Candolim to Varca (60Km) | (Actual Drive Time 1.5Hr) | 1 Stop at BetalBatim
We always divide our time between North and South Goa, and being Club Mahindra members, their beautiful property with a private access to the beach is at Varca. Today, we finish our breakfast by 9am; I take some office calls and left Candolim by 11:30am. We reached one of our other all-time favorites – Martin’s Corner at Betalbatim for lunch by 12:30pm. The Panaji-Margao road depresses you, but the sight of Martin’s uplifts your mood. A full Pomphret as well as Pasta with a beer can make up for anything. Reached our resort in Varca thereafter by 2pm and we were ushered into a large and spacious studio kept ready for us. Rest of the day was spent in taking video calls with office. I went to the beach at 6pm to join the family who already were there, had some nice time splashing into the waves and see the sun melt into orange streaks. Another blissful day!
Day 7 (Friday): Full day working remotely from Goa
Family has fun while I work. Not really, I hit the beach early morning and also in the evening before sunset. The 10 hours in between were most productive work hours with sumptuous buffet breakfast and lunch. Post sunset when work was over, we drove to another of our all-time favorites – a local joint in Colva named the Mickey’s. We have been coming here for last 5 years regularly and the food and setting never cease to amaze. This time, we had Chennai Super Kings losing badly to Mumbai while we ate our dinner. Another blissful day and an end to a working week. Weekend in Goa is coming!
Day 8 (Saturday): Full day having fun at Goa
We decided to just laze today at the resort; playing with sand and sea in the morning and evenings and playing pool, table tennis and carom during the day with my son. His skill in carom and pool improved multi-folds and I was quite impressed with myself for spending some quality time. Had 3 large meals, walked around the resort, chatted philosophically with my wife and even ran a little at the beach. What else would you want from a Saturday? Another blissful day though I was aware that our Goa sojourn was ending and it’s time to head back.
Day 9 (Sunday): Varca to Mookambika (190Km) | (Actual Drive Time 3.5Hr) | 1 Stop at Palolem Beach
We left Varca by 10:30am after our breakfast and then drove over the winding Ghats to reach Palolem beach by 11:00am. My son had never been to this beach, or atleast he didn’t remember coming here and we needed to show him Goa’s most beautiful beach. It was an odd time of the day, too sunny to head into the waters and too early to order lunch. So we lazed around in a lovely shack by the beach but then soon got fed up of sipping cocktails so spent some time shopping and buying low quality one time use beach wear that you see at any beach road in India.
Resumed our drive to Mookambika by 1:15pm or so and after passing through Karwar, Gokarna, Kumta, Honavar, Murudeshwar and the coastal town of Bhatkal we reached our Hotel at Byndoor by 3:30pm.
Byndoor is in between 2 large and crowded places of interest – The Murudeshwar temple (32km to the north) and Mookambika temple (29km to the south). So we chose to stay there therefore ignoring crowds and the collateral damage that comes with it. This evening, we drove down to Murudeshwar temple and watched the towering statue of Lord Shiva blessing everyone while the sun set just behind him in the Arabian Sea. We drove back, ate a quiet dinner and slept for long.
Day 10 (Monday): Mookambika to Karkala (185Km) | (Actual Drive Time 3Hr) | 1 Stop at Kundapura
Today was a state holiday. If not, would have taken a leave today. No signs of breakfast at our small hotel in Mookambika, so we packed up everything and drove out by 8am. The roads today, this side of Karnataka are all done and marvellous. So, very shortly we were cruising to Maravanthe Beach (you’ll see umpteen pictures on Google why this place is so well known) where the highway literally kisses the sea. A short stop for the customary pictures and then again very quickly we were in Kundapur where we stopped to sit for breakfast at an empty but safe and hygienic looking Hotel on the highway. We checked and found their preparations satisfactory – sanitized tables and washrooms, use of gloves, social distancing etc – before dipping into our Ghee Dosas and Udupi Coffee. Thereafter, we turned left onto smaller one lane roads which we call state highways in Karnataka, a bit patchy here and there but compensating with stunning sceneries and the heights of the might Western Ghats.
Our place for the day was a 200 year old mud-house in the middle of a forested area between Karkala and Kudremukh. We reached there by 11:30am. The House was a delight and since there were no other guests, we had the entire place to ourselves. It was next to a stream which emanated from a waterfall nearby on one side, and a beautiful and expansive temple on the other. Very less number of folks come and trek till this waterfall. So we had absolute silence with the sound of birds and the rushing of water. With nothing to distract you, time slows down and despite taking long walks, washing ourselves in the stream, sitting down to read, playing games and so many other things in between, the day seemed to go on and on. What a wonderful day it was.
Day 11 (Tuesday): Karkala to Bangalore (360Km) | (Actual Drive Time 6.5Hr) | 1 Stop at Kudremukh and another at Hassan
Today would be a long day and I had taken leave to ensure am not distracted on the journey. Our trip wasn’t over yet because a lot more was waiting for us on the route. Instead of taking the usual Charmady Ghat road to Bangalore, we decided to take the slightly longer and less travelled Kudremukh Ghat road. This road goes through Jamly, Kalasa, Kudremukh, Koitegehera, Banakal, Mudigere and Belur before meeting up the Mangalore – Bangalore highway at Hassan. And it turned out to be a very good decision.
We left at 9:30am and were soon at the Jungle check-point where we paid and got passes to drive through that route. Well laid roads, absolutely no one and what views of the winding hills and greenery. We stopped at so many places to step out, take pictures, pose and breathe in the air though I was worried we were getting late for Bangalore. This continued till we reached and left the town of Kudremukh behind. I’d go ahead and say that this stretch is one of the most beautiful drives in India. One done, the roads from Kudremukh down till Mudigere were awful, made palatable only because of scenery. From Mudigere you get better roads and they become even better once you cross Belur and drive towards Hassan. We reached Hassan by 1:45pm for a quick stop for lunch at a carefully selected Tourism Department owned Hotel with safe parking (instead of crowded eateries on the highway). Left Hassan by 2:30pm and were Home by 4:30pm in the evening, thereby bringing curtains to the accumulated and unattended Wanderlust of 2020.
The trip has improved our confidence and we think normal life can resume even in these times, and we for sure will head out again and more often. From our experience, here are a few things that we would suggest before you embark on a road trip –
- Plan your trip on an excel sheet first as per your own comfort (like how many hours of driving are you comfortable with in a day). List out each day from where will you start, where will you end, how long is the route, how many kilometres and what is the actual route, where will you have your meals etc. This has been my standard practice for years and once I you are comfortable with the paper, you will be comfortable with the trip.
- Research a bit about each drive – how long, which towns or large villages on the route, road conditions. It helps you figure out exactly how long it will take you, even before start and you will know which portions to rev up and which portions to go slow. It would also keep your time in check without worrying it will get you late. For example, for our last day the mud-house owner told us to buffer 7+ hours to reach Bangalore but I knew that once I hit Hassan I will cover the 190km to Bangalore in less than 2 hours because the road is beautiful; this helped us drive easy and slow in Kudremukh.
- I follow a rule of driving only b/w sunrise and sunsets. I am better tuned to roads with natural lighting than street lights. Drive as per your comforts and ease; after all it is a road trip and not an endurance test behind the wheel.
- Pack up the car according to the needs of the family. For example, my son has a habit of dozing off in a moving car so I keep a pillow and comforter on the back seat with him. We have a habit of nibbling while driving so we keep a little food box under one of the seats. Wife likes to click every now and then so camera bag is on the floor near her feet. This way, if you find things handy while you are on the road, you will enjoy more with comforts taken care of.
- Figure out how to keep the navigator and back-seat travellers occupied. We played twenty questions and used the sun-roof for keeping my family engaged and awake.
- Lastly, do tend to your car. Be careful of driving over potholes, take a break if coolant shows its heating up, be filled up on fuel always etc. The last thing you want will be your car breaking down.