Apollo Bad Road Buddies
I peered through the windscreen, squinting against the afternoon sun and desperately looking for any kind of a signpost that would lead us to Dandeli. The road ahead of us was empty. We had been driving for almost four hours now and there was no sight of the convoy yet. At this point, we were ready to admit that the convoy was probably a few hours ahead of us. I started to mentally curse myself for missing the detour that the convoy took even as my driving buddy, Hari took his sixth turn in the last hour into a yet another unknown road. What’s worse, this one seemed to disappear into woods. We were hopelessly lost and I was ready to give anything just for a single glimpse of another vehicle from the convoy.
The convoy I was alluding to was a multitude of 50-odd SUVs and off-roaders which were a part of a first-of-its-kind initiative by Apollo Tyres called Bad Road Buddies. The idea was to put together an off-roading community from across India that would enable owners of 4x4s to explore uncharted terrains through the country. The inaugural edition saw 50 participants, with their 4x4s duly kitted out with Apollo Apterra tyres, driving from Goa to Dandeli and back. Apterra tyres, reportedly, have longer service life with excellent safety during high speed and braking, claims Apollo. I was also a part of the event as a media representative and my road buddy was Hari Kuchadkar from Evo India. My road buddy was also a local, which was to be an added advantage for me all through the trip. And we still ended up getting lost en-route to Dandeli. On the other hand, day one actually began on a great note.
Day 1: Panaji to Dandeli
Day one began early on a Saturday morning at Taj Vivanta in the heart of Panaji. The air was cool and everyone was excited. What lay ahead of us was a 140-kilometre long drive to Dandeli in Karnataka. The sun wasn’t up yet and the tourists had probably gone to bed only an hour before.
Our convoy of cars, which included everything from Fortuners, Endeavours, Pajeros, Safaris, Thars, Scorpios to souped-up V-Crosses and Xenons and even a few good old Land Cruisers glistened with dew drops accumulated the night before.
After the flag-off, we undertook a ten-minute drive to Dona Paula, where the first group formation was done. And my buddy and I were moved from the front of the convoy to the middle since we were driving the Group B Tata Nexon (fitted with Apollo Alnac tyres). Each car was provided with a walkie-talkie to maintain constant communication.
But they underestimated our potential of getting lost on the beautiful Goan highways. The standard route to Dandeli was closed since the border road was under maintenance. So the convoy took another, longer route, and unaware of this, we proceeded to the border anyway. As a result, the entire afternoon was spent taking detours and U-turns on the vacant NH66.
By the time we realised that we were hopelessly lost, we were at least 60 kilometres beyond the detour that we had missed. Now we had the option of either retracing our route back to the starting point or to rely on directions from locals to get us to Dandeli which was roughly about 200 kilometres away. We chose the latter. Yet, even in the haze of our anxiety we couldn’t help but notice how pretty the NH66 highway was. An empty strip of tarmac laid out in a way that would shame most racetracks, it was also dotted by green palms on both sides. Apollo says, bad road go to good places, but here the irony was that we were on good roads which were taking us nowhere.
As a matter of fact, we thoroughly enjoyed the NH66. It was a biker’s paradise and an ideal playground for a good handling car. And even though the Alnac tyres specialise in off-roading, they didn’t disappoint Hari and his corner carving capabilities behind the wheel of the Nexon.
After the course correction, we found ourselves at the entry of the Anshi National Park. The road meandered through the national park, twisting and turning, plunging up and down the hills, but the surface was butter-smooth for the most part of it. It was late in the afternoon and the road was empty save for monkeys which scampered away every time the vehicle approached close to them.
When we reached Whistling Woods in Dandeli at around five, the whole convoy was waiting for us. What came next in the itinerary was amazing, to say the least. The whole convoy – including us, this time – drove off the road and right into the jungle. We waded through a rough, rocky, leaf-covered forest floor with occasional sandy and steep inclines and drops. Of the 50 plus vehicles, our Nexon was the smallest car in the convoy. And it happily hurtled across the rutted terrain wearing its Apollo shoes like a mountain goat. Halfway through, we realised that here, in a true sense, we were the Bad Road Buddies.
This adventure ride culminated atop a mountain that offered a panoramic view of the Supa dam reservoir. All the off-roaders lined up for photographs and everybody was of the opinion that this – a first time experience for many – was something they should have done before, many times actually. So, promises were made to do this more often with their 4x4s, and at sundown, it was time to make our way back through the same jungle trail.
It was dark and everyone was tired, and we had to venture through the desolated tiger territories, but the sense of being in convoy kept everyone going. We retired for the night at Whistling Woods resort, to the sound of the river flowing nearby.
Day 2: Dandeli to BRB track in Quepem
We flagged off at five in the morning and left Dandeli for Quepem in South Goa. The scenic journey with the convoy continued, but this time Hari and I were in a Tata Hexa, running on Apterra tyres. In Quepem, Apollo had organised a full-blown off-roading course for the participants. These off-road tracks were made by the same people who organised the gruesome Rain Forest Challenge and incidentally, at the same venue where some of the RFC stages are held. There were four different layouts, and our Hexa 4x4 worked through two of them easily. While the third one was a challenging dash, the marshals instructed us not to venture into the fourth track as it was made for extremely focused and hardcore 4x4s only. It was quite a learning experience for a first timer like me.
It was celebrity meet-and-greet time shortly after when the Bad Road Buddies were joined by Sachin Tendulkar. The Master Blaster is Apollo’s brand ambassador and he arrived, driving an off-roader himself. He was accompanied by Onkar S Kanwar, chairman of Apollo Tyres and Neeraj Kanwar, vice chairman and MD, Apollo Tyres.
Neeraj Kanwar, vice chairman and managing director, Apollo Tyres Ltd, talking about the inaugural Bad Road Buddies, said, “We wanted to provide budding off-roaders and enthusiasts a platform to come together and discover the roads less travelled across the vast Indian terrain. Bad Road Buddies is a special initiative curated by Apollo Tyres for them. We are extremely excited about our first edition of Bad Road Buddies. This would also help the off-roaders experience the Apollo Apterra tyres, which are designed to tackle the rough roads with ease, making the journey more thrilling".
After some fun-filled off-roading, which primarily involved creating dust clouds, we made our way back to Panaji for a grand finale. An initiative like Bad Road Buddies truly brings together budding off-roaders and veterans alike over terrains which no one would usually dare to venture into. According to Apollo, the people who belong to this community are the people who are willing to make it through some of the harshest roads in the country, all in order to visit places that will deliver them with breath-taking views. So with Bad Road Buddies initiative. Apollo wants to grow this community further. And we hope that Apollo organises more Bad Road Buddies editions across different parts of India, and I am eagerly waiting to be a part of all of those. Without all the drama and anxiety of getting lost, of course.