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.