The Honda Drive to Discover road trip is back! After taking the correct decision of not holding it in 2020, the program is back for a landmark 10th time - this time exploring the cool hill station of Chikmagalur, the cultural powerhouse of Mangalore, and the party centre of the country - Goa. The drive promised great picturesque locations, fun-to-drive road sections, and a variety of food, all while being cocooned in the safety and comfort of some of the best cars offered by Honda in India.
While the route is brilliant, the timing was not - the second half of March sees temperatures soaring in this part of the world. But, Honda seems to share the same giddiness that I have every time there is the prospect of going on a road trip. For someone who drives at least 30,000km every year on average, the lack of driving time in 2020 was disheartening. So, when my colleague Sagar and I were given the chance to attend the drive, we signed up for it without hesitation.
The preparation for the trip was the first sign of how different a drive this was going to be. We seemed to be recovering from the pandemic but it was not over - so the precautions were aplenty. More than the usual number of clothing, a lot of masks, multiple small bottles of hand sanitisers, and, of course, getting tested before the beginning and end of the trip. The nerd in me enjoys airplanes and traveling in them, but the flight from Mumbai to Bangalore has to be the most stressful one I have ever taken.
Day 1 - Bengaluru to Chikmagalur
However, once we landed in sunny Bengaluru, had a quick meet and greet with the wonderful folk from Honda and other journalists, it was time to let your worries slip away – it was time to get out and drive! For the first day, Sagar and I were handed over the keys to a Radiant Red Metallic Jazz, which is only available with the 1.2-litre, 89bhp / 110Nm, four-cylinder i-VTEC petrol engine. Also included was a handy safety kit, comprising a couple of well-fitting masks, a pair of gloves, and an extremely useful moisturising hand-sanitiser.
Bengaluru needs a peripheral road on the north and east of the city, just like the NICE road which covers the west to south. We encountered a bit of traffic as we made our way to the NH 75, but it could have been worse. Once we reached the smooth, gently curving highway – things were much better. Though slow to accelerate to the speed limit, the Jazz maintains speed very well. Combine the smooth roads, tunes playing through Android Auto, and sparse traffic - the start to this journey felt very nice.
We had to make our way to Chikmagalur before it got too dark, so sightseeing and stopping to take in the sights was not on the cards. Nevertheless, we did sneak in a stop to have some refreshing filter coffee and enjoyed the sunset over the calm waters in the Yagachi dam reservoir in Belur. We turned off the highway from Hassan, taking the two-lane Belur road towards Chikmagalur. I wish we had traversed the ghat section towards the night halt – Trivik Hotels & Resorts – during the day. The road from Chikmagalur town up to the resort is a driver’s paradise, narrow but twisty. The final stretch of private road before the resort was broken, but at least it was paved, unlike the usual dirt roads you find in the coffee estates of this hill station.
As we would realise later in the trip, the stay at Trivik was the most indulgent part of the trip – surprisingly more than the stay at Goa. Occupying part of a 38-acre coffee plantation on one side of a hill, the resort is a great getaway for those looking to enjoy some luxurious peace and quiet. You also don’t need to visit the onsite gym to burn the calories; with steeply inclined paths all around, you will get all the exercise you need by just walking to and from your room to the reception/restaurant. If you don’t fancy sweating it out, the resort has some well-maintained 4x4 SUVs to ferry you around.
Day 2 - Chikmagalur to Kundapura
The second day began early, with a smaller convoy heading to Mullyanagiri peak, the highest mountain peak in the state of Karnataka. We didn’t have to go till the peak (and trek up) to have the wind knocked off our lungs, the sights and sounds while driving there were enough. The green hills all around were covered in the mist before the sun rose and dispersed it.
The 250-odd kilometre drive to Kundapura – a town that sees three major rivers drain into the Arabian Sea – promised a variety of terrain, a mix of roads, and our first chance to taste some of the famous seafood this part of the country is famous for. Our transport for the day was a Lunar Silver Metallic Amaze powered by a 1.5-litre, 99bhp / 200Nm, four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine and fitted with a manual transmission. This drive was going to be fun!
The shortest route to Kundapura from Chikmagalur is just under 200km, so why did we choose to drive a quarter of the distance more? Three things – NH73, roadside garages, and Gajalee Sea Food restaurant. Four, if you add the Honda Amaze diesel into the mix! The NH73 and the NH173 that connects it to Chikmagalur, are the reasons why Karnataka roads are voted among the best in the country. Despite running through hills that see heavy rainfall every year and witness considerable traffic because it connects some major towns, this highway has smooth tarmac and is being upgraded into wider sections wherever possible.
Then there are the roadside garages on both the Belur road from Hassan to Chikmagalur and the NH173 from Chikmagalur to Kadur. People in this region seem to like their cars and these garages have helped keep them in tip-top shape. Sagar, who is a classic car enthusiast himself, was constantly checking out the various garages and the cars being maintained or modified there. He also found out where to get spares for his project cars which are hard to come by in major cities like Mumbai! These garages have helped keep older cars, including classics from Honda such as the third-generation VTEC City sedan, in almost brand-new condition – and that endeared them to us a lot.
You cannot pass through the coastal districts of Karnataka and not try the seafood. After making some new acquaintances at the garages, we glided through NH73 to reach our lunch spot – Gajalee Sea Food restaurant in Kadri, Mangalore. While most of the 30+ people in the group gorged through a platter of fish dishes, the vegetarians in the group were not left disappointed either.
After a late lunch (it was almost evening by the time we left), the drive to Kundapura couldn’t have been more straightforward. The four-lane NH66 had more traffic but was smooth as usual. The diesel engine of the Amaze really showed its ability to munch miles effortlessly on this section – even saving us time to watch the sunset on one of the many beaches which line the coast. Our halt for the night was at UVA Meridian Bay Resort & Spa, which has a waterpark too interestingly. A swim would have certainly relieved us from the heat and humidity – but we decided to leave it for 'next time'.
Day 3 - Kundapura to Benaulim
There are a lot of places of interest en route from Kundapura to Benaulim in Goa. Depending on what you are looking for, you could laze on one of the many beaches or visit temples and other holy sites like the Shiva statue at Murudeshwara among other things. A late start meant we decided to skip the sightseeing and headed straight for the lunch point in Karwar. We were driving a Platinum White Pearl WR-V today, powered by the same 1.2-litre petrol engine as the Jazz we drove on the first day of the drive.
Karwar has long been a centre for trade with the natural harbour in Baithkol making it a favourite port for ships to dock – since as long ago as the 1500s! Which its rich history as a port where merchants traded spices and its proximity to the sea, the native seafood dishes found here are the stuff of legends. Among the many popular dining establishments in the city, Amrut restaurant holds a special place. The 45-year-old restaurant uses painstakingly developed methods to prepare the spices it uses in its dishes, including reduced snail-fish broth made over weeks, for that unique taste.
After a short drive from Karwar, the NH66 turned into a well-paved two-lane highway running through lush green forests with roots in dark red soil. There’s something in the air as soon you enter Goa, you want to chill out and have a good time. Our final stop was the Azaya Beach Resort in Benaulim, an interesting themed hotel with private access to the beach.
Over some good food and drinks, sitting at beachside tables in the open, I could not help but feel happy and content. Roadtrips, even the shortest ones, are brilliant at calming the mind and enriching the soul – and Honda’s Drive to Discover 10 did just that.
At the time this report is published, things are going from bad to worse in the country in terms of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge you to stay home for as long as you can, maintain social distancing, and wear a mask at all times if you can, and get vaccinated as soon as it is available to you.