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Driving the Skoda Kodiaq to Hampi, revelling in the spectacular landscape and forgotten ruins of this once great city
It was the night’s darkest hour when we set off. We glided out of town, the bright LED headlamps of the Skoda Kodiaq sweeping the road ahead of us. I could see what the lamps lit up and nothing else — the flawless tarmac sullied with cakes of dried dung, flashes of green and brown from the shrubs that flanked the roads and the occasional flicker of a taillamp, almost always a moped, trundling along. The gentle glow from the Virtual Cockpit, with the navigation stretched out across the 10.25-inch screen showed me we were on track and the soothing ambient lighting kept the cabin from becoming one with the blackness outside. It was too early in the morning for music. The only sounds we heard were the drone of the tyres rolling down the road, and the shuffling of my hands on the steering wheel.
I had been here a few years ago, and knew that once dawn broke, this veil of darkness would be replaced with the most spectacular landscapes. I had promised Rohit a good photograph at dawn — I just had to get him to the right spot. We turned off the tarmac and down a broken trail. The constant hum of tyres on tarmac was replaced with the crunching of rock and gravel. The spread of light now lit up rocks the size of the Kodiaq all along the sides of the narrow path we were on. Note to self: never come here when it's dark again — explaining why the Kodiaq’s bumper had a crater in it wouldn’t be fun.
The sky soon turned a deep blue. I was almost at the end of the trail. The silhouettes of the rocky mountains remained pitch black, as the emptiness above us slowly filled itself with colour. Within seconds, we hit the banks of the Tungabhadra river. Rohit scampered on top of a few rocks, while I perched myself on another. Then it happened. The first rays of sun spilled over the rocks in the eastern horizon and into the valley, bathing everything in its golden light. Rohit got his photo — it’s the one you see on the opening spread of this story.
The brief was simple — get some great photographs. Which is why we took the Skoda Kodiaq to Hampi, the combination of rock formations juxtaposed with temple ruins makes for quite the sight. Our journey started the previous afternoon. It’s always nice to walk up to a car that you’re excited about road tripping in. Our Kodiaq, in the L&K trim, makes for quite an inviting space to be in. The Kodiaq was always a luxurious SUV, and the L&K spoils you even more with a Virtual Cockpit and the 360-degree camera. Space is never an issue — only three of us were travelling, but we weren’t travelling light. Camera equipment, lights and more camera equipment plus all the luggage you need for a roadtrip was swallowed up by the generous boot. It does, after all, have 270 litres of space expandable up to 2005 litres with the seats folded down. The interiors are very spacious too with generous kneeroom, with the sense of space only amplified by the panoramic sunroof.
There were two routes we could take to get to Hampi — one via Chitradurga, and one via Anantapur. We chose the latter as it was the less popular one. Quite literally, the road less travelled. The fact that we had an SUV was a factor in that decision. You see, I didn’t know what the road via Anantapur was like — had no idea about how good or bad it was. If I had a sedan, I would have stuck to the safe option where I was familiar with the roads and their conditions, but the fact that I had an SUV meant I could go out there and explore. As it turns out, the roads were great anyway. The Kodiaq is such a stress-free car to roadtrip in. The 350km journey was dispatched in no time and I was about as fatigued as I would get if I popped out to the neighbourhood grocery store. When you're out on the highway, safety is a huge concern and the Kodiaq gets full marks – a total of nine airbags to cushion you in an impact, along with a suite of electronic safety aids keep you safe.
Hampi is a spectacular place. The topography and landscapes are unique — it looks like someone’s crumbled a big rock and scattered the debris all over the place. There is actually a mythological story explaining these formations — it is believed that the two princely brothers, Vali and Sugreeva, from the monkey kingdom of Ramayana fame had a battle and the two sides fought each other by throwing rocks. As lovely as it is to romanticise, the actual reason for the rock formations is far more scientific. Turns out, the rocks around Hampi are some of the oldest exposed surfaces on earth. At one point in time, these rocks were part of a giant monolith, but millions (possibly billions) of years of exposure to elements like rain, rivers and wind eroded them in to what they are today.
Driving through this landscape is a surreal experience. The roads, like most roads in Karnataka, are good and there are plenty of off-road trails, similar to the one I took Rohit down early that morning. The Kodiaq gives you the confidence to go out further into the maze of rocks, knowing you have ability on your side if things get hard. The terrain around Hampi can be particularly challenging. With all-wheel drive, the Kodiaq does well to tackle the trails – the electronically-controlled clutch-type transfer case keeps it in front-wheel drive until it detects loss of traction, and then transfers torque to the rear wheels. The drive modes, with Snow mode, sets it up even better for low-traction situations. The Kodiaq is a large car though and manoeuvring it through some patches was tricky. The 360-degree camera, designed to make life easier in the city, actually helped a lot off-road. Four wide-angle camera images are stitched together to give a bird's eye view of the Kodiaq and its surroundings, making driving it through tight spots much easier.
The modern ruins of Hampi date to the Vijayanagara empire from the 15th century. The city, at its peak, is supposed to have been the second largest city in the world after Beijing. But like all great empires, the highs were followed by the lows. War tore through the empire that stood for two centuries, and the victors left that glorious city in ruins. It was only rediscovered in the 1850s, by British archeologists, and has since been preserved as it was.
Also read: Test drive review of the Skoda Kodiaq Scout
Men still haven’t figured out how to withstand the ravages of time. Our bodies, our minds crumble sooner than we would like them to. But that’s the beauty of mankind —we create masterpieces that can. Languages, art, cultures, all trickle though the hourglass, morphing and reshaping themselves like the rocks around Hampi. The ruins of Hampi are but a physical manifestation of our will to create something lasting. Driving through this ruined city, you have the permanence of nature on one side, and man’s stubborn refusal to be forgotten on the other. The Kodiaq, meanwhile, is carrying its own legacy. With the Laurin & Klement badge on its flanks, it is the epitome of what two men started more than a century ago, carrying forward their name through time.