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The West Coast of India honestly has nothing left to discover, no hidden gems to unearth. With many of the team hailing from Goa and Kerala, and the roads to get there being so good, driving down is but a whim and (extended) weekend away. The East Coast though… even the guys from Kolkata don’t seem to know too much about it. Sharks for instance. Are there sharks in the Bay of Bengal? How are the roads skirting the eastern coast? Is there a Goa scene on the side where the sun rises over the water? Come to think of it, I’ve never seen the sun rise over the ocean. Time to set that right then and a road trip was chalked out (actually, Google Mapped out) – take the Mahindra Marazzo, start at Kolkata, motor down to Puducherry, and find out if there are beaches to rival the Konkan belt in our neck of the woods.
Before we began, though, we needed an able set of wheels. The roadtrip would be long, the crew would be many and the roads would be uncharted. Priority number one was that we all didn’t get on each other’s nerves over the week-long road trip and so space, comfort, refinement and – most importantly – a great ride quality were top of the list. Enter the Mahindra Marazzo. “There’s just acres and acres of room” said our testers after driving the Marazzo last September before heaping high praise on the refinement, cabin quality and comfort. But that was on the test track and over familiar roads. How will the Marazzo tackle the great Indian unknown? How will the engine perform when subject to the twists, turns and straights of roads less travelled? And will I be able to connect my phone and drive my colleagues mad with my choice of music?
It’s 5 in the morning and we have already finished loading up the Marazzo – five of us and all our photo and video equipment. The sun rises early on the east coast I’m learning, much to the displeasure of my sleep cycle, and Rohit wants the sun rising behind the Marazzo at the eastern-most coast of India to mark the start of our road trip. Except, a road trip in India doesn’t lack surprises and the first of many would be finding out you no longer can drive on India’s longest drive-on beach.
Now people outside West Bengal wouldn’t know much about it but Mandarmoni is the country’s largest drivable beach. Or rather, used to be. Some accidents a few months before we got there meant the police had dug up the approach roads, barricaded everything, even installed cameras to ensure nobody – absolutely nobody – could take their cars on to the beach. Anyway, no point moaning about it, this is only the start and we have over 2000km to go. And in any case, while Mandarmoni is the more popular beach, there are many others in the vicinity that are certainly worth a visit. Digha, Shankarpur and Tajpur were particularly amazing not only for the clear waters but for the lack of tourists (and the associated mess that they create). No cars allowed though which, come to think of it, is actually a good thing.
The Marazzo we are driving is the top-end M8 in the 7-seater configuration. Pawan, our video editor, has created a mobile office for himself in the last row and will be cutting videos on the fly for our V-logs. Rohit and Alameen, our photo and video champions are lounging in the captain’s chairs in the middle, all their equipment finding space between the seats. And I’m riding shotgun with Vishal, documenting everything for the magazine and our social handles. First impressions? The Marazzo is unlike any other Mahindra I’ve driven or been driven in. The refinement levels are superb and the ride quality is brilliant. Vishal, whose task is to drive us down the coastline says, “This engine is very smooth, the power delivery is so linear, and the best part is the meaty torque curve means you’re always in the power band and rarely have to downshift.” He also points out that the gear shift quality is very slick and absolutely effortless. Little wonder that on the late evening drive down to Mandarmoni from Kolkata Vishal looked completely relaxed. I’ll also be shameless in taking some of the credit for Vishal’s relaxed frame of mind – my astute planning ensuring we started our drive from Kolkata on a Sunday and were spared the crazy traffic. And, if you’re curious, Flurys, the 92-year-old icon of Kolkata does a particularly good Veinnese coffee.
Day two of the Ocean Trail took us to the port town of Dhamara from Mandarmoni, within striking distance of the mangrove forests of Odisha. Although there is not much to do in Dhamara, it is a good staging point for the nearby beach of Kaithkola and the Bhitarkanika Wildlife sanctuary further away. The Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary is home to some amazing wildlife and a boat ride through the mangrove forests is a must do. Some of the largest crocodiles in our part of the world – some even twenty feet long – are found here. The drive to Dhamara through the lush green paddy fields of Odisha brought to our attention the little things on the Marazzo that make for a great road trip companion. Things like the sun-blinds for the centre row seats that let our snappers snooze when they weren’t snapping and the innovative air-con mounted lengthways on the roof with Mahindra’s Surround Cool tech ensured even Pawan didn’t get cooked with all the heat oozing out of his over-clocked laptop.
So what is the East Coast of India like? In a word, unspoilt. There are no airports for plane-loads of tourists to descend onto the beaches and that means beautiful, unmolested beaches – plenty of them in fact. On day three we began the day at Kaithkola beach (again 5am start, argh!) just outside the town of Dhamara and you could literally have the entire beach to yourself as you watch the sun rising over the tranquil waters. Even for somebody who detests early mornings this was a sight to behold; a sight that will turn me into an early riser (if I was living on this side of the country). Famous for being a breeding spot for the Olive Ridley Turtle, Kaithkola is swamped by animal lovers during the breeding season – but they’re of the sensible non-littering variety.
The other question – how are the roads on the East Coast? In a word, fantastic. NH16 that goes all the way down to Pondy is excellent and four lanes all the way through. Four lanes and very little traffic, allowing Vishal to stretch his legs and that of the Marazzo. The Marazzo gets Mahindra’s new 4-cylinder diesel that makes 120bhp of power and 300Nm of torque and with the well-matched gear ratios Vishal could stick it in top and still have enough punch to execute quick overtakes without waking us up from our slumber.
The wide highways and a relaxed drive took us to the famous town of Puri on day three. Apart from the religious reasons for its popularity, Puri also has a fabulous beach. But before we got to it, we had to make a visit to the Sun Temple in Konark. The magnificent architecture of the historical site left us in awe and we decided to wait for the evening when the temple itself, a fine example of Kalinga architecture, was resplendent in the glow of the lit-up lamps. The NH16 that we had spent a considerable amount of time on, took us by the beach in Konark and the waters were a mere 50 metres away. Canopies of trees over the NH16 would have made for a great photo-op, but sadly it was already dusk by the time we got there. The town of Puri is densely populated and is home to tens of thousands of pilgrims but (shameless plug alert – thanks to me) we scored rooms facing the sea with no tourists in sight and a slightly balmy sea breeze to lull us into a deep sleep. Hours were spent on the moonlit beach and sooner than we would have wished, it was dawn and time to head to the port city of Visakhapatnam.
Day 4 promised to be different from the usual beaches with Chilika lake on the agenda, the largest lake in the country. It is not just the size of the lake that makes it special though. Chilika lake has another claim to fame. It is home to close to 200 dolphins and is a good place for a sighting. To answer the question we posed at the start, no, there are no shark-infested waters on the east coast. And to answer another question, as to why we are so concerned about sharks, well, the Marazzo’s styling and name does draw inspiration from the shark.
Unfortunately though, we had no luck with dolphin sightings either, so we made do with a great seafood meal at one of the many Goan-shack-like establishments. Way past noon, we headed to our stop for the day, Vizag, over roads that are spectacular. The sixth cog of the Marazzo proved particularly useful to enjoy the high-speed cruising on the highway along with ensuring great fuel efficiency that hovered around 14kmpl.
Vizag marked the halfway point of the Mahindra Marazzo Ocean Trail, and it was a moment to reflect on the drive so far. India is SUV/MPV country and the Marazzo is a perfect fit. We like to travel with friends and baggage and the Marazzo can take a tonne of both. Indian roads are unpredictable and the Marazzo’s ride quality can swallow up broken tarmac while the stability ensures that when you have great roads you can maintain a safe and high cruising speed that makes the driver enjoy his time behind the wheel while passengers can catch 40 winks. And, to quote Vishal, “I was sceptical of the front-wheel drive and ladder-frame construction, after all there must be a reason why no other manufacturer uses it. But after 1000km on the road what I’ve realised is Mahindra’s engineers have managed to blend the best of both worlds – the ruggedness of ladder frame with the handling and space optimisation of front-wheel drive.”
How have they done that? I set the navigation for the Mahindra Research Valley to meet the engineers behind the Marazzo, mark out a detour to the Borra caves to check out the handling over the lovely twisties getting there, identify a few more beaches for you can never get enough of the sun rising over these waters, and book us a nice hotel at our eventual destination in Puducherry. All that in the next issue.