Rediscovering road trips after lockdown
213 days. That’s the longest I have stayed away from road trips after joining evo India. The pre-lockdown days were always full of action. Every week we hustled from one airport to the other, drove different cars and traveled to so many different cities. At my final pre-covid-19 adventure, I spent an entire day dune bashing at Sam Dunes in Jaisalmer, learning the tricks of how to drive in the desert. A high-octane experience followed by seven months of nothingness. Work from home became the new norm, our Google Drive and Dropbox accounts got flooded and required reorganizing, and the only drugs we survived on, cars and road trips, were taken away from us. Thankfully, as months passed by, India became better equipped to deal with the pandemic allowing the economy to breathe again. For us, it meant that we could finally continue doing what we loved. The #ThrillofDiesel drive with the Tata Altroz, Nexon and the Harrier from Pune to the Madras Motor Race Track in Chennai was my first long road trip in seven months and here are my observations of the journey.
We knew that this road trip was different than the ones we were used to. It was four days on the road including filming, photo ops and covering really long distances. Preparation was the key. And two of the most important aspects of preparation included carrying enough food and sanitisation equipment. The former to avoid the risk of eating at crowded dhabas and the latter because an idiot in China devoured a freakin’ bat. While we all carried some snacks along, the ed was carrying a ginormous box of food, sufficient for the entire team throughout the journey. With all three cars tanked up, we left early and set course for Bangalore that was around 860km ahead of us. The feeling of getting back on the road was sublime and the diesel Tatas felt at home on the highway, munching miles at a fair clip. Traffic on the NH 48 was noticeably less compared to last year when I traveled along the same route. But that shouldn’t deter you from being vigilant on the road for there are ample motorists out there who have simply forgotten even the most basic motoring etiquette.
There can be some confusion regarding permissions for inter-state travel, e-passes and quarantine on arrival in certain states. While entering Karnataka from Maharashtra, and then Tamil Nadu thereafter, none of these things were required. You don’t need to worry about e-passes anymore and there are no obligations to undergo quarantine on arrival either. The rules might be different for passengers travelling by air or by train, so it would be wise to check with the authorities ahead of your travel. Moving on, if you embark on a road trip without carrying as much food as we did, you don’t need to worry. There are ample dhabas and restaurants open along the entire Pune-Bangalore-Chennai stretch to help you stay replenished. What helped us save a significant amount of time were the Fastags. This system has thoroughly been implemented throughout the country and Fastag queues at tolls are much shorter so you don’t have to wiggle around in confusion in a bid to join the shortest queue. Just enter the Fastag lane and get through without any fuss. Most importantly, without any contact.
The further you drive away from Pune, the roads and the scenery, both become significantly better. A particular patch about one hour before Kolhapur reminded me of European roads and if you’re a passenger, it’s recommended not to doze off while passing through this stretch. It’s gorgeous. This route however isn’t for those who crave for twisties day in and day out. For that you’ll need to turn west after Nipani and drive to Goa instead and enjoy the Amboli and Chorla ghats on the way. The Pune-Bangalore-Chennai route is less dramatic in comparison and comprises the seamless NH 48 and AH 47. Up until Hubli, the highway runs smoothly but between Hubli and Chitradurga, there are many diversions owing to six-laning work of the highway. The situation was exactly the same over a year ago and I have serious doubts whether the work is progressing at all. The diversions squeeze you into narrow service roads with crater-like potholes that you need to be wary of. Thankfully, we had robust Tata cars at our disposal that stayed planted even on the most dreadful patches.
After a good night’s sleep at the Lemon Tree Hotel in Bangalore, we set course for Chennai the next morning. Now the six-lane expressway that takes you from Bangalore to Chennai is absolutely flawless in terms of the quality of the tarmac. There are also some picturesque curves with jaw-dropping scenery in the background to tickle your sensory receptors. However, it is a heavy trade corridor and you won’t have longer than a few seconds to floor the throttle before some heavy machinery crawling at snail’s pace moves into the fast lane and blocks your way. What irked me the most on Tamil Nadu’s highways were the flashing lights that are installed where the highway breaks into service exits or intersections. Unlike regular signals with blinking yellow lights, these are colourful and calibrated to dance like discolights. Extremely annoying. The cabins of the Altroz, Nexon and the Harrier felt like proper discos though, thanks to the fabulous Harman Kardon audio that Tata has equipped all three cars with. When the journey felt long and tiring, our eclectic tastes in music, amplified through the bass-heavy speakers really helped us pull through till the end.
Our journey culminated at the Madras Motor Race Track in Chennai, the home of Indian motorsport. Driving on the road done, it was now time for some lessons on driving on the racetrack. I had never been to the MMRT before so naturally, my excitement had no boundaries when we got there. With the lockdown robbing me from seven months of traveling, this felt like a well deserved reward, or a compensation rather. The trio of Tatas kept us cocooned in comfort and put forth an unfaltering performance through the 3000km odd return journey. With a steady dose of cars and travel coming our way now, I’ve finally stopped counting the number of days without a road trip.