Road to revelations: #DzireCoastalTrail

Road to revelations: #DzireCoastalTrail

Until a few months ago, I often wondered what it was about the Maruti Suzuki Dzire that made over 1.1 lakh people part with their hard-earned money and get one for their garages. For many it’s the first sedan in the family. In some cases it also becomes the last sedan as owners exchange one generation for the next without ever moving on to another car. Quite frankly, I have never understood the phenomenon. But I’m the cat that curiosity couldn’t kill, so I decided to find out for myself. At the first possible opportunity I commandeered the office long-term Dzire and have been using it ever since. But it wasn’t until the golden sunlight of a post-dawn sky at Kakinada on the #DzireCoastalTrail that the lure of the compact sedan became crystal. Two Dzires had been flagged off from Kanyakumari seven days before with one driving up the west coast and the other up the east. The drive would see a total of over 4000km traversed over a two-week period with the cars changing hands every two or three days. We got our turn at Vijaywada.

Save the blue exterior of the Dzire that was being used in this unique relay, this was a car that I was all too familiar with. I was aware of the way it developed its power, how well it rode over rough roads and how surefooted its handling was. Zero acclimatisation was needed. In fact, I even recall a certain disdain when I checked the average fuel economy reading on the trip computer. It read around 20kmpl on the trip computer. “I am pretty sure I’ll be able to push that to beyond 20,” I remember thinking to myself for the Dzire’s 1.3-litre DDiS turbo diesel is extremely efficient, even within the city and especially out on highways.

Starting off from the Prakasam barrage in Vishakhapatnam we immediately set off for the nearby Undavalli caves. To get there, we drive over the 1.2km long barrage over the river Krishna and through the narrow roads leading there. The rock cut cave temples that are an excellent example of ancient Indian monolithic architecture come up quite unexpectedly. The complex isn’t on the magnitude and scale of Maharashtra’s Ellora caves but deserve praise for sound engineering techniques.

With the road and the day stretching out ahead of us, we get back into the car and make a beeline for Eluru, about 75-80km away. Lunch at the blingy Food Waves restaurant was a simple affair of roti and chicken followed by generous helpings of ice cream. I had been told that the theme for the #DzireCoastalTrail was all about indulgence. Not one to throw themes to the wind, I tucked in to my heart’s content. Satiated, and just about capable of movement, we got back into the comfortable seats that my butt is so used to being cosseted in over Pune’s wonderfully rutted roads on other days of the week.

Four hours later we found ourselves driving over the massive expanse of the Godavari river. Our destination for the day was the town of Rajahmundry – another ancient city dating back to the days of the Chalukyas. The aim was to catch the spectacular Godavari harathi at Pushkar ghat. We had been told that this magnificent ritual was not to be missed. But to get there we had to cross not one but three massive bridges, all of them across the Godavari! Close to its delta and nearly at the end of its 1465km length, one can barely see clearly from bank to bank. With dusk falling the harathi begins in earnest as the dhoti-clad purohits begin their ritual chanting, paying obeisance to the river they revere like a mother. A mesmerising hour and a half later we leave the Pushkar ghat in search of a hotel and a restaurant that will serve up a decent batch of prawns. We are after all on a coastal drive with the theme of indulgence ringing in our ears. Resourceful Rohit finds not only a place to stay on the banks of the Godavari but also a hotel with a restaurant that’s all too willing to cook up a contemporary Chilly Garlic Butter Prawns and the more regional Royyala Veppudu (a hot dry dish of prawns cooked in spices and curry leaves). Followed of course with more helpings of ice cream. And then it was lights out.

The Godavari harathi at Pushkar ghat in Rajahmundry is highly recommended
The Godavari harathi at Pushkar ghat in Rajahmundry is highly recommended

The following morning’s itinerary called for an early start for not only did we have to cover nearly 400km over the course of the day but also catch a flight at the end of it. A tall order, one that would test the Dzire’s acclaimed diesel engine to the hilt. Along the way there would be quick runs on Andhra Pradesh’s super smooth highways, detours for photo shoots and who knew what else. That I’m here writing this piece and you’re there reading it, is testimony that the Dzire passed the arduous test.

Our first stop took us to what was practically a deserted beach on the outskirts of the port town of Kakinada. Our initial plan was to head for the Coringa Wildlife sanctuary because I wanted to show off and tell my teammates Rohit and Alameen that the largest collection of mangroves – a special attraction at Coringa – was to be found in my home state of West Bengal in the Sunderbans. Alas, the wildlife sanctuary wouldn’t open to public until much later in the day. With a flight to catch at the end of a hectic day, waiting was not a luxury we could afford. The beach at Kakinada turned out to be a haven for the solitude seeker. Barring a bunch of fishermen hauling in the day’s first catch and a clutch of joggers from the nearby naval enclave, we were the only people at the beach at that hour. It turned out to be a strangely relaxing and indulgent experience until the watch reminded us that we were running on a schedule.

The road out of Kakinada ran for a while along a beach, cut across a couple of villages and continued along some backwaters before it joined the highway. The rest of the 235km separating us from the Borra caves near Araku, is a wonderful stretch of black top. The kind that saw the Dzire stretching its 15-inch legs shod with 185/65 Bridgestone rubber for the first time that day. With the engine ticking over at a comfy 2500 revs and the gearbox slotted in fifth we kept shaving the miles away at a healthy cruising speed. This also had smug me gloating to myself about the fuel economy climbing to 22kmpl.

Now the Borra caves aren’t exactly on the coast but is actually a day trip from Vishakhapatnam. To get there you have to cross a mountain range with fantastic roads. Lots of  fast turns and hairpins with smooth tarmac uncharacteristically demarcated into lanes. A perfect environment for me to enjoy the nimble footed handling of the new Dzire, which is lighter than the old one. It’s sheer indulgence in driving pleasure.

The Borra caves are astounding in their magnificence and anyone who comes to Vishakhapatnam but doesn’t take time to come here can only be described in the choicest of expletives, the least of which would be ‘moron’. Discovered in 1807 by William King George of the Geological Survey of India, this natural cave formation descends 212 feet into the mountain and is filled with a whole host of natural rock formations. On the way out, we also indulged in some wonderful bamboo chicken. This unique chicken dish is cooked without oil or water. Instead, marinated chunks of chicken are stuffed into a hollowed out bamboo and cooked over an open fire. The result is a unique taste that is nothing short of sheer indulgence.

Lunch done, we made a late dash for the Victory at Sea Memorial in Vishakhapatnam. Across the road from the submarine museum, this memorial is a tribute to the crew of INS Rajput that sank PNS Ghazi in the Bay of Bengal during the Indo-Pak war of 1971. Sobered by this testimonial to daredevilry far greater than any we could imagine, we bid adieu to the #DzireCoastalTrail.

At the end however we were left with two realisations. First, if you dare to explore beyond beaches and seafood  you’ll be amazed at what you can find along the coast. Second, the Dzire is a fabulous all-rounder, equally at home in the city, on the highways or in the hills. And that is the reason why so many have parted with their hard earned money to have one.

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