Our first long road-trip after the lockdown may not have been somewhere out of the ordinary, but it was great to get the juices flowing again. We went Trippin' with Lemon Tree!
What have the last few months of being locked up at home been like for you?
I put this question forward to our motley crew of road-trippers once we reached our destination in Goa. The answers ranged from tearing-their-hair-out frustrated to absolutely ecstatic to be spending quality time with their families. Some people’s jobs got significantly harder, while one was even stuck outside the country because flights were halted. But one thing was uniformly agreed upon — it was great to get out on the open road and have a change from whatever they were up to in last few months. This trip, the journey, the destination — it was a breath of fresh air, both literally and metaphorically.
We had no clue what we were getting in to. Were the roads open? Were there long lines at toll booths? Would there be police check-posts at district borders? Would we head out, only to be turned back home again? The Centre had announced that state and district borders were to be opened, and Goa had opened its doors to tourism. But administration at the grassroots is arbitrary, and there was no saying what we would encounter. This was a leap of faith. The only thing certain was that we had a safe place to stay when we reached — the Lemon Tree Amarante Beach Resort in Goa.
Something else that was certain was that we had a interesting bunch of people joining us on the ride, with equally interesting set of cars. There was Byram, easily the most experienced of the lot having driven extensively around the country and having done a London-Mumbai expedition with a solo car. He brought along his mighty Toyota Land Cruiser. Jay, who considers a 10-day road trip ‘short’ and does two ‘long’ trips every year — in his modded Toyota Fortuner. A lot of his trips involve camping and the Fortuner has been made self-sufficient to that end. Soumya also had brought his Fortuner along, and he is a seasoned road-tripper too — having driven with Jay all the way to the Tibet border and even got chased by Chinese jeeps up there. Harshil was in his Hyundai Creta and this drive was special to him, as this was his first road trip with his baby daughter! The Ed, Sirish had the BMW X5 and then there was the man who brought this bunch together — Prasad, in his Audi A6 (a 3.0 TDI quattro, no less). Prasad is VP at Lemon Tree, looking after Digital and e-Commerce and this road-trip was his idea!
As with every long road-trip with evo India, it started with… cleaning and stickering cars. You’d be surprised at how efficient our team can be when there’s the promise of a beach and a beer at the end of the day. Most of the group had started from Mumbai, meeting us en route at Pune. We were hosted at the Lemon Tree at Hinjewadi, Pune where we had a quick breakfast and picked up a packed lunch. While sandwiches and fruits in a box cannot hold a candle to local road-side grub, these are extra-ordinary times and the safety of the group, as well as the local communities we were passing through, were of the utmost importance. Contact with people was going to be brought to a minimum.
The route was straightforward — Mumbai to Pune, head south towards Bangalore. At Nipani, hang a right and aim for Amboli ghat. The winding road of Amboli spits you out close to the Goa-Maharashtra border, and from then on, it's paradise. To be fair though, it wasn’t just Goa that was paradisal; It was the entire journey. The evening before the drive, amidst all the banter on a WhatsApp group, Byram dropped the “it's about the journey, not the destination” bomb. And he was absolutely right. The scenery was spectacular right through — it was almost like someone had dialled up the saturation of the colours to a hundred. It was overcast, but the monsoons had breathed life into the land and the fact that mankind was forced indoors for a few months allowed the countryside to remain unblemished.
Amboli was shrouded in clouds and was the highlight of the drive into Goa. Some wanted to bhagao, or drive enthusiastically as we like to say in these parts, and they shot away down the snaking road. Some wanted to take in the sights, and took it easy. We? We were supposed to be busy taking photos and videos for the magazine, but even we had our jaws on the floor. This is a route I would have driven at least 25 times, and yet it took my breath away. I’m not sure if it was actually that spectacular or if I have been starved of a good landscape in the last few months…
There was a reason we had picked Lemon Tree for our stay. In times like these, you want to stay somewhere you are certain of being safe. And Lemon Tree has a comprehensive sanitisation checklist to ensure you are protected during your stay with them. They call it the Rest Assured programme and it has been developed with Diversy, a company that specialises in hygiene and sanitisation. There are over 90 checkpoints on the list and you can rest assured, knowing that your room at a Lemon Tree has been well taken care of before you arrive. Goa has a number of Lemon Tree hotels to suit all kinds of travellers, and we even paid a visit to the Red Fox in Morjim, a side of Goa with a lovely beach that is away from the regular tourist circuit.
Which brings me to a question I had before I set out on the drive — should we even be road-tripping right now? The safest thing to do is to stay at home but honestly, there’s no end to this pandemic in sight. We need to carry on living life in the new normal. So if you do want to road-trip, here’s what you need to know: e-passes are a thing of the past. Yes, there seem to be places to eat that are open on the highway, though many are just offering take-away. Roads aren’t in the best conditions post the monsoon, but traffic has most definitely reduced. Places that rely on tourism need your business to survive, and will welcome travellers. All you need to do is ensure you are being a safe and responsible one. Remember, it isn’t just about you catching the virus — it is also about your potential to spread it to local communities. So always wear a mask, carry hand sanitisers and practice social distancing.
Getting back on the road is a great way to let off some steam from the pressure cooker that our lives have become. Everyone on the drive was visibly more relaxed once we got to Goa. Maybe it was the beaches and beers, maybe it was the change of scene. Maybe it was just the fact that we're back to doing what we love — spending time on the open road. Whatever it was, it was brilliant and we highly recommend it.
We stayed at the Lemon Tree Amarante Beach Resort, and Lemon Tree has a whole bunch of hotels that will fit in to all sorts of budgets, in a variety of great locations. There is also the Lemon Tree Candolim, Lazy Lagoon, Baga - A Lemon Tree Resort, Red Fox Hotel Morjim and Keys Select Ronil Resort, Goa. Prices start from Rs 999 for day-use rooms for short stays and transit use to overnight stays starting at Rs 1999.
Photos by: Rohit G Mane