Words: Dipayan Dutta
Photograhy: Vikrant Date and Gaurav Thombre
Twiddling my thumbs at the airport, waiting for Vikrant to land, I get the distinct feeling of being handed the short end of the stick. Not that I can blame anybody; at the editorial meeting where routes and cars were being assigned for the Skoda2Sethu – Ben grabbed a road map while I went straight for the proverbial short end. Ben’s map soon revealed that India’s west coast is two-thirds the length of the east coast and, moreover, team east would be starting off in Delhi – an additional 2000 kilometres. Some crying and sulking gave me a 24 hour head start which we ended up squandering in Agra and so it came to pass that by the third day team west was half way through their drive while I was savouring mum’s cooking in Kolkata.
With just 300km to cover every day to arrive at our scheduled rendezvous at Dhanushkodi , the team loitering on the west coast resorted to gormandising to pass time. In all fairness, with a total body fat index of two per cent between the three of them, they could use all the nutrition they can get. My train of thought was disrupted by the native call of our lensman, ‘Hey Dippy’. God, I hate it when people call me that.
Before we left Kolkata we had one stop to make at Jia Auto, one of the nicer Skoda workshops we’ve visited in recent times. Being one of those who can’t resist a good set of tools, I scurried around the workshop like a five year old in a candy store. From electric dent removal systems to a robotic car wash and an aseptic engine room, this was my kind of workshop. That is until I found the recreation room and put the lazy boy and playstation to good use while our Rapid got a thorough wash. My bliss was broken by Vikrant who suggested we push on towards our night halt at Vizag, 800km away.
Actually ‘night halt’ is quite a loosely used term considering that it was already three in the afternoon and I come attached with two suitcases of road-karma. You see road works are an integral part of our great G-Quad (cool-speak for the Golden Quadrilateral) and it is my fate to discover and drive over all the under-construction bits. As we entered Orissa, we found the G-Quad being widened and that left us with only half the highway, to deal with traffic you’d expect on a major road connecting two of eastern India’s largest ports. Aye Caramba!
Luckily for us, the Rapid’s interiors and extremely comfortable seats had allowed us to clock in the kilometres without any sweat off our brow. Our night halt was spent in the air conditioned confines of the Rapid’s passenger seat with driver changes at two hour intervals. We switched drivers at five for the last time before entering Vizag which is part of the new state of Telengana and is also referred to as Visakapatnam. An hour later, my sleep broke with an odd silence. I looked up and realised we’re parked on the side of the highway with our lensman nowhere in sight. Filled with a sense of dread I jump out of the car only to find our very own Alex Rous, armed with a branch and a mat from our car, trying to get an injured dog off the highway. The wonderful idiot.
Routine stop time at Visakapatnam meant we dropped in with our Rapid at Mahavir Auto. Again the service was absolutely impeccable, another 3S workshop with state-of-the-art facilities, four stories high. While our car got washed we took the time to go explore the facility which is immaculately set up with a cool-looking platform car lift sending cars up from the ground floor. However this time it wasn’t the tools that impressed me, it was the staff who were a class apart. They were at it hammer and tongs, like a well-oiled machine. Our car was checked, report given and washed in less than an hour. This meant we had a few extra minutes to make up our massive deficit. Then again we had our 7-speed DSG Rapid that drove like a dream thanks to supreme ride and handling that made swerving our way through highway traffic a breeze.
As we pushed on through the night, tweets with pictures of food and beaches continued to taunt us. Ugh, team west, the smug b*******. Our road meanwhile had turned into a smooth 6-lane expressway and the 900km journey was complete before the end of day. No time for a hotel though – a short nap at a petrol pump rest station, brush up at a Cafe Coffee Day, liberal application of deodorant and we pushed forth.
More good news. We receive a call from our colleagues who report on the insane traffic in Kerala and complain they had barely moved all morning. Vikrant and I smile at each other as all 104 horses of the Rapid’s 1.5-litre diesel motor are given free reign to make light work of the fantastic highway. Our non-stop driving had us back on schedule!
OF THE FEW THINGS THAT VIKRANT and I share in common, our love for South Indian fare tops the list. Unfortunately, ever since we’d been on the road, we hadn’t found any place serving decent dosas. This clearly had gotten Vikrant’s goat; our mild-mannered snapper almost attacking the waiter and screaming something about ‘How can you open a restaurant in Tamil Nadu and not serve dosas?’ He only calmed down in Madurai where we devoured some delicious ones, next door to the Mahavir Skoda facility.
Much to our surprise, even in a smallish town like Madurai, the facility was full-scale, on par with the bigger city outlets. Our car was so immaculate it didn’t even need a wash and so after quick hellos we were off towards Kanyakumari, an actual bed and a view that wasn’t framed by a windscreen.
Kanyakumari is the tip of India but we were going further south, to Dhanushkodi and the Ram Sethu where we meet team west who – as usual – are late! We meet at a hotel and share notes on the epic drive; all our jabs at each other were out the window as our little evo India family was united again.
We set off early the next morning for the Sethu. For those of you who don’t know, Hindu mythology has it that the Sethu was built with boulders by Hanuman’s army of monkeys, so that Ram could get to Lanka and rescue his wife from the clutches of a ten-headed, oversized man named Ravan. The bridge stood till recently and even now if you take a boat out to sea you can see the boulders that at one time made the Ram Sethu. We stood in silence and took it all in for one brief second. That is till Ben started complaining that all his cellphone balance was gone, courtesy international roaming. Yep, that’s right the Ram Sethu is so close to Sri Lanka that you are likely to pick up their signals.
Aside from finding the southern-most tip of the country, the purpose of this journey was to find out if Skoda had raised the bar as far as their service setups go. Sharing notes over a hot dosa in Mysore, both teams unanimously agreed that from big cities to small towns, Skoda’s service has grown ten-fold and the quality of service is almost as good throughout. Not to mention that both our cars – the Yeti and Rapid – had been absolutely faultless throughout, enduring everything from rally stages to flat out highway runs at 40+ on the Celsius scale and running almost without break for over a week. If anything, the poor cars were subject to one too many washes on our week-long drive to the tip of India!