Putting the thoughts of gluttony out of my mind temporarily, I found myself (a notorious late-riser) standing in the forecourt of Magnum Honda on Kanakapura Road at 8.30AM where two Honda Brios were waiting for us. One was the backup car and the other was for us. My partner for this leg was Vivek, Chief Editor of an auto magazine out of Kerala. After a short ceremony during which a priest performed a puja and blessed the cars (and us too, hopefully) we were flagged off by the senior staff of Magnum Honda as well as representatives of Dakshin Honda and Whitefield Honda. We would be taking the NICE Road initially before getting onto the road to Mysore. I had my reservations about Bangalore traffic but fortunately, the early-ish start meant most Bangaloreans were still in bed or partaking of breakfast perhaps. What also helped was the fact that it was a Saturday.
Both the Brios behaved impeccably as we made our way to what was our first stop, a quick photo shoot at Srirangapatna. Just 19km from Mysore, Srirangapatana actually is in the Mandya district of Karnataka. It has links with Tipu Sultan and also has a lot of religious significance but we could not explore the town as the road beckoned. So after spending about 20 minutes outside Tipu Sultan’s summer palace (now a museum), we carried on. The time was almost 12 noon and as we carried on along the excellent highway we realised that because of the early morning start, we were quite hungry – so given our final destination (Kerala), when we came across a roadside eatery named Hotel Kerala we stopped for lunch. What was also on our minds was the fact that we were heading towards Madikeri and soon we would be in the forest area and the ghat sections would begin and there would not be any chance of topping up our stomachs.
It was almost 2 PM when we left Hotel Kerala with a simple meal inside us and we headed for the forested hill section. Entering from the Anechoukoor check post, we got onto what was a pretty poorly surfaced road thanks to monsoon rains and as we started climbing, it did not take us long to be enveloped in mist, a combination together with rain slowed us down quite a bit. The Brio went around most potholes quite easily but some were so big we had to kind of wade through them. But the Brios and us emerged unscathed and a couple of hours later, we were elated to cross the border and find a sign welcoming us to God’s Own Country – Kerala.
The road here on was much improved and it was an enjoyable drive down the ghats, the Brios nimbly scrambling from corner to corner, hairpin to hairpin. After stopping for another quick photo shoot, we were eager to press on towards Kannur but after a much needed cup of tea. That proved to be a bit of a bad decision as thanks to a local festival, shortly after tea we got stuck in a huge traffic jam. We were stationary for over an hour, not quite knowing what to do, in the village of Mattannur with everybody having come to a complete halt.
Given the fact that we were on a discovery drive and were not following a fixed route as such, we decided that whenever the traffic jam let up we would skip Kannur and carry on towards Kozhikode or Calicut, thereby giving us a much shorter drive to Kochi for the next day. This meant that we would be missing Kerala’s equivalent of the Stelvio Pass or the Gata Loops, something I had been very keen on both driving and photographing. What we hadn’t reckoned on though was the rain. It started coming down in buckets, and as night fell, I was having issues seeing the road and keeping up a good speed. So I handed over to Bhanu, Honda’s driver who had been with the drive since it started in Jammu. Even so, it soon became apparent that we would not make it to Kozhikode in time for dinner and we opted to stop in Thalassery, where we found a restaurant that was renowned for its biryani. It was 8PM by now and not knowing much about the road ahead, we decided to tank up. The petrol pump was actually in Mahe and to our pleasant surprise fuel was only about Rs 66 per litre. We (I certainly did) rued the fact that we had not brought bigger bags with us because Mahe is actually part of Pondicherry though it is over 600km away and the streets are lined with shops catering to those fond of imbibing.
From Mahe it was a straight run to Kozhikode but the driving rain and resulting poor visibility forced us to keep our speed down. Eventually we reached Kozhikode and after a bit of hunting, our hotel way past 10PM, a bit tired and bedraggled and certainly in need of a good night of sleep. The next day would be another long day but at least, the driving distance to Kochi would be shorter and that in turn meant we could start late and sleep in for a bit longer.