Indian roads are like old lovers. They charm and hold you in a way that nothing else can. In spite of being acutely aware of every little shortcoming they bring your way, every time you hear them call, you heart does skip a beat.
My work takes me to corners of this incredible country, India, I call my motherland, mostly through its roads. In search of traditional and folk art I have travelled to small shanty towns and villages perched within plains and hills, tucked away in a forest or basking in the glory of a virgin beach. Each time, it is an Indian road that leads me to my discoveries and so they remain my forever beloved.
This is a chronicle of my latest road journey, a 758 km drive from Pune in Maharashtra to Udupi in Karnataka – a road that takes one through the winding and green Ghats, splendid backwaters, sprawling lush plains and finally a rendezvous with the Arabian Sea coast line towards the end of the route.
The road from Pune to Hubli in Karnataka, offers you sightings of the wobbly plains of the Deccan till the roads lure you into the sylvan folds of the Western Ghats.
Most notably on the first leg of the journey, we had chance sightings of large well- equipped bike troupes heading through the same highway for a weekend event. The vrooming bikes, with geared up riders raised quite the stir as they passed through small villages. Seeing the bikers while perched in the car, ones views changed from nostalgia of one’s college days, a certain yearning for the carelessness of youth and also a sudden awe in seeing how much the country has changed in the years that one has reached adulthood.
The taste of the ubiquitous Indian Chai too changes every 100 miles on roads as this. After Hubli the road takes a turn and leads on into the lush forests of the Western ghats. The forests are resplendent in the autumn bloom and the lucky ones can sight elephants, monkeys and beautiful birds and butterflies as they journey through the winding roads. The road also has small towns , where hot, Mangalore – Udupi style “meals” are served. I gorged on my thali of piping sambar, rasam and felt my half South Indian by choice, heart sing with joy!
If you ever take this road ( Hubli-Karwar Road) keep your cameras handy, open your car window and for the nearly 2 and half hour drive through the forests enjoy the silence of the forest, occasional chirping of the birds and animal sightings if you are lucky. This road leads you to one of India’s most fascinating parts – the Arabian coastline. The road, Panvel – Kochi road( not in very good condition), played hide and seek with the virgin beaches of Karnataka all the way up to our destination – Manipal , in Udupi. Once in Manipal, there are multiple options to make the best of the region’s natural beauty and old temples and churches.
Malpe and other beaches provide good water sport options, the famous Shri Krishna temple with its beautiful architecture, traditions and famous kitchens are must visits. Since I was travelling on work , I could not spend a lot of time exploring the region. However , there is one hidden gem I must mention. Nearly 70 km off Manipal, a drive through the peripheries of the Agumbe forest takes you to the small temple town of Kollur. A chance visit to the 1200 year old Mookambika temple, perched between green hills and forests landed me up in a different world. The age old traditional morning and night Puja in the temple is a must watch. The folktales associated with the Goddess in the temple make it a must-visit spot for any lover of history.
I am not a regular travel writer. For me the roads that lead to the destinations have always held far greater charm than the destination itself. India, fascinates on its roads. It is in the short conversations with the cyclewallah selling tea, the big smile exchange with the school going kids you pass by, the sudden company of the big yellow butterfly on the side mirror of the car or the deep conversations about life, society, art and politics with the enthusiastic co-traveller that make these journeys such life building experiences. However, for someone who has always been a lover of roads, my request to friends has always been to take time out to travel by the road. There is no better way to see a country, know your roots , know your people and take your taste buds for a spin! The road never disappoints. On the contrary, it is giving in a strange and selfless way. It is for us to chose to own it, love it and come back to it.