We had hoped to start at 3AM however managed to leave our home in Bangalore at 0335. Odometer was at 37888 kms and I had about a half a tank of diesel in the vehicle. Heading towards Hosur road I was quite aware that the vehicle is quite heavy with the smoother grounded driving experience that it resulted. Thankfully the weight distribution seemed correct and there was no sideways roll on cornering. After driving through near empty Hosur road and NICE ring road we entered the Mumbai Highway at Nelamangala and its customary traffic. We decided to maintain a steady pace. I had loaded almost 5000 Rs in my Paytm FASTAG which was helping in the toll plazas. Soon we left Bangalore and decided to take our first halt before Sirsi after the toll gate.
Seasoned smoker that I am I was quite well stocked in nicotine department for the trip. As I lit up Aadi went over to the tea shop to get me some custom coffee. She stood there and advised the guy manning the counter on the strength I needed for my coffee. I am quite particular about my coffee and Aadi always tries to get me coffee based on my likings. We had stocked considerable numbers of instant coffee too as a contingency measure.
It was a cold morning and a brisk breeze was making me reach out for my jacket. On the other side of the lane some truckers had kept a fire going which was sampled generously by all those around. There was even a tiny puppy who was running between the legs of a few cops to sneak in some warmth. We were also marveling at the industriousness of these highway shopkeepers. This one tiny shop had almost everything that a traveler might need to purchase. Apart from basic staples like biscuits, tea and cigarettes they also stocked grocery and electronics. There were even charging cables for iPhones there. These guys were running a mini supermarket out there.
By daybreak we had reached Davangere without any events when we were hit with a very heavy fog. Visibility dropped to bare feet and I was driving with all my concentration. Speed dropped from a cruise of 90 to a crawl of 30 as I could not risk driving any faster. I was maintaining position behind some trucks so that nobody could crash into me head-on and was sparingly overtaking. Road works were also going on which was causing double jeopardy. But at least I got the confidence that I can drive through such heavy fog.
Soon we started seeing eateries coming alive by the roadside and we decided to stop for breakfast. Thus I introduced Aadi to the wonder that is Davangere Benne Dose. These buttery thick dosas are some of the best breakfast food ever made by man. Plates upon plates of benne dosas along with potato curry and chutney were made short work of by us. Finally full we set off now that the fog too was being burnt off by the rising sun.
Back in 2016 I had driven from Bangalore to Mumbai, a distance of around 1100 kms in around 12 hours. I was able to cruise at a steady 110 and roads were amazing. This time there was no way I could make that kind of pace. There was massive road work going on for the entire stretch. Every few kilometers we had to go over speed breakers and change lanes. We were barely averaging 60 kmph in those roads. Apart from the road work this was pure vanilla driving on four lane highway. The customary choking down at Hubli Dharwad bypass saw us yet again bemoaning the eradication of plague and other scourges. There was this car in front of us who refused to pay the toll as the owner is an “ex MLA”. I don’t even understand why sitting MLAs should not pay toll fee but for this poor excuse of humanity to claim privileges because he was driving the car of someone who used to be the shining proof of the idiocy of his constituency was simply appalling. This stretch of road always has a dubious record. This single lane monstrosity is extremely dangerous for the way buses and trucks ply on this road. It is only due to the frequency otherwise this bypass road would have the dubious honor of the “Road Gokul Hates The Most”. This dishonor is currently held by the L&T Highway of Coimbatore.
Being married to a motor head like me might have some advantages but one disadvantage is the constant question of “Do you drive too?” This question was rankling in Aadi’s mind for some time and this led her to learn driving and get a driving license. Government of India might have certified her but Aadi still need to go through the Gokul Academy of Driving. She had tried a couple of times on our drives to Udupi and around Avinashi but this trip we were determined that Aadi too would have her time in the saddle. Certain friends of mine have found those yellow barricades as their nemesis, for Aadi it was toll plazas. Whenever she sees toll plazas she gets scared and asks me to take over. Despite that she drove for about a hundred kilometers giving me much needed break. She has the right techniques but just needs more confidence. I continue to have hopes.
Around noon we crossed from Karnataka to Maharashtra and were promptly stopped by Police for checking. To say I was worried would have been an understatement. I had lost the original RC card of my jeep a long time ago and since then I have been depending on the Digi Locker for safe custody and reproduction of my documents. With Digi Locker there is always the fear of whether the app would work in areas of poor cellular connectivity and of course whether the provincial cop would even recognize the online version and would insist on the original physical documents. Then of course is my not completely irrational fear of policemen. Thankfully this officer was satisfied with our documentation and let us go.
With the Sun now steadily heading towards West we decided to stop for lunch. Aadi has often extolled the glory of Kolhapuri cuisine and having agreed with her on its awesomeness the last time I drove through these roads I decided to oblige. We stopped at a decent restaurant just outside of Kolhapur and decided to have an open air lunch. It was a beautiful weather and after several rounds of amazing dishes, some of which I licked clean we were off for our last stretch of the day.
I was quite literally dead as I drove down to Pune city. The traffic from highway was simply unbelievable, I was doing all I could to weave a path through traffic coming from all directions. It was an absolute mayhem. Pune could have given Silk Board a run for its money that day. Or maybe we the Bangaloreans brought Silk Board to Pune with us. Crawling, going off-road and occasionally bulldozing other smaller vehicles we finally made it to Pune city. As I parked the jeep in the basement of our hotel I would not have faulted onlookers if they thought zombie apocalypse had started. After a quick checking in I crashed for some time to recover my energy.
Aadi had studied and lived in Pune. Had it not been for me I would say Pune is Aadi’s favorite city in the world. Even as we were planning our routes and itineraries over the past couple of months Aadi was in the clouds imagining a culinary itinerary of her own – Aadi’s Chat Adventures. So as soon as I was barely ambulatory we set off in an auto towards Kalyan Bhel, one of the iconic Puneri chat shops. I watched in amusement as Aadi tucked into Bhel Puri and Paav Bhaji. Her tryst with chat started to make me feel insecure as I don’t recall making Aadi as happy as she was that day eating Paav Bhaji.
From Kalyan Bhel she then took me to Flavors, another of her college time hangouts. There we had chocolate sandwiches and chili cheese sandwiches that were like a perfect epitaph for a perfect day. Stomach full and mind at peace we went back to the hotel for an early night in. We had to leave early the next day if we were to have any hope of beating the Mumbai traffic. That night I slept sound.
Distance Travelled : 901 Kms