Days, they just fly by before you know it. Loving your job, where the 14 hours you put in everyday just whiz past is one thing, and keeping on tether that wild feeling that incites you to just put aside the worldly concerns and get lost in the wilderness is another. It was one such rare day, when the child caged within the membranes of the brain managed to break out and found its own space within the cranium. And it’s quite a force, the child within. For when it finds the freedom to prod you into doing something, it’s almost impossible to not give in.
A plan was simmering under lids for quite some time, and the force within just blew the lid that fateful day. Yatish Suvarna, a dear friend and former colleague had been insisting we break out to his native place in Mulki for a few days. Making an adventurous dash to the quaint little town, some 1000 km away from Mumbai, spending some quality time in his beautiful house situated right next to a river, exploring the countryside and feasting exclusive on seafood for a few days was the noble thought.
We discussed the possibility of executing the trip one fine morning. By 12:30 in the afternoon, the trip was finalized in concept. And the concept was to leave by 3:00 pm, the very same day. We called our friends at Audi, and lo! A shiny new Audi Q5 with a thumping three-liter V6 turbo diesel powering it was waiting for us in the parking area of my residential building at 2:30 pm. We couldn’t have expected this sort of a response from any other carmaker. By the time the two arms of the clock intersected perpendicularly to denote 3:00 pm, the wheels had started rolling.
Day 1 – The overnight dash
We planned to traverse the pristine NH4 all the way to Hubli, and then cut across westwards taking the Hubli Dharwad bypass and reaching Ankola via Kalghatgi and Yellapur. Thereon, we would take the NH17 all the way to Mulki. Yatish’s insistence was on taking a night halt at Belgaum, and carrying on with the journey in the morning. Knowing the capabilities of the Q5, especially in the 45 TDI Quattro guise, however, I was positive we’d reach our destination before daybreak.
Starting off from Mumbai in the afternoon helped a great deal, allowing us to hit the Mumbai Pune expressway in a matter of half an hour. On a bad, traffic ridden day, it can sometimes take more than two hours. We blasted through the wide, deserted Pune expressway, making good time and utilizing the daylight visibility well. Thanks to the timing, we managed to beat the retreating office traffic close to the IT establishments in Pune on the outer road connecting with the Bangalore highway.
Chasing the sun, putting the peripheral vision in a blur, I felt convinced that we’ll hit Mulki within the stipulated time. The only cause of concern was the long queues of vehicles at the toll booths. With heavy traffic and inefficient attendants, you may sometimes have to wait for as much as 15 minutes before you pay your share of money to lose time.
We took out first quick break somewhere close to Kolhapur, about 400 km away from Mumbai. A quick bite, comprising the Maharashtrian Misal Pav, along with a hot coffee recharged our batteries well enough for a few more hundred kilometers.
The NH4 was in fine shape and we absolutely flew all the way to Hubli, with the traffic getting sparser after Kolhapur. The Q5 impressed us mightily all this while with its solid punch and poise. All of its 580 Nm of colossal torque from that delightful three liter V6 is technically available from as low as 1400 rpm. Add to it more than 240 bhp of power, the matchless 7-speed Stronic dual clutch transmission, truckloads of grip from the legendary quattro AWD and it feels like just the right machine you need to shrink the Indian landscape.
I have always believed that premium cars should actually be well-engineered, well powered, performance machines, and not compromised, cost-cut contraptions with just a fancy badge. As we witness increasingly, people are opting for premium brands in the lower segments, thinking they are getting a genuine, premium, performance car. It is, however, only after driving a properly posh, powerful and comfortable car like the Q5 that you really get to understand what a definitive premium car is capable of in the real world.
The acceleration, the comfort, the amenities, the solidity and sure-footedness of this Audi SUV lends itself to a good driver to travel at a fast clip without compromising safety. That engine, and that transmission together deliver remarkable shove irrespective of the revs or the gear engaged. A light dab of the right foot on the pedal, and almost everything else on the road will be duly put into the rear view mirror in a reassuring manner.
Another quick break after midnight for a quick coffee at a dhaba
We really believed we would outdo ourselves and reach Mulki well within time, though some harsh Indian realities awaited us as we took a turn westwards deviating from the NH4 taking the Hubli Dharwad bypass. The median, which is such a blessing while travelling in the night disappeared, the road quality somewhat deteriorated and the opposing traffic started becoming increasingly difficult to deal with. Almost all the cars, trucks and buses had their headlamps on high-beam. A sensible driver wouldn’t be left with many options other than slowing down and being extra cautious. I drove through the night, traversing the dense forest reserves of Karnataka, serpentine sinusoidal roads and a barrage of irritating diversions while losing all the visual enthrallment to the darkness.
A quick dinner break at some nondescript joint and some more robotic driving later, we managed to hit home at around 3:30 am. And we were absolutely astonished to realize that weren’t half as tired as we would have imagined ourselves to be. You really cannot put a price to that feeling, and it’s during moments like these that the price tag of Rs 60 lakh plus for a vehicle looks justifiable. We couldn’t have imagined saving a day for ourselves with a machine even marginally less capable than this. Hats off to the Germans’ obsession with engineering!
As I sprawled myself on the bed, I saw the moon peeping through the window, bathing me in its cool, soothing milky gleam. I had a satisfied, content smile on my face as I fell into the soft arms of slumber.
Day 2 – Feasting on the fish, lighting up the lasers, barbeque by the river
The Q5 poses against the Shambhavi river after a hard night’s work.
Part of Yatish’s house next to the river. Oh, the joys of country living
Getting familiarized with the new surroundings. Starting with the backyard of the house
Yatish shows me around his coconut orchard
We kicked off the day with a classic fish curry – rice meal at a local eatery. That plate will cost you all of 25 rupees. Eat all you can! You heard that right. Fineprint? Waste any amount of food and you have to pay 75. What a beautifully functional arrangement!
Need some more variety for your meal? Pick any of the freshly fried fish from that assortment for Rs 8! They would charge you anywhere from Rs 100 to 300 in a restaurant here in Mumbai. And the fish wouldn’t be nowhere as fresh or authentically prepared. Sorry for the shake, though
Batteries recharged, we went scouting for more raw fish and seafood to stock up the fridge
The fishermen (and women) in this part of the country are quite affluent, and they don’t mind flaunting their economic well-being. The lady in the picture substantiated the notion with here pristine, ironed saree and refined manners.
The food riot had just begun! There was no stopping us. What;s better than fresh cane juice on a warm afternoon? Nothing!
Pseudo chef shows me his secret. A local fish marination masala that apparently best represents the local flavour. We’ll see!
It was used to prepare this
Points of interest in Mulki include the famous Durgaparmeshwari temple, also known commonly as the Bappanadu temple
The Q5 strikes another pose against the holy place
Some distance away from Mulki is the Udupi power power plant, previously known as the Nagarjuna power plant. Those images with the chimneys spewing smoke with the setting sun providing the secondary backdrop look splendid! Don’t they?
A beautiful, laid back evening kicked off with some rawa fried Bangra and Mandili fish along with a few glasses of beer. In the backdrop is the adopted stray dog named Tuffy – the goofiest, cutest dog you’d come across. Lives to play ‘fetch’.
Kori rotti. A Mangalorean dish made of flat white rice bread at the bottom and ultra spicy gravy on top. It tastes like heaven. But if you are not used to spicy food, you might have an extremely painful time taking it out of your system the morning after.
Late evening barbeque session next to the river comprised marinated chicken and loads of random banter
Throw into the mix an ultra powerful laser light, and things get even more interesting.
Day 3 – More food, some science, a port and a beach
The Q5 prepares to haul us around for the day
Exhibits is off-road prowess by disdainfully climbing up this steep, gravely track
We raided Thimappa eatery in Udupi to stock ourselves with energy for the rest of the day. It’s an extremely popular eating joint with the freshest and the most authentic Mangalorean fare at the right price
Fish curry isn’t the same without that brown rice
Despite being extremely popular, Thimappa is very affordable, even for the not so well-to-do people. The food quality is exemplary, though, and the rich and the poor eat together at this amazingly well managed joint.
The Q5 strikes another pose against towering coconut trees, as we finish our meals
After filling up our bellies we proceeded to the nearby Malpe port to witness a bustling sea-business place
Fish net manufacturing is big here. You’ll see workers making different varieties of the equipment all day long. This one is the floating type
And this one is the other variety. Don’t ask more details, please.
We were lucky enough to be able to drive all the way up to the port for a photo-op.
Next, we visit Manipal. A small town known for its educational institutions where students from across the country come down to pursue education in a variety of disciplines. The image shows the entrance to the Manipal Museum of Anatomy and Pathology. The place bares open the insides of the human and animal body. Parts of human body, embryos, bodily defects and diseases are exhibited. That may sound gross to some of our readers, but a walk around those glass jars would make you shun all your ego, and bring you face to face with the harsh reality – you are nothing more than organic matter, so stop taking yourself too seriously.
Billed as one of the largest in Asia, the museum boasts of over 3,000 anatomical specimens and samples, including the skulls of an elephant and a whale, and the long skeleton of a King Cobra.
Some of the exhibits at the museum. We were lucky to find it totally deserted. We were told there are long serpentine queues outside the museum on holidays.
An afternoon excursion to Manipal was followed by a drive back to Malpe, this time to the beach. As the sun lowered its position on the sky, we took a dip, enjoying the clean water, the soft sand and the charmingly beautiful view.
The Mangalorean ‘gadbad’ ice cream has earned a national reputation. We sampled it at a small ice cream shop in Mulki which has won several awards for its quality and flavor. Gets our approval too!
Day 4 – Creek, countryside, some toddy and a lighthouse
We hired a boat for the day to see what the beautiful backwaters had in store for us.
Beautiful expanse of water, flanked by never ending avenues of coconut trees – serenity abounds. Time to reflect, ruminate
There is no better feeling than leaving those worldly belongings behind. And yet, we hardly ever manage to do that
Mulki is the fish-eaters’ heaven. We bought a hundred of those fish for Rs 200 – and each one was duly cleaned before delivery. Unbelievable
The place where the river meets the sea is a massive expanse of shallow, knee deep water. It’s like a kilometer long pool of fresh water to splash around in. Water isn’t deep, so the boatman has to row. See the sandy beach in the distance? That’s how far you can walk in the water
Not a very nice feeling stepping upon that sort of a stuffed toy while trekking in a jungle. We’ve all seen enough horror movies where these things start acting up violently in no time.
Boyish shenanigans are bound to pursue once you hit such a paradise with a bunch of friends
A view of Yatish’s house from the boat while retreating
Beautiful countryside with lush green paddy fields. A walk through the village would make you loathe your metro life. And yet, there is no getting away from that chaos.
A walk and a rickshaw ride later, we landed up in that dungeon like place which is the best place to get quality toddy in the area.
This place serves its toddy (palm and coconut nectar) in earthen pots. Unlike what many people think, toddy is non-alcoholic and good for health if consumed fresh. It’s only after the white liquid ferments that it becomes alcoholic.
The big vessel containing the day’s cache of freshly extracted toddy
The owner of the toddy bar strikes a pose against his den’s entrance
And with us!
Later in the evening, we decided to watch a beautiful sunset from atop that towering light house in Kaup (pronounced kapu in local lingo)
Beautiful backwater streams create a charming visual before merging into the seas
The Kaup light house from a distance
Yatish’s Mulki Masala prawns Vs my Prawn ginger butter garlic – who wins?
The judges were too drunk by the night to decide
Day 5 – Murudeshwar, Gokarna, Om Beach and the dash back home
A fantastic view of the Arabian sea en route Murudeshwar, near Maravanthe beach
The Murudeshwar temple is surrounded on three sides by the waters of the Arabian Sea. It is dedicated to lord Shiva, and has a 20-storied gopura, one of the highest in the world.
The temple is also famous for a towering statue of Lord Shiva, visible from great distances. It is the second highest statue of Lord Shiva in the world. The statue is 123 feet (37 m) in height and took about two years to build. The tallest Shiva statue is in Nepal known as the Kailashnath Mahadev Statue.
The main entrance to the Murudeshwar temple area
A step well on the way out
Those fresh watermelons looked juicy enough for us to stop and have a bite. And did I mention, they were absolutely delicious.
One of the very few vegetarian things I have seen that man eating.
We really couldn’t figure who was to blame for this. Hope the rickshaw driver didn’t get badly hurt
Trying to figure a shorter route to Gokarna, we lost our way and landed up in a chaotic village. Wasted time while trying to save some. In pic – a fish market in the village.
Atop a hill in Gokarna
A panoramic view of a beautiful beach nestled between hills en route Om Beach – the most popular of all the beaches in Gokarna
Vast expanse of salt pans on our way to Om beach in Gokarna
That place does those sort of things to you. You’d know once you get there.
Om Beach gets its name for its shape which resembles the representation of the holy chant om, or numeral 3. It boasts shallow pools of water which are perfect for non-swimmers to splash around all day in
A view from the top, of the rocky seascape surrounding the Om beach
The stretch between Ankola and Kalghatgi has some of the finest roads to drive on in India. Beautifully laid out, mildly winding sinusoidal tracks, flanked by unending forests sitting atop gently rolling hills and next to no traffic. Motoring aficionados cannot miss traversing this route.
Couldn’t help getting a pic with the car next to that beautiful road and those rustic jungles
A mystifying interplay of the sun and clouds chased us for a good hour on our way back
Final halt for a hot cuppa at the Expressway
Find an exhaustive image gallery of the roadtrip below