Travelogue: Indore to Mumbai via Mandu in a Toyota Camry Hybrid

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When I got a call from Toyota asking me if I’d be interested in driving down from Indore to Mumbai in a Toyota Camry Hybrid with a pal, I just a said a yes. I’m up for all these things all the time you know. I asked my mate Karan if he’d like to join me, and he just said a yes. He’s also up for all these things all the time you know. Tickets to Indore from Mumbai were sent, and the plan was set.


Travelling is a basket of all the experiences. Good or bad. High or low. What started out as a crazy sounding plan turned out be crazy f***king plan. The night before, I reach Karan’s place in Malad for a couple of beers. Which turns into three. Four. Turns out at 2:00 am the bugger wants food. We ride into the sketchy lanes of Malad for a bite. He digs in. We ride back home feeling as fresh as angels on steroids at 3.00 am just because we should be catching a 6 am flight. Any other day, with a rigmarole ahead, we’d be passed out with a smile on our lips.

We sleep with our eyes open till the cab guy calls. After a shower that acted like another bout of steroids, we hopped inside the Toyota Etios sedan and pushed off towards the airport as dawn was starting to break. We were fresher than ever and ready to rock the day. Mumbai airport – The first shards of sleep creep in. No worries. Nothing that an expensive coffee can’t fix. We hop into the flight, hoping to catch up on some sleep. Except that sleep never came.


Indore airport isn’t the most happening, especially when you’re flying down from Mumbai. A handful of travellers were to be seen, who soon disappeared as they collected their luggage. Things were pretty sleepy, especially on a Saturday morning. Also, we realized that we were a bit early as the Toyota dealership we were supposed to pick up the car from wouldn’t open until a couple of hours. What’s more, the cab that was supposed to take us there from the airport ditched us. So we were on our own from there.

We had a lot of time to kill and in no mood to cab it, so we decided to walk till the airport’s exit and see what Indore’s public transport had in store for us. Indore’s pretty sombre to the cosmopolitan minded and hoity-toity, we reckoned as we took in the scenes. A few cars scuffled for room with cattle on the narrow road leading to the airport, while rickety modes of public transport transported the hoi-polloi. Motorcycles were aplenty, and you weren’t doing justice to them if you didn’t have at least two people sitting pillion. About helmets, none of the riders seemed to know about their existence.


We asked around, and then patiently waited for bus number 11 that’d take us to the area where the dealership is located. Except that the bus never came, or maybe we got impatient. So we hopped on to a ‘tuk-tuk’ full of locals who promised us that it’ll take us somewhere near our destination. Wanderlust had kicked in, and we enjoyed the ride, which was nothing short of bone breaking. Unfazed, we switched rides at an intersection. From one ‘tuk-tuk’ to another, the faces inside never seemed to change. Most of them were verbose and overly kind, and directed us to where we needed to go with genuine generosity.

We ditched the second ‘tuk-tuk’ and hopped on to a local bus, which was almost empty. We realized that we must be passing through one of Indore’s seediest parts, judging by the poverty stricken neighbourhood that didn’t look particularly inviting. Anyways, the bus drove on, and as we crossed a bridge, things seemed better on the other side. The streets became wider, the buildings posh and there were trees. We got off at what appeared to be major square. By this time, sleep had started to screw with our heads, and we were hungry.


We hounded on the local street delicacy – poha and jalebi. Though I’m not much of a poha fan, Indore’s poha and jalebi combo is lip-smacking, especially if you’re hungry. After eating to our heart’s content, we hopped into another ‘tuk-tuk’ and finally reached Rajpal Toyota, our destination. The folks at the dealership were kind enough to offer some coffee, as our eyes were protesting from the lack of sleep and exhaustion from the public transport hopping. So much so, I started to question the plan, as we had to drive back to Mumbai in this state – easily half a day’s drive. Our car arrived; a spanking new Camry Hybrid. Its luxurious interiors made our spirits high, and after relieving ourselves at a local McDonald’s outlet, we began our road-trip.


The highways leading out of Indore are smooth stretches of asphalt with four lanes. The Camry was effortlessly (and efficiently) eating up the miles, its hybrid tech switching between electric and fossil fuelled modes to make the most of the 80-litre petrol tank. At times we even averaged close to 20 km/l with a right foot! The ride quality was sublime, the dual zone automatic climate control crisp and as a few familiar rocked the superb six-speaker sound system, I caught some much needed shut-eye in the sprawling rear seat. We reached some sort of a reservoir by the side of the highway, and stopped for a break, deciding to take a detour towards a place called Mandu (a ruined city) before setting off for Mumbai.


As we branched off towards Mandu and said goodbye to the highway, the adventure began. The state highway was barely wide for two cars to pass, and the Camry Hybrid was clearly a fish out of water here. Luckily for us, there was next to no traffic. The big Toyota took the rough patches on the road without breaking a sweat, even though we had to pass over them gingerly. The road to Mandu is a drive to remember. It reaches deep into the annals of Madhya Pradesh as it snakes through idyllic villages, lush green fields and the rolling hills of the Vindhya Range.


It was surprising because I had always pictured MP to be this arid, dry state, and here I was, passing though meadows that had flowers blooming and nodding their heads in the breeze, while the misty green hills loomed in the backdrop. It was nothing short of magical. The road was practically empty, and it had started to drizzle. Maybe we were in town in the right season. We were nearing Mandu when we chanced across a lovely old fort from a bygone era nestled in the hills; the beginning of the ruins that Mandu had promised us.


The fort was tourist-free, and anyone could climb up the ancient stairs and soak in the view of the valley that lay ahead. The fort’s crumbling stone walls and pillars were still telling a story, and we heard it for a moment. Thereafter we headed toward the main ruins. Mandu is beautiful. I’ll be lying if I say that I had expected it to be pretty, but I’m glad I was proved wrong. Mandu or Mandavgad as it’s also called, is a ruined city in the present-day Mandav area of the Dhar district of MP. It is located in the Malwa region of western MP, at 35 km from the Dhar city.


I’m bad with history, but all I can say is that Mandu hosts ruined structures, mausoleums, palaces, tombs and forts that date back as far as the 10th and 11th century when the Paramaras ruled this part of the country. Mandu saw a lot of power usurps, beginning in 1305 when the Muslim Sultan of Delhi Alauddin Khilji captured Malwa. After that, Mandu exchanged hands with a lot of emperors that might ring a bell if you had paid the remotest attention in history classes. They include Timur, Bahadur Shah of Gujarat, Humayun and ultimately Akbar.


But we forgot about history lessons and just absorbed the sheer elegance of the structures. Many of them, including Baz Bahadur’s Palace are being renovated – not to their former glory but just so that they can survive for a few more years. The Jami Masjid is particularly enchanting, and its walls still seem to reverberate with activities from the 16th century. Mandu being virtually devoid of annoying tourist, if you happen to get high on history and ancient structures, can truly get a feel of how times were back then once you close your eyes and let your imagination run wild.


The palaces are majestic and have a sort of presence that’s humbling. Their walls, having stood the test of time, speak of the golden ages, unmolested by modern technology, or the curse of it. We were truly moved by what Mandu had to offer, so we decided to have an ice-cream sandwich. If you’re in this area, regardless of you being a history buff, Mandu is a must-see. Every inch of the ancient town is beautiful, even the local market that is set up once in a week; or the wall encompassing it that has 12 major “darwazas” or gates. As we exited through one, Mumbai in our sights, I took over the wheel from Karan, as he was started to look a bit like stale cheese from the exhaustion.


The little road that joined the highway to Mumbai became prettier as the sun was starting to set while playing hide and seek with lazy rain clouds. It was foggy in places, and now it was the stunning scenery’s turn to play hide and seek. Again, it was blissful drive, with the only fly in the ointment coming from a herd of goats that blocked the road for a bit. Back on the high road, we barrelled towards Mumbai with effortless ease.


The roads were smooth but now the exhaustion and lack of sleep was getting the better part of us. Worse, the sun had set and it was raining in spells. I usually love driving in the rain, but this was something else. The rain drops were as big as tennis balls and they pelted like all hell had broken loose. Visibility was almost nil, but the Camry Hybrid’s powerful LED headlamps and potent wipers made things a bit easier. The rain, now relentless, was almost violent. Progress was slow but we trudged on because of the capable vehicle at our command.


As the rain gave way, we had reached the outskirts of Nasik, some 200 km away from Mumbai. We quickly stopped at a roadside restaurant for dinner as we were starving (apart from being terribly sleepy and super exhausted). We grabbed a quick bite and i handed over the wheel to Karan. After that I don’t remember much, apart from waking up inside the car that was parked by the side of the highway, hazard lights buzzing and Karan snoozing. I was too sleepy to react, and slept off myself. I woke up in Mumbai. Later on, Karan told later me how he had a hard time preventing his eyes from closing behind the wheel, and somehow managed to drive back to safety in Mumbai.


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