Words and Images: Arjun Dharve
We had been itching for a long weekend getaway for some time and kept toying with the idea of various destinations. Suggestions varied from chilly evenings at Mahabaleshwar and enjoying good Scotch to the peaceful realms of Bhandardara; boozy party nights of Goa to red dusted environs of Matheran and so on. Whatever the suggestions, it was clear that a long drive to de-humidified cool locales outside Mumbai was a must!
With the accompaniment of the frugal and feisty Fiesta Classic, long distances presided over anything close like Matheran or Shriwardhan etc. Since it had to be yours truly handling the driving duties, the decision making power lied with me. As a suggestion, I put forth Tarkarli, a lovely beach with white powdery sand and turquoise waters towards the south end of Maharashtra`s shore line, and it was unanimously agreed upon. The plan was simple, to take the thrilling Mumbai-Goa highway a.k.a NH-17 and return via lazy but fast Kolhapur-Pune-Mumbai-NH 4. This would give us ample opportunities to enjoy the handling qualities of the Fiesta as well as have an economical trip, thanks to its diesel sipping traits, and it did not disappoint one bit!
To beat the outbound weekend traffic, we chose to commence our trip early on a Friday morning, hoping to reach the destination by or before dusk. Upon some web research, we booked an AC room (1200/- per nightonly!!) for 4 at Hardika beach resort, Nivati; we altered the destination since this was relatively unknown and hasn`t received its share of commercialization yet. Realizing the possible scarcity of options, we stocked upon everything from sodas to snacks& water to skewers (for a beach BBQ). Even though it was a 3 day trip for 4 bachelors, we packed like women!! (pun intended), and the Fiesta`s generous boot swallowed it all.
Tanked up the previous night, we managed to adhere to our `out time` of 5:30 am from a western suburb. Even before we could escape this city that never sleeps, we got held up near Turbhe on the Airoli-Panvel highway. Though we were already behind schedule, we obediently halted at Sri Dutta snacks for some yummy Maharashtrian breakfast, kandepohe, vatatevade, kothimbirvadi, sabudanakhichdi, kharvas and tea. We spared hardly anything on the menu whiteboard, and ate enough to continue with bio breaks only, until lunch (hopefully at Chiplun).
The quadruplingof the NH-17 has been causing enough and more inconvenience between Panvel-Nagothane stretch, and it continues to do so. Numerous diversions, bad sections, slow moving traffic abound, this consumed more time than what we initially expected, the traffic started gradually becoming sparse beyond Mangaon(150 kms) only. By the time we reached Poladpur (210 kms) for a stretch-snack-smoke-pee break, it was already about 11am. The occupants, including me were excited about the upcoming Kashedi and Parshuram ghats, a section which has been our favourite since bike-touring days.
Re-hydrated and topped up, we got into the twisted mode, driving enthusiastically with the Fiesta happily complementing my intent. I soon ignored the heavily loaded boot, one `passenger` with motion sickness symptoms and darted the Fiesta around with more zest than what an average person on a weekend trip would do. The well weighted steering remained a delight through the fast sections, while we would have loved more assist at parking speeds. The Fiesta did surprise me with its able handling traits despite being fully loaded. The only fly in the ointment would be the underpowered oil burner which runs out of steam after 3k rpm.
With the sun up, the Fiesta`s fantastic AC kept everything inside cool as the temperatures shot up outside. The Kashedighat was dispatched quickly and soon, the Parshuramghat too, when we decided for a quick stopover cooling down with a glass of zingy `kokamsarbat` overlooking the river Vashisti, a view that makes the fatigue evaporate into thin air.
As we continued on the serpentine NH-17 through the Konkan region, the traffic thinned out and gradually our pace increased. While the lads in the back seat had survived the twisties without feeling nauseous, over 8 hours of the journey had started taking its toll, and the back seat occupants dozed off. I envied the back seat occupants, for the Fiesta comes with really softly cushioned seats and sufficient leg room which meant a near bliss-full journey with the AC working its magic relentlessly.
It was almost 6pm in the evening when we got off the NH-17, while there are a couple of exit points (Kudal and Kasal most important), we followed the directions given by our hotel manager. Taking diversion at Kudal on to the Kudal-Vengurla Road and then taking a right from Pinguli onto SH119 which leads us to the “Saagari Mahamarg”, finally the last diversion from Mhapan to Nivati beach. Such is the remoteness of the Nivati beach that it barely attracts many tourists and isn’t commercialized at all. It is highly recommended to reach the destination before sunset and spare the chances of getting lost in the interiors roads since mobile networks are patchy! The state transport buses ply every half an hour, and even the so common `minidors` or `tam-tams` are sparse. Thankfully, we were lucky not to get lost despite unclear markings leading to the hotel.
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Hardika beach resort is proprietor (Mr. Metar) run property, basically an extension of their house with AC rooms rented out, the rooms are decently equipped and are managed by the owner couple. After over 12 hours behind the wheel, the tiring journey meant that our energy levels were stooping low, the only thing on every one`s mind was shower, chilled beer, light dinner, sign off – in that order.
After a good rest and a light breakfast on the shack next day, the sight of waves crashing on the beach couldn`t hold us back and within no time we were enjoying the surprisingly chilly waters. Our clean beach deprived urban souls found solace in the safe waters and we unknowingly spent hours battling with the waves, soon it was noon and we wanted to make the most of the vacation so we stepped out. We gave the Fiesta a well-deserved shampoo hand-wash before we set out to explore Bhogwe.
Again relying on the directions from the hotel owner, we headed to Bhogwe beach, another secluded location about 17 kms away. Carefully validating our route with the locals and some photo ops for the shiny Fiesta, we were greeted by a sight which was literally breathtaking. Ascending from a small cliff towards the beach, and the sight of the vast horizon with the blinding glare of the 4pm sun reflecting upon us, everyone was speechless.
After soaking up this lovely sight, we proceeded towards the beach and were pleased with the sight of varying geographies in one location. A beach with a small entrance, lined up with coconut trees on one side with a location good enough for a private beach, back waters on the other side with some regular para-sailing activity sighted in the distance (Tarkarli) makes it very desirable location for a weekend. Surviving on a light brunch followed by some vigorous fun in water, skipping the lunch wasn’t a good idea and a short drive to the beach meant that our tummies were soon grumbling. We tucked in omlettes, onion pakoras and tea while idling on the beach and enjoying the pre-sunset.
While the beach looks really inviting, locals advise of not venturing into the waters due to the uneven topography, we abided. It isn`t surprising how time flies by as everyone made peace with themselves while allowing the serene sights to sink in, no one uttered a word.
While we headed back to the hotel, the plan was simple – a few drinks on the shack, a bonfire-BBQ, dinner and then retire to bed. The hotel owner had already setup the bonfire for us, we promptly stowed our skewers with marinated chicken and paneer chunks and enjoyed the smoky flavor of our appetizers by the beach. Since taking a boat ride for Dolphin watching is recommended early morning, we hit the sack early. On the last day, we were up early full of excitement thanks to the boat ride which was arranged by Mr. Metar in his brothers fishing boat hence cost us only 1200/- total.
Taking a short walk towards the fish market jetty of Nivati, the Sunday morning trading activity kept the market busy and all we could see is fishing boats loading off the early morning catch which was being auctioned on the spot. Soon our boat arrived and we set off, about 15 minutes later our `captain` shut the two-stroke Yamaha motor off as we reached approx. half a km into the sea. Soon he pointed out a small pod of dolphins surfacing to breathe, another pod was sighted about 100 feet from it. To avoid scaring them away, we kept our distance and enjoyed the sighting.
The next destination was `KilleNivati`, which simply is NivatiFort in Marathi. What used to be a fort, now is only left with a big rocky structure which can make any thrill seeking enthusiast fancy of cliff-diving. We returned to the jetty after being motored around and we were satiated with our boat ride. By our return, the trading activity at the jetty had gained momentum with several people who looked like hotel owners were buying fish in large quantities.
We decided for a heavy brunch over an early lunch before we started our return trip, tucking into `Ghavan and chutney` which is the Maharashtrian version of the `Neerdosa`. For the return trip and saving me from the fatigue of a long journey, we chose to take a diversion off NH-17 which would lead us to Kolhapur (~175 kms) and then take the Pune-Bangalore highway to Mumbai (~400 kms), this was a much faster route than the twisty and slow NH-17.
From Kudal to Talere ST stand (57 kms) a diversion on the right at Audumbarnagar taking us to Kolhapur via Vaibhav-wadi and scenic Gaganbavdaghat. The roads leading to Gaganbavda are manageable but rough, thankfully the Fiesta`s suspension is tuned well enough for such B roads and we could comfortably manage 40-50kmph over the uninviting surface. The `Suryast` or sunset point in Gaganbavda is quite popular and offers a lovely view of the valley and is just before the culmination of the ascent which takes you to the other side (Kolhapur) of the Sahyadri mountain range. Unfortunately the roads become poorer and the speeds drop further, reaching Kolhapur took us over 4.5 hours which was more than what we expected finally reaching around 5pm.
A quick stop over for tea and shopping for the famous Kolhapuri chappals, we were exploring the options for an early dinner or at least a good meal before hitting NH-4. Post dinner at one of the decent looking hotels on the outskirts of Kolhapur, we were covering distance briskly. While everything looked perfect for a speedy non-stop run with the next intended halt at Pune, the rain gods decided to spoil the plan as we were nearing Karad. From here on, we faced unseasonal thunder showers which reduced at the Pune stretch only to lash again intermittently right until Khopoli! A much needed and deserved cappuccino break on the expressway was the final halt, I stocked upon 2 cappuccinos, and the extendable central cup holder in the Fiesta came very handy on this occasion holding both my piping hot brews from Barista. Soon it was past midnight and we were back to the concrete jungle, as I dropped my friends off they thanked me for the comfortable journey and enjoyable trip.
In retrospect, the Fiesta played a major role in the trip. Tellingly, its mileage, AC, its boot, the storage spaces, the handling and suspension being the highlights of the car. Despite the brisk driving on broken interior roads, spirited driving on NH-17 and more, all this with a full load of occupants and luggage – the Fiesta remained devoid any rattles or squeaks. What’s more, it delivered 16.87 kmpl for the near 1200km trip, which is fantastic since I chose fast pace over better fuel economy. Though it does feel underpowered at times specially going uphill with a full load, at the same time it is an effortless highway cruiser and remains happiest around 100-120 kmph which we reckon is good for NH-17 like highways. Like most Fords, its AC chills the cabin within minutes and we never felt the need to go beyond fan speed on II. No wonder, towards the end of the trip, I was being questioned about the sooner possibility of next trip and if we could have the Fiesta again!!
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