Most men display an interesting ability to act on a silly impulse. That ability gets a lot of stoking from funny fluids which we like to think to invigorate our thoughts. It was one such night then, when our Editor and I were staring blank at a Sodium lit city and out of nowhere, decided we needed a dip to cleanse our urban souls. It wasn’t a Ginseng tea dip we were thinking about, but the kinds where we threw our toxic frames into tidal waves and walk out of the surf, feeling joyously saline, sparklingly refreshed, carrying sands of time in the crevices of our beachwear and whatever it covered.
A few hours, a shower and a nap later, although we could’ve chosen to swim in the faecal waters of the sea in Bombay, we decided to head out where the sand was white and the waters turquoise. Our sail? A Navy blue Volkswagen Polo 1.5 TDI sitting in the parking lot, ready to lift its anchor. Since I got out the previous night hoping to be home before dawn, with a kerchief and my wallet as the only luggage, I rubbed my eyes to find us already on the fringes of the city. Our destination? Wherever the sea looked inviting enough to swallow our intent.
Soon we were cruising on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, the Polo’s newly added Cruise control feature allowing the driver’s right foot to relax, while the left limb rested on the dead pedal. Our plan was to branch off the six-lane highway at the Khopoli exit and join the Bombay-Goa NH 17, just before a hamlet called Kolad, famous for its river rafting. With our bellies now crying out for food and our nostrils restless to smell caffeine, breakfast was at a pond-side restaurant somewhere before Mangaon on the NH 17, on which we also had our lunch at a very famous seafood joint in Chiplun.
Some melodies wafted through the cabin, as the crisp sounding audio system provided beats to the dancing that ensued on the road. The Polo gracefully attacked the numerous twists and turns the NH 17 threw its way, the sweet chassis never finding itself on the wrong foot. Although the flat bottom steering wheel, which feels great to hold, could’ve done with a little more artificial weight from the electrical system. But then it should work perfectly for city slickers, who have to be mostly content stuck in traffic at Peddar Road, wanting to swallow the heavy air at Marine Drive. While we were at it, the clutch required a lot of modulation from the left foot, as a careless release would send a slight judder to the driveshaft, making the driver look like a novice. Could’ve been an issue with this particular car.
Just in time for lunch, our senses followed the aromas of fresh catch, being fanned from the chimneys of Hotel Abhishek in the town of Chiplun. We sipped on a couple glasses of refreshing Sol Curry, getting our guts ready for the incoming assault of seafood. What followed was a meal that was savoured right till we left only the carcass of that fish like a professional cat. As long as I can remember, it was the flakiest, tender, pristine fish meat I had in ages, cooked to perfection and a delight for the palette. Seafood lovers, drive to this place just for a meal, it is worth it!
With our bellies wanting to tear through our shirts, we decided to proceed to Ratnagiri, sticking to the NH 17 till there, then turning right to drive along the coastline. It was on this stretch that we got to experience the horrors of driving on a two-lane narrow road with idiots behind the wheel barrelling down from the opposite direction. We were going about our business at a decent twin-digit speed, where the road started curving towards the left, the other side blinded. Just as we entered the curve, an Innova full of people was running parallel to a bus and approaching fast! With nowhere to go and the other guy, not braking, if we would’ve stood on the brakes, that MUV’s underbody could’ve been on our roof. So then, I decided to brake as gradually as possible and placed half of the Polo off the road. Captain face hole in the MUV realised his blunder, tried braking hard and managed to somehow brush past his out of shape car just a couple inches away from us. In the meanwhile, as I tried to steer the car back on tarmac, the left rear lost traction due to the grassy terrain and the car finally came to a standstill, sitting perpendicular to the road.
The bus driver who was being overtaken stopped to check if everything was alright, while the MUV driver fled the scene. We straightened the car, checked to find that everything was alright, not a scratch, not a speck, thanked our stars and soldiered on. It was this incident that made us realise the Polo’s uncanny ability to come across as a predictable driving package that feels so assuringly planted at all times. We probably would’ve ended up on the roof in a tallboy!
Strangely unfazed by the incident, we reached Ratnagiri and bought me some ill-fitting shorts, one of which looked more like a skirt and cheap underwear, which was the most expensive in that shop. Fiddling with the phone, we figured that a place called Ganeshgule would be ideal to take that dip and also douse the Sun for that day since it was almost 5 pm by that time. Cutting through some B-roads and navigating the car carefully through a gully that was just as wide as the car, we quickly changed and followed the sand.
To our surprise, there was not a single soul on that entire stretch and all we had was two crematoriums on each side for company. Hell with that. We ran into the surf to find that for some reason, the sea was pretty rough for the time of the year and the water murky, not dirty though. A customary dip and an amazing sunset later, we walked back to the car, washed ourselves with some clean water at the solitary tourist setup there and continued towards Malvan.
The refreshed Volkswagen Polo features a double barrel headlight that looks the part in daylight, but for four bulbs trying to light up the road, we found the intensity to be lacking. Driving along in the night, on this interior route we were carrying on, we’d encounter a lone oncoming vehicle on a road that cut through sleepy fishing towns and jumped over wide creeks which opened their jaws into the open sea.
We knew it must be fantastic through the day, but it was equally tranquil in the night as we encountered several small Indian Civets, snakes, rabbits and flocks of Jackals crossing our paths.
Watching moonlight filter through the heat insulated side and rear windows, sometimes breaking through coconut plantations and hitting gentle waves below like shimmer, we drove into Malvan for dinner. After an okayish meal compared to our lunch, we decided to drive further to Vengurla for the night, a coastal village located at a spitting distance from the Goa border. It was well past midnight when he haggled for a room at a Motel whose two pillars literally stood in the sea and we could swim with the fishes if we decided to jump from our window, no kidding! Spending a few moments watching moonlight scatter into the organism like flashes in the waves below, we called it a night.
The next day, we decided to explore the beaches that dotted the route on our way back till Ratnagiri, where we’d rest for the night and make a dash back to Bombay the next morning.
First stop was a place we accidentally discovered and surprised ourselves to find the road running alongside some pristine backwaters, finally coming to a dead halt by sea.
Lunchtime ringing the bells, we stopped at a little joint, whose owner dished out some homemade, fresh sea fare and everything else cooked with a little coconut. Bliss!
Deciding to take our next dip at Tarkarli, we stacked a few cool drinks and some fruits in the cooled glovebox and carried on. Tarkarli must be famous for the coral reefs and scuba diving it has to offer, but the place is infested with a homestay or a resort every two inches, making the place look like a slum. We drove right till Devbaug, hoping to catch a clear glimpse of the isolated beach, but in the name of tourism, locals have managed to make the place appear like a dumping ground, thrusting speedboat rides and other such offers right into your nose.
A phone call later, we dashed to a place called Chivla beach, which according to our colleague was the best place for a swim, and it was. The water was shallow, clear, and the lagoon-like area meant it was perfect for a swim. You could simply walk from the shore into the sea for many meters and still hold your head above the water.
After a couple hours of solitude in the water, we walked out into a dilemma. Since we had to get back into the car and drive, we needed fresh water to wash the salt off our bodies. None of the resort owners was interested to assist since we weren’t staying with them, but a kind lady allowed us to use a well in her compound. And what a memorable experience it turned out to be, roping out cold water from the pit and bathing under the open sky.
Post that and a meal later, we were running it for Ratnagiri, hoping to be there before midnight. The Polo’s 1.5 TDI motor did oblige and it happily propelled the car at high speeds, without a sweat. One has to keep it ticking in the sweet spot between 2000 – 3500 rpm though, which means frequent downshift is called for if you’re making quick moves.
The engine develops 90 PS of power at 4200 clicks, but peak torque of 230 Nm is developed between 1500 – 2500 rpm, which means after 3500 rpm or so, you may rev it you like, but it is pointless as the torque curve goes flat. For being civilized though, the 1.5-liter mill is extremely frugal, returning an economy figure of 19.5 km to a litre of diesel, with the aircon switched on at all times throughout the trip.
As we barreled through broken patches, the Volkswagen Polo glided through crests, waves and ditches astounding us with its stellar ride quality. But at the same time, as a package, the Polo doesn’t compromise on handling and can proudly boast of being one of the best Chassis-Suspension setups on sale in India. It really is that good.
In contrast, we struggled to find a decent room to crash for the night in Ratnagiri, finding a manageable place after enquiring for more than an hour and at more than 10 places. The next day, lunch was again at Abhishek in Chiplun and we were back home in time for supper. What surprised us though was how fatigue-free we felt even after driving for more than 1200 km in a hatchback and that says something about this little car.
The Volkswagen Polo is one of the rare cars which looks charmingly timeless and exudes that understated, gentlemanly elegance. It doesn’t need new age gashes and angles to add to its appeal and people who appreciate class will agree. Moreover, like a car, the Polo adds so much to the experience of driving, owning and being driven in a car that reeks of quality from all nooks and corners. It scores brilliantly on build quality, ride and handling, occupant comfort, safety, efficiency and is a charm to drive. Given a choice as which car would I drive if asked to stitch another coastline on another day? The Volkswagen Polo will be a very strong contender, could also be the last one standing.