Having criss-crossed India in buses, jeeps, rickshaws, trucks, tractors, tongas, jugaads, chhakdas and assorted transport, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY present 10 amazing road trips from their travels.
Be it rallies from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, trips down Asia’s oldest highway GT Road or funky tuk-tuks participating in the Rickshaw Run, there’s no better way to experience India than a road journey. Mountain roads take you through India’s ghats and passes while coastal drives are dotted with battle-scarred forts and ports that shaped the fortunes of traders and empires. From monuments, geographic wonders, wildlife zones to regional cuisine, each journey comes with its distinct sights, sounds and tastes.
Andaman Trunk Road (Andaman & Nicobar Islands)
The megaphone crackles to life as the convoy of vehicles at Jirkatang police check-post stirs into activity. The inspector’s monotonous drone instructs people not to stop the vehicle, give food or money to wayside tribals, establish contact or take photos else their cameras might be damaged/confiscated. Red clothing is to be avoided. Thus, with a heightened sense of anticipation, the journey up the Andaman Trunk Road commences. The northward route from Port Blair on NH-223 is an amazing 360 km journey through Jarawa territory, a reclusive tribe of Negroid descent, who linger among the shadows of the forest. Fixed convoy timings and ferry crossings at Middle Strait and Humphrey Strait make the trip more exciting. From Chidiyatapu in South Andamans to Aerial Bay in North Andamans, the road weaves past the limestone caves and mud volcanoes of Baratang, Cuthbert Bay Beach near Rangat to Mayabunder and Diglipur in the far north.
Jet Airways flies to Port Blair
Assam Trunk Road (North East)
From Goalpara in Assam to Roing in Arunachal Pradesh, the 740 km stretch of NH-37 is better known as the Assam Trunk Road. Start the journey from Guwahati for a 600 km run to Upper Assam along the Brahmaputra past tea estates, wildlife parks and old capitals. Cross the Bagori and Kohora ranges of Kaziranga National Park to the tea bungalows of Jorhat run by Heritage North East. Visit the Ahom capital of Sibsagar and the old capital Charideo, built by Sukaphaa, founder of the Ahom dynasty. Cross the historic Namdang stone bridge, a 60 m long bridge hewn from a monolithic rock in 1703. Pass by maidams or royal vaults as you follow the eastward trail to the Chang Bungalows of Dibrugarh, Tinsukia and Dibru Saikhowa National Park.
Jet Airways flies to Guwahati, Jorhat and Dibrugarh
Konkan Coastal Highway (Maharashtra)
Recreate the famous Bollywood route from Bombay to Goa using the less-explored Sagari Mahamarg (Coastal Highway) instead of the usual NH-17. Beaches, sea forts, temples, palaces, dramatic landscapes and Malvani dishes like kombdi vade (chicken curry) and Malvani fish curry make the drive worthwhile. Explore Portuguese forts at Chaul, Alibaug, Revdanda and Korlai, laze by the beaches of Kashid and take a boat ride to the Siddi bastion of Murud Janjira. Stop at Atithi Parinay, a beautiful homestay near Ganpatipule for the sattvik pleasures of Konkanasth Brahmin cuisine. Visit the birthplace of Lokmanya Tilak at Ratnagiri and Thibaw Palace, residence of the exiled king of Burma. Follow Shivaji’s footsteps from Jaigad to the forts of Vijaydurg, Devgad and Sindhudurg. Explore lesser-known beaches like Mithbav and Sagareshwar or coastal towns like Malvan and Vengurla while staying at Bhogwe Eco-Stay, Maachli or Dwarka Farms. Drop by at Tiracol Fort and Aronda backwaters before crossing the new Kiranpani Bridge to Arambol.
Jet Airways flies to Mumbai and Dabolim Airport, Goa
Manali to Leh (Himachal/Ladakh)
The Manali-Leh highway, a part of NH 21, is a 490 km adventure that pits a traveler against the world’s highest passes, nullahs (streams), windswept ridges, strange geographic formations and India’s most surreal landscapes. Open for only 4-5 months in a year from May-June to mid-October, the road connects Manali to Lahaul, Spiti and Zanskar valleys in Ladakh. Negotiate the treacherous loops of Rohtang Pass (13,051 ft) in the Pir Panjal range for a night halt at Keylong or Sarchu. Tackle the three great passes of the Zanskar range Baralacha La (16,050 ft), Lachlung La (16,598 ft) and Tanglang La (17,480 ft) with the high road bisecting the rambling More plains, like the Buddhist Middle Path to nirvana. Take an excursion to high altitude lakes like Pangong tso and Tso Mo Riri or continue past the Upshi checkpost to Leh.
Jet Airways flies to Leh and Delhi
Malabar Coast (Kerala)
The 369 km drive from Kasaragod to Kochi down NH-17 or Edapally Panvel highway takes you along Kerala’s legendary Spice Coast that drew colonial powers for trade in pepper and cardamom. Start from the Malik Deenar Mosque in Kasaragod and forts at Bekal and Chandragiri with a houseboat ride at Valiyaparamba Backwaters. Watch a theyyam at Parassinikkadavu Muthappan temple and 150 species of snakes at the Snake Park nearby. Explore Kannur’s many beaches Meenkunnu, Payyambalam, Thottada and Ezhara while staying at seaside homestays like Kannur Beach House and Shanti Theeram or make a gourmet stop at Ayisha Manzil for ‘Tellicherry Pepper’ cooking holidays. Visit the museum and palace of the Arakkal Ali Rajas and see the colonial imprint of the Portuguese, British and French at St Angelo Fort, Thalassery Fort and Mahe. Chase the surf at Muzhappilangad’s drive-in beach and buy local handicrafts at Sargaalaya craft village in Iringal. Walk on the wide sands of Payyoli Beach where PT Usha learnt to run or watch sea gulls swoop at Kappad where Vasco Da Gama landed in 1498. Visit century old mosques at Kuttichira and feast on pathiris, biryanis, Kozhikode halwa, banana chips and Moplah cuisine. Continue to the ooru (boat) building hub of Beypore, Kadalundi bird sanctuary, past Vallikunnu and Ponnani to Kodungallur, with its Bhagavathy temple, St Thomas Church and Cheraman Juma Masjid, India’s oldest mosque.
Jet Airways flies to Kozhikode and Kochi
ECR, Coromandel Coast (Tamil Nadu)
With Chola ports, Danish enclaves, French colonies and unique temples dotting the drive, the NH-45A or East Coast Road (ECR) is a journey down history. Drive south from Chennai for a cultural stop at Dakshin Chitra and Cholamandala Art Village or observe muggers, gharials and snakes at Madras Crocodile Bank. Mamallapuram, the maritime capital of the Pallavas of Kanchi, makes for a great halt with its shore temples, bas reliefs, monuments and stone carvers. Cover the stunning Nataraj Temple at Chidambaram, the mangrove forests of Pichavaram and the korai pai (grass mat) makers at Thaikkal. Stay at villas, mansions and boutique hotels at trading outposts from French Pondicherry to Danish Tranquebar. Nagore dargah, Sirkazhi temple and Velankanni’s churches add a spiritual dimension to the trip. Drive south to Ramanathapuram en route to Rameshwaram or continue southward on ECR to Thoothukkudi, a 643 km drive from Chennai.
Jet Airways flies to Chennai
Karavali Coast (Karnataka)
Hemmed in between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats, the 320 km Karavali coastline is a scenic marine drive. Start at Mangalore with the temple of the guardian deity Mangla Devi and the Udupi Sri Krishna temple. Savour Dakshin Kannada fare at an Udupi café or try Mangalorean fish curry and Kundapur chicken. Lose yourself in the dozens of heritage structures transplanted at Hasta Shilpa Heritage Village at Manipal. Take a boat ride from Malpe harbour to St Mary’s Island, relax in the gentle surf at Turtle Bay Trasi or drive past the ocean road at Marvanthe to Baindoor for backwater rides and high sea adventures at Sai Vishram Beach Resort. Say a prayer at the world’s tallest Shiva statue in Murudeshwar and worship the atmalinga at Gokarna while exploring its beaches. Go on banana boat rides at Devbagh Beach Resort and find your muse at Karwar, where Rabindranath Tagore wrote his first poem.
Jet Airways flies to Mangalore
Desert Run (Rajasthan)
Rajasthani men in fluorescent turbans, rustic women in long veils and herds of camel nibbling on roadside khejri trees holding up traffic, a road trip of Rajasthan is a colourful adventure. From the Pink City of Jaipur to the Blue City of Jodhpur to the Golden City of Jaisalmer, the desert safari packs in many thrills. Near Rohet on NH-65 is the roadside shrine of Motorcycle Baba or Bullet Banna, where travelers pray at his garlanded photo and the enshrined 350 cc Bullet motorcycle for a safe passage. Participate in an opium ceremony in the Bishnoi village of Guda Bishnoi and visit the Khejarli Memorial where 363 people sacrificed their lives to protect a grove of the sacred khejri tree. You can expect milestones bearing strange names like Chacha, Lathi, Bap, Dudu and Luni, trailers ferrying strange equipment to Kandla Port and Hotel Shimla in Pokharan! Listen to Dr Bhang’s sales spiel as he stirs up a bhang lassi at the Jaisalmer Bhang Shop. Visit the ghost town of Kuldhara, an abandoned village of Paliwal Brahmins and ride camels named Michael Jackson and Raja Hindustani in the dunes of Sam.
Jet Airways flies to Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur
Rann of Kutch (Gujarat)
Surreal salt pans, ancient stepwells, miles of coastal roads and vibrant Kathiawari culture, Gujarat is a relatively unexplored driving destination in India. Driving up Surat and Baroda, arrive at the Gulf of Khambhat coast where the former vidi (grassland) of the Maharaja of Bhavnagar was converted into the Blackbuck National Park at Velvadar. Drive along the coast to the old Portuguese enclave of Diu, the temple at Somnath, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthplace Porbander, the ancient city of Dwarka and the erstwhile princely state of Jamnagar. Cruise around Mandvi, Bhuj and Dholavira to explore the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK), a vast salt-encrusted plain of dark silt. In this remarkable landscape wild asses roam free and large flocks of Demoiselle Cranes and flamingoes breed in winter. LRK is an eco-tone, a transitional area between marine and terrestrial ecosystems and its location on the bird migration route makes it an important stopover for 300 bird species.
Jet Airways flies to Ahmedabad, Baroda, Rajkot and Porbandar
Punjab Road Trip (Punjab)
A trip to Punjab is more than a scenic ride past mustard fields. On the 300km run from Patiala to Wagah you’ll see rural hamlets with stretch limos, mansions sporting water tanks shaped like weightlifters and roadside restaurants churning lassi in washing machines! At Kila Raipur Sports Festival near Ludhiana, burly men twirl gas cylinders like toys as desi sportstars tug motorbikes and tractors with their beards at Punjab’s Rural Olympics. Follow the Sutlej river to Phillaur, developed by Sher Shah Suri as a caravanserai, used as a daak ghar (postal center) by Shah Jahan and the site of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s fort. The Police Training Academy houses India’s oldest fingerprinting unit set up in 1892 and a museum with weapons, burglary tools, Lord Lytton’s sword and the pen used to sign Bhagat Singh’s death warrant. Follow tractors overloaded with sugarcane to Phagwara with its Jagatjit Town Hall or Kapurthala’s Jagatjit Jubilee Hall featured in the film ‘Tanu weds Manu’. At Jalandhar, watch hockey sticks and cricket bats being handcrafted at the Beat All Sports factory. After a mandatory stop at Amritsar’s Golden Temple, discover bonesetters, kulcha makers and shops selling papad-warian. At Wagah, witness the border-closing ceremony with foot-stomping soldiers and BSF cheerleaders as foreigners pose against signs welcoming all to the world’s largest democracy.
Jet Airways flies to Chandigarh and Amritsar
Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article was the Cover Story for the November 2013 issue of JetWings International magazine.