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The long and winding road: Fun and adventure in South India

Nader Parakh

Something about a driving holiday lends itself to adventure. And though adventure and uncertainty may not make the most relaxed vacation, they certainly have their moments. Driving without a clear itinerary, not knowing what lies around the next bend, wondering where you will spend the night, and realising that what looks like a straight and easy run on your map is actually a gruelling mountain road: Such hellish compensations make the trip so much more fun.

Our trip, over 20 days, took us south of Bombay. Whether this meant as far south as Bombay's extended suburbs, or as far south as Kerala was not known to us at the time. What was known, however, was that we would generally try to follow the Bombay to Mangalore highway, in whatever distracted manner we chose to.

The first stretch of the drive was the Bombay to Goa road. We broke our journey at Ganpatipule beach, 375 kms south of Bombay, near Ratnagiri. The road to Ganpatipule involves a detour of around 30 km from the highway. This detour goes through barren, inhospitable terrain, until a sudden bend in the road brings you onto a sweeping beach, backed by sandy cliffs.

Accommodation here is restricted to a few hotels, the largest of which is the MTDC resort. Bland, with the usual cafeteria and pokey rooms, it is not a place worth travelling the distance for. Also, quite out of character for a government enterprise, the resort does not have the best spot on the beach.

But better accommodation is available. The simple and well maintained Hotel Abhishek is just a few minutes away. Though the building is a squat pista and orange railway platform confection, don't be put off. Set atop the cliffs, each room offers a panoramic view of the coast. At Rs 300 for a double, the rooms are spotlessly clean, service is friendly and food good. It is a much better option than the MTDC resort. What's more, it offers such unique facilities as a brass bell hung out on the balcony of each room: the Abhishek's version of an intercom system.

A short walk from the hotel takes you down the cliff, to the chief and only attraction: the beach. Powdery white sand and crystal waters make for the perfect swim. But beware, the waters are rough.

If you have the energy, it is worth doing the coastal drive from here to Ratnagiri town (via Nevre). Though Ratnagiri town is best avoided, the road there winds through endless mango orchards that roll down the hills and into the sea.

Ganpatipule is well worth a visit. The Bombay to Goa stretch is an almost unbroken ribbon of sand and surf, untouched and unnoticed by the hordes that move between the two. What many tourists may never know is that Goa is only a point on the map, just a few ordinary beaches lying between other truly magnificent ones.

Goa, Honavar and Jog