A full tank and a Honda. Always a fine recipe for some good old fashioned mile munching. So when the good folk at Honda India sent over a Mobilio brimmed with the ignitable stuff, there was only one thing that seemed apt - hitting the highway. And hit it we did.
It was decided that we'd head towards Bandipur from Bangalore, and let the wanderer spirit in us dictate our route from there. Since time was at a premium, we took off as soon as the MPV reached office on Saturday evening. Wow, that's some honk, I thought, as we slowly made our way out of the confines of Bangalore city traffic towards Mysore Road.
Dusk was upon us, and there was the usual flurry of action on State Highway 17. Drivers were impatiently darting in and out of lanes at high speed like they would miss out on the best pieces of the Missus' mutton curry at their destinations if they didn't. How they always seem to handle slower bikers and tractors, zombie pedestrians, unmarked speed breakers, invisible tractors, and suicidal dogs in the process is truly what wonder is made of.
This shot was taken by our snapper-journo Raj, just outside the city limits of Mysore. Driving at night in our country requires several breathers, because you always need to be at the peak of your concentration, especially given all the factors we discussed earlier that you need to take into account. Tip: Find a large vehicle keeping a similar pace to you and follow it if possible for a respite from oncoming headlights.
One's stomach seems to enter negotiations with you more often while travelling - ours had their sustenance scopes on soon after crossing Maddur, the approximately-halfway point between Bangalore and Mysore. Mutton biriyani did us mighty fine at the end of a long day, and it was headlights out at 11.
We rose early on a cool Sunday morning, threw our things into the impressively accommodative 223-litre boot (a brilliant interior packaging feat considering that's the capacity with the third row of seats in place), and left a still-sleepy Gundulpet. Driving conditions had improved, with less vehicles and generally decent tarmac as we made our way to Bandipur. No more of those intensely frustrating, seemingly endless sections of diversions that we encountered before Gundulpet too, thankfully.
While we were thoroughly enjoying the car-like handling and feel of the Mobilio, there were always stark reminders like this rolled truck about how unforgiving a lapse in concentration can be. On a lighter note, the greenery of the surrounding area as we approached Bandipur was such a welcome sight for our city-sore eyes - nothing better than a hit of nature's finest to calm the soul.
Photo op at the entrance to the protected Bandipur Tiger Reserve. The 874-square-kilometre park was set up in 1974 under Project Tiger and remains one of the country's most visited national parks as it is on the way to Ooty, our next destination. Unfortunately also that's the reason for a number of animal fatalities every year. We couldn't drive through during the night, since it remains closed between dusk and dawn for this very reason, to protect the wildlife.
We didn't spot any fauna in Bandipur, but we did see this captive elephant and its mahout in Mudumalai, crossing a few feet away from a captive audience. It was good to see that it still had its beautiful tusks, and while we couldn't invite it along for the rest of the trip, even if we folded all three rows of seats, its majestic strides coming up the hill was a nice memory to take back.
Should take the time out to properly compliment our ride. We were impressed at how well the Mobilio drove, its handling and ride on the sometimes-unforgiving surfaces we encountered were exemplary, especially for a vehicle of this size. But the 100 bhp iDTEC diesel engine was easily our favourite part of the car - while it required some ballet on the clutch below 1500 rpm to keep the motor on the boil, it was beautifully torquey and refined, and pulled away effortlessly from any form of traffic with minimal shifting.
The Kallati ghats to Ooty from Masinagudi will catch out turbo lag in any diesel motor, but while the extremely steep inclines and very tight hairpins of the ghat road (seen here is the final one before the town limits) necessitated changes to first several times when slow, the nicely weighted steering and brilliant suspension setup performed their duties well - lugging the big MPV around the twisties was hardly as tough as we thought it might be. The Mobilio actually handled the ghats better than some sedans we've driven in the past.
The modern Mobilio against one of the oldest churches in the Nilgiris, St. Stephen's Church in Ooty. The church dates back to the 19th century, and interestingly has its main beam and other wooden structures taken from Tipu Sultan's Srirangapatna palace, that was brought to the popular hill station via the Sigur ghat.
After one of our shortest visits to Ooty yet (we left town even before an hour had passed), we happily hit the twisties again heading towards Mettupalayam, via Kothagiri. Raj is an Ooty local with useful knowledge like where the good Tamilnadu biriyani joints, chai stalls, and cigarette shops are located around the area, so Sunday was satisfactorily dotted with local masalas, hot brews and er, Gold Flake nicotine.
We made a short detour to visit an estate in Kodanad, whose spectacular acreage of tea plants provided a stunning backdrop to the handsome front fascia of our metallic blue Mobilio. We've recently carried a story about how the front design was aped quite openly by a competing car manufacturer.
Greenhouse and green tea.
It was time to rush again, as we would now have to Chase The Sun, like Planet Funk told us in the 1990s. Can you blame us for not wanting to leave to make it back to the grind? It was holiday country, after all, but the talk of staying back, kicking the feet up, and watching the sun set in the Nilgiris over a few cold ones was short-lived, unfortunately.
But road trips often spring pleasant surprises too, and we had the good fortune of seeing a few confidently-ridden classic Vespas, Bajaj Chetaks, and Lambys from what seemed like a visiting classic scooter club.
It was a short trip back in time, seeing these classics dropping handlebar-shift gears and going down around the bend. No, it doesn't pay to smoke, we got lucky...
The side profile of the Mobilio displays typical Honda lines, like the Brio's shoulder crease and lower character line, with the City's rear fender line below the surround tail lamp. The kink in the greenhouse line after the B-pillar doesn't just look good, it also serves to keep the glass area nice and big, which translates into an impressively airy and bright cabin area.
Stars can give us direction, and this reflective one marking the edge of the road can well be the difference between life and unnecessary strife. Ghat road driving tip: Only overtake in the hills on the straight sections of road, when there's enough room to complete the manoeuvre safely and you can see what's ahead.
The 40-or-so kilometres down the ghat was going to be a quick run, or so we thought. But a bus chose the busiest Sunday evening to break down on the ghat road near Kunchapanai, and as a result, killed all hopes of our being home by dinner time.
Sometimes all you need is just someone to listen...
Would you like some fries with your trading? We deemed fit some Tamilnadu-style biriyani along with omelette and ‘half-boiled' this time around in Mettupalayam, and really belted the stuff in a little roadside restaurant opposite the Potato Chamber of Commerce.
Shutter function at Bhavanisagar Dam junction. We were now closing in on the Dimbam ghats near Sathyamangalam, with more than 250 kilometres still to go to Bangalore, and while the clouds were a-threatening, they sprinkled their love only in short patches. This ensured we made good time through these sparsely trafficked, flowing roads that are truly brilliant for driver or rider.
It was well after nightfall that we reached Mandya, and the last 100 kays back home took a couple of rounds of the clock. But the Mobilio struggles a bit in the dark, because the headlights need work. Like anyone else we had to deal with displays of light might from oncoming traffic, but the Mobilio's headlamps seriously lacked power. However, that was the only major gripe in the 650-kilometres-odd of various driving conditions - so you go Mobilio!