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Life in the city can get into a boring rut with every day mimicking the other. The concrete jungle that is a modern metropolis, boxes you in, even when you're behind the wheel of your car. So it is no surprise that people want to escape the cacophony of the city at the drop of a hat.
When given a chance to escape the ruckus of Bangalore to do a bit of exploring, the choice was an easy one for us to make. In the early hours of the weekend, we headed out to the greener ghats of God's Own Country in the 2017 Mercedes-Benz GLA 220d 4Matic.
Wiping the sleep from our eyes in the pitch black darkness, we escaped Bangalore. The city's maze of roads was still jammed up in some areas, despite the fact that the sun hadn't even gotten up from its nap.
Once out onto the highways, we pointed the three-pointed chrome adorned grille of the Mercedes GLA down NH 275 doing our level best to avoid the madness of India's highway network.
A short break for a cup of coffee at one of the numerous CCD outlets that litter NH 275, we proceeded to cruise down the miles towards Coorg which is known as the Kashmir of the South and even the Scotland of India for its cool climate, lush greenery, and scenic beauty. However, just as we sighted the western ghats, the rain gods thundered down on our little adventure.
With the wipers dancing across the windscreen, we swept into the narrow ghat roads towards our first stop of the day, Mandalpatti peak. Located just about 20 kilometres from the hill station of Madikeri, it promised to be a green haven with stunning views.
However, due to Thor's thunderous temper tantrum, the clouds and the rain had enveloped the peak, and the large crater-like potholes on the road were swamped as well. The GLA's all-wheel-drive system dealt with the roads (and lack thereof) taking us up the mountain till a point where the road disappeared altogether.
Progress ahead (the touristy sightseeing spot was still a kilometre or so ahead) was only possible for the old school jeeps and with the fog settling on the mountain, any green views had disappeared into the mists.
Disappointed by the weather, but refreshed by the cool mountain air, we headed towards God's Own Country.
However, with the monsoon venting its fury at us and the rains letting loose, we had no option but to keep on driving into the increasingly darkening skies (the arms of the clock had only gone past 1:30 p.m.). We drove to the Kerala-Karnataka border, marvelling at the lush greenery and the sheer drops on either side.
Finally, after we crossed the border into Kerala passing through the narrow Koottupuzha Bridge, we came across the small Velankanni Shrine in Valavupara some 12 kilometres from the town of Vilamana, Kerala. We stopped and asked for divine guidance as the torrent of rain, continued falling over our heads.
A few hours of torturous roads (the main highway is currently being expanded and upgraded) we finally reached our destination (Kuttiady) after spending around 450 kilometres behind the wheel of Merc's baby SUV.
The second day of our road trip with the GLA dawned on us, and we were greeted once again by the soundtrack of the heavens showering us with their watery fury. Breakfast was taken at a leisurely pace, as we waited out the water war from above.
A few hours later, the rains finally decided to take a nap, and we set off exploring Kuttiady and its surrounding areas which looked like a place Greenpeace would call heaven.
We quickly made our way out the busy centre of the sleepy town and headed out towards the nearby Kuttiady Peruvannamuzhi Dam, which is somewhat of an odd tourist attraction. Arriving at the spot, we decided to head further into the nearby forest to avoid the crowds who had made the dam and the surrounding area a haven for selfies and their like.
Heading into the forest, the roads became narrower as the greenery of Kerala in the monsoon season dominated the view out of the windscreen.
Just a few kilometres from the dam, we went past the Indian Institute of Spices Research which produces various varieties of seeds and saplings. While we were not allowed to get inside, the institute shows the importance of spices especially here in God's Own Country.
We headed further into the forest, stopping near an elephant crossing, thankfully, without encountering any of the pachyderms on their way to the nearest watering hole.
The forests near the dam are teeming with wildlife and with rains in the morning, the two-legged wild specimen behind the wheel of the GLA, engaged in a bit of childish fun. Taking advantage of the puddles on the sides of the road, we made quite a splash, before finally heading to the dam.
A bridge just a few metres from the Kuttiady dam gave us a fantastic view of the water cascading down. Parking the GLA outside the gates, we explored the dam complex on foot. The Kuttiady dam is used mainly to produce electricity via a Vertical Pelton turbine.
In addition to the hydroelectric power generation, the artificial lake's water is piped to Kozhikode and various towns and villages across the district as part of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA)-assisted drinking water project. The Rs.805.6-crore project provides 174 MLD (million litres per day) of water from the reservoir benefiting 13 lakh people across the district of Kozhikode.
For a small fee of just five rupees, the general public can visit the dam and its adjoining areas, and that tiny amount of money seems inadequate for the view from the dam, which blows your mind away with its serenity. Miles of clear water flanked on either side by lush and thick forest will make even the craziest headbanger stop and stare in wonder.
Visitors can take boats into the water, but lady luck decided we'd had our fun and while there was a powerboat parked at the dock, there wasn't anyone around to operate it.
After being dragged back behind the wheel, heaven's hosepipe greeted us once again. However, we soldiered on, breaking for lunch at a small tea stall. The place served fried mussels along with banana fritters (Pazham Pori) which once again resulted in the foodie behind the wheel being forced back into the car in the rain, for the journey back to home base.
With the rains worsening and the weekend coming to an end, we spent our last night in Kerala in quiet contemplation after gorging on home-cooked food, and my thoughts turned to our journey home.
To put it simply, the man who lived in self-imposed exile away from God's Own Country for six years now didn't want to return to the boxed in, concrete enclosed life of the city. Instead, all I wanted to do was get behind the wheel of the GLA and its overtly busy stalks and just drive along the rain-soaked roads till the end of time.
Unfortunately, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. In the extremely early hours of Monday morning, the Mercedes GLA fired into life once again, and we escaped into the Kuttiady ghats, dancing from one hairpin bend to the other in near pitch darkness as we raced back to the ‘Garden City.'
As dawn broke, the GLA powered its way across the state border into Karnataka where we took a break once again to enjoy the clean air of Coorg.
We continued our journey to the city, and behind the wheel of GLA, Merc's baby SUV was the only thing on my mind. The GLA despite its diminutive size had proven itself over 800 kilometres of some of the best and worst roads; the country has to offer. The 2.0-litre diesel engine of the GLA powered the Mercedes SUV and the three musketeers inside it adapting to every situation with ease.
It showed off its off-roading prowess on the cratered road up to Mandalpatti, never getting flustered and the switchbacks on the ghats with Sports mode engaged, were rather fun to attack in the GLA. And as we returned to the chaos and cacophony of Bangalore's roads, it slipped in through the gaps and got us home despite the madness that broke out at every intersection and turn.
Dennis James Thinks!
Bidding the Mercedes GLA goodbye proved to be a hard thing to do. The little SUV from Mercedes had proved to be a brilliant companion on our escapade from the city into God's Own Country, taking us through treacherous roads and breathtaking sites with equal ease.
Many laughs were had inside the GLA and many a nap was taken in the passenger seats both at the front and on the bench at the back. The gearstick on a stalk brought back a host of memories spent more than a decade and a half ago in the back seat of Premier Padmini.
The memories of our escapade in God's own Country is now something I'll always remember whenever the three three-pointed star badged SUV zips past me on my journies ahead. Hopefully, there are a few more memories around the corner of my journies on the road ahead.
Things To Keep In Mind & Places To Visit On The Way
- While our journey was about two days long, we would advise you to extend your journey by two to three days to truly enjoy each spot and give your bodies time to rest behind the wheel.
- There are numerous home stays in Madikeri, while Kuttiady has a three star hotel, which can be bit harsh on the pocket at almost 1,700 per night for a non-A/C room.
- The route from Bangalore to Madikeri (250-kilometrs) is mostly on 4-lane highways and features coffee and food joints along the way. However, traffic on the highway is extremely erratic, so do exercise caution with the accelerator pedal.
- The road up to Mandalpatti peak is especially treacherous during the rainy season. If your vehicle does not feature all-wheel-drive, we would advise you to join one of the local sightseeing trips which use Jeeps for the trip up the mountain.
- From Madikeri to Thalassery (114km), the roads are being widened and the road conditions are rather pitiful. Expect traffic snarls and bumpy roads en route. Reroute from the shrine towards Mananthavady (adds another 50km to the journey) for a smoother journey towards Kuttiady.
- The city of Calicut is an hour-and-a-half away by car, if you want to visit the beach.
- Visitors to the Kuttiady dam can also visit the nearby Peruvannamuzhi Animal Reserve for a better look at the animal life in the area. The artificial lake behind the dam plays host to 'Smaraka Thottam', a garden made in the memory of the leaders of the freedom struggle.
|Vehicle Tested||Mercedes-Benz GLA 220 d 4Matic|
|Price (on road)||Rs 48.19 lakh|
|Engine||Turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel|
|Power||168bhp @ 3,400rpm|
|Torque||350Nm @ 1,400rpm|
|Fuel Tank Capacity||50 litres|
|Distance Covered (Bangalore - Kuttiady - Bangalore)||800km|
|Fuel Used||80 litres|
|Diesel Price (Bangalore)||Rs 57.18 per litre|
|Cost of Fuel||Rs 4,574|