A dream fulfilled. This happened to be a return journey having completed the Ashtvinayak trip while driving from Bangalore to Mumbai ( it’s another story) and my family was geared up for it.
We started off from Navi Mumbai at 12 noon and took the 6 lane Mumbai-Pune runway…er….expressway. Well, in stretches it looks like a runway. The Innova was simply flying and you do get to see some scenic spots on the way. To experience this expressway, you need to pay a toll of Rs. 118 /- for 120 odd kms. But then, we reached Pune in 80 minutes or so. We took a detour into Pune as we wanted to visit a couple of folks. Visit over, time to hit the road again. For the next 30 odd kms we did encounter some traffic. We were held up at the first of the innumerable toll plazas’ for about 20 minutes. However, after that it was a breeze. Next came the Katraj ghat section which was not high enough to qualify as a ghat. I had a funny feeling that there was no oncoming vehicle. Later, we realized it must be one way. The oncoming traffic would be on another road which we could not see. However, driving on the bends was a pleasure.
At around 3 pm we stopped for a late lunch and spent around an hour there…..with kids it does take time. Next came the Khambakti ghat which was quite scenic. Passing through two big cities of Satara and Karad, we finally entered Kolhapur at 7 pm. If you take out the time spent in Pune and for lunch, we had effectively covered 400 kms in 4 and half hours. I remember years ago, Bombay-Kolhapur used to take 10 hours by bus, an overnight journey. Three cheers to the Golden Quadrilateral.
In Kolhapur, we checked into Maratha Regency ( we had stayed in the same hotel during our Ashtvinayak trip) and the hospitable staff recognized us. My wife, Shubhangi, and I are very attached to Kolhapur. After all, we met here during our engineering course. Kolhapur is like a second home for us. It is famous for the Mahalakshmi temple and so we went for darshan. We were lucky as the priests had taken out the idol in a palanquin around the temple and we got to touch the idol.
Coming back, we left our kids with my parents at the hotel and just the two of went for walk upto the ST stand. The fragrance of burji pao and batata vada from various stalls near ST stand reminded us of our college days. We had dinner at Prarthana restaurant, which used to be famous amongst us students those days. After dinner, it was the customary cocktail sundae ice-cream at Solanki. Solanki is a chain of famous ice-creams joints in Kolhapur. Back to the hotel for a well deserved sleep. Just to inform you, Kolhapur has lots of sigh-seeing options, like the Rankala lake, palace, Panhala fort and Jyotiba temple on a hill.
The next day we started at 7 am and covered the 100 kms to Belgaum in exactly one hour. Here we entered into the city for a visit to a spiritual temple of ………. After the visit, we had a sumptuous breakfast at hotel Ramdev. At 10 am we left from Belgaum towards Bangalore. Belgaum is exactly the mid point between Mumbai and Bangalore, 500 kms on either side.
Crossing Dharwad, we reached Hubli and stopped for lunch on the outskirts. The food was quite tasty. The stretch near Hubli was not good and had to locate the road towards Bangalore. The 200 odd kms between Hubli and Chitradurga is still under construction in some parts with diversions. Sometimes the road becomes a wide single lane, instead of the divided 4 lane road. At one point, there was a trough in the road which I saw at the last moment. Fortunately, I was just picking up speed and managed to brake hard. But still, the front wheels went into the trough and under side of the front bumper banged into the road. But, no damage. On inspection, I realized that the solid iron of the tow hook had hit the road. This stretch has also has a couple of railway crossings with the bridge still not completed. The diversions are so bad that our speed came down to 5 kms/hr. Passing through Chitradurga, one can see the fort in the distance. We stopped for tea a little before Tumkur. This place is about 70 kms from Bangalore and the traffic started getting heavier. Once we reached Neelmangala at 6 pm, it was welcome to Reality Traffic Show. From there it was a torturous 90 minutes drive through peak time traffic to our home in Whitefield.
All told, the drive was good. There are a number of toll plazas on the route and you end up paying around 350 bucks or so in total. The incomplete stretches should be done by the end of the year. My target is to drive Bangalore-Mumbai in one go and I estimate it will take about 15 hours for the 1000 kms, once the construction activity is over.