Feel the adrenaline rush whenever you drive out on the highway? Here are some of the best driving holidays for you to try out.
THE DESERT SAFARI
Out of Delhi: Getting out of Delhi towards Rajasthan on the Jaipur highway is perhaps the worst part of this drive and so is getting back. Mandawa is in Rajasthan’s Shekhawati region and from Jhunjhunu there is a narrow road leading up to Mandawa. The road surface is not great but that is the exception rather than the norm. Mandawa itself is a small dusty town that has houses with Shekhawati paintings and both the places to stay—Castle Mandawa and the Desert Resort—are excellent, with commanding views of the countryside.
Once off the highway on the drive to Khimsar, the narrow road is often covered in sand and although it looks forbidding, rest assured that there is tarmac beneath. Shift into a lower gear—preferably second for the smaller cars and third for cars with torquey engines. Maintain a constant speed and do not brake, because if you do then the wheels will start digging into the sand. If you do get stuck, make sure you do not spin your drive wheels because that will bury you even deeper. Remove sand from front of the drive wheels and gently power out.
In Royal Land: The drive to Jodhpur is short and the Ummaid Bhavan Palace has to be your watering hole. The reception is located under the main dome and is one of the most impressive hotel receptions that you will ever see. The most adventurous drive on this circuit is the one from Jodhpur to Deogarh. Although the route is somewhat complicated, a telephone call to the royals at Deogarh will get you the most precise directions. And, the royals, Rawat Nahar Singh and his two sons Shatrunjay and Virbhadra, apart from being excellent hosts, are car buffs and will take you for a drive in their collection of vintage beauties.
The Journey Back: The drive back to Delhi can be accomplished in a day on the NH8 via Ajmer and Jaipur. However, if you want to do the Full Monty, then drive down to Udaipur on the NH8 and after spending a day or two there, take the Golden Quadrilateral and get off at Ajmer to go to Pushkar. From Pushkar drive up north to Chomu after bypassing Jaipur and spend another night at Samode Palace before hitting the Jaipur-Delhi highway to get back.
Where to Stay: Delhi: ITC Maurya Sheraton, The Oberoi
Mandawa: Hotel Castle Mandawa, Jai Niwas Resort
Bikaner: Lalgarh Palace, Laxmi Niwas Palace
Jaisalmer: Gorbandh Palace, Hotel Rawal Kot
Khimsar: Hotel Khimsar Fort Jodhpur: Umaid Bhavan Palace, Hotel Taj Hari Mahal
Deogarh: Deogarh Mahal
Udaipur: Taj Lake Palace, Udaivilas
Pushkar: Hotel Pushkar Resorts, Jagat Singh Palace
Samode: Hotel Samode Palace
THE GUJARAT CIRCUIT
Royal residence at Gondal
In an Antique Land: The Somnath temple has a rich history and is set on the coast and makes several modern day marvels pale in comparison though most of the splendour and pomp of yore is missing. Lothal, further down the coast harks from the times of the Indus Valley Civilisation and though there is not much to see, there is a lot to visualise in this late Harappan port town with its ship breaking yard and its granary. Then it’s the drive back to Ahmedabad through its dusty roads.
For those who are religiously inclined, one can also head to the far west to see the holy city of Dwarka and then drive along the coast back to Somnath via Porbandar, one of the most famous Gujarati towns.
Where to Stay: Ahmedabad: Taj Residency, Le Meridien
Dasada: Rann Riders Safari Resorts
Junagadh: The Gir Lodge
Somnath: Hotel Shiv Sagar
THE LADAKH CIRCUIT
Gata loops en route to Leh
There are also a few things to be prepared for—high altitude sickness and being selfsufficient. Pack well, make sure you have all the medicines and also a few bottles of oxygen. Do not get overambitious and exert yourself at high altitudes but always come down to a lower altitude for taking rest. Thus the highest passes are to be crossed without much dilly-dallying.
Also keep an extra can of fuel because there is an over 200-km gap between the fuel stations at Tandi (before Keylong) with the next one being at Leh. More so if you intend taking a detour to Tso Moriri.
Now that the warnings have been sounded, this drive is one of the most scenic that anyone can ever hope to undertake. Picture postcard country, from the vivid starkness of Ladakh to the lush greenery of Kashmir.
Driving Around Leh: Leh can be a base for many excursions and I would definitely recommend Pangong Tso—the lake of myriad colours and moods. The hollow lake (as its name translates into English) is thin and long and one will do well to get prior permission from ITBP or the Indian Army to use their boats. I recommend an overnight stay at the camp at Spangmik, if only to look at the sky at night and see a wonder most of us in the cities have forgotten about or never seen.
Back Past the Zojilla Pass: The drive back is not so challenging with only the Zojilla Pass offering any challenge. But that, too, will be a thing of the past as a tunnel is being built to connect Ladakh to the Kashmir valley. Also, make sure to find out if the road across Zojilla is not closed for blasting on any day. On the way to Kargil are the delightful monasteries of Alchi and Lamayuru.
Past the Raging River: The drive from Kargil to Drass is next to a raging, roaring river and if it were not for the boards that caution you with “you are under enemy observation” it would have been leisurely and idyllic.
Entering Kashmir is an awe-inspiring event on this drive because after days of barren land, your eyes get to feast on a carpet of greenery. The rest of the drive back is spent in acclimatising and getting used to problems like traffic and pollution.
Where to Stay: Chandigarh: Taj Chandigarh, Hotel Mount View
Manali: Holiday Inn, Apple Country Resort
Leh: Cho Palace Hotel, Lharisa Resort
Kargil: Kargil Continental, D’Zojila
Srinagar: Intercontinental the Grand, Hotel Broadway
THE SOUTHERN SOJOURN
Bandipur National Park
While most of Bangalore has been out to Mysore, for a drive I would suggest moving onto Bandipur/Mudumalai. There are some excellent camps at this wildlife reserve and a jungle safari is a must.
Uphill to Ooty: Do the Ooty drive by the short cut and be thrilled by not only the steep climb up the narrow mountain path but also by the flower covered hillsides. In case you do not want to spend the night at Ooty, the Jungle Hut at Maisanagudi offers an excellent alternative. But beware of accepting an invitation to a drive with the owner and his pretty wife because Vikram Mathias is a former national rally champion and you might be in for a fist-clenching, teeth-gritting adventure.
Driving Past Wildlife: And if you thought that you have had your fill of scenic drives, then the best is still to come. The drive to the Nagarhole National Park is on a less traversed road bordering the Bandipur Reserve, through some dense forest area. Chances are that you will be able to see a lot of wildlife on this drive itself.
The Kabini River Lodge is the only great accommodation here.
However, if you do not want to take this detour, then you can head back to Bangalore on the slightly busy NH48, which is the Mangalore-Bangalore highway.
Where to Stay: Bangalore: Taj Residency, Le Meridien
Mysore: Hotel Lalitha Mahal, Hotel Viceroy
Mudumalai: The Belmont Retreat, Jungle Hut
Ooty: Taj Savoy, Taj Garden Retreat
Nagarhole: The Kabini River Lodge
Hassan: Hotel Hassan Ashok, Hoysala Village Resort
MUMBAI TO MANGALORE
Beaches off the route at Guhagar
On to Mahabaleshwar: The drive up to Mahabaleshwar is up a delightful series of S-es—many of which can be straight-lined making them a driver’s delight, not to mention the spectacular views of the Wai Valley. Mahabaleshwar is famous for strawberries and views and Harrison's Folly is my all-time favourite. The drive down from Mahabaleshwar to Poladpur onto the Mumbai-Goa highway is longer and more arduous.
The river view lodge at Chiplun (earlier a Taj property) has an excellent view of the valley and the river below and the sunsets, in particular, are spectacular.
Sea View Drive: Karwar is a small sleepy harbour town famous for seafood and the Kali river. The drive south continues to be spectacular till one reaches Maravanthe, which has the Arabian Sea on one side and fresh water on the other with just the road separating the two.
The rest of the drive is just off the coast and I recommend the temple town of Udipi and Gokarn for its beautiful beaches, one of which is in the shape of Om. The drive back to Mumbai takes two days.
Where to Stay: Mumbai: ITC Grand Maratha Sheraton, Hotel Hyatt Regency, JW Marriott
Pune: Hotel Taj Blue Diamond, Hotel Le Meridian, Hotel Sun-N-Sand
Mahabaleshwar: Brightland Holiday Village, Sherwood Resort
Chiplun: The Riverview Resort
Karwar: The Devbagh Beach Resort
Mangalore: Manjarun Hotel, The Nalapad Residency