So it took me a Goa travelogue to put a stop to long silence in my blog. Some of us planned for a road trip to Goa to soak in the sights of Goa in monsoons. I wanted to make most of this road trip and added Badami and Bijapur as overnight halts while driving to and from Goa. The Bijapur stopover did not happen for the reasons I will elaborate later in this travelogue, but visiting cave temples at Badami turned out to be icing on the cake.
Summary of the tour
Timeline: July 22-27, 2009
Participants: 11 males, one Hyundai Verna and one Toyota Qualis
Route taken: Hyd-Raichur-Badami-Belgaum-Amboli Ghat-Goa-Karwar-Hubli-Gadag-Sindhanur-Raichur-Hyd
Total distance: ~2000 KM (incl. some 250 KM within Goa)
Among the group of 11, 6 are coming in from Guntur. So we decided that the group from Guntur will start at 6 AM and drive (in a Qualis) directly to Raichur where they will be joined by Hyd gang (5 of us in a verna) for lunch, and both groups will drive to Badami for overnight halt. Guntur gang realized a tad late that there is a Solar eclipse on July 22 morning. Hence, they were advised by their family members not to start till 8.30 AM. 5 of us from Hyd decided to go ahead and wait at Raichur for the others. We made a delayed start at 9.50 AM from Sainikpuri (because I decided in the last minute to invite the others for breakfast at my place with dosas and coconut chutney) and crossed airport on NH-7 by 11 AM.
Cruising on NH-7
For reaching Raichur I picked Gadwal route over Mahabubnagar- Makthal route, for no particular reason. For reaching Gadwal you take a right from NH-7 after pebberu and tarvel for 10 KM. The distance is almost the same for both routes, but the road between Gadwal and Raichur is a single road that is favoured by 7-seater autos and tractors, and obviously was a pain for a sedan.
We reached Raichur at 2.30 PM (it took us almost 2 hours to do 55 KM between Gadwal and Raichur). We enquired around and settled for “just lunch” at Hotel Kubera. The chicken biryani (almost as good as Hyderabadi) and curd rice were good. We phoned up the gang from Guntur to find that they were trying a new route to reach Raichur (Guntur-Macherla-devarakonda-jadcherla-mahabubnagar-Raichur) and are not expected before 5 PM. We decided not to wait, and started for Badami at 3.30 PM. The route thru Lingsur-Mudgal-Hungund was good with sparse traffic. We lost our way after Hungund because we misread the KSTDC sign boards, and driven in circles for 30 minutes before we found the direct route to Badami. We reached badami at 7.30 PM, and negotiated with 3 hotels (Hotel Rajsangam, Mookambika deluxe and Anand deluxe) before we settled on Anand deluxe who offered one 4-bed room and three 2-bed rooms for Rs. 1700 for that night. We quickly freshened up and bought “medicines” and food for dinner and started the session at 9 PM. The Guntur gang lost their way from Raichur mainly due to their know-all navigator, traveled upto Sindhanur, tried “various” direct routes and finally reached Badami at 12 midnight. They were too tired to try any “medicines” and we called it day immediately.
Next morning we started exploring Badami after a sumptuous breakfast in an Udupi hotel. As we planned to reach Goa by evening, we decided to skip banashankari temple, bhootanatha temple, etc., and went straight to cave temple complex. It’s sad to see the state of approach road to the cave temples. It was narrow and dirty and is swarmed by pigs of all sizes. Its amazing how the govt. and locals manage to destroy or take the sheen of wonderful heritage structures all over India. Any ways, when we reached the entrance of cave temples the sight was awe-inspiring. There are 4 cave temples overall – one for Shiva, one for Vishnu, one for Mahavishnu and one for Jain Thirthankaras. These cave temples were built by Chalukyas who ruled most parts of Karnataka and A.P. between 6th and 8th centuries. Vishnu is the deity of Chalukyas, that explains the grandeur of cave temples dedicated to Vishnu. The sclupture was, as expected, truly amazing. All cave temples were built by carving the same hill. The cave temple complex overlooks a huge lake (Agastya Theertham) and the temples of bhootanatha and Mallikharjuna. We hired a guide who was very professional and loaded us with a lot of info about the scluptures and history of the place. Overall the experience was mind blowing. Some of us have already started thinking about visiting the place again for a tour of the temples at Aihole and Pattadakal (a world heritage site) too.
So, we started from Badami at 10.30 AM after finishing with cave temples. The idea was to go to Bagalkot and get on to the highway (SH20?)connecting Bagalkot and Belgaum. But, after 6-7 KM from Badami we came to a junction where the bystading locals directed us towards a direct route to SH20. After 20 KM in to that route, we were cursing ourselves for taking that advice. The road steadily got worse in to a bad single road, and for almost 30 KM there was absolutely no village in sight.
Road to nowhere?
Just when we were bracing ourselves for a long day ahead on a single road, we came across a village and from there SH20 was fortunately just 6 KM away. The highway upto Belgaum was absolute breeze. While we did 60 KM between Badami and SH20 in 2 Hrs (incl. a tea break), it took us just 1.5 Hrs to do 120 KM on the highway up to Belgaum.
Path to blissfulness
We stopped at Belgaum at 3 PM, enquired with locals to confirm that route via Amboli Ghat is best to reach Goa considering the current road conditions of Londa-Ponda route. We stopped at a dhaba immediately after exiting Belgaum, to enjoy some beverages and yummy chicken thali. We spent only 30 minutes for lunch as we wanted to avoid the foggy conditions at Amboli ghat. I found Amboli ghat to be one of the easiest ghats to drive on, as there are no steep bends. I was enjoying the drive also because the rain is playing hide and seek- it rains heavily for 1-2 KM and it stops for the next 2-3 KM.
Sights on the way to Amboli ghat
It was almost 4.30 PM when we reached Amboli, welcomed by gloomy and wet conditions for 3-4 KM.
I suddenly noticed thick fog developing on the top of some hills far away. In no time, that fog spread to where we are and I was switched on fog lights, distress lights, etc. but kept driving. The fog vanished as suddenly as it arrived, and then we were treated to the sights of water steams/falls on one side and the beauty of huge valley on the other side. The visibility was so good that I could see a lake in the valley which must be some 20 KM away. Next minute we entered the slow moving traffic blocked by revellers enjoying a shower in the water falls and a swig at the bottle in their hand, alternatively. My camera battery conked off at that precise moment (But some one else in our group captured all those moments, I expect to get those pictures in a couple of days). I must have seen at least 6 water falls/steams that are easily accessible for a shower. So, we clicked a lot of pictures and quickly moved on for North Goa. We reached Calangute at ~7.30 PM. I had originally planned to check-in into Paradise Village resort. This is one of the 3 places recommended by mobike (Molly Malone’s was struck out because it did not have swimming pool, and Osborne was temporarily shut down for renovation). When I called Paradise Village resort from Hyderabad, the guy at the reservations offered Rs. 1500 per night for a double room, which sounded decent enough for me. Since we are a group of 11, we wanted to strike good bargain and started negotiating with the lady managing the front desk, without revealing about my previous phone enquiry. That lady should be the most grumpy professional I have come across in hospitality industry. She offered Rs. 1800 per night and no extra beds. Even after I revealed that I got an offer for Rs. 1500 when I spoke over phone, and even when the guy who actually made that offer over phone came there to resolve the situation, she stuck to her guns . And all this when most of their rooms are apparently empty and when there is not a single car in their parking lot. I pity her employer.
So, we went to a place a few steps away that we noticed while driving to Paradise. It is a small hotel with ~20 rooms, a nice swimming pool and a temorarily closed restaurant. The rooms were decent and the best part is they have 4-bed and 3-bed rooms. We negotiated a rate of Rs. 8000 for two 4-bed rooms and one 3-bed room (All air-conditioned) for 3 nights . Now I felt like thanking that lady at Paradise for driving us out.
We settled in, took shower, took few gulps of IMFL bought at Goa prices and set out for the night. We woke up a tad late on Day-3 because most of us indulged ourselves the previous night at various pubs and discos in Baga area. I was feeling little heavy in the head, so I quickly freshened up, wolfed down idlis and vadas at an Udipi hotel near Calangute bus stand, and popped in a Meftal forte. I was feeling fresh by the time the others got ready at 10 AM.
Our first stop over was Aguada fort. We took in the sights and clicked a good number of pictures. By 11.30 AM, the sun was beating down on us mercilessly, and I felt like I am in Guntur/Vijayawada. The first thing we did after climbing down from the fort is to gulp down a few lemon sodas.
Sights at Fort Aguada
We then set off to Panaji to enquire about various cruise options, incl. Casino Royale. There are many rickety cruises offering a ride on River Mandovi for 1.5-3 Hrs @ Rs. 150-200 per head. The deal with Casino Royale was very tempting, with music, free F&B, Casino, etc. @ Rs. 1500 per head, but the down side was that one has to spend almost 10-12 Hrs on the cruise once they sail out at 8 PM.
So we decided to come back in the evening for a short cruise. We drove back to Calangute, and decided on “Hotel Infantria” for liesurely lunch. We ordered few beef, pork and chicken dishes from the continental menu. After spending almost 3 Hrs on lunch, we trudged back to the hotel and slept for 90 minutes before the first among us hit the pool. After several rounds of competitions and pranks in the pool we dragged ourselves out, freshened up, drove down to Panaji, only to find that we missed the last of short cruises by a couple of minutes. Without wasting much time we drove back to Calangute beach. This beach is much cleaner than Baga beach (that we visited the previous night, er.. well past mid night). There are a few restaurants facing the beach, but there is one restaurant who placed tables right on the beach, we went for this one. We must have spent around 2 Hrs taking in the sights and sea breeze. The sea breeze and the exertions earlier in the day made a few of us yearn for a quiet dinner and long sleep in the cosy confines of our hotel. So, some of us (incl. yours truly) retired to the hotel at 11 PM, while the others headed for the watering holes in Baga beach, mainly to check out the new crowd we have seen driving in to the nearby hotels for a weekend in Goa.
Next morning the routine was almost same, except that I did not have to pop in my Meftal forte. The plan for the day was to visit the South Goa beaches. Some of us had started early to visit nearby Anjuna beach. We decided on visiting Colva and Majorda among the beaches in the South. It took us almost 2 Hrs to drive down to Colva beach from Calangute. Colva is definitely more picturesque than Calangute or Baga. There is a resort right on the beach, that has a neat restaurant offering direct view of the beach. The food was good and so was the crowd, which kept building up through out the afternoon with tourists, ostensibly from Mumbai and Pune.
Sights at Colva beach
After finishing lunch at 4 PM, we moved on to Majorda beach on our way back to Calangute. Majorda beach is much quieter and cleaner. The beach bed is also very flat much like Suryalanka beach in A.P. For once we all were tempted to swim in the sea, but the “life guards” stationed there warned us against it. Though we were not so sure of the life guards’ wisdom, we just complied with their advice and moved on. After reaching our hotel in Calangute, we went for the pool right away because we were in no mood to waste even a minute considering that we wanted to start our return jounrey next morning (Sunday) immediately after breakfast.
We spent couple of hours in the pool, having fun watching 2 non-swimmers among us trying to drown each other in the pool. That night, as expected, every watering hole near Baga beach was packed with the weekend crowd. So, we happily did some sincere pub hopping and wound up finally at 3 AM.
After breakfast next day, we went to Mapusa market for some value shopping and to buy the local varieties in beverages. After confirming with the vendor about the legal limit per person to carry local beverages across the border, I enquired about Amboli ghat route. My original plan was to travel to Bijapur via Amboli ghat, Belgaum, Athni, for overnight halt and for some sight seeing at Bijapur next morning. The vendor advised me against taking Amboli ghat route because of the crowds that throng during weekends to enjoy the waterfalls. Recalling the crowds we have seen while driving to Goa on a Thursday, we have decided to try out the route to Belgaum via Margao that the vendor alluded to. It was only after crossing Panaji it dawned on me that this route must be Londa-Ponda route. Even during the tour planning I have resolved not to use this route because of the bad roads and the truck traffic. So, we have turned our original plan on its head, and decided to drive to Hyderabad via Karwar, Hubli, Hospet, Raichur and Mahabubnagar. The other group from Guntur had any way planned to go via Hubli, Hospet, Bellary and Kurnool (with a stop over at Hospet, and sight seeing at Hampi the next morning). So all of us were happy to spend one more day together. We drove at not so great speeds across south Goa and were stopped just before Karwar at the border check post. First it was the turn of Goa excise staff. We had all licenses/permits except for Fenny and port wine we were carrying (the vendor at Mapusa told us that no permits are required to carry Fenny and port wine across the border). So, as you would have guessed, we still had to shell out some money (Rs.50) to get away with all our bottles. Next is the turn of Karnataka excise and police, who robbed us of further Rs. 150 and Rs. 100, respectively. Since we started little earlier than the group from Guntur, I immediately called them up to warn them about the “procedures” at the border check post. As it turns out, one member of that group apparently started arguing with the custodians of law and was promptly relieved of Rs. 2000. That aside, the sights of Arabian ocean at Karwar and Devbagh beach are awesome.
On NH-17 towards Karwar
The views near Karwar/ Devbagh beach
We exited the NH 17 just before Ankola and joined the Highway leading to Hubli-Hospet-Bellary-Gooty. By now, it was almost 2.30 PM, and we were depserately looking for a dhaba. We found a dhaba after almost 15 minutes. The dhaba was large, clean and nestled among picturesque hills.
My car parked near the dhaba
Dhaba in a serene location
We had a liesurely lunch and resumed our drive at 4 PM. Our plan was to reach Hospet (which is 290 KM away) by 9 PM, stay overnight and to start early next day for completing a short tour of Hampi by noon, so that we can reach Hyderabad by 7-8 PM. However, we could only reach Gadag at 8.45 PM, Hampi is another 90 KM away. So, we decided to halt at Gadag, which we found to be a large town. That very moment, we knew that we have to skip Hampi tour if we have to reach Hyderabad, ~ 500 KM away via Raichur, by sunset next day. So, next day we started at 8.30 AM from Gadag and reached Hyderabad (via gajendra gadh, kushtagi, sindhanur, raichur and Mahabunagar) at 7.30 PM. We were terribly slowed down by the narrow roads between Gadag and Sindhanur (almost 170 KM).
Wind mills at Gajendra gadh
Our friends from Guntur later informed us that we could have done much better had we chosen Gadag-Hospet-Bellary-Alur-Kurnool-Jadcherla-Hyderabad route. The roads were apparently good, the distance would have been 460 KM. Any ways, on our way back we stopped at a dhaba outside Raichur to continue our practice of having a liesurely lunch.
Summary of distances
Hyderabad-Raichur via Mahabubnagar: 250 KM
Raichur-Bagalgot via Lingsigur: ~220 KM
Bagalkot-Belgaum: ~100 KM
Belgaum-Calangute via Amboli and Mapusa: ~155 KM
Total distance for onward journey: ~725 KM, Time taken (incl. lunch and tea breaks): 17.5 Hrs
Calangute-Gadag via Karwar and Hubli: 330 KM
Gadag-Raichur via Sindhanur: 240 KM
Raichur-Hyderabad via Mahabubnagar: 250 KM
Total distance for return journey: 820 KM, Time taken (incl. lunch and tea breaks): 20 Hrs
Even 2 days before the tour, I was worried about driving in unfamiliar territory in the monsoon rains lashing across Karnataka and Goa, and I was worried about staying indoors in Goa if it continues to rain heavily for those 3 days. Luckily there were no rains at all during my entire 6 day tour, except for nice cloud cover and some brief showers. Secondly, we also got very lucky with hotel rates because of the slack reason. The entire tour cost us Rs. 6000 per head, incl. fuel for cars and men. It sort of made up for the slow night life at Goa on Thursday and Friday. In fact some of the famous joints like Titos and Brittos are closed for the entire month of July.
Last but not the least, the tour made all of us feel much younger, though the truth is that all of us gained weight during the tour and were looking older.