Longer way round

July 31st, 2010

Mahindra Monsoon Challenge 2010
Mumbai – Bhopal
Day One
Mumbai – Nashik

I could have forgotten I was in Maharashtra, and was somewhere in Himachal Pradesh instead. And this was on a route between two of Maharashtra’s big cities – Mumbai and Nashik; a route that many do as a return journey on a single day. But on this day, we were not going to stick to the highway simply to log in kilometres and stitch together the two cities. We were going to take a scenic route that many ‘commuters’ between Mumbai and Nashik would miss.

Skipping the NH3, we took State Highway 44 and went driving on a dark, twisty ribbon of tarmac that wound its way through a lush, greenest-of-all-greens landscape. The rains had drenched the land with precious water and the earth was returning the favour. The ones who benefited were of course us; our eyes which had been used to jungles of grey concrete were now being dazzled by moist grass, verdant rolling hills and leaves dripping with rainwater. And that was before we took the 30 km Kasara bypass that would take us back to NH3.

The bypass took us through the most stunning landscape that we would have never expected in this part of our country. The foliage, fed on a rich diet of pure water, threatened to overwhelm the already narrow road. Waterfalls cascaded down mountain slopes, feeding little streams that in turn fed a river that twisted and turned along with the road. We would cross the river several times, going over it on quaint bridges. A clearing allowed us to take the three vehicles right up to the riverfront and well, it was a spot we would have spent the whole day at…

Ah, the vehicles. We were driving three diverse yet similar Mahindra machines – the Bolero, the Scorpio and the Xylo, and they are virtually going to be our homes till we reach Bhopal and return to Mumbai. The three machines are diverse because the Bolero is a highly utilitarian machine, the Scorpio is an SUV and the Xylo is a comfortable MPV. But the three machines are linked by their rugged appeal, torquey oil-burners and a general go-anywhere attitude. The three Mahindra vehicles are mile munchers, and at the end of the long day (we hit the road at 6 AM), I am still comfortable and raring to go tomorrow morning.

Each vehicle has a two-member team, who are responsible for their respective vehicle. Rohin Nagrani and Aman Chaudhry have been hogging the Bolero, while it’s difficult to prise the Xylo’s keys from Kartik Ware and Aneesh Shivanekar. As for me, I had nothing to complain about – Jatin Lodaya and I are in the well-appointed top-end Scorpio that seems to have everything you could ask for, except perhaps a microwave oven! (Now M&M, please don’t get any ideas.)

The long way round meant we also had lunch at the superbly located MTDC resort in Bhandardara; it was difficult to move us from the bench overlooking the water body after lunch. But the road, Sula Vineyards and Nashik awaited us.

By early evening, we were parking our vehicles for a photo shoot at the picturesque facility of India’s most prominent winemakers. It was a sight - the three white Mahindra vehicles surrounded by rows and rows of vineyards. Sula has revolutionised the Indian wine industry and they are riding the wave of more and more Indians falling in love with wine. Many years back, I had visited the same facility, driving down in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class for a story. Today, I am amazed by the transformation of this place. It has two restaurants, gorgeously landscaped lawns and a beautiful Greek-style amphitheatre and a vast balcony where you could sip Sula’s finest and look out at the vast vineyards spread in front of you. While the rest of the team went on a tour to see the making of the Sula wines, I caught up with Ajoy Shaw, the chief winemaker, who remembered me from my previous visit. Of course, we picked up various souvenirs of our visit to Sula for taking back home!

Tomorrow is a long day and 400-odd km of various diversions later, Aneesh should give you an update from Indore. The 2010 edition of the Mahindra Monsoon Challenge is well underway…

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