For the love of driving

While the increasing number of vehicles is a painful reality in cities and a blessing in rural areas with non existent public transport, it has meant that the always popular road trip is now easier than ever. Even if you don’t have a vehicle, renting one, even one that’s way above your pay grade is easier than ever, thanks to the plethora of app and agencies available. And with our so called highways finally being upgraded properly wide and well surfaced roads and not a gully some over optimistic idiot called an NH (Looking at you Kerala), road trips have become easier than ever.

A state highway up north. This was the good sections of the road that survived the constant battle with mother nature.

Driving and road trips are relatively new concept for me since my family never owned a car when I was growing up. Instead we had the standard issue scooter, which will bulletproof, wasn’t really meant for long journeys. A 125cc commuter bike in college was an upgrade but again, travelling epic distances at city speeds would be slow at best and downright dangerous at worst, so apart from some small getaways to nearby spots on a slow day in college, road trips were never on the table.

The lonely morning roads I learnt to drive on.

I got my driving licence at 18 and actually learnt to drive at 23. It was at this point, after almost 5 years of arguing, my dad and me randomly went to a nearby showroom and bought a car. Spontaneity is good thing right? Of course, being a middle class Indian, the act of buying the car was almost a religious experience, attaining a new level of status, achievement and freedom. The fact that it was my dad’s blood, sweat and tears that got it and that I was just the brat driving didn’t matter. I had a car! And, so with the final and most important piece of the puzzle in place, I began a series of misadventures to place both well travelled and new.

On my first trip visiting relatives I realised the amount of freedom having your own vehicle give you. No schedules to stick to, no time tabled meals, not even fixed destinations. Go when you want, where you want. The first of such destinations was the often overlooked hill station of Valparai, Tamil Nadu. A short drive from Coimbatore on the Pollachi- Chalakudy highway, this beautifully surfaced road takes you through a tiger reserve and up deep into the Western Ghats. It was a journey I would never have even bothered with without my own means of transport and would have never realised what a big miss it would have been.

One of the many tea estates of Valparai

Of course, driving in our crazy country can be a challenge as well. With road rules being more guidelines, jumping signals a badge of honour and speed limits a joke to a lot of drivers staying safe is always a little tricky, especially when driving at night. I’ve had my fair share of accidents to, from a run in with a stray dog that jumped in front of the car to a scrap while staying still by a bus who really wasn’t going to let a little thing like physics get in the way of his speeding (Still looking at you Kerala). A cool head, thick skin, ABS and seatbelts are a necessity for Indian driving. And a full set of gear if you’re the biking kind.

Biking through the mountains. Suited up of course.

A little knowhow on vehicle repair doesn’t hurt either. Changing tyres and jumping a dead battery maybe. Though, depending on your vehicle of choice service stations, repair shops and the roadside stall for tyre fixes are usually easy to find in this day and age, especially when you’re driving along the major highways. And while we’re on the topic of easily available things on a highway, Food.

Highway food in India is awesome! Though still hit or miss at times there is no shortage of variety of things to eat along our roads. From the quick and cheap dining of a roadside Dhaba which is usually filled with a bunch of truck drivers to the some of the poshest restaurants you can imagine, with relatively slower service and eye watering prices. The choice is yours, though I personally tend to be conservative with my diet while on the road to avoid awkward situations later, in case the food doesn’t agree with me. A general rule of thumb I follow is to stop at the restaurants here luxury bus operators halt, they tend to have higher quality food usually.

Roadside attractions are always a reliable source of amusement source of amusement. From Quirky little temples to the most eye wateringly colourful rural houses you can find, you’ll pass through little towns with their own stories to tell, the shells of old long dead industries and the massive bustling compounds of live ones, from the smallest of curio shops to massive malls in the middle of nowhere, one generally tends to find the whole lot stuff to see and do on any given highway.

The long winding road through a forest reserve in South India

And of course, if one does end up passing through one of the many forest reserves of the country, seeing wild animals ambling along the side of the road is pretty common too. Elephants, deer, the occasional bear and even the rare tiger. And on any given mountain road monkeys are your constant companion. And if flora is your thing then you’ll pass through everything from the tropical forests of the south to the dense pine forests of the far north, from tea estates of Munnar to the expansive paddy fields of Punjab there’s no shortage of greenery in this vast country.

Drive to the heavens.

From the flat deserts of Rajasthan to the desolate mountains of Ladakh, the greens of the Ghats to the dry browns of the plains, the bustling of cities to the quiet roads through little villages you’ll never encounter otherwise, the country is yours for to explore when you have your own vehicle, and thanks to the rise of apps like zoomcar, renting a vehicle if necessary is easier than ever. Car, bike and everything in between, the vehicle doesn’t matter, go forth and explore.

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