If you have been following us on social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, then you might have recently come across updates and photos with the tag ‘#DriveToDiscover4’ in them. And if you have been following us on these networks for over a year, then you may have got a hint that ‘Drive to Discover’ is a road trip campaign organized by our friends at Honda every year. Under this campaign, Honda provides a handful of us with their latest commuters and lets us loose on a journey to a predefined destination. Without any sort of competition, we are allowed to discover routes, places, food and of course the ‘other side’ of our friends from other auto-blogs and media outfits.
Now in its fourth season, this year’s Drive to Discover featured the recently launched Honda Amaze. Since last year a couple of Honda Brios travelled from Kashmir to Kanyakumari along the western border of India, this year’s trip was scheduled from Trivandrum in Kerala to Kolkata in West Bengal. As usual, the trip was divided into various legs and since we were busy with another, envious road trip to Ladakh in the month of August, we chose to drive the Honda Amaze on the last leg, which was Visakhapatnam to Kolkata. Read on to know how the journey unfolded…
The journey started with a flight to the Vizag (Visakhapatnam) from Mumbai. An early arrival to the Mumbai airport meant that I had quite some time to kill. As I had confirmed my participation for the trip at the last moment, I didn’t really know who all were going to join me. I hung around at one of the coffee shops near the boarding gate as some sitar music played on the tower-type Bose speakers at the Mumbai airport. Interestingly, the tunes sounded very familiar. A few minutes later, familiar faces started arriving too. As it turned out, Dr Javied Khan from Motorbeam and Mr Aditya Chatterjee from CarTrade were to join me for the drive.
We reached Vizag in the afternoon and headed straight for the Gateway Hotel by the beach. That is where we were to stay for the night since the team that was driving in from Chennai was to hand over the cars to us that evening. This team comprised of Mr Anjan Ravi from Indian Autos Blog and Mr Sagar Patel from Rush Lane, who arrived a little before time with the fleet of the Amaze cars. All of us caught up for a late afternoon brunch, which got delayed further – thanks to a slow kitchen at the Gateway and maybe because the staff was too busy attending actor Vinay Pathak and yesteryear star, Ms Waheeda Rehman, who were at the adjoining table. The rest of the evening was spent chit-chatting with the blokes from Honda and rest of the journos, who were to join us for the three-day trip that lie ahead of us. There was Gourav, Vivek and Bhanu from Honda and Mr Sumanata Banerjee from the Hindustan Times, Mr Tripathi from the India Today group and Mr Clint Thomas from Yahoo. The chats went on till late night and by the end of it – which was about 1:30 AM – it was decided that we would leave by 9:00 AM. Quite ambitious that!
Discovery of the day:
One of those familiar tunes at the Mumbai airport was in fact a sitar-interpretation of ‘Nothing’s gonna change my love for you’ by George Benson – and believe it or not, it sounds amazing on those strings as well. Play the video if you don’t believe me! And while you are at it, let me know if you know who’s played that sitar version or what the track / album is called.
The second day dawned for us at 9:00 AM – let alone getting flagged-off. After a lazy breakfast at the poolside we were driven to a Honda showroom Vizag’s city environs where the Amaze fleet was ready and washed. Since my test car for the diesel review was a silver one and that for the petrol was a maroon, I decided to pick up the signature blue coloured Amaze for the road trip. A few signatures on the undertaking forms and we were off.
Vizag has some inviting roads but that did not ensure any driving fun. Apart from some busy, slow-moving traffic, the roads in Vizag also have some ridiculously placed barricades every 200 meters. Running into one is not difficult either. Fortunately for us, none of the cars from the Amaze fleet had any trouble maneuvering around these barricades without kissing any of them.
On the highway, things got worse. While the barricades were done with, some local politicians had their own whims and fancies. They were busy celebrating something – a birthday or a victory or somebody’s funeral – but they wanted the whole world to be a part of it. No, really! They would randomly shut down sections of the highway by arranging chairs ON the main road, with people sitting on them and few others dancing around on Telugu music playing at full blast. The celebratory mood was a good start to our road trip, but it did slow us down big time.
It was well past the lunch time when we started seeing OR and OD registered vehicles – hinting that Odisha (previously Orissa) was close. But the team was famished already. We needed food and soon. Appearing to be the ‘largest’ foodie around I voiced out my recommendation saying, “Let’s try some local flavor! What could be better than some highway eatery?” Our friends agreed and disaster struck.
Trying to look for a local dhaba, we gave a few big hotels a pass. Finally we reached a joint called ‘Ganpati Dhaba’ which also claimed to be the last hotel before the Odisha border (which was still quite far away). It was a large shack, which wasn’t exactly pleasant and only had one table occupied. The occupants, however, were a bunch of 10 people gathered for what seemed and smelt like an afternoon drink. But it was the smell of some freshly cooked seafood that we couldn’t resist and we went right in.
The body was yelling for food, but the eyes and the brain was pushing the mind into a dilemma. A man in a lungi came to us and spoke out the options he had for us. He repeatedly recommended the seafood since it was fresh. But the two Bengalis in our group were not convinced and wanted to see it to believe it. Next thing we know, the lungi-clad bloke rushes back to the kitchen and comes out with some big fish and shrimps to prove his point. Our in-house seafood expert, Sumanta, lifted the gills of the fish, analyzed the shades of red and concluded that the fish wasn’t as fresh as we would like. He gave a nod to the king prawns though!
Then the wait began. Even in those filthy surroundings, the aroma of the food was making our tummys growl. Finally after a 20-minute wait, the plates started coming out. Had it taken any longer, Aditya, who was super-hungry by now, would have entered the kitchen and laid his hands on anything potable he could find. Our case wasn’t too different, yet. When the plates and platters were laid on to the tables and lot of eyebrows went up. I, for one, was expecting big, juicy prawns in some locally flavored curry – and what was presented was pretty much that. Just that those king-size shrimps were still holding onto their entire shell! I didn’t have any clue on how those things are to be cracked open. So I just stuck to my daal-rice until I could observe the others and figure out the right way of going about with those prawns. Before I realized, Sumanta was already through with dish and so was Vivek. My only hope of gaining some know how was from the calm and silent Bhanu. But this calm man suddenly appeared to be more of the silent-assassin types! He picked up that king-prawn with both his hands and bent it to crack open the shell in one shot. Then he ripped the shell apart in the next instant and flung it into the waste-bowl. My eyebrows were still high up, I took a deep breath, looked at my plate of prawns and slid it gently towards Bhanu and said, “Here, have one more – I think I’m full.”
We continued on our journey and entered the Odisha border within an hour of our lunch. The roads were long, straight and with practically no traffic on them. No political celebrations either. Looked like we would be reaching a town called Puri by sunset – with the Amaze cruising comfortably at highway speeds. The trip computers were indicating a fuel economy of around 16 kmpl – which meant that we wouldn’t need a refill anytime soon.
We got a call from Clint and he suggested that we make a short detour to the Chilka lake which wasn’t too far from where we were headed. Sounded like a good idea! The detour took us through a village-road, which led to a big open ground near the lake. There was a small lodge out there, some paid urinals and small picnic spots where the tourists could unwind. A small pathway led to the lake. While you may picture this to be a nice tourist destination, it didn’t seem like one. In fact, it felt like some zombie-land. Everything looked deserted.
There were a couple of blokes who could give us a boat ride and also double-up as a tour guide if we wanted to travel around the lake and its premises. But we were more than happy to discover things ourselves. We walked up to a jetty to get a closer view of the lake. Thankfully, the lake didn’t have any filth and the lack of tourists could be the reason for its cleanliness.
The sun was already setting and that made for a good atmosphere for have a hot chai. We discovered a small multi-purpose kiosk next to the shore. We walked up to it and picked up some cups of tea from an old man who was sitting there, listening to a rickety old radio. He had quite a few unusual items on sale – coconut cakes, fruit preserves, locally made fried or dried munchies – the kind of stuff that you don’t spot easily these days in shopping malls. I also happened to spot a jar of ‘Poppins’ – an extinct candy brand that we loved as kids. This one turned out to be a fake though. But guess what, it tasted just as good!
The evening sky quickly turned to twilight and we continued with our journey. Puri didn’t seem too far with less than 50 km left to travel as per our phone navigation. But as usual, we took the least distance possible and ended up driving through some village roads, again. Their condition is better not talked about. In fact, I believe that it was the reason why I did not see many automobiles on the final run up to Puri. Though the road was quite tricky, we managed to maneuver the Amaze without breaking anything – needless to say, the generous ground clearance helped. i-DTEC Rally Car anyone??
We made it to the lodge in Puri by around 20:30. Food followed and this time it wasn’t full of surprises. The chilly-chicken wasn’t boneless though. It was time to eat and then sleep off in those vintage-themed rooms that opened out to the sea. Javeid, Aditya and I decided to order some beverages before we hit our respective beds though. Interestingly, our beverages came in containers that seemed to resemble us! Javeid’s mocktail came is a thin a tall glass, Aditya’s was tall and wide and my hot chocolate came in a fat kettle. We had a hearty laugh on the resemblance but what made us laugh more was the manager coming and telling us that the check out time was 7:30 AM – yes, not 10:00 or 12:00 – seven thirty in the morning!
Discovery of the day:
The chef’s explanation to the chilly-chicken was, “Saar, boneless chicken-chilly is only when you order from the menu, if you go for unlimited buffet it is with bone, saar!” Yes, cheapskates with a hunger for all-you-can-eat buffets, we all are.
The manager was kind enough to extend our checkout time from 7:30 to 9:00 AM. That of course, happened after a nice breakfast (yes, we are all foodies!). The weather seemed humid already though. The blokes at the hotel had washed the cars and we were ready to leave – but not without taking some photographs near the seashore. But those few minutes out in the open were enough to make us all uncomfortable with the heat irritating the living daylights out of us. I just wanted to get into the car and run that air-conditioning at full blast. Without letting ourselves melt any further, we got rolling. Next stop – Bhubeneshwar.
It was a pretty crowded highway that led to the capital city of Odisha and the heat was only getting worse. The cooled cabin of the Amaze was the place to be in though. The car also comes with UV protected glass, which further helps in cooling the cabin and maintaining the chill factor. We reached Bhubaneshwar within an hour and a half where we were to meet up with some of the friendly seniors of the Honda India clan – Ms Saba Khan, Ms Anita Sharma and Mr Gyaneshwar Sen. Honda India also had a dealer conference going in Bhubaneshwar and we were introduced to some of the Honda dealers who operate in eastern India. There was a host of local media present as well who made us feel like celebrities with their camera and flashes. But our fifteen seconds of fame ended when we came to know that they were actually shooting the four Amaze cars that we had been driving. There was a small flag-off session once again.
Since the Chilkha lake hadn’t really offered us any good photo opportunities, the team decided to head to the Konark temple, which is a UNESCO heritage site. The temple was built in the 13th century and is shaped to look like a giant chariot. We reached the site in the afternoon and like any other Indian temple, this one too was crowded to the brim. The temple sits far inside a campus that is guarded by two big gates, so getting any artistic shot of the car in front of the temple was out of the question. We did visit the temple though and its sheer size and architecture is something worth seeing in person. ‘Massive’, is the word.
Local food was served to us near the temple. The seafood items were the same – shrimps, rohu fish, clamps etc. but the taste was significantly different than what we had experienced so far. The Odiya food is cooked in mustard oil and not everyone takes to the taste, but I did enjoy every bit of it. Our next destination for the day was Digha – another costal getaway for residents of Odisha and West Bengal.
We were to follow the National Highway that led to Kolkata and then take a diversion to reach Digha and continue to Kolkata the next morning. However, after driving for the entire evening, the team decided to chuck Digha and head straight for Kolkata as that would give us more time in the famous city. The plan was formalized over dinner. The Bengali dinner at a roadside dhaba was so awesome that I fell asleep the moment I hit the comfortable seat of the Amaze. Javied was kind enough to offer to continue driving for a few kilometers and then I was to take over. But Honda has done such good job with the suspension setup of the Amaze that I did not feel a single undulation of the road (and a big jump, as Javied mentions) and actually ended up snoring my way to glory. By the time I woke up, we were hardly 10 kms away from Kolkata. We checked into the hotel and requested the staff to let us in eight hours before our scheduled arrival – and they obliged.
Discoveries of the day:
The sun temple is termed so for a reason – it is so hot around the Konark temple that within a few minutes I was actually looking for an imaginary dotted line that said ‘Equator’. Another discovery was that the Amaze, with its nice air-con and comfortable seats can put you to sleep in no time and that can be annoying for your buddy who is driving!
Day four of our trip dawned in Kolkata. I remember being here when I was a kid. Whatever washed memories of that remained, were restored in no time – because time seems to have taken no toll on this city. Trams and yellow Ambassadors still run through the veins of this city. But what I believe provides the nutrition to Kolkata is the food.
Ever since I woke up on that day, a food riot was constantly on my mind. It began by raiding the buffet breakfast and staying there till they cleared the serving tables. Then we set out looking for some authentic Kolkata food. The Twitterati came up with a lot of suggestions too. The experts pointed us towards a place called Bojohori Manna.
This place is located in the heart of the city and when we reached there, we found out something interesting. Like clutch plates, tyres, brakepads and fluids, bumpers are also classified under ‘consumables or wearable components’. That is because you are expected to park your car on the side of the road; in neutral gear; so that the parking assistants can push all the cars back and forth until they are all squeezed together to extract the last bit of parking space available. We saw our Amaze cars kissing each other’s bumpers in no time. None of the plastics came off though!
Upon entering Bojohori Manna, our Bengali expert, Sumanata Banerjee, suggested a coconut-and-prawn dish called Daab Chingri. The photos of that dish looked good, but it was already sold out – at 12:30 in the afternoon! We had Bhetki Paturi instead – which is fish marinated with mustard, wrapped in a banana leaf and cooked until its super-tender. It served as a perfect starter and was followed by Rui Jhol (fish curry) and steamed rice.
That was quite filling for the tummy, but not quite filling for a foodie’s heart. The rest of the gang decided to go back to the hotel and rest while Javeid and I decided to continue with the food riot. Our next place on the list, suggested by my ex-colleague Sarmad Kadiri from Next Gen Publishing, was Arsalan. This place has a rich history of Moghlai food and is flooded with foodies looking for kebabs and biryanis. They have quite a few outlets within Kolkota and we chose the one closest to our hotel.
The entrance to the hotel itself was decorated with kebabs of all the kinds that we have heard of. Even at 4:00 in the afternoon, the place is brimming with people. Finally Javeid and I had to share the table with a friendly couple, which guided us with what to eat. The waiter had his bit of suggestions. And then there was the list of ‘to-eat’ items that Sarmad had recommended. So in short, it was a gastronomic confusion of elephantine proportions!
Finally we settled for an Arsalan special, which was chicken reshmi kebab coated with egg and cheese. Mouth-watering, ain’t it? It was followed by mutton seekh kebab, moghlai paratha, mutton curry and gosht biryani. The moghlai food isn’t full of spices, but is rich in flavor and therefore the aftertaste of the food is mind blowing.
Any more food and I would have exploded, but the glutton in me wasn’t satisfied yet. How can a trip to Kolkata be complete without the Bengali sweets? K C Das was right around the corner. This joint is one of the most well-know places for authentic Bengali sweets. We ate quite a few of them – rosogullas, chom chom, sheerkodom – I can’t go on any further without drooling on my keyboard now.
The food riot went on till evening until we ran into a couple of OnCars readers who identified us, thanks to the ‘Drive to Discover’ branding on the cars. They had been following our tweets and were as elated to meet us as we were, to meet them. We had a small chat, exchanged business cards and the duo offered us a drink nearby. But by the end of the conversation, all that food had settled down and was making us too lazy to plan anything more for the evening. We still had some more foodie joints on the list, but it had to be passed on for another day.
Instead, we drove back to the hotel. The rest of the gang had had a good sleep and was awaiting our arrival. Once we all regrouped, the four Amaze cars had to be handed over to the blokes from the local Honda dealership. The trip had actually come to an end. It felt all of a sudden, it felt as if we were unprepared to return the cars. You see, in the four days of our trip, the Amaze did not throw any tantrums or surprises. There was no drama of any sort. The clichéd Honda-reliability had highlighted itself yet again. Comfort, fuel-economy, ease of driving – these seemed like taken-for-granted aspects with the Amaze and I believe it works like a charm in a country that is full of the fill-it-shut-it-forget-it attitude.
Discoveries of the day:
On second thoughts, we never really needed any historic locations, artifacts or artistic backgrounds to come up with good photographs for our respective travelogues. The sight of four, shiny Amaze cars with all the branding vinyls was a bunch that could actually make every frame look good.
The biggest discovery however was the team. We are not new to each other and we do meet almost every week on some junket or the other. But it is such roadtrips that actually bring out the best in everyone or as I mentioned at the start of this article – ‘the other side’ of everyone. Honda preset the destinations, but these fun people made the journey to each one of them in the Amaze, more worthwhile!