Destination India: Driving a Japanese car to the Scotland of India

We cruise in the Honda Mobilio from Coimbatore to Bangalore, throwing it to the rough terrain of Coorg...

By: | Updated: March 21, 2016 12:33 PM

“If I were to buy a car for my family, it would either be Honda Mobilio or Maruti Ertiga. Until then my company’s Innova can serve the purpose,” says Nithyananda Perumal, an entrepreneur we meet in Ooty. We are driving the Mobilio—a multi-purpose vehicle (MPV)—from Coimbatore to Bangalore, via Ooty, Bandipur National Park and Coorg, participating in the fifth edition of the Honda Drive to Discover rally. The first leg of our journey takes us from Coimbatore to Bandipur, via Ooty (NH67).

Getting out of Coimbatore takes time. The second-largest urban agglomeration of Tamil Nadu has grown beyond its limits, and the growth, as for most Indian cities, is uneven, leading to traffic snarls. But once you climb the hills to the north, the city starts to look so symmetrical, so even, so arranged. A view from the top erases all architectural imperfections.

Coimbatore to Ooty takes about two hours. Perumal, who is from the textile town of Tiruppur, has been following us since we left Coimbatore. Checking out our Mobilio, he adds, “I think the Mobilio is a good buy; it is spacious and looks smart.” Assuring him, we leave for Bandipur, another two-hour drive.

Day 1

Distance covered: 140 km

Time on the road: 4 hours

Fuel-efficiency (petrol): 13 kmpl

Fuel-efficiency (diesel): 17 kmpl

The drive experience: Despite carrying four passengers and lots of luggage, the Mobilio proved powerful enough to easily climb the hills and do three-figure speeds wherever the roads permitted. However, because it is an MPV, we encountered body-roll on twisty hill roads.

Later, one of the cars in our group suffered a tyre puncture. Herein a problem got exposed. The spare wheel in the Mobilio is fixed under the body. For removing it, you have to open the boot, unscrew a nut, and let the wheel fall on the ground. Placing the punctured tyre in the same slot isn’t easy either. But the good thing is that the spare wheel doesn’t eat boot space, so you can keep a decent amount of luggage out there.

We start the day with a jungle safari in the Bandipur National Park. “Since January the park has lost three tigers,” our forest guide says. “One died in a territorial fight; two were poisoned.” Spread over 874 sq km, the park is home to 100-odd tigers and hundreds of elephants. “Is the man-animal conflict on the rise?” we ask. “On the contrary, there has been a reduction in man-animal conflict since 2007-08, when the authorities started setting up solar-electric fences and elephant-proof trenches,” he says. “Yet we keep hearing news of loss of animal lives every now and then, which is painful.”

From Bandipur, there are two routes to Coorg—one via Mysore and the other through the Nagarhole National Park. We suggest the latter. It passes through dense forests and you need a permit from the forest department. “The road is very bad, almost non-existent,” warns the forest guard. We stop to gauge the ground clearance of the Mobilio. The manual says 185mm. Partly assured, we move on, taking over an hour to cover the 15-odd km stretch. The forest is rewarding and you will get to see a plethora of wildlife.

You enter human habitations a few kilometres before you reach a sleepy town called Gonikoppal. From thereon, it’s a twisty road to Coorg, also known as Kodagu.

Day 2

Distance covered: 200 km

Time on the road: 8 hours

Fuel-efficiency (petrol): 12 kmpl

Fuel-efficiency (diesel): 16 kmpl

The drive experience: When we encountered the forest stretch in Nagarhole, we seriously contemplated if the Mobilio will be able to cross it? After all, it is an MPV, not an SUV. But 185mm of ground clearance, coupled with some smart driving manoeuvres, helped us tackle the road, or whatever was left of it.

“The British coffee planter community coined the term the ‘Scotland of India’ for Coorg about 200 years ago. Most were Scotsmen and the similarities between both places earned Coorg this nickname. Like Scotland, Coorg is mountainous and misty. So the tale goes,” an employee of the Vivanta by Taj tells us, which is our home for two days. Spread over 180 acres, the resort is one of the largest in India. “It is an ecosystem in itself; a living rainforest, if I may add,” he says. The man is right. Through the better half of the day we discover that there are over 250 species of local birds, 65 species of migratory birds, 120 species of butterflies, canopied woods, a natural spring, and so much more to explore within the resort. “Here, you wake up to a rainforest, not coffee,” later the general manager, Parvinder S Bual, tells us.

When in Coorg, we suggest spending time exploring local markets and coffee estates, and purchasing spices. And in case you encounter a local procession where the men are dressed in a unique costume, don’t be surprised. Both the Scots and the Coorgs have a dress for ceremonial occasions. Scots wear the knee-length kilt and the Coorgs wear the knee-length kupya. “Both were designed for quick movement in wet, grassy hills,” we are told.

If you have time on your hands, you must visit surrounding places such as the Buddhist centre Bylakuppe, the Hindu centre Bhagamandala, the source of river Kaveri called Talakaveri, Irupu falls, Abbey falls, Dubare elephant camp and more.

Day 3

Distance covered: 20 km

Time on the road: 2 hours

Fuel-efficiency (petrol): 9 kmpl

Fuel-efficiency (diesel): 14 kmpl

The drive experience: Driving at a snail’s pace mostly within the Coorg town, the Mobilio—because its exterior dimensions are not as large as that of, say, the Innova’s—easily took us through the narrowest of the lanes.

There are two routes to Bangalore from Coorg. One via Mysore (270 km) and the other via Mangalore highway (267 km). In case Mysore is not on your itinerary, we suggest the latter. A toll road, it can take you to Bangalore in about five hours. We took seven, driving at a steady 80-90 kmph, trying to find out the maximum fuel-efficiency the Mobilio can deliver, finally reaching the Kempegowda International Airport by evening, where we close this road trip.

Day 4

Distance covered: 267 km

Time on the road: 7 hours

Fuel-efficiency (petrol): 14.5 kmpl

Fuel-efficiency (diesel): 20 kmpl

The drive experience: The petrol Mobilio, under non-standard test conditions, returned 14.5 kmpl and the diesel returned 20 kmpl. (Under standard test conditions, the petrol Mobilio returns 17.3 kmpl and the diesel 24.2 kmpl.)

(Honda Mobilio petrol is priced from R6.74-9.75 lakh, while the diesel starts from R8.19 lakh going up to R11.87 lakh. Ex-showroom, Delhi, as of April 2015.)

In this new series—Destination India—we drive different cars to different parts of the country, telling you in brief both about the destinations and the wheels we take to explore

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