Country roads…take me home…

Time and again, on my various blog posts, I have talked about how crazy I am about driving 🙂 So it’s no news that I drive to Mangalore whenever I have to go there. These drives have always had only one objective, to get to Mangalore from Bangalore. So by default, we tend to pick the fastest and best route via Shiradi Ghat.

But let’s say, unlike me and my objective, if you were to drive for the sake of driving, then there are several options to cross the western ghats and reach the Mangalore coast.

This is the most popular route, and it is in good condition most of the year. Over the last 20 years, I have seen the transformation of this road. When it came under the then central government’s ‘golden quadrilateral highway project‘, this section of the national highway got its due, and driving is now a pleasure.

One trial for improving the condition of the ghat saw portions of the road around hairpins paved with material made from discarded tyres. A combination of bitumen and rubber from used tyres made roads far more durable. It was abandoned as quickly as it was put in place and I am not sure why.
The ghat used to be narrow, and if you got caught behind fuel tankers, you had no choice but to trail behind one and squirm when one tanker going at 7km/hr tried to overtake another driving at 5km/hr! The ghat does not feel like a ghat anymore; it has undergone significant widening without acute bends, but two.

The downside of these ‘improvements’ is the landslides that occur every year during the monsoon, leading to the ghat’s closure for repairs. Once closed, there’s no telling when it will re-open; it could take a few days or a few months.
As I write this blog, work to convert some sections to 4 lanes is being undertaken. While the road is motorable, I would say, if you love your car and your back, then you would best avoid this route till the work is completed.

This route for now, has the best combination of being excellent (especially the Bangalore-Hassan stretch) and scenic. The ghats are narrower than the Shiradi ghat, with more bends and turns, and at its narrowest at the point where two huge boulders jut into the road just past the waterfall and temple at Jenukallu. But the views of the western ghats are simply the best! After the rains, the green that carpets the hills has a calming and distracting effect on the driver and passengers. There are several viewpoints on the way which are worth stopping at.

Despite being 30km longer than the Shiradi Ghat route, this becomes the prefered route when Shiradi closes. But this road is not built for heavy traffic movement. If a heavy vehicle breaks down, the traffic build-up is quick and long. This road was in a bad state till recently. Closures due to landslides during the rainy season are standard.

When Shiradi is closed (which, as stated before, is a regular feature during the monsoon) and Charmadi is in a pathetic state, this is your best option to get to Mangalore. Personally, for me, the Bangalore-Mysore stretch is a pain point. But once I get past that, it’s a breeze. The ghat is an easy one compared to Shiradi or Charmadi.

This road does not connect directly to Mangalore and best for going to Udupi. It is, in fact, quite a long drive! But it may be interesting to that avid motorist. Agumbe ghat has 13 acute hairpins, and they are numbered, something that was the norm decades ago, but I have not seen this feature on any other ghat 🙂 The ghat is so narrow that heavy vehicles are not permitted, and only minibuses can ply on this stretch. The rest of the road is long, winding and tedious.

I have not yet taken this route. But I will definitely give it a shot when I have to head to Mangalore next. While this is not on the top of the list of routes to drive to Mangalore, I think it may be popular with those visiting the temple town of Subramanya. A friend told me recently that the road is in good condition and traffic scant. I promise to report back soon 😉

Have you driven on these ghats, and do you have a favourite route/ghat?
Do you know of any other route? Leave me your thoughts as comments! I look forward to hearing from you!

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