Toyota Yaris rocks Goa
What do you do when you have a fun, luxurious sedan with a tank full of fuel? Drive down to Goa, of course! Here’s our account of the classic Mumbai to Goa road trip in the manual-transmission variant of the new Toyota Yaris
when I listen to the classic Guns N’ Roses hit “Paradise City”, my mind automatically wanders to the crashing waves and sandy beaches of Goa. Are there more picturesque, historic and serene holiday destinations in India? Absolutely. However, none can truly match the Portuguese-influenced state in terms of sheer attitude and fun. Goa has a charm that’s all of its own and going there never fails to clear my mind and rejuvenate my senses. Which is why, when the opportunity cropped up to drive Toyota’s latest sedan from Mumbai to Goa, I leapt at it.
I love driving on road trips — the wide, open highways, the beautiful scenery, and the sense of adventure all get my juices flowing. However, I reserve a healthy disdain for traffic, so in order t o get to the highway quickly, and not get bogged down in the quagmire that is Mumbai’s famous bottlenecks, I high-tailed out of the city a good few hours before sunrise.
I chose the NH 48 so that I could reach my destination double-quick and by the time the urge to pull over and grab breakfast rolled around, I was already bypassing Satara. The Yaris’ 1.5-litre petrol engine produces 107 PS and 140 Nm, more than enough to help you cover so serious a distance in rapid time and keep that smile plastered on your face as you drive along. This, combined with the fact that the Yaris is extremely stable at high speeds inspires confidence and allows you to keep up the pace on the open stretches. That feeling of driving goodness is further augmented by the fact that the cabin insulation is top notch – keeping the disturbing ambient sounds outside the car, where they belong. The six-speed manual transmission is seamless and makes the drive that much more engaging.
A quick bite later, it was back on the highway and despite facing a few pockets of traffic here and there and having to slow down considerably while driving through Belgaum, I soon arrived at the foot of the famous Chorla Ghat. If you like driving, then this series of bends is an absolute dream and in a car that handles as well as the Yaris, it’s such a blast to drive on. The suspension on the car is so well sorted, minimizing body-roll and keeping it planted as you flick through the bends. The pelting rain and thick fog near the top of the hill may have put a bit of a damper on the enthusiastic driving, but more than made up for it because of how beautiful and lush it made everything look and the almost surreal quality it lent to the environment.
Soon enough thereafter, I had arrived in Goa. First stop: the old town or Velha Goa, as the locals call it. I’m quite sure that you’ve all heard of and seen the famous Basilica of Bom Jesus and Church of St Francis of Assisi, but there’s so much more to see apart from these two legendary places of worship. Starting with the Viceroy’s Arch. An old stone archway installed by the then viceroy Francisco da Gama, it carries an inscription of the da Gama coat of arms and holds aloft a statue of his grandfather, famed Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. The archway was the first thing the Europeans, entering via the Mandovi River’s port, saw and looks pretty impressive even today.
Next up, we headed to the Church of St Cajetan. Modelled after the famous St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Church of St Cajetan was built in the 1600s by Italian friars. The church has a classic Corinthian style architecture and is absolutely mesmerising from outside and within. You can see a statue of the saint after whom the church is named in the grounds outside and a few interesting paintings of him, among other things, inside the church as well. Next to the church building is a pastoral institute and, on the way out of the complex, you might notice a decrepit old gate almost hidden between the shrubbery. This is all that’s left of the reportedly glorious Palace of Adil Shah. Shah was the ruler of Goa in the 16th century and this impressive-looking gate gives you a hint of what the rest of his grand palace would have looked like if it hadn’t been razed to the ground.
Speaking of razing to the ground, from St Cajetan we moved on to the
Tower of St Augustine. This lonely, crumbling tower stands 46 metres tall and is the only part of the mammoth Church of St Augustine that still stands today. Built in the 1600s, the Church of St Augustine was legendary the world over, but neglect and eventual abandonment by Goa’s then Portuguese government in 1835 led to its eventual collapse. The first major damage occurred in 1842 and, by 1938, the church had already reached its present state, with only the solitary tower still standing. Of the eight chapels, four altars, and a convent, only this redbrick edifice now remains. Interestingly, the bell from this tower was salvaged in the late eighties and can still be found in its relocated residence at the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Panjim.
Old Goa thoroughly explored and the pangs of hunger began to rear their ugly heads once again. There’s so much great food to be had in Goa, especially in the north, so I headed towards the Calangute-Baga road and one of my favourite eateries: Infantaria. Lip-smacking grub was wolfed down in a hurry and, hunger satiated, I headed out again. The next port of call was Panaji or Panjim. By this time, the heat and humidity of Goa had started to get to me. The Yaris’ capable air-con system was a welcome respite, and our resident photography wizard Saurabh was have an absolute ball riding in the back, enjoying the full blast from the conveniently placed roofmounted air-vents.
The capital of Goa, Panjim is a tourist hotspot thanks to its proximity to the Miramar beach and the litany of luxurious, high-stake casinos floating along its coast. I made my way towards Miramar because no visit to Goa is complete without taking in the waves. However, I gave the typically crowded beach a pass and instead headed for a tiny alcove nearby which offers the same captivating view, but with servings of serenity on the side. It was immensely enjoyable to watch the lights wink into existence on the opposite coast as the sun began to set and thunder clouds rolled overhead, hastening the coming of nightfall. While I was in the area, I also checked out the casino strip, watching the twinkling neon signs and sharply dressed guests make their way to the jetties and take little ferry
boats to the affluent yachts that house these world-renowned casinos.
Having had my fill of the sights and sounds of Goa, it was time to head to the hotel and call it a day. The following day, another early morning saw us head out, I had switched up the plan and decided to take the old highway, NH 66, back to Mumbai. It started out all smooth and beautiful, but the roads deteriorated quite badly as soon as we were outside Goa limits. The Yaris’ suspension got quite the workout then but soaked up all the bad bits to keep us in relative comfort throughout the drive. The car’s brakes were given a good workout, too, as I had to rapidly shed speeds when said bad bits suddenly appeared out of nowhere. No worries though, as they proved themselves equal to the task. One thing I’ll say about that old highway, though: the views on offer are absolutely astounding. The verdant greenery, the winding roads, and the sparse population mean you can really take in the surroundings when the opportunity presents itself. I pulled over numerous times at the insistence of our photographer. Grabbing frame after beautiful frame, we finally made it back to Mumbai and stopped off at Bandra Reclamation to take a breath before calling an end to our trip.
Goa was everything I expected it to be and more. And in the Yaris, I had a car that offered great luxury, the latest in technology, and a smooth, power-packed petrol engine to amplify the delight of the journey. Its cabin was a comfortable place to be and everything from the air-con to the cruise control made the entire drive an absolute pleasure. Even the incessant rainfall (both going and coming) and a plethora of potholes (on the way back) didn’t faze the Yaris or put a damper on my spirits.
( Below) Our first stop of the day was near Satara
( Below) Chorla Ghat gets quite foggy in the monsoon
( Above) The Church of St Cajetan is as historic as it is lovely; the gate to the Palace of Adil Shah hides within its grounds
Our drive ended at Mumbai’s famous Sea Link
( Above,Right) NH 66 isn’t great to drive on, but offers up some spectacular views