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

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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

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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

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