On a cold December morning, a particular spot in Bengaluru was starting to look really good. The reason? There stood seven gorgeous SUVs, with 10 SUV owners and a support crew, ready to take the road at the drop of a hat. Covered in mud, the vehicles were a stunning mix of the dashing Tata Hexa and the powerful Tata Safari Storme. The convoy consisted of a lead car and a sweep car right at the back. Our walkie-talkies came to life with a crackling “Drive safe. Let’s go. Over” right after the flag off. That was the start of the Iconic Dakshin Drive.
The road trip, or as they call it, the S.O.U.L Drive, is where the explorers meet. And what is S.O.U.L all about? It stands for SUV Owners United League—a unique platform designed by Tata Motors for Tata SUV owners from all over the country, where they get together and go on exciting road trips. The S.O.U.L community keeps the spirit of adventure alive, especially when their rides deserve and demand only the best. Our route was Bengaluru to Puducherry via Madurai and Rameswaram, with several en-route stops. From busted tyres to the many cups of tea, from roadside dhabas to a sudden blaring of Bollywood music over the walkie-talkie followed by laughter and “Stay awake guys, over and out”, I’d like to think that it was not just the Dakshin that was mesmerising, but the zeal and enthusiasm of the S.O.U.L team on that 1,030-kilometres-long five-day drive. Isn’t it true that we make memories on the road?
The first day of the trip took us from Bengaluru to Madurai, a total distance of 425 kilometres, in nine hours. The journey was smooth once we overcame the beast: the Bengaluru traffic. It seemed like we were stuck for days on end but the luxury provided by a Hexa or a Safari Storme more than made up for the inconvenience. The cars were amazing—be it the feel of the leather seats, or the quiet of the engines. It almost made me forget about the blaring horns outside.
The last time I was in Madurai (more than a decade ago), I slept throughout the journey. So, this time, I made sure I was wide awake. I started in the lead car and experienced what it meant to travel in a convoy.
The entire drive to Madurai, the walkie-talkies kept crackling every now and then with someone telling us to steer carefully on the Elephant Corridor or to keep an eye out for a family of peafowls. We arrived at Madurai in the evening and, after a quick wash up, headed to the Meenakshi Amman Temple. The 14th century, fully-restored temple complex had 14 gopurams and a hall with a thousand pillars, called Ayirakkal. The architecture, the stone carvings, the pure energy that emanated from that place of worship—everything was awe-inspiring. Sadly, we couldn’t visit Ayirakkal as it had shut by the time we arrived there.
The next day we drove from Madurai to Rameswaram, a total of 175 kilometres, in about four hours. I had made this journey in a train during my last visit. I remember looking down from the 1914-built Pamban Bridge at the turquoise sea and a long shallow trail somewhere in the middle with rocks strewn around. It brought to mind the Ramayana, especially the story of the Vanar Sena making their way to golden Lanka across a magical stone bridge, to rescue Sita from the clutches of Ravana.
We made our first impromptu pit-stop at the bridge. We were welcomed by seagulls, brahminy kites amid their silent flight, fresh sea breeze and the picturesque view of the village down below by the seashore. Soon we made our way to Rameswaram, the home of late former President, Dr A.P.J Abdul Kalam. We headed straight to Dhanushkodi Beach to see the ruins of the town. Destroyed by a cyclone in 1964, it is now a ghost town located just about 30 kilometres from Sri Lanka, on the tip of Pamban Island. Staring at us were the ruins of churches and houses. In the evening, we left with a heavy heart, bidding goodbye to that gorgeous and strangely silent beach. We watched the sunset as the convoy made its way back to the main town.
On the third day, we left Rameswaram and headed to Puducherry via Trichy, 430 kilometres away. We were met with a lot of surprise showers, and as we stopped for tea near Trichy, Prashant Jayaram from Bengaluru looked at his Tata Safari Storme and exclaimed: “Aha! Now it looks like fun.” The journey that day more or less felt like a race against the rain. The impromptu offroading experience on the way did not feel like one for someone who sat snug in the backseat of a Hexa. The ride was as smooth as butter, if one could call it so. After many such breaks, we finally reached Puducherry in the evening and, after a lively dinner, we called it a night. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was still stuck in Dhanushkodi...
By now we had driven more than 1,030 kilometres over the days and had grown closer as a team. We were now on the last day of the drive, which also happened to be Christmas eve. So how does one spend their Christmas in good ol’ Pondy? We started our day by taking a ferry across the backwaters to Paradise Beach in Chunnambar. And, boy, was it crowded... We spent the rest of the day being tourists. The French Quarters, Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville—all had that “Come hither” aura. We simply obliged. As dawn set in, the Christmas spirit came knocking down our SUV doors. Back in the hotel, the halls were decked in festive decoration and I went fa-lala-la-la in my head upon meeting the team for the Christmas-eve dinner gala. Amid great food and wonderful company, gifts, hugs and travel stories were exchanged.
We were a crew that included business heads, a solo writer, ex-police officers and young entrepreneurs. From day one, everyone had one goal in mind—to drive with soul. And that we did. We also achieved something precious on that Dakshin Drive—how else could we have come back with so many stories to tell? I’m glad we answered when adventure called.