Sunday, August 22, 2010

From Margao to Mangalore - on US 101

Right from my childhood I have been regularly traveling from Margao to Udupi/Mangalore by road. Tagging along with my grandfather on his visits, or making a quick vacation of my father's business trips or just going to visit my maternal grandparents and other friends and relatives in the area. And for the last few years, to visit my in-laws.

The road from Goa to Mangalore is along NH-17 - a coastal route along India's west coast. It crosses the western ghats, passes through scenic hills and is adorned with little villages and paddy fields and has a brief stretch at Marvanthe of about 5 kms. right by the Arabian Sea, which suddenly gives way to the maddening traffic on the Kundapura-Mangalore segment. And all along of course, you are never lonely - there are people, cattle, parked trucks and farming machinery of all shapes and sizes. More recently - for the last 12 years or so - the Konkan Railway line that runs parallel to NH17 in many places also keeps you company on your drive.

As the roads and infrastructure improved and so did the quality of cars, the 300+ kms. journey became a half-day affair. Start early right after breakfast to reach by lunch time, or leave right after lunch to reach in time for dinner. Each trip to Udupi would be about 3-4 days, filled with fleeting visits to meet cousins, aunts, uncles and friends and of course, sumptuous meals at every house we visited. Feeding your guests like they live in a drought-hit area is of course, one of the cornerstones of Indian hospitality.

Last week, we made a trip to Los Angeles. LA is about 300+ miles south of the Bay Area. I had a fleeting thought of driving down, but I quickly dismissed the idea - my high-energy 20-month-old son can't handle sitting in one place for more than 30 seconds. Putting him through a 5-hour drive buckled into a car seat would have been an unkind punishment - as much for us as for him.

I had the flight tickets all booked, but my friend Abhai Chaudhary made a passing comment about the beautiful drive to LA. The idea of driving was rekindled. 6 hours, 3 ticket cancellations and 1 (small) argument later, the matter was settled - we were driving down after all.

We decided to take US 101 (the other options being I-5 and CA-1).

US 101 is a scenic route along the West Coast, close to the Pacific Ocean (though not as close as CA-1). The drive is about 300+ miles and one can cover it in about 5+ hours depending on traffic (and depending on exactly where in LA you are going).

This was the first time I was driving to LA. CA-1 is clearly the most scenic of the routes and I-5 is supposedly the fastest. US-101 happened to be the most convenient because of our first stop just before LA, so US 101 it was. My mental picture of US-101 is shaped by my daily commute to work and the occasional drive to SFO or to SF.

I was therefore surprised to find that the Bay Area-to-LA segment of 101 was a rather different world from the US-101 I knew.

It was heavily weathered and passed through open fields for the most part and with dirt tracks alongside.
Open fields border a weathered section of US 101

Farming seemed to be a dominant activity almost all the way till Paso Robles
A common sight for a large section  between Gilroy and Paso Robles

And  - perhaps thanks to the farming community - I saw people right next to the freeway; something you usually do not see on freeways here.

There was even an Amtrak line parallel to the road for some sections - and in other cases, visible from certain angles on some grades - that reminded me of the Konkan Railway track that "accompanies" you on NH17 when driving from Margao to Mangalore.
A railway crossing for the Amtrak track  alongside the freeway

At Santa Barbara, US 101 runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean, much like the stretch of NH-17 that runs alongside the Arabian Sea at Maravanthe. (Unfortunately, I am not able to locate pictures of this stretch from my archives, but will certainly keep hunting.)

The next day, as my cousin and her husband were driving us to see the Danish town of Solvang., I was thinking about this drive and was reflecting on how this route was reminding me of the drive from Margao to Mangalore, when I was surprised by this sign:

Taken from
Santa Ynez - there's a community, valley, pass and I think even a river by this name in Santa Barbara county. If you are from Goa, you would know why I was surprised - I was instantly reminded of St. Inez in Panaji (though of course, one never crosses this on the way Margao-Mangalore route). 

In the LA area, in a span of 4 days, we stayed with 2 cousins and an aunt. Needless to say, it was a happy reunion filled with catching up, over-eating, unpacking+re-packing+unpacking and lots of commuting. Worth every minute of it.

It felt like I had just traveled from Margao to Mangalore. On US 101! (and in case you are wondering, my son did handle the drive very well)



Srinivas Guntupalli said...

I am in LA now (came from Sunnyvale via I-5) and thinking of going back via 101 tomorrow and just read your post.A timely one for me :)

Suhas M Mallya said...

What?? You're here? Drop me a mail with your contact details. It will be great to meet you.

Unknown said...

Hey Suhas..

Nice write up...

I too had a the opportunity to take the 101 during 2009 when i was in LA. I had planned a trip from LA to Heartx Castle and from there to SFO.... Must say what a scenic route it is.. going thro the valleys - wineyards all around... i cherish all those moments now...

Enjoy US :)

Rubic_Cube said...

Did you try that all time famous CA Hwy 1 drive along CA coast?

It's rated among the top 5 of the world!

Aparna S Mallya said...

Loved the drive :)

Suhas M Mallya said...

@kashyapa - thanks. Yes, it is a scenic route, but not quite as scenic as CA-1
@rubic_cube - yes, I have traveled along CA-1 but only till Monterrey. Have always been tempted to drive all the way till LA on this route, but am yet to do that.

Suhas M Mallya said...

@Aparna - so did I! :)