A law graduate in Kerala went on an indefinite hunger strike at Swagathamadu, near Kottakkal in Kerala, in the first week of April protesting against the Malappuram Kottakkal National Highway bypass project. Shabeena claims that the project will cause the loss of close to 30 acres of paddy fields and over 85 houses. At the same time, she alleges, the road has been planned in such a way that the interests of commercial establishments are not affected.
This highway is the NH66 (former NH17), which runs from Panvel in Maharashtra to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu via Goa, Karnataka and Kerala.
In a densely-populated place like Kerala, there is no way that you can expand anything without someone or something getting affected. Kerala may be designated a State, but I find it is more of a large city stretching over 600 kilometres end-to-end.
I wonder if it is possible to cover this distance in one day. In Karnataka, you can go from Bengaluru to Belagavi, a distance of 500 kilometres, in 7 hours.
I tried half this distance from Mangalore to Guruvayur. I had been on this stretch a few times, but never more than 60 kilometres before turning back to Mangalore. I had heard that the road is narrow, and my brief incursions into Kerala had given me a good idea of what to expect further south.
At the same time, the road runs by the Arabian Sea once it enters Goa. This is one of the biggest attractions of NH66. There are several places where all that stands between the road and the sea is sand. You can simply stop and get your feet wet in the warm water.
But don’t be surprised to see a minor traffic jam on getting back to your parked vehicle, at least in Kerala. The road really is narrow.
This is what I learnt on the drive from Mangalore to Guruvayur. The distance is about 330 kilometres. Normally, this would mean a road time of around 7 hours. But for NH66, some recalibration would be necessary. I estimated the journey time to be 12 hours. This is not just because of driving on a two-lane road, but also accounting for stoppages. You would have to take a break on such a long journey.
I started at 6 AM. At that time, there were few vehicles on the road. The four-lane stretch from Mangalore to Talapady on the Kerala border was deceptive. Once I crossed Talapady, the road was spacious till Kumble. After that, it was inconsistent where width is concerned. But, the drive till Kasargod was smooth compared to what came later. Possibly, because traffic was light. And, there were few people around. It appeared that people in Kerala are late risers.
I could not find any good option for breakfast. Restaurants had not opened for the day. The only option was biscuit and tea at a roadside eatery. Eventually, I found a nice eatery that was small, but offered a hearty breakfast of puttu and kadala curry.
Once that was out of the way, it came down to tackling the traffic on the highway. By around 9 AM, Kerala seemed to be fully awake and on the road. Travel was reduced to a crawl most of the time. All it took was one truck or a bus. Actually, even a slow-moving car can do the job. And, there were plenty of such cars and bikes.
It’s not as if you can admire the scenery either cos of the heavy traffic.
At Bekal, I was very tempted to take a break and go look at the famous fort, but held back because it would result in me driving at night to reach Guruvayur. The popularity of the fort and beach have spawned a small-size hotel industry. Even the Taj Group and The Lalit Group have properties in this village.
There are several restaurants from this point onwards.
Notably, quality of the road is good throughout. So, it is just the traffic and pedestrians who you need to be careful about.
Regarding the width of the road, at one point, there was just enough space for a bus. I did not take a photograph. It came as a surprise and there was no way I could have taken a picture in the midst of the traffic. Also, it’s not as if I could have stopped some place immediately after this narrowest point to take a picture. Cos stopping could block traffic. And, we are talking of a National Highway here.
I reached Guruvayur around 7 PM. That’s about 13 hours on the road to cover 330 kilometres.
Chandana Inn is about 400 metres from the temple complex. They do not have a restaurant, but can get you meals, snacks and juice on request. The location helps if you want to go to the temple early in the morning when it is still dark.