Two intrepid women travellers, Dee Dadlani and Insia Lacewalla, drove the route (Mumbai-Alibaug-Dapoli-Ganpatipule-Sawantwadi-Karwar and back to Goa) in 12 days, stopped often to savour the moments, and came back with stories and memories that will last them a lifetime.
Dee Dadlani is an independent brand strategist, who has been giving life to brands for over 15 years. Her most recent campaign is with JEEP India, which took her and her travel partner Insia Lacewalla (and Nishi, their Director of Photography) down the Konkan coast. Excerpts from a no-holds-barred interview with Dee about their epic road trip…
How many kilometres did you cover in total and how many on an average daily? Was the going arduous? Did you have to face any flats or breakdowns along the way?
Beginning from Mumbai and ending at Karwar, the journey was 1200 km long and lasted 12 days. On an average, we covered approximately 120 km a day. The trip required planning for sure, and once we had mapped our route using Google Maps (which was amazing!) we found that finding our way to our destinations was easy. The challenging part was waking up at four am each morning and sleeping for less than four hours each night.
But the excitement of discovery and curiosity of what the next day would bring kept us going. Fortunately, we didn’t experience any technical issues, but were definitely prepared for them.
However, we did experience what we now understand to be ‘a common incident on the Konkan’ – on the morning we were slated to leave Sawantwadi, we found that a coconut had fallen and shattered the windscreen of the JEEP Compass. Anyone who knows Insia and I will tell you that we work best under pressure, and so on inspecting the damage we called JEEP’s Roadside Assistance who define professional prompt and efficient service. They got us a new car and towed the old one off within eight hours – which is actually amazing considering that we were in the middle of a jungle at the time.
Could you tell us a little about yourself and your co-traveller? What you’ll do, how you know each other, what made the two of you decide to do this together?
Insia Lacewalla is the founder of ‘India with Insia’ a millennial-focussed Indian travel platform, focused on boutique hotels, regional cuisine and underground culture, while I am an independent brand strategist obsessed with the idea of giving a voice and life to Indian brands (including digital influencers) using new-age media platforms.
Insia and I have been acquaintances for nearly a decade but became friends only in March 2020. Interestingly, while we are both extroverts, outgoing and ambitious, what really attracted us to each other was our desire to bring in sync our personal and professional lives. Over many cups of coffee (for me) and chai (for her) we found that we were manifesting our dreams into reality in each other’s company. It was eerie at first, but then decided to own it. We still laugh and say to each other, “we must be careful of the thoughts we have, ESPECIALLY in each other’s company.”
Tell us how the trip came about. Were you planning it for a while or was it an idea that you ran with? How did the brand association with JEEP happen?
In hindsight, we both believe that our ambitions and dreams for our professional lives interconnected. Earlier this year, we were finding ways of bringing in sync our professional and personal lives and narrowed it down to building a campaign promoting domestic travel (road travel specifically) given the limitations on international travel and people’s continued apprehensions on taking flights.
These factors coupled with the continued desire to travel meant to build a brand campaign that was relevant and engaging, and responsible. The focus would be on domestic travel by road. The rest is history. We designed the idea, and the team over at JEEP India shared our vision. They encouraged and supported our ambitious plan, they cheered us on and believed that more women should be hereon taking on adventures on the road. As our journey will tell you, everything is possible now.
How did you divide the driving?
I played the role of navigator, while Insia took up the driving. You see, I love adventure and creating interesting conversation while on the road, and Insia loves driving – so we agreed to play to our strengths.
Did you have any spats along the way? Were there special moments where you bonded more than usual?
Did we have any spats? Of course we did! We are two opinionated, outgoing, independent thinkers who are driven by creativity – so of course we had a difference in opinions on many days. But fortunately, another common trait we have is the ability to think rationally under duress and respect differences without taking it personally.
We understand that to thrive in a creative atmosphere we must have differences, otherwise we’d end up with a mediocre mutual admiration society. We are both fiery personalities (she’s a Sagittarian and I’m a Gemini so communication is at its all-time high) with a hunger to create new ideas, something that no one has seen or done drives us. When you have so much in common and respect, all spats can be sorted out. We have bigger fish to fry, we have newer adventures to be had to allow our differences to interfere.
We had many special moments, but both of us will agree that having a heart to heart in a palatial bathtub in the middle of our hotel room was the most fun we had. The joke is ‘out of the box, and into the tub’ should be what we call our podcast. Being caught by surprise by a leopard, stranded in torrential rains outside a bar, surviving on less than five hours of sleep each night and willing each other through bad jokes and watching sunsets, include some other special bonding moments.
What were the challenges of doing a road trip through these areas? How were the roads? What was your experience with people en route?
Honestly, the challenges were few and far between. The roads were marvellous, smooth and Google Maps has nailed the mapping of these roads to perfection. Irrespective of the terrain (mountain, beach, cliff, soft mud) the JEEP got us to our destination safely. The people were helpful, kind and willing. Not once did we experience anything remotely awkward – no fear, no nervousness, just joy all the way.
We met people who went out of their way to accommodate us. An example being a tiny bar at Mapusa which allowed us to keep our luggage (six suitcases, two duffel bags and camera equipment) and let us sit outside their bar for six hours till the rains subsided and our replacement JEEP arrived. They remained open way past their closing hours and insisted that we keep warm indoors. Being girls, we were apprehensive at first (considering that while we were keeping warm with chais and coffees, the Old Monk and whiskeys were flowing inside the bar at nine am) but after 30 minutes and a conversation, we found ourselves in the midst of friends.
Was it more challenging to deal with the trip’s tough moments as women travellers?
To be honest, we were expecting to face more challenges as women travellers, but surprisingly that was not the case. Except for the lack of bathrooms along the coast, we felt safe and comfortable at every pitstop.
What did you do for restroom breaks? Had you identified clean and safe ones along the route beforehand or did you just wing it? Did you carry any specialised things such as the stand-and-pee gear to make this easier?
We depended on the facilities at highway stops for our restroom breaks – facilities including safe-appearing restaurants, cafes, motels and state-sanctioned stops – but unfortunately didn’t find too many. Most of the ones we found were unsanitary. This is truly a concern, especially for women. We had to resort to using nature as a restroom at certain times. So yes, we simply winged it.
While planning for the trip, we did search for specialised gear that would make our trip more convenient, especially considering that both Insia and I were scheduled to get our periods during the trip, but to our dismay we found nothing that would be easy to carry. I believe this is a huge gap in the market, and it is high time we get inspired young product developers and creators to launch travel-friendly hygiene products for women. And if there are any products in the market, they are definitely not easy to find.
Did you, at any point, feel unsafe? Did you feel the need to have travelled with more companions or male companions (the stereotypical ‘safety in numbers’ or ‘you should have a man with you’ mentality)? Did you feel more empowered as women after completing the journey?
As I mentioned earlier, we had anticipated a high probability of feeling unsafe at certain points, especially while driving at night, and when in low to zero network areas deep inland off the coast. However, this was not the case even once. I believe a large part of this has to do with the fact that the Konkan coast is a developed yet unexplored part of the country. The people are helpful, friendly and it helps that both Insia and I are assertive people. We understand how to use our discretion and respect the local culture in each of the cities and towns we visited. There is so much more to be said on this topic, but the fact is that the Konkan coast is very safe for travellers, irrespective of gender.
We most definitely felt more empowered both as people and women after traversing 1200 km on our own over 12 days. It was magical, difficult, exhausting, inspiring and the adventure allowed us to find our respective callings and purpose that will keep us going for the next one year. We feel privileged and grateful for creating this opportunity for ourselves and encourage each and every person to get into their car soon!
Insia and I love people, we believe more the merrier, but at the same time love personal space. So, to answer your question, not once did we feel the need for more companions (male or female) as it allowed us time to introspect. I had a big decision to make while on the road pertaining to moving cities and starting a new chapter in life. Before the trip, I was confused and torn, but during the course of the drive, the adventure fuelled me to feel confident about making certain decisions.
Being on the road is a wonderfully meditative experience, there is so much going on and soaking it in is integral to the journey; too many people in a car would’ve definitely interfered with it. As for safety in numbers – the three of us felt extremely safe on our own (Insia, Nishi our Director of Photography and I).
And on the topic of male companions, we didn’t miss it one bit, if anything, we found that it was a more intense and soulful experience because of the female energy in the JEEP. Male company can wait 12 days.
What was the most exciting part of the journey? Could you share a really unique experience that you had at a particular destination that you wouldn’t have had if you weren’t doing a road trip?
The most exciting part of the journey was most definitely being on the road and discovering the beauty of the Konkan Coast. One really unique experience was the one we had not planned for (isn’t it always!). It was around five pm, and we were driving to Dapoli trying to catch a sunset from a famous cliff. En route, we had a leopard cub cross our path and run into the jungle on the other side of the road!
Till that point we were in the midst of a heavy conversation pertaining to work, and this was the exact reminder we needed to stop talking and enjoy our surroundings. We parked the JEEP on the side and used one of their newest features – the 360 Panorama Sunroof – to stick our heads out and watch the magnificent cub slowly makes its way deeper into the jungle. While we may have missed the sunset, we sure did catch the best surprise of the journey.
Apart from that, some other memorable experiences include waking up on top of a cliff at Villa 270 at Dapoli to stunning views of the beach on one side, mountains on the other, an island and an entire city below. Exploring a 16th century Portuguese house and secret waterfalls in South Goa. Lunching with the world’s first and most enterprising group of fisherwomen, who have come together to save the mangroves in the fishing village of Vengurla near Sawantwadi. And, of course, meeting with the Royal Family of Sawantwadi, who welcomed us to their home and spoke of their plans to revive the long lost ganjifa art.
How did you pack for such a long journey? Did you have apprehensions about running out of stuff? Do you need to be low maintenance to do a road trip of this nature? Did you dress differently than what you wear in Mumbai to be ‘safe’ during the trip?
Luckily for us, the JEEP Compass has a large boot space. We were able to fit in three large suitcases, one small suitcase, one duffel bag, camera equipment and two foldable chairs (our favourite new buy from Decathlon) all into one boot. Here’s my advice on what to carry when it comes to packing for a road trip during the monsoons along the Konkan coast…
* Dry fits that are loose and colourful for a pop in your pictures
* Loose and long bottom wear for comfort and to protect you from the mosquitoes which are a part and parcel of travel in this part of the country
* Two evening dresses/tops that you can pair with shorts or loose pants
* Hiking shoes and walking shoes that dry easily
* A windcheater or raincoat with a hood (Decathlon has the best ones with really fun colours)
* Some simple shirts or t shirts for visits to religious spots
* If you are going for 12 days, pack for nine days and carry extra undergarments because it takes ages for clothes to dry in this weather.
Yes, it’s important to be comfortable, especially on days when you are in the car for more than three to four hours. Neither of us felt the need to dress differently than we do in Mumbai – you will find me wearing shorts in a lot of the pictures. In places like Sawantwadi, Goa and even Alibaug, the locals are relaxed and accepting. But yes, in smaller towns and villages, like when we visited the fishing village of Vengurla, I did make it a point to not expose my legs as a sign of respect and ensure that the locals be comfortable in my presence. In hindsight however, the fishing village locals were extremely welcoming and modern, and would have been so irrespective of how I had dressed. These are some of my key learnings on the coast.
Did you get a lot of unsolicited advice before or on the journey? Was there any mansplaining involved at any point?
There is no escaping mansplaining, it is a curse of modern times. I have personally experienced it while doing my taxes and talking about sports. By the way, I can out-talk any man when it comes to cricket and tennis! But when it came to this drive, all our male friends were just really excited for us. Surprisingly, there was no unsolicited advice this time round. Have men changed while we were busy manifesting our dreams this year?!
Also, in 2021 with Google, all answers are just one click away, right?
What sort of places did you stay at? Did you try the homestays along the route? Do you feel the destinations are developed enough and in the right way? What could make such locales more amenable to city slickers who are used to high levels of pampering, hygiene and service?
The best part about the Konkan coast is the huge variety and choices in accommodation formats that are available. We stayed in some of the most interesting spots right from Air BnBing in Ganpatipule at the charming apartment called The One to the heights of luxury at Cabo Serai in the wilderness of South Goa. We experienced boutique art deco at Abode in Mumbai and luxury at The Mansion House in Alibaug. Villa 270 at Dapoli by SaffronStays was one of the most interesting viewpoints along the Konkan coast and is highly recommended (we want to go back to Dapoli just to spend more nights here!). Figueiredo House – the beautiful history-rich 16th century Portuguese museum and hotel – in Loutolim was another marvel that is a must visit. And not to forget the charming homestay called Happiness Estate at Sawantwadi that is promoting responsible eco-tourism. Each one of experiences were easy to book, offered additional tailormade experiences – for example, lunch at a local fishing village – and encouraged local businesses.
Each of these destinations and unique stay experiences are conjoined, one adds value to the other and that is what makes the entire experience of utmost interest, especially to city slickers like us who are now travelling for an experience and would like the comforts and luxuries while doing so.
What COVID-related precautions did you take? What tests did you have to undergo? What documents did you have to have to cross state lines?
We did a lot of research on this topic before we left, and at the time of our trip the state of Maharashtra’s travel rules permitted travel within the state without needing an RTPCR. However, as a precautionary measure, we did one at the start of our trip in Mumbai. We moved to Alibaug, Dapoli and Ganpatipule over the next few days without requiring constant testing. While crossing over to Sawantwadi, we were stopped at the state line and asked to show our RTPCR status. Since we were testing every four days, we were able to show our documents and within five minutes of providing basic information, they allowed us to enter Sawantwadi. We also underwent the same process while entering the state of Goa and Karnataka. All three times, we were able to show our documents and the transition was smooth and seamless. Our tip: Do make sure to carry your driving license and Aadhar card as well. Have a RTPCR negative report each time you enter a new state and your journey should be hassle-free.
Did you just drive, or did you make a lot of unplanned stops to stop and soak in the scenery, etc? Did you make any friends along the way?
Honestly, we simply followed Google Maps for about 70 per cent of the trip, but there were days when we decided to follow our ‘gut’ knowing that it has seen success in the past. Many of Insia and my adventures have come from following our gut. Most of our unplanned stops were for food – the minute we spotted anything remotely unknown to us (fruit vendors, food hawkers, chai tapris), we’d stop for a ‘bite’, which often turned out to be two hours of drinking endless cups of tea (for Insia) and coffee (for me). We had so many culinary revelations on this trip, including modaks steeped in cucumber water and fried breadfruit. We highly recommend that anyone driving, invest in Decathlon’s foldable chairs, which can turn any pitstop into a comfortable picnic (especially important since the views along the Konkan coast deserve a stop often).
We met some amazing people with amazing stories; raconteurs who told us tales of their adventures including one involving house-sitting for Neil Diamond’s ranch in the ‘90s. We surely have made new friends for life – friends who share a deep love for adventure and whose stories gave us both confidence in not knowing what lies in store for us tomorrow. The gang over at The Local Beat and Urbanaut are an amazing bunch of people, who make a living by creating adventure for travellers like you and me – and they happen to be another bunch of friends we made on the way.
That is exactly what travelling does. It allows you to meet new people and appreciate the fact that most people are good. When you listen to people share their best stories, one will find that the best memories are formed when one is open, fearless and ready to navigate.