May is the melting pot of mercury and crazy, baby hormones.
The last ring of the school bell signifies more than just the beginning of freedom. It could mean 45 days of exploration, discovery and a journey into the unknown. So, as a father, when I was entrusted to fill a small segment of the 45-day window with something significant, the natural inclination was a road trip followed by some sand between my toes. Goa, as we all know and love for its idyllic pace of life and quick bartenders was the obvious port of call.
But the journey was curtailed to a shorter, air version of a road trip. Not letting that throttle back my intention to get behind the wheel of a fun family car, the Mercedes-Benz GLA compact SUV stepped in to save the day. Recently facelifted and now wearing a new 4WD drivetrain in the top spec 220d variant, it seemed to be the perfect car to dart across the narrow bylanes of Old Goa and show myself and my entourage a side of Goa seldom seen.
Fun in the Goan sun
Calangute served well as any hotspot in Goa to anchor ourselves before launching into four days of extreme fun in the sun. Close enough to walk to some of the most pristine beaches on this stretch of the Konkan coast, it is also only a short drive from the famed Baga beach where the Gods of Bollywood meditate. For a party of six, including two sugar-rushed six year olds, the Mercedes GLA turned out to be on the right size of compact.
Wide, supportive seats in the front (now with leg extensions) and a cozy but comfortable rear bench meant it didn’t provoke any negative remarks from the passengers. The wide loading bay helps in getting heavy stuff in and out but the spare wheel does eat up into precious cargo space and if you have to carry your own tents, you might have to choose between a wheel and a bag. Tough choice. We kept our baggage light and embarked on an itinerary that consisted of few beaches and lots of water.
Mercedes-Benz GLA220d - The stepping stone to SUVs
As the baby Benz for mud-plugging, the GLA now gets permanent 4WD and that gives it some off-road credentials. Getting through some of the rough stuff on and around St. Stevens island proved to be a breeze and the stiffly sprung suspension set-up manages to put a smile on your face around the corners too.
In this facelifted form, it gets an Off-road mode and Hill-Descent control, both of which are conveniences that were never required during this drive. The India-spec car comes with a chassis raised by an additional 30mm and a ground clearance of 171mm, enough to handle most things that don’t full under the jurisdiction of the mighting G63AMG. 18in wheels add a butch stance to the GLA compact SUV.
More importantly for city dwellers venturing out of their comfort zones, it gets support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto along with a couple of USB ports in the centre console to keep your heart pumping with fresh notifications. The back-up camera still has one of the best resolutions in the business, making up to an extent for the limited view out of the rear-windscreen. Ambient lighting and the panoramic sunroof add mood (and moonlight) to the cabin but the lack of automatic climate control in a car of this class is surprising.
Driving the GLA across various terrains is easy as pie though. Its smooth shifting 7-speed gearbox, car-like dynamics and seating position and paddle-shifts add an element of fun and familiarity. The diesel motor can get a bit noisy but the cabin is so well insulated from the outside world that all you hear is the chatter within.
Being the anti-tourist
While tourism in Goa thrives on its beaches, for this trip, the lesser-known backwaters and forgotten basilicas beckoned. Loading the GLA on a ferry from Old Goa puts you on the scenic St. Stevens Island where Jake ‘the Snake’ runs crocodile-spotting boat tours that are a bird and reptile lovers dream come true. Kingfishers, egrets, eagles can be seen within arm’s reach and the giant crocs are a bonus!
Memories made of Memorabilia
You don’t need to go to Goa to appreciate the genius of local artist Mario Miranda. Cafe Mondegar in Mumbai is the most popular exhibit of his style of craft. But Panjim has an exquisite gallery devoted to his vision of bringing a slice of the ordinary life of the Goan people to everyone and adding colour and humour to your own life. Everything from coasters to t-shirts, lampshades and even life-size murals of iconic caricatures can be bought here.
Beating the heat while packing in so many sights required occasional pit stops and the GLA’s wide-opening boot lid again served as a makeshift picnic bench for lolly-devouring lilliputs. Goa, they say is best seen at your own pace but as I discovered, also in your own vehicle that doesn’t limit you to the usual trappings. Get off the beaten path and make your own story now!
While out in the sun…
Victorinox Luggage - Airlines are getting stringent with baggage allowance, so a lighter bag is the only way out. Not that there’s much to pack for Goa, Victorinox luggage is an amazingly lightweight home for those bikinis. Get it here
The Monk Eyewear - The weather isn’t even moderately agreeable. It’s high time to take the sunnies out. Designed to fit your face without causing any discomfort The Monk ensures you enjoy some precious time in the sun. Get it here
Crocs - Hitting the beach without Crocs is like playing music without turning up the volume. These Literide foam put comfort and design in the same room, making outdoors fun without compromising on aesthetic. Get it here
Sony SRS-XB41 - With an appetite for water and sand, it served perfectly under the sun or in the shacks. A strong battery means that it didn’t need a charge for the four days of our excursion. Get it here