Like a painting, and the painting just gets prettier and prettier as we drive south. Is that just an impression? Which way will it go on our way back? Easily answered: nothing near Bombay is as pleasing to the eye as this.
Elsewhere, the road coils tightly in on itself as we make our way up or down gentle hills, or pass gleaming green fields, or tall stands of trees. Above Chiplun we look down at the fields that make a quilt in the valley below, arrow-straight Konkan Railway train ribboning bright blue through the quilt. In Sindhudurg district, nearing the Goa border, the highway narrows to a village road past houses close enough to touch, how do they live with the massive trucks and sleek buses that muscle through, not forgetting the smaller vehicles like ours?
And for miles and miles either side of Kankavli, great big posters and welcome arches announce some recent meeting featuring that town's favourite (so it would seem) son, one Narayan Rane, grimacing or grinning or both, alongside Sonia Gandhi's more genial visage. Part of the scenery almost, that face.
Cross the border into Goa -- to my shame, this is just my second trip here ever, my fourth day here in total -- and it's like a different world, cliched as that is. The political posters are gone, the villages seem more rustic and older, the light itself is softer and gentler. In some indefinable way, first impressions of Goa on this drive lack a sort of edge that Maharashtra sometimes has. I can explain no better than that. But consider: in that part of Maharashtra, nearly all the highway signs are in Marathi and nothing else. In Goa, they are in English and Hindi, even though both Marathi and Konkani are spoken in these northern reaches of the state.
Just slightly more welcoming of the outsider than purely Marathi.
Or maybe that edge is entirely due to the overdose of one Narayan Rane.
And naturally, the final touch of beauty in this beautiful drive comes from the aforementioned highway plus other assorted signs. Savour this sample:
My wife, driving at the time, snorts in disgust at that last one.