We start our Great In­dia Drive in the mighty Hi­malayan moun­tains


The Hyundai Tuc­son gives us ge­og­ra­phy lessons

OK KIDS, WHEN I WAS A KID, I FAILED ge­og­ra­phy class once. I went for my exam af­ter study­ing his­tory all night long, and a ge­og­ra­phy ques­tion pa­per was placed on my desk. Gandhi’s Satya­graha move­ment didn’t fea­ture in the ques­tions. The cap­i­tal of Mad­hya Pradesh wasn’t Lucknow and to indi­cate where Afghanista­n was on the world map, I drew a big cir­cle around Asia. Chil­dren in the nineties re­mem­ber the good long swing­ing cane. That cane left sour punks on my hand in school for be­ing a smar­tass and the mother en­sured that didn’t hap­pen again by plac­ing a globe in my room and a map of the world was pasted on my wall. Ev­ery day for the rest of my child­hood, I read the names of cities and stared at the shapes of coun­tries. When I passed out of school, I wasn’t ge­o­graph­i­cally chal­lenged any more. The Hi­malayas were in the north, the Ara­bian sea in the west, the sun rose in the east and Chicken Chet­ti­nad tasted best in the south. Al­most a decade went by since my sab­bat­i­cal from ge­og­ra­phy class, when I com­mit­ted to a lifelong re­la­tion­ship with Google Maps.

When you take up the job of an au­to­mo­tive journalist, travel is in­evitable. It starts with at­tend­ing a press con­fer­ence in a South Mum­bai ho­tel, and if you are start­ing up in Mum­bai, you’ll need a map to go to South Mum­bai. Then your boss sends you on a drive in the Hi­malayas. Google Maps may not help you there but pa­per maps will. By the time you’ve spent over half a decade writ­ing about cars or mo­tor­cy­cles, you’ve writ­ten about your trav­els more than a few times too. Some­times, help comes from the out­side. Hyundai for in­stance is very com­mit­ted to pre­par­ing me for a PhD in In­dian ge­og­ra­phy. A

year and a half ago, the Korean car­maker in­vited us to what was at the time the first Great In­dia Drive. It was with the Hyundai Creta back then and we drove for thou­sands of kilo­me­tres in it over a few days. We saw a lot and learnt a lot. Maybe to­wards the end of the drive, I should have taken my ge­og­ra­phy exam again. Guess what, Hyundai is at it again. I took a flight to Delhi and drove to McLeodganj for my next ge­og­ra­phy class, and my pro­fes­sor for the next week was the Hyundai Tuc­son. Wel­come to the sec­ond edi­tion of the Great In­dia Drive.

On that pleas­ant Satur­day evening in McLeodganj as I opened the cur­tains of my ho­tel room to the sight of snow­capped peaks of the Hi­malayas, a breath of fresh air in­fused en­ergy I would need over the com­ing week. It was the cold be­fore the sum­mer heat, the crisp air be­fore hu­mid af­ter­noons, the calm be­fore the long days of driv­ing we were go­ing to en­dure once we em­barked on our road­trip. From the moun­tains of Hi­machal to the coasts of Andhra Pradesh, we were go­ing to turn right back to cross the coun­try on our way to Pune, all in a week’s time. Noth­ing teaches you ge­og­ra­phy bet­ter than a drive around the coun­try. This was the start to a long week on the road, we were go­ing to cross four­teen states, drive on high­ways, hill roads, no roads, across moun­tains, along the east­ern coast and through the hottest places in the coun­try. It isn’t called the Great In­dia Drive for noth­ing.

As I con­nected pro­fes­sor Tuc­son’s 8-inch in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem to my phone over An­droid Auto on Sun­day morn­ing, Google Maps said that I was 4093km away from my desti­na­tion. Seven days of driv­ing through the coun­try, most of it go­ing down south. But on our first day, we were driv­ing in the moun­tains, go­ing fur­ther north and a lit­tle west­wards to­wards the beau­ti­ful town of Dal­housie.

The Tuc­son is a com­fort­able cruiser and han­dles city con­di­tions with the calm­ness of a monk, but its 2-litre diesel unit is ca­pa­ble of gen­er­at­ing a lot of speed; speed we’d need on the high­ways and ac­cel­er­a­tion we were go­ing to re­quire on the winding roads of Hi­machal Pradesh. A quick down­hill de­scent got us out of the neigh­bour­ing town of Dharamshal­a and on to the winding road that leads to Dal­housie with the snow­capped moun­tains in my rear view mir­rors.


We were driv­ing in per­fect weather in the month of April, some­thing you don’t get to say of­ten. The melt­ing snow in Hi­machal keeps the weather pleas­ant through the day with a nice nip in the air as the sun be­gins to set at this time of the year. Usu­ally, it’s good to start a drive early in the morn­ing be­cause it’s cool, there’s less traf­fic and it gets eas­ier to munch miles. But here, it doesn’t mat­ter. The weather is al­ways pleas­ant, traf­fic is some­thing you don’t need to be wor­ried about ex­cept while pass­ing towns and the land­scape and the skies are al­ways beau­ti­ful.

Ge­og­ra­phy also teaches you a lot about tem­per­a­tures, to­pogra­phies and chang­ing cli­matic con­di­tions. The dif­fer­ence in a coastal breeze to the wind chills in snow­capped moun­tains, how the dry cold in Delhi dif­fers from the moist cool­ness of Hi­machal Pradesh. You learn to ap­pre­ci­ate the healthy lifestyle here, the im­por­tance of nat­u­ral phys­i­cal ex­er­cise by just climb­ing the slopes and the sheer ab­sence of gyms up here. Life is tougher but bet­ter up here, and driv­ing is also a more plea­sur­able ex­pe­ri­ence. The Tuc­son is a big SUV but is highly ma­noeu­vrable due to its light steer­ing so it makes my life easy on these winding moun­tain roads. Of over 4,000km that we were to em­bark on, ini­tial im­pres­sions were prov­ing to be very re­as­sur­ing. The Tuc­son is very com­fort­able, has a fan­tas­tic set of front seats and the ride qual­ity is just right. It gets bet­ter with speed and re­quires lit­tle ef­fort to steer. When you are con­stantly steer­ing from one bend to an­other over a long day of driv­ing, as lit­tle ef­fort re­quired to steer is ap­pre­ci­ated.

The moun­tain road from Dharamshal­a de­scends to the Mandi-Pathankot high­way where a few stretches of straights could test the deep reserves of the diesel en­gine. The Tuc­son makes light work of these few straights, in­di­cat­ing an easy drive once we got on to the dual car­riage­ways of Pun­jab and UP. Since Hi­machal is sparsely pop­u­lated and am­bi­ent noise is much lower through­out the state, you can hear a lot more of the car while driv­ing. But with the win­dows up and the Tuc­son’s tacho firmly in its mid-range, it was hard to hear any­thing in­side the cabin. The Tuc­son makes 183 horse­power from its 2-litre mill, but does it pro­gres­sively and qui­etly. Re­fine­ment is an as­set on long drives. It tires you a lot less and you will also no­tice fewer breaks dur­ing long drives. Our first day was go­ing to be a short drive though, only 140km be­tween McLeodganj and Dal­housie, but we were go­ing to take the long and scenic route via Kha­jjiar.

The road twists and turns from Lahru to Chowari, but once you cross Chowari, it be­gins to climb too and is a sin­gle lane tar­mac road all the way to Dal­housie. There are bet­ter roads to get to Dal­housie but this one’s the scenic one. Once you cross Jot, pro­ceed to­wards Kha­jjiar be­fore turn­ing off to Dal­housie. The en­tire drive is about a moun­tain road that’s great in parts and bro­ken

in most, and a sheer drop lines ei­ther the left or the right de­pend­ing on the side of the moun­tain you are on, but when you get to Kha­jjiar, the land­scape tele­ports you to the grassy mead­ows of Switzer­land. Even in all the beauty of Hi­machal, Kha­jjiar stands out, stuns you when you get out of a nar­row moun­tain road to the meadow lined street and takes you around this big meadow to­wards a short drive to­wards Dal­housie.

Kha­jjiar’s nat­u­ral beauty is breath­tak­ing with tall trees, a flu­o­res­cent green grassy meadow and a small lake in be­tween. Even the Swiss recog­nise the beauty of this place to be sim­i­lar to the lands they live in. This small town is a part of the Chamba district and from Kha­jjiar, we pro­ceeded to Dal­housie, where through the dense forested moun­tain slopes, we were hop­ing to see the sun set over Pun­jab. The route took us to the western side of Dal­housie where the plains of Pun­jab can be seen, and the view is to die for, be­cause you are high up in the moun­tains watch­ing the end of the Hi­malayas tower over and feed the fer­tile plains of Pun­jab with moun­tain wa­ter all year long.

We started our drive from McLeodganj with a plan to chase the sun all through this drive. And just be­fore the sun van­ished be­hind an ad­join­ing moun­tain, we got a glimpse of it with the Tuc­son in frame. Dal­housie gave us a glimpse of the evenings we would en­counter over the com­ing week.

It’s a frac­tion of the thou­sands of kilo­me­tres the Tuc­son was go­ing to gal­lop through but that’s how spe­cial the Hi­malayas are. Ev­ery day in these moun­tains is one to cher­ish. You are con­stantly chang­ing el­e­va­tion, chang­ing di­rec­tion and even en­coun­ter­ing sur­faces that give the car’s sus­pen­sion a proper beat­ing. The Tuc­son kept us fresh through a day in the moun­tains, high­light­ing its fan­tas­tic tour­ing abil­ity. It is an SUV you can cover long dis­tances in and we were go­ing to call upon its strengths in the com­ing days. I wasn’t think­ing about the wide open high­ways though. When you are driv­ing in the Hi­malayas, you are al­ways pre­sent in the mo­ment. Noth­ing you do here is a sub­con­scious act or mus­cle mem­ory. You are alive in the moun­tains, feed­ing off its en­ergy, re­fresh­ing yours and that’s why driv­ing here will give you the Thrill of Driv­ing that’s oth­er­wise hard to find.

In this month’s ge­og­ra­phy les­son then, we’ve learnt that Ge­og­ra­phy is more than what you learn in text books. It’s more in­ter­est­ing when you are on your feet or in your car, ex­plor­ing the coun­try or the world. You can re­place your books with a car and progress fur­ther, and that progress is eas­ier with a com­pe­tent SUV like the Tuc­son. Ge­og­ra­phy is all about go­ing places, and a steed that takes you places is your best teacher. ⌧

If you have got to the end of this story, you’ve grad­u­ated through the first unit of the Great In­dia drive ge­og­ra­phy les­son. Com­plete your course next month with part 2 of this story in the June is­sue.

Top right: The grassy mead­ows of Kha­jjiar. Fac­ing page: Hi­machal has very beau­ti­ful roads, and with that snowy back­drop, they look even bet­ter. Above: Sun­set at Dal­housie. Right: The Tuc­son is an ex­cel­lent SUV to go tour­ing in


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.