A cross country run with Renault Duster
Being obsessed about something can be harmful, but when it comes to driving, I can’t help myself. Therefore, recently when I was provided the opportunity to drive all the way from Chennai to Delhi, I grabbed with both hands. This 3400 kms expedition was going to be a bit different as it was not only a Pan-India expedition but an effort from Arjuna Awardee Deepa Malik for betterment of society and luckily I got a chance to document this drive. Apart from documenting this drive, it gave me the chance to explore 9 cities in 9 days along with the opportunity of experiencing our own 'Incredible India'.
The scale diverseness was huge and I experienced different cultures, landscapes, languages, food and roads. My companion in this drive was the amazing French machine Renault Duster RxL 110PS and the typical Indian roads, rains and tight schedule tested both me and my car. The Duster RxL 110PS comes fitted with a 1.5-litre K9K diesel mill with variable geometry turbo, which helps it to generate a maximum power output of 108.5bhp and peak torque of 248Nm. The biggest pulse of Duster that helps it out on road is its ground clearance of 205mm that was the savior on some of the bad stretches during this journey.
The drive was flagged of on Sunday, 22nd September from Chennai and soon I realized that this is going to be a memorable but exhausting experience. The reason why I felt like this was that when we go for travelogues, we usually start a bit early in the morning to avoid city traffic and delays, but as it was a drive to spread awareness the inclusion of press conferences and flag offs were a mandatory part of the drive.
Because of that, we used to get late and to cover up time, we had to push the cars to an extent and the stop overs got limited too. I was driving the 110PS version of the Duster for the second time only; therefore in order to understand the vehicle's dynamics and controls it was going to take me some time. Firstly the opposite positioning of the turn indicator lever did take a bit of time getting used to since normally they are located towards the right hand side while the wiper controls are on the left hand side. Positioning of audio controls available below the steering wheel do take some ordeal getting used to.
To get out of Chennai, we used a single lane road towards the highway, which actually was very crowded with two-wheelers, buses and mini vans. We choose state highway AH 45 instead of NH4, which was also a four lane highway and the locals told us that the highway was in a pretty decent shape. We took our lunch at a highway motel located on the outskirts of Chennai, where we ate typical South Indian food comprising of sambhar rice and medu vada.
After leaving Chennai, the next stop was Krishnagiri for evening tea and the 250kms distance took us 4 hours to reach. The climate was nice and we enjoyed the masala tea at a highway restaurant. After reaching Hosur, there was heavy traffic and jams at certain locations. But it was a joy to drive on the 10 kms long Bangalore expressway, which is an elevated flyover. The traffic and jam on Hosur road caused a delay of 3 hour and we were able to reach Bangalore only by 10 PM. The Duster performed quite well on the first day, and after being driven for about 350 kms, I finally got used to its functions.
Like any SUV the clutch is heavy, though as it is a compact car I was expecting it to be a little bit lighter. Even though it was heavy, I would say that the availability of a larger circumference pedal would enhance the overall driving experience. Again there is a turbo lag below 1750 rpm therefore you need to work the gearbox for overtaking maneuvers. But once the rpms picked up, it provides that punch, which needs for highway journeys and I was looking to use that power on the 550Kms long stretch from Bangalore to Belgaum.
After the mixed experience on the state highway, this time we chose NH 4 to reach Belgaum and I must say that the roads were fabulous and scenic. After the first day’s delay we were on time in morning but city traffic didn’t allowed us to be on scheduled time and when we got out of traffic, it was already 12’o clock. After initial delay, we reached on the NH4 by 1.00 PM and now it was time to push our cars to cover up, the good roads allowed me to hit and maintain 120 km/h, and we managed to reach Sira, 150kms away from Bangalore by 2.30 PM for our scheduled lunch at a typical Punjabi dhaba, a rare one in Karnataka.
The authentic Punjabi food with its unique spicy flavour made my day as I really love this cuisine. We were still 400 kms away from our destination; therefore we had to rush after the lunch. There were two other cars with me in this journey, one was a Duster, which was being driven by Deepa Malik and another was an Innova, which was our back up car. We decided to meet in Hubli, 300 kms away from Sira.
The roads were scenic and there were mountains, coconut and banana trees on either side of the road and watching big wind mills was a joy as I love them since I was a kid. The NH4 was quite straight and there were not many curves on the road, which allowed us to maintain a constant speed. By 8 PM, I hit the Hubli town and while waiting for the rest two cars, I tried the special sweet dish Kunda, which is a kind of a Milk cake. After the two other cars reached, we started the journey again to cover up the last 100kms to Belgaum, but in the way there was a ghat section, which featured a single lane.
It was raining and don’t know why people were driving with their high beam on. Whenever a car or bus came head on I was literally blinded by the strong ray of lights until they passed by. The single lane lasted for 5kms and it was a horrible experience, soon we were on a four lane highway again, which was a relief. Around 10 p.m. we reached Belgaum. By reaching there, we had actually crossed the land between the Eastern Ghats and Western Ghats covering an overall distance of 900kms.
Our next pit stop was Pune and I have been earlier on this road as it is one of the roads which lead to Goa from Mumbai. We ate Mysore Masala Dosa and Mysore Pak as these are the specialties of the town and the state. After the breakfast and flag off we left the town around 11 am and soon we entered into Maharashtra and there was a Mc Donald’s on the highway, first so far. I preferred to eat at MCD as I had a bad experience in Kolhapur since I am a vegetarian and the Kolhapuri restaurants are known to serve mostly non-vegetarian dishes. I has already crossed two states but Maharashtra was more vivid in colour and it was pretty obvious that state is agriculture oriented as I saw bullock carts and cattle on the roads and the vast sugarcane fields. While, whole team was eating theKolhapuri Matan and other Maharashtrian dishes inside a restaurant, I was chewing a sugarcane to test my teeth, vegetarian fun!!
And rains, yes rain was following us on the way to Pune as well. As we were driving parallel to the Western Ghats and hills of Shyadri Range, roads had to be scenic and the rains made things even better and lively. There were some beautiful tunnels on the highway and just after crossing the last tunnel; I saw the beautiful Pune city in the valley. The hotel we were staying was in the heart of the city and as we were on time, we were able to see its evening charm. The RxL version comes with an integrated music system with AUX and USB connectivity kept us entertained throughout the drive.
Next morning the flag off was scheduled in the cantonment area and like most of the cantonments, this one was also very clean and green, there were banyan trees on both sides of road, which were giving a rustic look to it. After leaving Pune in morning, we headed to Mumbai, and our route was the Mumbai-Pune expressway, one of the most scenic and well built highways in India. It was raining again and in full force this time, which made the atmosphere foggy around Lonawala and then it was time for some hot tea. We ate dhaboli, vada pao and sev puri, typical mumbaiyya food.
The Duster performed very well on wet road and the car’s monocoque chassis, superb suspension and driving dynamics allow it to maintain its posture on tight turns even on high speeds. By 1 pm, we were in Mumbai and it was time to send my companion for some minor fix and a wash as it was raining all the way, as there was mud all over the car. We got some time with the team to enjoy and have a nice dinner in evening.
Our next scheduled stop was Ahmadabad, but due to heavy rains on the way we had to take a detour as we chose Indore as our next destination. Due to a flag of ceremony and press conference, we left Mumbai at around 2 PM as we had a distance of 600 Kms to cover in order to reach Indore.
This was not the end, we found a long jam in Kalyan that took another hour, after driving for another 100kms, the beautiful ghats of Nashik came in the way and the natural beauty of the way took my heart away.
We got some of Mumbaiyya fast food with us and I was enjoying the food on the go. We took our first stop in Dhule around 7 PM and after having tea and some rest we moved towards Indore. Indore took another 4 hours to reach and by midnight we were in the city.
So far, we had experienced beautiful and well built roads and now the roads were ready to test the Duster as well as my driving skills. The state highway was jammed around Dhar due to some construction work therefore to avoid wasting more time we decided to take yet another detour by going via Ujjain and Ratlam. The connecting roads to these places were in a pretty bad shape and if I say correctly there were no roads and I was doing mild off roading till Badnawar.
After crossing Badnawar, we found a decent single lane road towards Badnagar. After Badnagar we found National Highway 79 going towards Neemuch and the curves on the roads were worst as there was no proper banking, which is an accident prone area. But Duster performed well here and it proved its caliber as a SUV.
I found a group of Banjaras around Badnagar, as they were coming from Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, they travel with their camels in search of food and fairs, where they can sell some of their animals. I belong from Rajasthan too and I have been seeing them since childhood therefore this association of their way of movement is something that I believe in and I felt that I was living my dream 'which is to travel'.
Udaipur, again welcomed us with showers, which enhanced the entire natural surrounding and beautiful aura of the City of Lakes, which mesmerized me. In morning, I got to know that we were invited to the City Palace for the flag off. There my camera captured some beautiful shots of the lake palace. After the flag off we headed towards Pink City Jaipur and the bad experience of Indore-Udaipur route quickly transformed into wonderful wide open roads.
You won’t find the sand dunes for sure on this road, but the old Aravali range hills with the surrounding beauty will win you heart. Our companion rain was with us in this journey as well, which was making the scenes even beautiful. On the way, we ate wonderful Rajasthani food; the delicious Dal Bati Churma satisfied the foody inside me. The good roads allowed us to done the 425 kms in only 5 hours and we reached Jaipur by 5 PM.
Next morning we visited some of the heritage properties of Jaipur, like the Jal Mahal, which was once upon a time a leisure palace for the King especially during the summer season and now it is small time bird sanctuary. After that we visited Amber, a world renowned historic town on the way.
After the good experience in Jaipur, it was time to spend some time on the highway, as National Highway 8 is in dire strait due to loads of construction work taking place on it and with addition of rain things only became tougher. We reached Behror by 3PM, where we ate our lunch and famous Milk Cake also called Alwar ka Mawa by locals, which is the specialty of the town. After long jams and diversions in Neemrana and Manesar, we finally hit Delhi by 7 PM, where our long 3400 kms drive finally came to a closure.
My companion, the Duster proved itself as a comfortable SUV, I drove it on some of the best and worst roads of India and the car gave its best in every situation. Apart from a few niggles, which are more about the placement of the controls, this car has the potential to do long drives.
If I talk about fuel economy, despite the fact that the average speed was above 80 km/h throughout the journey and mix of good and bad roads, it managed to return an overall fuel economy of 15.5kmpl.
After the drive, when I was thinking about it, I found that no doubt we were running on a tight schedule and didn’t get enough time to explore any of the cities we were passing through. But still, I got to witness different cultures, clothes, food, landscapes and the soul of our nation.
Whenever, we called a guy, don’t matter by saying Anna, bhau, bhaiya or bhai ji, he turned with a smiling face and tried to help me with best of his efforts.
By the soul of the nation, I mean this feeling of brotherhood, which is common all over India and unites this vast diversified country. Get on the road, experience it and it is a great feeling of what one would discover.
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