Branded Content: Hyundai Great India Drive - Heights of passage

The Great India Drive convoy on its way to Zoji La.

The incredible men of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), which is 62 years old, don’t, we think, get as much credit as they deserve. The BRO builds, maintains and develops roads along our borders, especially in the north and the northeast, and some of the most spectacular stretches have been built by them. We owe them immense gratitude each time we cruise on roads flanked by imposing mountains, and we were thinking about them as we advanced in a convoy of ‘Amazon Grey’ Hyundai Tucsons as part of the manufacturer’s Great India Drive (GID).

Hyundai Motor India has kept raising the bar with each successive edition of the GID, which celebrates its association with the country and its people. The most recent GID was another class act primarily because of two reasons: we were in Kashmir, driving the manufacturer’s tech-packed, futuristic flagship.

Top brass of Hyundai Motor India flag off the sixth edition of Great India Drive. 

The first leg of the GID was from Srinagar to Sonmarg and, weather permitting, all the way up to Drass in Ladakh. Srinagar to Sonmarg was mostly smooth sailing, thanks to the impeccable roads built by the BRO, which afford enchanting views out the windows. As we drove along the Dal Lake, the narrow streets of Srinagar got narrower still due to peak hour traffic, but since the Tucson is highly versatile in all kinds of conditions and landscapes, we made an effortless exit out of the city onto the NH1.

Snaking along the Dachigam National Park, the road to Sonmarg can easily be mistaken for the Swiss Alps. There is snow all around. Pine trees are dusted with it, and white carpets of it are heaped upon distant peaks.

The Tucson is highly versatile in all kinds of conditions and landscapes.

Upon nearing Sonmarg, we encountered the odd sheet of black ice and mentally patted the Tucson’s grippy tyres. Despite being in a front-wheel drive petrol variant of the SUV, the need for traction wasn’t particularly felt. In fact, the smoothness of the 2.0-litre petrol engine and the way it gradually builds power meant we could relax and take in the magnificent views.

Thousand Salutes

We pit-stopped in Sonmarg for lunch and waited for an update from the military regarding the status of the road and conditions ahead. Winter in Kashmir can be dangerous if taken lightly, so fool-proof planning is of utmost importance. As the sun gradually slid behind the peaks, we got increasingly worried. Kargil is special for many reasons and to miss it, just because of the weather, would have been a downer. Thankfully, the military opened up the Zoji La Pass that would help us get into Kargil in time for dinner.

Epitaphs in memory of soldiers of Operation Vijay at the Kargil War Memorial, near Drass.

The 11,000-feet Zoji La or the ‘Mountain Pass of Blizzards’ is intimidating. While it offers stunning views all around, it is a tricky customer. Zoji La remains closed during winter due to heavy snowfall, cutting off Ladakh from Kashmir. That meant we were possibly among the last humans on the pass right until summer. We felt secure in the Tucson as we drove up the pass and zoomed into Drass. Early the next morning, we would head back the same way, but not before visiting the Drass (Kargil) War Memorial.

Kargil isn’t as tourist-infested as Leh and Ladakh and thank goodness for that. The roads, just like they are everywhere near the borders, are smoother than a salesman’s spiel. The Kargil War Memorial, located 6km ahead of Drass on the Srinagar-Leh National Highway, was built by the Indian Army to pay tribute to the brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives to protect the country during Operation Vijay in the Kargil War in 1999. Reading the epitaphs of all the soldiers who attained martyrdom was a humbling, moving experience.

The versatility of the Hyundai Tucson was on full display in Kashmir’s varying terrain and conditions.

The drive back to Srinagar was all smooth sailing as it was mostly downhill, and Zoji La Pass during daytime is not as formidable as at sundown. In fact, on some broader, clean sections of the road that led to Srinagar, you could really get a feel of the Tucson’s 156PS engine, especially in Sport mode which amps up the engine and gearbox response.

The GR8 game

On getting back to Srinagar, we split up from the convoy and continued on our Kashmir adventure towards Anantnag. Now, Kashmir is famous for many things, but being cricket fans, we also know it as the place where the Kashmir Willow, which is used to make cricket bats, grows. Top cricketers, from Sachin Tendulkar to Vivian Richards, have used bats made of Kashmir Willow, and while there are hundreds of bat manufacturing units, Fawzul Kabeer’s GR8 Sports, in Anantnag, is among the most reputed of the lot. If you are as much into cricket as we are, you might have even read about the company recently.

Anantnag is home to many bat-making units, and demand for kashmir willow bats has grown lately.

Earlier this year, at the T20 World Cup, the UAE’s Junaid Siddique walloped one of the longest sixes ever hit in Australia when he smashed a 109-metre maximum off the bowling of Sri Lanka’s Dushmantha Chameera. The bat that Siddique used was made by GR8 Sports. Kabeer, a 31-year-old second-generation bat maker, is happy to host us at GR8’s bat-making facility and explain the intricacies of the art. GR8, he said, is among the few companies to employ computer monitored compression to deliver precision, accuracy and compression to its products.

The Hyundai Tucson tarries a while to catch a game of cricket near Anantnag.

Kabeer also told us that bat makers in Kashmir not only supply bats within India, but also export them to several countries around the world. During the tour of the GR8’s bat factory, there were times when I really felt like picking up a bat and reliving my childhood days. Cricket is a hell lot of fun, but so was piloting a car like the Tucson at triple-digit speeds on the well-paved highway that led back to Srinagar from Anantnag. The comfortable suspension and the lovely Bose sound system enhanced the joy of driving a great car in one of the world’s prettiest places.

Top drive

For the last leg of the drive, we decided to take the Hyundai Tucson all the way up to Sinthan Top, a high mountain pass at an elevation of some 13,000ft, located between Anantnag and Kishtwar.

Sinthan Top is a high mountain pass located between Anantnag and Kishtwar.

A blizzard had struck the mountainside the previous day, but we decided to take our chances and pointed the Tucson’s elegant nose towards the top of the pass. The drive modes in our Tucson helped by altering power delivery, and we nudged the car up the steep slope. Hyundai’s capable SUV handled the drive up rather well, and its chunky tyres were able to find a fair amount of traction. Soon enough, we were atop the pass and out of the car, admiring the stunning views. The chilly winds and harsh temperature only made us appreciate a highly underrated feature in the Tucson: heated seats! Sure, for the most part, you don’t need them in India, but when you are up north, especially around the end of the year, it’s a great thing to have.The seats warmed us up nicely and the stunning panoramic sunroof made sure we could get the best view of the pine trees and beautiful peaks atop Sinthan.

A Kashmir drive requires a car with a gorgeous panoramic sunroof; the Tucson was happy to oblige.

Coming back down was hands down a lot more fun, especially on some parts where we shifted the 6-speed auto into manual mode to add more engagement to the drive. Sinthan Top marked the end of our Great India Drive. It had been a magnificent journey that featured spectacular locales, cricket and the Armed Forces. And, thanks to the Hyundai Tucson, our drive was befitting of this very apt proverb: “It is better to have travelled well than to have arrived”.

Also see:

2022 Hyundai Tucson review: Futuristic flagship

2022 Hyundai Tucson video review

from Autocar India
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