I find no kind of travel as poetic as hill drives. Maybe I’m too much of a romantic, but the ghosts of Frost and Wordsworth seem to be humming their most emphatic verses in my ear every time I traverse curves and bends. My trip to Lansdowne, a quiet cantonment town in the state of Uttarakhand, was no different. A brook flowed by. Many roads diverged in the woods.
However, the poetry of my journey may have turned into gibberish had my vehicle, the vessel that sailed us through seamlessly, been a disappointment–Maruti Suzuki’s Ertiga Zdi+. The Multi-Utility Vehicle (MUV) was a matter of three ‘Fs’ for me–features, fluidity and family-friendliness.
Lansdowne is a 250km drive from New Delhi. But the climb comes only in the last 39km, from Kotdwar. I must mention that we were three young adrenaline-junkies hitting the highway–so, we were hoping for smooth roads, no traffic and enough opportunities to hit the pedal. But, on the contrary, we had to face many traffic challenges–the excruciating Delhi traffic, the highway roads and the mountain terrain.
Our Ertiga was the Zdi+ variant, diesel, and equipped with a certain DDiS 200 Smart Hybird (SHVS) feature, which came in handy in dealing with the congestion.
As we crawled our way out of the cluttered Delhi-UP border, Vishal (who was driving at that time) noticed something peculiar. It seemed like whenever we came to a halt, the engine would stop. But upon accelerating, the car would pick up as if nothing had happened. Seemingly, this is the ‘Idle Stop Start’ feature, which is meant to save fuel, but also ended up leaving us quite impressed.
The traffic soon cleared and NH58 had us surging across the Meerut bypass. Eucalyptus and poplar trees surrounded the road, the sun played hide-and-seek behind them, there was an interplay of light and shadow–and this was just the plains. The sun was diving slowly, the Ertiga’s subtle-blue frame glistenening beneath it, and before we knew it, we had hit the hills.
Here is where the car’s fluidity shone through. Initially we were shifting gears, adjusting speed and trying to figure out the roads. But some 20km in, and the car was zooming as if android-driven. The automatic variant, that is, the Maruti Suzuki Ertiga VXi, ensures an even smoother drive up the hills, since you no longer need to do the whole ‘first-second-third-repeat’ exercise with the gear.
Trust the Uttarakhand hills to leave you both confused thanks to the convulated routes, and gaping in awe thanks to the beauty. The Ganges emerges from here–a brief glance at the river gushing through the mountains and Tennyson’s Brook’s famous repitition, “For men may come and men may go, but I go on forever” began echoing in my head. The oaks and conifers, abundant and lush because of the recently-concluded monsoons, helped complete the painting in my head.
But a hill drive requires power and careful maneuvering and this route was no exception. However, we were lucky that the SHVS’s ‘Torque Assist Function’ and ‘Break Energy Regeneration’ sub-features helped facilitate engine performance and acceleration. They also gave the car quite a splendid pick up–not that we missed a single opportunity to test that out.
Once we reached Lansdowne, we were surprised to see that a town could be so silent. We gently drove past its many cantonment buildings, smooth roads and marketplace, and nowhere did we find the bustle that the plains are infamous for. Named after a viceroy, Lord Lansdowne, the place has retained its British heritage. Immaculately preserved and the regiment centre of the famed Garhwal Rifles infantry regiment, it’s as charming as the hills surrounding it, which are covered by mist mostly, but kind enough to provide a vantage point for snow peak-spotting near St. Mary’s Church. Here we braved the Sub-5°C cold and observed a lovely sunrise the next morning.
We stayed at the heritage Fairydale Resort Lansdowne, a 104-year-old property owned by Pankaj Shah. The bungalow, surrounded by lush hills, made our stay happier.
We also spent a lot of time at ‘Lansdowne Trip—Travel CafÃ©’. A community project created to enable nearby villagers of the Garhwali community, the place is artistically decorated. Here, we exploited Ertiga’s ‘Smart Play Infotainment System’, which includes everything from smartphone-connectivity and GPS tracking to a neat reverse-parking camera display. As we sat in the cafÃ© enjoying the weather and the view, the music playing from our car provided a suitable soundtrack to our experience.
Here, we also met a local Garhwali family, whom we asked to accompany us for a drive. All comfortably slipped into the car. We drove around until we came across a clearing that required a bit of off-roading. For Ertiga, this was a breeze. Once we arrived, it felt as if we had just discovered a secret clearing, with a valley on one side and oak trees on the other.
On our way back, we took a wrong bend that had us heading a good 40km depeer into the hills towards Pauri. This meant that we had to rush back. If it wasn’t for the comfortable seats and the many safety features the car has, be it the SRS airbags, the many censors or ABS, we couldn’t have afforded doing that.
The next morning, we visited the St. John’s church and walked by the calm and clean Bhuttal Tal. By noon, it was our time to leave. I felt slightly melancholic, leaving the calm for Delhi’s chaos. But staring at the Ertiga, I thought, why melancholy when we have a return journey to look forward to? The poem continues.