Exploring ‘Heaven on Earth’, and the world’s most dangerous road, in the new Hyundai Tucson!
As motoring journalists, we are always trying to push that proverbial envelope, exploring new places and surmounting new challenges with our cars and bikes is a way of life. After a decade and half of working as a motoring journalist I can confirm, our country is one of the most beautiful ones to explore. And over the past half decade, Hyundai’s Great India Drive has turned into an opportunity to explore the country’s heritage and beauty, in some of the manufacturer’s newest cars! The sixth edition of the Hyundai Great India Drive saw us head to the scenic locales of Kashmir, in the new Hyundai Tucson.
In its new avatar, the Tucson takes things a notch higher with its stunning design, luxurious interiors, excellent powertrains and brilliant road manners. Our choice was the diesel version, powered by Hyundai’s new 2.0-litre diesel engine offering 186PS and 416Nm, put down via an 8-speed automatic gearbox. Our Tucson was also equipped with Hyundai’s HTRAC all-wheel drive system, engineered to take on the worst of driving conditions. The plan for our posse of Tucsons was to head to Kargil via Sonamarg post the ceremonial flag-off in the picturesque city of Srinagar. The timing was perfect, as Sonamarg had witnessed snowfall a day prior meaning we encountered about a foot and half of fresh snow there.
The Tucson made light of treading through the fluffy stuff with HTRAC and its driving modes, including snow, sand and mud. All-wheel drive systems are a boon on snow and the Tucson was proving to be an excellent set of wheels. We were to cross the mighty Zoji La (mountain pass), at 11,649 feet above sea level to get to Kargil. But the snowfall and resultant black ice meant Zoji La had been shut until further notice, meaning we had to wait and watch. Just as we were about to give up on driving to Kargil, we got news that special permission had been granted to our group to cross Zoji La! Sunsets in the valley happen early which meant we would cross Zoji La in dark, over kilometres of black ice, adding to the adventure.
The special permit also meant our Tucsons were the only vehicles on the road! A pit stop at Drass (one of the coldest inhabited places in the world!) had us enjoy a cup of tea in -12 degrees Celsius. The Tucson of course made us all comfortable, despite the inhospitable conditions. The all-wheel drive system afforded heaps of confidence, making throttle responses ultrasmooth and progressive, while the steering offered excellent responses besides feeling perfectly weighted, aiding agility and nimbleness. Inside, dual-zone airconditioning and the heated front seats ensured we were ensconced in great comfort, despite the inhospitable conditions outside.
The mercury had dipped to -14 degrees Celsius by the time we got to Kargil. A quick dinner later, tucking into my warm blanket in the hotel felt cozy, but comfort seemed to have taken over the sense of adventure. Something was amiss! The next morning, a quick dash to the Kargil War Memorial later we were on our way back to Srinagar. Thousands of trucks, taxis and cars all lined up towards Zoji La greeted us though and most of the day was spent standing still in sub-zero temperatures and warming ourselves in the Tucson. This gave me an opportunity to reacquaint myself with its luxurious insides. The dashboard uses a fine mix of materials and varied surface finishes for a luxurious feel, while the 10.25-inch infotainment screen looks crisp and is your gateway to Hyundai’s BlueLink connected technology, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and more.
The Tucson is also equipped with a wireless charging pad, electric adjust for both front seats (swathed in rich, soft-textured leather), a massive panoramic sunroof and a premium Bose music system kept us entertained too. But as we got to Sonamarg for a late lunch, I felt the need to do more with the Tucson, given how capable it was proving to be. And by the time I got to Srinagar later that night, I had a couple of ideas in mind. A quick discussion with the team confirmed, they were itching to do more as well. The itch is perennial, like I said! So the next morning a plan was hatched, to drive the Tucson to what is widely regarded as the world’s most dangerous road!
Kishtwar is a small town in Kashmir, towards the southern state border and is known as the land of sapphires and saffron, besides its natural beauty. And the main highway passing through it leads to a quaint little town called Killar in Himachal Pradesh. A small stretch of this road holds the title of being one of the most dangerous roads in the world. The said stretch is extremely narrow, prone to landslides, has the mountain face on one side and deep valleys on the other and is infamous for many accidents. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a little voice inside asking me if I was going to push things too far with this one, but I chose to ignore the voice. It isn’t every day that we get to drive through and explore the Kashmir valley!
Most people fly in and visit the touristy places but to visit the smaller towns and villages and experience the hospitality of the region is what I was looking forward to. And that’s besides the fact that I wanted to breathe the fresh mountain air into my lungs and enjoy the scenic views too – something the Great India Drive was making possible! Roads were non-existent as I’d expected, but the Tucson was proving to be a pleasant surprise, taking everything in its stride while ensuring we were perfectly comfortable inside thanks to its plush ride quality and luxurious interiors. The 10.25-inch instrument cluster display is yet another nod to the Tucson’s tech-savviness and lets you customise views besides offering tonnes of information on the go, which was helping me on this long road trip further.
Of course, the Level 2 ADAS functions are yet another ace up its sleeve and the Tucson is currently the only offering in the segment to feature the functionality. Given the engine refinement, it was also hard to tell I was driving a diesel, besides which the SUV was also surprisingly fuel efficient, even in the mountains. As the sun was going down that day, I made a quick pit stop, parking the SUV next to the cliff, overlooking a snow-clad mountain. As I sipped on a cup of hot tea in the freezing cold, I couldn’t help but admire the Tucson’s design. Its parametric grille and the integrated DRLs make for a very unique looking face and besides looking highly futuristic, the Tucson also has the butch appeal SUV buyers look for.
The rear end looks equally appeasing, thanks to the tail lamp design and not to forget, the 3D Hyundai logo on the rear windscreen and the cleverly hidden wiper. The 18-inch alloys add to the Tucson’s dynamic feel and overall, the SUV’s design is very modern looking and visually stunning. Post sunset, the Tucson’s bright LED headlights came into play, illuminating the road ahead (or the lack of it) very well, adding to confidence levels.
The mercury dipping that evening only added to my excitement for the next morning, when we would finally hit ‘the’ stretch! A part of me was also revolting against going there given the risk, but I wanted to give it a shot and of course, the Tucson was proving to be the perfect set of wheels for the challenge. The next morning we went up and down, mountain after mountain, before getting to the start of the infamous stretch, which was about 3 kilometres in length. Locals there informed us though that the said stretch had been shut, given the risk of life and that an alternate route had been carved out.
I was disappointed (while a part of me heaved a sigh of relief!), but admittedly, even the new road replacing the stretch was no less scary to be on. Even stopping to take pictures felt risky, given how narrow it was. As I drove on I was also treated to some of the most scenic views I have laid my eyes on – it isn’t without reason that Kashmir is known as ‘Heaven on Earth’ and to get to a place as beautiful, we had to drive across some of the most treacherous routes I have been on. While snow clad peaks are a common sight across the length of the Himalayas, the vistas that the road from Kishtwar to Killar offered are unparalleled and breathtaking to say the least.
Of the many things I’ve been able to do as an automotive journalist, driving across one of the most dangerous roads was certainly a bucket list item. And the Great India Drive and Hyundai Tucson helped me tick it off! As I reached Killar an hour later, watching the sun (and mercury!) go down and sipping tea, I couldn’t help but reflect – the past two days had been mesmerising and driving to Killar was the icing on the cake. Now to plan the next adventure.