Driving up the mountains to head to one of our favourite destinations – for a cause!
The itch to drive up the mountains is perennial. Fantastic roads and views aside, it’s also very soothing! So when Hyundai invited us for the 2021 Great India Drive (TURBOCHARGED’s first!) we knew where to head. And Hyundai has just completed 25 years in India, making this year’s Great India Drive extra-special. Hyundai wanted us to hit the road for a cause and our brief was to find a woman entrepreneur working towards the upliftment of the society.
Some research had us discover Thapasu Foods, based in Manali, Himachal Pradesh. The brainchild of Amshu CR, Thapasu is a start-up working towards creating a platform for farmers in Himachal Pradesh to get their produce to the market. Hailing from Bangalore, Amshu quit her corporate job there, moved to the mountains five years ago and has been working in the region since then.
Himachal Pradesh is home to a lot of agricultural produce like fruits, berries and more that have medicinal properties but are not popular outside the region. Thapasu Foods works with farmers for collection, research and packaging of produce like sea buckthorn, rosehip and more. Amshu also works closely with IIT Mandi for research. A phone call to Amshu confirmed things and turns out, she likes automobiles herself! Our choice of wheels for the trip was the Hyundai Venue powered by a 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine – perfect, given the name of our magazine!
We were driving the iMT, the intelligent manual transmission without a clutch pedal to add to convenience. Post the flag-off from the Hyundai HQ in Gurugram we bolted straight towards Chandigarh, 300km away. The Venue’s 1.0 turbo GDi engine offered lots of shove in traffic in the Delhi-NCR while the iMT added to convenience, besides which the SUV’s compact dimensions helped matters. But despite its compact dimensions, the Venue's cabin is very spacious. So the team was comfortable inside while the boot took in two suitcases and a couple of bags easily. Space management is excellent, making the Venue ideal for roadtrips, contrary to what many might think given its compact size.
The 120PS engine allowed for brisk progress while the six-speed gearbox ensured the Venue only sipped petrol, with the trip computer always indicating above 20kmpl. The drive to Chandigarh was quick and we were then looking forward to say hello to the mountains. The refined and powerful engine and compact dimensions impressed again, besides which the mountain roads also allowed us to explore the Venue's dynamics. We’ve always liked its balance between ride and handling and reacquainting ourselves with its affable manners was nice.
The steering offers good feedback and feels perfectly weighted while feels suspension is firm enough to let it hold a line. Thanks to the compact size we were also making rapid progress, unlike some of the bigger SUVs on the road. And as we enjoyed the views we were also breathing in clean mountain air! So after a hard day of work in the Delhi-NCR, the Venue’s air purifier was finally at ease. We were also glad it is equipped with multiple USB ports and wireless charging, allowing us to charge multiple devices. It also gets tyre pressure monitoring a must-have on a roadtrip.
Hyundai’s Bluelink connected technology was another boon, taking away the need to depend on our phones for navigation, as mobile network was patchy. The drive to Manali was easy thanks to the improved roads but more importantly, the Venue made the drive quick, comfortable and enjoyable. We reached Manali past sunset when temperatures were down to single digits already. There, we had to negotiate tiny bylanes and once again, the compact dimensions helped.
The next morning we headed to meet some farmers along with Amshu. Every trip to the mountains usually is only about driving and shooting cars, but this time we were meeting locals and understanding their lives. We were thus experiencing a different side of Himachal Pradesh thanks to the Great India Drive, meeting village folk and enjoying their hospitality! The families wouldn’t let us leave without having a meal or at least a cup of tea – it was all very heart warming. We also got to learn how produce is collected from jungles and tested in laboratories, before being sent to process and ship to markets.
Amshu has constantly been working towards sourcing different fruits, berries and more as she believes Himachal has huge potential waiting to be tapped in terms of agricultural produce. She has also been instrumental in reviving farming of a variety of black peas that has great nutritional value but was almost extinct. She travels to villages in Spiti regularly to meet farmers and understand what they need to get their produce to markets, besides working with IIT Mandi for research on new produce.
Next up was a trip to IIT Mandi. We were in awe of the sprawling campus in the midst of the mountains, yet another discovery made possible by the Great India Drive! IIT Mandi supports a body called EWOK (Enabling Women of Kamand), Kamand being the village where the IIT is. EWOK works towards empowerment of women from the region and Amshu works closely with the body. People in remote areas, especially small villages in Himachal Pradesh still lead basic lives and Thapasu Foods and EWOK are working towards changing that.
And then, it was time for us to head back. This trip to Himachal Pradesh was different from our usual ones. Be it meeting farmers or understanding what Thapasu Foods is doing and how it impacts lives of the simple village folk was an experience. That’s besides getting to enjoy the countryside and gorge on lip smacking food as always! The Hyundai Venue of course, proved to be a great companion. The 2021 Great India Drive was thus a heart warming road trip, one that’s given us beautiful memories to cherish!