Hyundai Sea to Summit: The Sea
28 states, eight union territories, and enough districts to make your head spin. 22 officially recognised languages, and a staggering 19,500 dialects. A billion and a half people in 2022, give or take a few hundred lakhs. To say India is diverse would be an understatement as massive as our country's statistics themselves.
And from 1996, when India's population counted in as just under a billion people to now, there's been an automobile brand that's gone from an unknown to one of the most loved. That brand is, of course, Hyundai. Coming in at a time when India's automobile sector was limited to five manufacturers, to current times where the sector's seeing one of the largest changes in mobility it's ever seen, Hyundai's been right at the leading edge. From the first ever tallboy hatchback in India with the beloved Hyundai Santro, to the first electric SUV with the Hyundai Kona, we've seen Hyundai drive India.
And on this drive spanning 6,000+km from west to east, we've seen exactly that countless times in person too! It really does seem like every second car you pass on the road is a Hyundai. It's worth trying it out for yourself - count the next 10 cars that pass you and we guarantee you'll have counted more than a handful of Hyundais by the time you reach your count. For this Sea to Summit expedition, one that anyone can and should do really for a crash course in how varied India can be, we're in the new Hyundai Venue.
It's a compact SUV that follows in a long line of tradition of Hyundai cementing itself in the mind space of the Indian car-buyer by seemingly offering exactly everything the market wants, and even that which the people didn't think they did but now can't do without. It's why more than a third of Venue-owners are brand-new to the world of car ownership! And with the new Venue bringing a fresh look to Hyundai's popular compact SUV, the reason to buy one is only stronger.
Even in the small beach town of Mandvi, we were approached by more than a few locals who recognised the facelifted Venue and came over to get a closer look having made enquiries at the Hyundai dealership in nearby Bhuj. Hyundai's new parametric grille with its oversize blocks finished in burnished chrome definitely seem to have done its job. Because the new Venue looks the part of SUV even more convincingly, with the full length light bar at the rear accentuating its broad shoulders, adding to its modern, rugged appeal, especially at night.
One of India's largest ports, before Mumbai's popularity boomed, Mandvi knows rugged when it sees it. Today, shipbuilding continues in tradition though steel has replaced wood as the material of choice at several of the large shipyards you can find along the coast. Note, Mandvi offers up a more, ahem, rustic beach experience than most. It certainly has a unique flavour that we haven't seen at other beach towns we've visited before, with a decidedly laid-back feel. Of course, it could be that the heavy rains in the area had dampened spirits but it was the hand we were dealt.
Moving on along four-lane highways for the most part, you'll likely notice Gujarat's leading produce - wind power and salt. Both outputs are the largest in India, and have put the country on the list of top three countries producing wind power and salt globally. Our next stop was Mount Abu, Rajasthan's summer retreat, and indeed, the only hill station in the desert state.
Having arrived late in the evening, we also got a chance to fully appreciate the bright cornering lights on the Venue that do a great job of lighting up the insides of the hairpin bends that pepper the drive up to the town. The next morning revealed the beauty of Nakki lake in the centre of the town, and were we not spoiled for choice in the cabin of the Venue, we might've chosen to spend an hour or two boating.
Having driven down from Mumbai, we'd already acquainted ourselves with the extremely competent, yet frugal nature of the 1.5-litre diesel in the Venue. Still, having climbed the highest peak in the Aravalli range to get to Mount Abu, we'd expected a hit to efficiency. The small matter of having let enthusiasm take over a couple of times perhaps being the largest reason for that. But when we filled up the next day we realised the Venue had still returned close to the same numbers in the plains!
Even an impromptu stop at the rock hills of Jowai near Bera in Rajasthan didn't put a big dent in our average. This despite a lot of low-speed trudging through the muddy trails, and experimentation with climbing the steep rock face in the heart of leopard country. Now, we haven't ever made the climb up in a front-wheel drive car, nor have we ever tried it in the rain. There is a first time for everything, though. And we can now proudly say the Venue has more than enough SUV in it, having made the climb up in first gear look rather easy. Of special note is the approach angle which meant we didn't have to worry about the front skid plate grounding out before the fun even began.
That aside, the light and perfectly-assisted steering that Hyundai is known for seems tuned enough in the new Venue to appease both the enthusiast and city driver. It's still great for navigating tight spaces and the open road with equal aplomb.
Heading into Jaipur, and managing the city's wedding season traffic and morning chaos in the old city certainly highlights the former. Apart from the fact that the Venue had swallowed up the luggage for three people and a dog, but was still immensely easy to place on a crowded road. Being able to see the edges of the hood goes a long way towards that driving comfort, and the electrically-adjustable driver's seat in the new Venue is a nice bonus.
It's also refreshing to be in a cabin that just works. Thoughtful design is the key point here, offering up handy spaces to place the likes of GoPros and smartphones for quick retrieval when a shot was called for. Speaking of thoughtful layouts, we finally get to our last stop on the first part of this journey - Chandigarh. From here, the terrain changes once again as we begin our ascend to Ladakh and the highest motorable road in the world, in Umling La at a dizzying 19,600 feet above sea level. And having started right from sea level, we can attest, that's quite the climb. We're dying to see just how efficient the Venue remains in the mountains of Ladakh, but that's a story for part two.
Photography by Anis Shaikh
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