Chasing the sun. You want to know what our brief for this series of stories was? Take a Hyundai car, and of course you, to a destination worth watching the sunrise or sunset from. Not too hard a task in a country like India, eh? The country itself is so vast, and we don’t particularly lack destinations worth watching the sunrise from. However, (and this however is a big one) the whole subcontinent is covered by a ginormous bloomin’ rain cloud at the moment. How am I supposed take you to see the sunrise if the sun ain’t shining at all? But there is this one place. It’s called the Thar desert. The whole reason why that mass of land became a desert is the abject lack of precipitation in the region, and that lack of precipitation is what I was counting on to be able to catch a glimpse of the setting sun.
0730 hours: We’re in Delhi, walking out of the lobby of our hotel when we see the Elantra. I’m not the type to go gaga over a car simply because it’s painted a certain shade, but this Elantra looks stunning in (I even checked what it’s called!) Marina Blue. I walked around it once. Then I walked around it again. It is a handsome car — clean, strong lines and a distinct profile — it looks like it could give those wildly expensive German sedans a run for their money! It kicked the morning blues right out of me, and beckoned me to get behind the wheel. Impressions from there? Clean dash layout, the dual tone finish works well and materials feel deserving of being used in this class of car. I was glad I’d be spending an undefined amount of time — until I found the sun — in this car.
Ah the sun. Delhi’s perpetual blanket of smog, coupled with thick cloud cover meant you’d be better off searching for a safe street to walk down alone at night, than looking for the sun. Lucky for us, the Elantra gets Clean Air tech, essentially a cluster ioniser that helps keep the cabin air clean and odour free. But we weren’t staying put. We were going to chase it down, in to the desert and even in to Pakistan if I had to. Actually, scratch that last bit out. The sun can go to hell if it doesn’t reveal itself before I reach the border. I’m not risking being branded an antinational for watching a Pakistani sunset.
0930 hours: What is up with Gurgaon traffic! The guys at the hotel warned me not to leave at 7:30 because traffic would be ‘bad’. I didn’t heed their advice and left anyway, because I’m accustomed to bad traffic. I mean, Pune has a pretty bad reputation with traffic right? But Gurgaon traffic isn’t bad, it is <insert your choice of expletive> terrible! A lot of it is down to shoddy city planning — like that one bit where eight lanes suddenly narrow down to two, causing a bottleneck and a traffic jam that can go on for a couple of kilometres. Lucky for me, I had the automatic variant of the Elantra. I didn’t have to do much, lifting off the brakes as and when required to crawl forward in Eco mode. Yes, I was also intermittently checking live weather updates of all sorts of places in Rajasthan. Things looked bleak, but we’d take a call on our destination a little further in to the day. We made it out of Gurgaon, on to NH8 that heads straight for Jaipur — it wasn’t raining but heavy clouds still hung ominously in the sky.
1030 hours: The open road. We’d snaked our way out of the national capital region and were properly on the highway now. The Elantra was making up good time on the highway. Under the hood is a 1.6-litre turbo diesel engine, and a very refined one at that. It makes 126bhp and 260Nm, plenty to keep it at reasonable cruising speeds on the wide highway. The gearbox is a pleasant unit to use as well. It changes the way it behaves according to what driving mode you’re in (Power/ Eco/ Normal) and isn’t wary of downshifting when you ask for it. The Elantra is an effortless car to drive. It is set up for comfort — the suspension is softly sprung, the steering is light and so is the nature of the power delivery. You could never call the Elantra sporty. What it is instead is classy, and effortless in its manners.
Google tells me Jaipur is in for rain. And so is Udaipur, and the other places we would hit along the NH8. This meant we would have to alter our course and start travelling west, further in to the Thar desert. So our sights were set on Bikaner.
1145 hours: Progress was slow again. Not because of the traffic, but the roads. We turned off the NH8 at Kotputli, to head in the general direction of Bikaner hoping to make it there for sunset. We hadn’t anticipated these roads though. Every single time we’ve come to Rajasthan, we wax eloquent about how great the roads are. However, the road we were on could pass off for the set that NASA used, to fake their moon landings. I was slightly scared of damaging the underbody of the Elantra, it is a sedan after all. However, with a bit of gentle driving we managed to see it through without so much as a scrape. It really surprised me, there were parts where I was certain of making contact with the road, however, it just refused to bottom out.
Meanwhile, as we journeyed further west, the clouds continued. Things looked grim, and if they continued in this manner, we’d be in for trouble.
1500 hours: Was that direct sunlight? Yes it was! As we went further and further in to the desert, the clouds seemed to be getting thinner. We’d just passed Mandawa, a town filled with traditional havelis and heritage homes — most of them converted in to homestays and hotels, and filled (unsurprisingly) with wide-eyed white people who’ve been convinced they’re staying at the homes of the maharajas. The lanes were narrow and like any small town, filled with cattle, rickshaws and animal-drawn carts. It was orderly chaos, the road seemed to have no rules — it was a free-for-all, and yet, traffic flowed smoothly without a single hold up. The Elantra did leave a lot of gaping mouths in its wake, though.
The sand started just after Mandawa, however, the region had received a fair amount of rain this year so the dunes were covered in greenery. These shrubs sprout with the onset of the monsoons, but don’t survive too long. They shrivel up and die once the rain stops, and in a couple of months there will be no trace of them. With every passing minute, the sky was clearing up so we continued until we found a good vantage point atop one of the many dunes and waited for the sun to set.
1830 hours: The sun had dipped low enough for Gaurav to whip out his camera and start shooting. Meanwhile, I was just grateful that the clouds had parted and we could see the sun set. I set up the car as he desired, and waited. In the rear view mirror, I could see the sun setting. Move over that cliched ‘it’s the journey, not the destination’ stuff that we keep spewing. This time, it was ‘the journey and the destination’ that was spectacular. As the sun dipped below the horizon, the sky shifted from a bright, burning orange to mauve, and then to a deep purple. Never before have I witnessed such unusual colours grace the sky, and to see it here, in the vast emptiness of the desert made it all the more breathtaking.
We drove the Elantra from Rajasthan back to Delhi the next day. It was the same routine as the previous day, in reverse — some nice interior roads, followed by the lunarscape, the arrow straight NH8 and finally, the suffocating embrace of Delhi’s smog. Driving a sedan like the Elantra across the country reminds you of the simple pleasures of driving a good ol’ three box car. Yes, SUVs may be the rage right now and hatchbacks may be practical, and sometimes even fun, but nothing comes close to the joy a sedan can give you. Especially when it looks like this Elantra does, in… what was the name of that blue again?