This is getting tougher by the month. I thought that with the monsoons receding, our Chasing the Sun escapades would become simpler and wouldn’t involve us invoking the gods to clear the skies every half hour. But no, many gods were invoked, the skies remained cloudy and we were left driving around haplessly waiting for them to part. You see, the monsoons advance in the north-western direction for the most part and then head to north India. And just when you think they’re done, the winds double back and head in the south-east direction — the retreating monsoons. They are no kinder than the first onslaught of rain and were certainly making me consider retreating back to the city and giving up on this Chasing the Sun adventure all together. Heck, this was the second time in one week that I’d driven up to Kaas and I had no luck.
Thankfully, we were in the Hyundai Creta, an SUV that I don’t mind spending time in. You see, back when we had the Creta in our long term fleet, the Ed kept it all to himself because he liked it so much. So I never had the chance to drive the Creta long enough to form any sort of concrete opinion about it, apart from the second-hand opinions I picked up from the Ed’s rave reviews in the fleet section of the magazine. Not any more, because I had this Creta all to myself and with the weather remaining uncooperative, it looked like it might have well just been my new long termer. Good stuff.
For those of you who don’t live in and around Pune, you’ve probably never heard of Kaas. I live in Pune and hadn’t heard of it! Kaas is a plateau just outside the town of Satara and what makes it significant is the abundance of flowering plants that populate the entire place — some 850 different species of them. So diverse and interesting is the flora and fauna of this place, that UNESCO have declared it a protected world heritage site. The flowers bloom between August and September, and when in full bloom, the ground is covered in pinks and yellows and blues for as far as the eye can see. Too bad then, that the eyes could only see some 20 metres away, as the fog was so thick. The entire plateau had been enveloped in one massive pregnant cloud and while it looked spectacular in its morbidity, it was throwing a wrench in our grand plans of solar spotting.
Getting to Kaas from Pune is quick work, which explains the two trips in four days — Satara is some 120km down NH4, and Kaas is a further 25km away. The highway run is straightforward, though not as painless as I would have liked. There is work being done on this entire stretch, mainly flyovers being built to avoid the little hamlets that speckle this route and this causes a lot of diversions. A few of these flyovers have been opened but the rest still need work. The Creta does lend some peace of mind — its high ground clearance means that if you get caught out by some nasty road surface changes, the underbody of the car isn’t taking the brunt of it. There are good patches though, and there the Creta laps up the road gladly. It has got Hyundai’s tried and tested 1.6-litre diesel engine and what makes it stand out is how refined it is. No clatter, just asubdued hum in the background allows you to cover proper distances without tiring. It tugs the car along sufficiently fast with 126bhp and 260Nm. The one we’re driving is specced with the automatic gearbox making driving a real breeze, especially when navigating through Satara. Some of the streets there are really chaotic and I was really on the edge of my seat, hoping that no one nicks the car. Having to simply feather the brake pedal and allow it to crawl instead of playing hopscotch with the clutch, brake and accelerator pedals was a relief.
Once out of Satara though, you find yourself snaking up the side of a steep hill. The road surface is questionable and is quite narrow, but I didn’t mind. With a steep, rocky mountain face on your left, a diminishing view of Satara on your right, you keep climbing till you reach the table top. By now you’re in the clouds though, and we could just imagine (sob) what a brilliant view it must have been. Follow this winding road on the mountain top and you eventually reach the protected part of this plateau. We had made it up here four days before as well — only to be greeted by fog. Headlights on, fog lights on and we had all of 20 metres of visibility. Dejected, we decided to try again the next morning. At 5:30am, with headlights and fog lights on, we had all of 10 metres of visibility. Oh joy.
I used all that time to get to know the Creta better. It made a lot of sense — it had ample space on the inside and in the SX(O) trim, had ample goodies to keep us entertained. The ride quality is soft making it a breeze over bad roads (of which there were many). It has presence, comfort and good mileage — it essentially checks all the right boxes. But the best part is the useful features it comes packed with. Hill start assist was of immense help on the many slopes and the cornering lamps did aid in the low visibility conditions. Hyundai have gotten that reputation of providing features at good value, and they deliver time and time again. Doing it in a compact SUV (at a time that SUVs were the rage) has allowed them to ride that wave of popularity and they’re still churning out 10,000 units a month. Spending so much time in the Creta really made sense of how they’ve been sustaining these sales. And it also explained the Ed’s selfishness.
Anyway, back to our little adventure. On finding nothing at our first visit, we returned to Pune. Two days later, the skies seemed clearer and so we gave it another shot. It seemed like a great idea until we came over one of the many crests on the highway and Satara (and the Kaas plateau) came in to view. There were blue skies all around, but right there, right over Satara and enveloping the top of Kaas was a bloomin’ cloud. What sort of bad karma have I accumulated to deserve this?
We went up anyway, still clinging on to a shred of hope that the cloud would blow over. We drove up to the top of the plateau, explored the area, attempted some mild off-roading, scared ourselves with the lack of grip (curse you, rain!) and vowed to stick to tarmac. It was 5pm, and the cloud showed no sign of blowing over. Decision time. Do we hang around till the next morning and hope for it to clear, or head back to the city to return another day? We called it a day and pointed the Creta towards Pune.
I guess someone hit the refresh button on my karma because as we drove back down, we found ourselves on a road with a clearing on either side. It wasn’t raining there, and I could almost see a speck of golden sky through the clouds. This was it, it had to be. Within seconds, the clouds parted revealing the fiery golden sun behind it. I scrambled to get the Creta in to position for the perfect shot, Rohit leaped out trying to find a flattering angle. Snap, snap, snap. And almost like it was rehearsed, the clouds shuffled back in to place gathered up the sun into its embrace. Gone, just like that.
I can’t control the weather. And that is precisely what adds the challenge to this Chasing the Sun series. If I could drive down to the beach and get a spectacular sunset evening after evening, there wouldn’t be any chasing involved. Neither would there be any satisfaction when we bag that money shot. What we just did though, running around like headless chickens for days, and finally capturing the perfect picture when the opportunity presents itself? Nothing can beat that feeling.