Words: Aninda Sardar
Photography: Gaurav S Thombre
Sometimes, in a search for the spectacular, we often cast our nets far and wide, ignoring things that are closer home. This month we seek to rectify that with a hill climb to Sinhagad. Less than 35km from the heart of our city, the fort of Sinhagad is perched atop a hill that offers magnificent views of a twinkling Peshwa city as dawn breaks. Over the past decade, the lush green view I remember has been gradually replaced with the inevitable onslaught of the concrete jungle. But it’s still pretty spectacular.
In fact, the only thing more spectacular about Sinhagad is the climb to the hill fort itself. Replete with a mix of tight and steep hairpins and fast flowing bends. The road is rather narrow and the surface becomes a rutted mess towards the end but long before you get there, there’s fun to be had. Especially at the wheel of the mammoth yet agile Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 Coupé. The climb actually starts gingerly for even at the early hour, there’s a security guard-cum-toll collector at the base of the hill. For the princely sum of Rs 50, exchanged for a permission slip from a handheld machine, we had the green light for 2018’s first hill climb.
Ours however isn’t the first hill climb that Sinhagad would have seen. Just last year, Parasa Racing of Pune organised the Pune Open Hill Climb, here for two-wheelers under the aegis of India’s premier motorsports authority – the FMSCI. Given that motorsport events usually find their way to routes that are challenging, it wouldn’t be further from the truth to assume that the hill climb to the summit of Sinhagad would be nothing but. A small word of caution here, the place is a tourist hot spot and gets filled up with suicidal bikers, maniac drivers and more. The best time for a hill climb here is early morning on a weekday.
With 362 bellowing horses and 520Nm of max torque being pushed out from the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 Coupé’s twin turbo 3-litre V6 petrol, touching 100kmph between the corners is a piece of cake, Mercedes says that no to 100 takes less than 5 seconds. Brake. Select the right cog from the nine options that the 9G-TRONIC offers. Turn. Hit the apex and floor it, banging through the gearbox using the paddleshifters, till you reach the next corner. Repeat. That’s pretty much the straight forward routine to the top.
The rush is addictive as you stomp on the left pedal to shed speed before you arrive at your next turn-in point. Corner by corner, smile turns to grin as you weave your way up, accompanied by the whoosh of the turbos bouncing off the rocky hillsides. The fact that people are yet to wake up is a boon and not once are we disturbed in our pursuit of happiness by an errant biker or a slow-moving taxi. Sinhagad at dawn is delightful. The rumble of the V6 aside there isn’t much to be heard.
Despite the passing of the monsoons almost half a year ago and the next one not due for another five months at least, the hillside is lush. It’s an ecological haven with hundreds of species of flora and fauna. Strategically placed sign boards remind you of the need to exercise caution at all times. Lest you kill a sleepy snake or hit a jaywalking monkey. Under normal circumstances that would be a deterrent to any hill climb enthusiast. Not today. From the driver’s seat of the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 Coupé, you have a commanding view of the road ahead and hazards are spotted way before you reach them. Thankfully for us, the forest continued its slumber while we continued with our antics.
The surface of the last few kilometres to the top is a ruin that could rival the old Maratha fort itself. Stripped of tarmac and ridden with potholes, the road is a shadow of its former glory. Well, dramatic as that might sound, the truth is the road was built only two years ago. At about the same time as the rest of the road. Only the contractor of this stretch wasn’t quite as fastidious about his job as the other one. Mercifully, his contract didn’t cover the majority of the surface, and fortunately for us, we had the best of both worlds on this drive – the performance of a sports coupé packed in the body of a practical SUV.
At the top, marveling at that magnificent view and sipping a cup of steaming tea, I couldn’t help but wonder why I hadn’t done a hill climb to Sinhagad before. But then, I didn’t have the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 Coupé as my companion then, did I?