Our lives as auto journalists revolve around finding the best driving roads in the most exotic locations, and while at it, conveniently neglect the people going about their daily lives around those great roads. Admittedly, we are guilty of living in a bubble. So this time we took our little Renault Kwid on a more offbeat trip, exploring Lasalgaon.
Lasalgaon – The largest onion market in the country
That’s what we consciously try to address with our series of Kwid challenges. We’ve just set a national record with the Kwid, driving through all 29 states of India and while meeting with the locals, getting a taste of the local culture and even doing a good deed by participating in food drives organised by the Robin Hood Army. We experienced nuances of life far away from the metros and big cities that we otherwise just wouldn’t have. Emboldened by our experiences, we have set out to continue in that very vein and learn more about the incredible country that India is. Which is how we find ourselves headed for Lasalgaon.
I am sure few would have heard of this place near Nashik in Maharashta. A stray remark about how everything is getting super expensive took me back a few days when I read about onion prices. A quick Google search later, I realised that all reports about rising and falling onion prices came from one place – Lasalgaon, the largest onion market in the country. It is a small town nestled amidst the farmlands of rural Nashik. A few phone calls to the Lasalgaon Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee(APMC) got me in touch with Bapu Patil, the man in-charge of the day-to-day functioning of the market. A plan was made and we headed off in the most practical car to meander through the narrow lanes of a mandi, the Kwid.
Google Maps told us it was 215km away from our base in Pune. With the AMT on the new Kwid that we were driving, we reckoned that meant a leisurely four hours of driving. It wasn’t. We started before sunrise and the Pune-Nashik highway allowed the Kwid to stretch its legs and the 1.0-litre mill managed to keep a good pace. Triple digit speeds were easily attained and we continued on our merry run till we found morning traffic and a short while later it was all about avoiding the umpteen tractors loaded with produce on the roads – a task where the manoeuvrability of the Kwid came to the fore. The AMT impressed us here with its predictable nature and it was a boon to use while whizzing in and out of tractor traffic. The tractors are often way slower than what you’d expect and we often had to slow down from highway speeds to a near standstill. The brakes on the Kwid were up to the task and had enough bite to prevent small errors in judgement from proving too costly.
A little while after we had passed Sangamner on our way to Lasalgaon, we left the highway and were met with roads that kept getting narrower and narrower till we ran out of tarmac. Here were potholes that most hatchbacks simply wouldn’t be able to handle. Not a problem in the Kwid. We went through small villages and hamlets and places that you wouldn’t find on a map. We saw children walk kilometres to the nearest school; their parents occupied with farming. Their houses were simple single-storey affairs and the people, even simpler.
All about the onions
After nearly five and a half hours of driving we were at Lasalgaon. Traffic leading up to the market slowed us down but the crawl feature in the 2018 Kwid AMT came to our rescue and driving through bumper to bumper traffic didn’t prove to be a hassle at all. To say that the market was buzzing with activity would be an understatement. It was packed with people either buying or selling them; 10,500 quintals of onions every day. There were rows and rows of tractors parked, waiting for the trading to begin. Bapu Patil guided us through the old but highly efficient process of physical onion trading. Farmers from four districts – Aurangabad, Dhule, Ahmednagar and Nashik – make a beeline for the market and are met by Lasalgaon APMC reps who give them slot numbers to go in and line up. Traders from all over the country arrive and the tractors are emptied on to the ground. The onions are then inspected and negotiations for the prices begin. On the day of our visit the best onions commanded a thousand rupees for a quintal – 10 rupees for a kilogram. These same onions are then sold in cities for at least three times of what the farmers get. Hrishi and Gaurav got nearly hundred kilos for us to take back home and the boot easily consumed all that with space to spare, thus demonstrating the practicality and usability of the Kwid.
Satisfied with what’s on offer, the traders then give a receipt to the farmers while an APMC representative stamps and seals the deal. No farmer goes back without selling his produce. The onions on the ground are hurled back on to the tractors by two men using large sacks. Physically demanding as it is, the labourers are paid just 80 to 90 paise per throw. On a good day they make merely three hundred rupees. But in places like these three hundred bucks go a long way, so much so that there are hundreds of men willing to do the hard work. The day of trading in Lasalgaon is a Very Big Deal for the farmers. A good price for their crop could mean a better life immediately while a bad one could mean disaster.
For it’s size, the Kwid is loaded
Driving through the onion market surrounded by hundreds of tractors brought to our notice a few things about the 2018 Kwid that we had at our disposal. The rear parking camera was extremely useful while reversing into tight spots in the market. The numerous people milling about the place would have been difficult to deal with had it not been for the camera and the clarity and brightness of the display even under the scorching sun. The light and effortless steering was a boon in the crowded market too.
Armed with enough onions to feed an army and a delicious Maharashtrian chicken thali later we were back on our way. A gruelling five hours or so of driving awaited us and we relied on Google Maps to guide us home. It led us to the top of a dam that was centimetres away from overflowing with no road in sight. The Kwid had impressed us so much that Hrishi believed we could make it through over the wall and the metre high speedbreaker before it. The rest of us however, didn’t want to risk falling into the dam and so we headed back the same way we came in. The whole exercise cost us an hour and then Hrishi took the wheel and decided he’d had too much of my slow driving.
With Hrishi behind the wheel, I had the time to think about several things. About the farmers, the place, the car and the close to 100kg of onions in the back that Gaurav and Hrishi had brought back which, by the way, the Kwid had no issues with; Hrishi said he just couldn’t feel the weight while he was driving. I thought of the farmers for whom Lasalgaon was the place where they’d be judged on the months and months of hardwork. But it wasn’t a battleground. Farmers helped each other and there is camaraderie everywhere. Some farmers even gave us, strangers to them, onions to take home. It led me to think about the way we go about our lives in our cities; cussing at that car that is too slow, angry with the delivery boy being late with our food, bitter with the auto driver asking for 10 rupees over the fare on the meter.
The villages are where India really shines, where our best values and tradition are still preserved. It needs a car like the Kwid – capable and accommodating of all that we Indians ask of it. Lasalgaon, to a lot of people, is an aspirational place, a place that can change their fortunes. The Kwid for a lot of people all across India, is just that, its the car that helps them step up. It is a hatchback that truly represents India. It is hard working and doesn’t ask for much. The Kwid may not be a supercar but for India and the numerous Indians who trust it as their daily ride, it is worth much more than the thousands of horsepower you will see on the pages of this magazine. And besides aren’t the best drives in your life more about the entire experience rather than just the car?