A couple of pine needles fell on me, and considering it was 2 am and I was in the middle of the forest that makes up the Askot Musk Deer Sanctuary, it was an unnerving experience, to say the least. The fact that I am not exactly the outdoorsy type didn’t help either. Here I am, nevertheless, writing about an amazing three days spent driving around the magnificent Pithoragarh region of Uttarakhand, in torrential rain, with a few landslides and some camping thrown in.
Now, we’ve driven the Venue N Line thoroughly since it was launched, and we know it’s a fun car to have as a road trip companion. When we set out for the next chapter of our ongoing Essence of Motoring series with Hyundai, the Venue N Line was our ride of choice. We wanted to explore a little-known area, and we wanted to do it not through the comfort of the usual resorts and mod-cons, but by camping out in the wild and driving around in areas that Google maps may not have seen.
The Venue N Line is an effortless SUV to drive in urban conditions, but we wanted to see how it would behave out on some long, forgotten paths in the mountains. When we left Delhi, the capital city had had an early onset of the monsoon – for the first time in 62 years, Delhi and Mumbai welcomed the rain on the same date. The waterlogged streets and a city looking like a set for a dystopian movie were the background when we left early one morning, with Uttarakhand awaiting us.
Our first stop after leaving Delhi was Tanakpur, on the India-Nepal border, where the stunning Sarda River flows. If you haven’t explored this part of the country, you should. The sheer expanse of the river and the forest that surrounds it are mesmerising. The drive there is mostly on well-made four-lane highways, with farm land on both sides along with vast areas covered with mango trees. The Venue N Line ate up the miles with ease, and caught the eye of numerous bystanders, especially with its raspy exhaust note.
Once you cross Tanakpur, the climb towards Pithoragarh begins. This is also where the Purnagiri range starts, and as you climb higher, some lovely pine trees start appearing. The roads are stunning and well-paved, and this was where the Venue N Line showcased its sporty nature. The stiffened-up suspension, sharp steering and the great exhaust burble all added up to make the N Line variant hugely entertaining, and we threw it around corners with big grins on our faces.
Our next stop was Pithoragarh, where we planned to stay the night. Perched at a height of 1627m, this beautiful town offers a pine-tree forest in place of your usual park in the locality – beat that. We checked into our hotel and called it a day; the drive had been lovely, but there had been a surprising lack of places serving good tea in the region.
The next day’s plan was to spend some time soaking up Pithoragarh’s beauty and then head towards Askot, about 50 km away. An intense spell of rain, a fresh landslide and a pretty heavy lunch at a roadside dhabha that was half hanging over a valley meant we reached Askot later than we had anticipated. The Askot Musk Deer Sanctuary, a safe haven designated for the endangered White Billed Musk Deer, lies close to the town of Dharchula. You won’t find any specific locations to drive to in order to explore the place, and most locals also can’t guide you to a place where you can set up your tent and try to see musk deer in the wild. All these factors led to us ending up in a place where even hardcore SUVs would have paused for a second, in order to consider the stupidity vs reward ratio. In our case, Google Maps was the torch bearer of the stupidity brigade, for a change.
As we searched for a perfect spot to try and see the elusive musk deer, we used up most of the remaining daylight, and then the aforementioned wrong turn ensured another three hours spent in pitch darkness, in pretty thrilling driving conditions. The Venue N Line sailed right through; it was never bothered about anything we threw at it. Yes, the suspension is on the stiffer side for broken tarmac, but it is an absolute delight on smooth roads and around fast corners. It may not have been the immediately obvious car for our trip, considering the harsh conditions we encountered, but three days with it made us realise that the Venue N Line can truly take on an adventure when the calling arrives.