SUNRISE. AS THAT CELESTIAL burning ball of gas we call the sun, pokes its head over the horizon, it bathes the land in its warm embrace. Those first rays are always the most comforting — the ones that pierce the tendrils of darkness that spread through the night. Darkness retreats as the sun claims its rightful place in the sky. A sunrise on a good day is quite the spectacle — the golden glow on the horizon along with the smattering of a few stray clouds in the sky — it can become a heady concoction of colours that constantly shifts and adjusts itself, each frame more spectacular than the last. Don’t even get me started on the metaphorical interpretations of the inevitable dawn after the long night and all that jazz; I could go on for days.
However, we are a hyper-urban society, one that dwells in concrete jungles, with its infinite shades of greys and browns. The sun rises out from behind buildings, fights through the layers of grime, smog and dust through the day, only to disappear behind another building in the evening. Tell me honestly, when was the last time you woke up early simply to watch the sun rise? I’m not talking about the times you woke up early for work (or were up late at a party) and watched it rise as a consequence of being awake at that hour. No, when did you last wake up to simply bear witness to this daily occurrence? I couldn’t remember either. Time to change that. India is vast, and it has no dearth of destinations that compound the beauty of a sunrise by simply being magnificent by themselves. Over the next couple of months, we’re going to head out to some of these destinations in a variety of Hyundai cars to witness the sun rise. And set.
Our first destination was a no-brainer, really. The Rann of Kutch offers some of the most breathtaking views of the sun rising — the land is flat for miles and you can see the sun inch over the horizon and get brighter as it climbs. If you flip through some of our older issues, you’d notice that some of our best pictures have come from this cracked, dry salt desert. And to tackle this harsh terrain, we’d need an SUV — nothing like the Hyundai Tucson that has been getting rave reviews from all quarters then.
But before I get onto our adventures in the Rann (well, its periphery), let me tell you about the drive there from Pune because it was a real highlight. Here’s what you need to know: Pune to Dasada. 760km. 12hours, 42 minutes of continuous driving according to Google Maps. It’s doable in a day, but it shouldn’t be something you can call easy-peasy. Well, the Tucson made it easy-peasy. When Anand returned from the Great India Drive ranting and raving about how comfortable the Tucson was, I put it down to him losing objectivity, having spent far too much time in one car. But boy, was I wrong. Because the Tucson munches miles like no car I have ever driven before, and I had to drive it to believe it.
We made it to Dasada in 12hoursflat—including a breakfast stop, a lunch stop, a short detour in to the heart of Ahmedabad to pick up a lens, and a tea break. Little more then 10 hours of driving did the job. The Tucson makes it so easy to keep your average speeds up, and makes driving such long distances a breeze. The comfort of the seats are a highlight, and so is the detached feel you have in the cabin. The engine has plenty of grunt to hustle it along and the refinement levels are commendable while giving you decent fuel economy as well. Fatigue simply doesn’t set in and you can drive at unspeakable speeds for hours, without tiring even slightly. Equipment is impressive as well. The infotainment system is faultless—the touchscreen interface is intuitive and doesn’t have a steep teaming curve like some modern day ones do, it has plenty of connectivity options and the speakers could give branded ones from cars in two classes above, a run for their money.
The chassis control is also sorted. Gone are die days of floaty cars, this one is taut and controlled, giving you tremendous confidence to keep pushing it. The road from Pune to Dasada is one long, long straight road — up NH48 all the way to Ahmedabad, after which you get off the national highways on to some State high ways and make it to Dasada. The smaller roads aren’t as well paved as the other roads and you do come across the occasional pothole — and the Tucson makes quick work of them. Ride is stiffer than you’d traditionally expect of a Hyundai, yet comfort levels are beyond reproach.
We arrived at the Rann Riders camp in Dasada to overcast skies, news that it had poured heavily in the Rann the previous day and (worse) that we may not be able to shoot the sunrise, as the sun would rise behind the clouds. When it rains in the Rann, the Rann goes back to what it used to be — the ocean. The hard, cracked surface becomes something like quicksand and even hardcore 4x4s and tractors can get themselves stuck. You even fish for excellent prawns in the Rann when it gets flooded. So all those dramatic photos with the car driving through the vastness, dust billowing behind and the sun glowing somewhere further behind had to be put into our bin of trashed ideas.
But we hadn’t driven so far to turn around and go home, so alarms were set for 4:30am. The entry to the Rann is at Zinzuwada, some 25km from Dasada and it takes about 45 minutes to get to this little village. We were following one of the Rann Riders’ experienced expedition leaders and as we drove there, the sky turned from pitch black, to a deep purple and finally to a rich blue. We were in luck, not a cloud was in sight. We were going to get to witness our sunrise. However, to get a half decent photograph of it, we’d need to get off the road and enter the Rann.
Not a bright idea, considering the Rann was one big quicksand pit, but our guide knew better. He took us down an obscure path, and led us to a part of the Rann which was on slightly higher ground. The sand was wet but we wouldn’t sink, and so in we went. However the terrain was ever-changing and some parts were trickier than others. The Tucson doesn’t get all-wheel drive but front-wheel drive keeps weight over the driven wheels and lowers the possibility of getting stuck. The 175mm ground clearance also helps with the small streams of water we had to ford. A little bit of slipping and sliding later, we got the car strategically in to position so we could get the shot you see on the opening spread of the story. Rohit got into position with his lens, and I, well I just let the moment take over. Cliched yes, but boy was it something.
Slowly but surely, the sun inched its way up from beyond the horizon. The blues got mixed up with teds and oranges I never knew existed, and so for in to the Rann, we could hear nothing but the wind blowing in our faces. Rohit’s camera shutter begins firing. Click, click, click. And the sun was three clicks higher in the sky as well. The pictures are fabulous, but they do not do justice to the real thing. No photograph can. You’ve got to be there, and soak in that moment — the sight of it, the smells, the sounds—to really appreciate it.
The Tucson made for a great subject to shoot against this backdrop. Hyundai’s Fluidic Sculpture 2.0 design language bestows some great curves and proportions to the Tucson. The hexagonal grille flanked by the LED DRLs grab most of the attention, and the rising belt line gives it an aggressive ready-to-pounce stance. The shifting sunlight glinting off the metalwork accentuated every element of the Tucson’s handsome lines and not once did it feel out of place in that moment.
We did a fair bit of exploring after that, we couldn’t venture too deep in to the Rann but we did drive around. Wild asses that inhabit the Rann tend to gather at these highlands to avoid the water, and we saw plenty of them. We couldn’t get too close to the flamingos in the water, but did catch some flying overhead. The Rann is a vastly different place in the monsoons— it is filled with wild grass and shrubbery — painting it a bright green, instead of the hues of brown we are used to seeing. It’s refreshingly different. You can smell the brine in the air, it is heavy and musky, and is the antithesis to the unbearable heat that beat down on the place just weeks ago. As soon as we got out of the Rann and began our drive back to the camp, the wind blew in some deadly looking clouds overhead. That evening it began to pour, and didn’t relent even when we left two mornings later. We seemed to have witnessed the last cloud-free sunrise the Rann would see until the monsoons blow over.