I remember getting up in the middle of the night to the buzzing of giant flies and some odd-looking insects crawling up our tent. Being deep into the woods and far from civilisation, it was like a scene from Wrong Turn but without distorted cannibals and butchery, of course. It’s the only vivid piece of memory I have of my first and only camping experience years ago in Sonmarg, and clearly it isn’t a blissful reminder. We left the next morning and I voluntarily swore off camping forever.
That was until last week when Ameya who, unlike me, doesn’t mind being eaten alive by bugs, claimed it would be a good idea to go lakeside camping, somewhere not too far from Mumbai. Oddly enough, it didn’t take long for this guy right here, who swore his camping days were behind him, to check for locations.
So why did I persist? Simply because this time around, I wasn’t summoned into camping after hiking for hours into the wilderness. I was more than happy to drive the impressive Renault Captur to a campsite beside a beautiful lake and help Ameya set up our tent that’s within walking distance of the nearest village.
Among the countless quick-getaway options one has from Mumbai, we began to look for the right place. In fact, the perfect location ought to be a good three to four-hour drive away, with a copious amount of greenery along the way, not to mention the quaintness and tranquillity of an undefiled lakeside. Following a brief discussion and with a couple of locations marked on the map, we decided to head off to Vaitarna Lake near Nashik. Located roughly 105km off Bombay city, it offers a breath-taking view of the Western Ghats and fits our purpose, as well.
The road leading to our campsite from the Mumbai-Nashik highway is anything but plush. That said, we couldn’t have had a better companion for this trip than the all-new Renault Captur petrol. Be it broken roads or the harsh heat, the Captur braved it all. “Such a great looking SUV, especially in this red colour” “and it’s got a big boot, too” were our first thoughts as it took our luggage, a full-size tent and all of Kaustubh’s camera equipment with ease.
It’s always better to drive out of Bombay either late in the night or well before sunrise. However, neither would assure you roads free of heavy vehicles. Naturally, the first full hour of the drive had us manoeuvring through streaks of multi-axle trucks invariably taking up all the lanes. To our surprise, not only is the Captur’s clutch incredibly light, it’s also well-weighted which is crucial to drive smoothly in stop-and-go traffic. The other drivetrain highlight is the steering which doesn’t require much effort to turn, even at low speeds. Thankfully, it weighs up adequately as you up the pace. Speaking of pace, the 1.5-litre petrol motor makes 104bhp, more importantly it develops 142Nm of torque low down the rev range, allowing for a nice, relentless pull. The strong bottom end pull and midrange punch became apparent as we crossed Bhiwandi bypass and approached the fast sections of the Mumbai-Nashik highway. Out on the open stretches, overtaking slower motorists was a piece of cake and going through long corners at speed was, again, quite effortless for the Captur
Some of us here at CarWale love to go for a good-old leisurely drive on this highway because it’s an incredibly well-paved piece of road. However, as you get closer to Igatpuri, especially onto Kasara ghat, it turns into a fairly thrilling route, which means long stretches are few and corners are aplenty. This is where the Captur showed us how truly versatile it is. For a medium-size SUV, it handles well despite its tall stance. When pushed hard, like all SUVs, the Captur does exhibit some roll but the body control is great and as we were belting it around one of the many corners driving up the ghat, it didn’t throw up any surprises.
Just a few kilometres north of Igatpuri, we spotted the turn-off point for Vaitarna that I remembered looking on Google Maps earlier while having breakfast, and headed that way. Within a couple of kilometres of veering off the highway, we were now driving on a twisty, two-lane road surrounded by dry grass and open fields – the kind you would see in Pune or Aurangabad district. Except here, those long corners and blind curves carry all of Vaitarna and Zarwad traffic. None of it is scary or intimidating though as the traffic is sparse and the road is in decent shape for the most part. That being said, the final stretch (read as Ghoti Vaitarna road) that actually leads to the lakeside is full of potholes and overall, in a bad shape. Taking the Captur with us then turned out to be a wise decision. We have already tested its ride quality and found it to be exceptional and here on this almost non-existent road, it smothered even the biggest of potholes with ease. In fact, the faster we went, the better it felt as the suspension ironed out all the imperfections without much fuss. Equal credit also goes to the NVH – Renault has worked hard on the refinement and it has paid dividends. There isn’t much of road or tyre noise filtering into the cabin, be it well-paved highways or bad roads.
Add to that the high driving position, the large infotainment screen and the superbly upholstered front seats and it made for a relaxing drive up to our campsite. The fabric seats with the red and blue stitching not only look great, they are also large and accommodating, especially when it comes to thigh support. As for the infotainment system, the seven-inch display houses Bluetooth connectivity, in-built maps and even voice recognition but it’s the simple UI and the large icons that make it so intuitive to use. Unlike modern screens in most other cars that seem to cram together a ton of menus and info, this system is simple and straightforward. What also helped us a lot were the in-built maps as near the campsite we didn’t have any network to use google maps.
The Captur really is a kind of car that demands a thorough shakedown somewhere challenging, somewhere new and this road trip was it, indeed.
As you get off the Ghoti-Vaitarna road, there are two popular hotspots – Vaitarna dam view point and the fondly named Ram Setu Bridge. For a less remote option, you could drive in further and pitch your tent right next to the lake, if the prospect of being left to your own devices doesn’t sound daunting to you, that is. Getting to the camp site right next to the lake wasn’t easy though. The path had sharp dips, rocks and loose mud. But thanks to the Captur’s high mounted driver seat, spotting obstacles were easy. What made our life even easier was the Captur’s excellent ground clearance, torquey engine and good approach and departure angle which makes it surprisingly capable when the going gets tough. Once we parked the car next to the lake, Ameya started to assemble the tent next to the stunning landscape.
After being fully against the idea of camping for many years, there I was, lending a hand in setting up the tent on this beautiful lake with a stunning view of the endless skies far enough from our zippy internet, drive-thru McDonalds’ and PVRs. At the end of the day, I was there to get away from it all.
If you ask me, camping is something you either truly love or absolutely don’t. I believe I’m somewhere in the middle. Between spending the night inside a tent and sleeping in the car, I am still (given my wretched past with the former) going to choose the sumptuous warmth of a car and funnily enough, that’s exactly what I did on this trip. However, I must admit there were moments of discomfort wherein I had thoughts of someone walking up to the car. Well at least I had enough space to sleep comfortably at the back of the Captur – it being the widest in its class certainly helped my five-foot eight-inch frame get through the night without any body pain.
It was only the next morning that we realised the real beauty of the place we were settled in. Our camping spot overlooked the now-raging water of the lake and I could see a flock of aquatic birds slithering over it in the distance. The ‘Radiant Red’ Captur shimmered as the sun rose higher and glazed across the skies, the lake water turned a crimson red in the early morning light.
All said and done, I still may not be completely sold to the idea of camping, but thanks to this trip and the Captur, I am warming up to it. We set up a kickass tent, ate good food, listened to music and made friends with two stray dogs who stayed with us the whole time in exchange for some biscuits. Better still, we had it all to ourselves, barely 100 kilometers from home. I will admit that lakeside camping is a truly fulfilling experience, and all it took was a tankful of petrol and a few hours of driving. You could probably have as much fun – just make sure you do it in a car that’s as comfortable and capable as the Renault Captur.
Pictures by Kaustubh Gandhi