'Dear Customer, your flight from Mumbai-Delhi has been cancelled due to operational reasons. We regret the inconvenience caused. Please call....'
And there it was. A brief message sent as a matter of procedure and a week’s worth of planning down the drain. It’s the sort of thing that can cause considerable annoyance and anxiety to anybody, whether it be a work trip or vacation plans which got foiled. In our case, it was the former. We had a meeting to attend in Delhi a couple of days later and we were in Mumbai. Given that this was fairly last minute, alternate travel options were not only looking quite unlikely, but they were also pretty expensive. That’s when our eyes locked on to the Renault Duster's keys. No second thoughts then.
A spot of rushed packing and the two of us were ready. We buckled up, slid in the key, started the car and headed out of Mumbai and on the road to Delhi. We were adventurers, brothers-in-arms and there was no stopping us. Having used the Duster as a long termer for some time now, we were already in love with how it performs over long distances. Our sprint towards Delhi comprised of a fairly lengthy highway run and then some. However, spending long hours in the car posed no problem due to generous legroom, headroom and supportive seats. And a massively sized boot meant our hurriedly packed luggage in assorted shapes and sizes was already accounted for.
We left in the wee hours of morning. With less traffic, well-paved roads and a few breaks, we easily travelled across Gujarat. With a combo of the 105bhp 1.5-litre engine and a CVT transmission for the petrol powered machine, the car’s performance was adequate for the job and the clutch-less gearshifts were a delight. No wonder we made far more progress than we had anticipated. That gave us an idea of taking a detour – the biggest advantage of driving and not flying!
Udaipur, the city of lakes, would have been the obvious choice. But, no, we wanted to avoid the peak season crowd and thought of something more isolated. Also, as much fun it is to gun the Duster across the straights, we knew that where it still truly shines is in the wilderness. The hilly, semi-arid terrain of Chittorgarh seemed to beckon us. Besides, there is a certain timeless charm to the aging royal structures of Rajasthan and Chittorgarh had a lot of those. The road to the erstwhile capital of Mewar was a single-lane road traversing rural villages and the Duster’s well-balanced steering and suspension set-up gave us the assurance that we could do this. And so we did.
Even when two-thirds of India was in the grip of a heat wave with the mercury breaching the 45 degree Celcius mark, we were kicked about visiting the Chittorgarh Fort. After all, this fort was built in the 7th century and as a heritage site, it had much historical significance. It spawns an area of 700 acres and the best part was we could drive the Duster into this fort and explore all the palaces, temples, towers and structures portraying historical grandeur. What an enchanting experience it was!
We even overlooked the fact that Gujarat-Rajasthan is India’s hot zone. A severe heat-wave continued to sweep these parts with the dry westerly winds gaining heat from deserts in Rajasthan. Still, this killer heat couldn’t deter us from listening to the guide who told us several tales related to the fort. Especially about the Rajput clan’s gallantry, valour and sacrifices. We got so engrossed with the picturesque location, captivating history of the fort and scrumptious food later that we lost a lot of time. However, regardless of the heat outside, the Duster remained unfazed and kept the two of us cool in these scorching conditions. We even drove through rural areas and yet the SUV took on all kinds of terrain with aplomb.
In theory driving 1300-1500km in two days wasn’t difficult, but we were behind schedule due to our over-enthusiastic exploring. Given the wayside distractions and our own commitment (or lack thereof) to the travel time table, it wouldn’t have come as a surprise if we didn’t make it to Delhi in time. However, with fewer breaks and continuous driving we still managed to reach our destination in time. And never did the journey feel exhausting, thanks to the Duster.
In fact, this SUV ended up becoming an addictive piece of machinery that we wanted to keep on driving and enjoy, no matter what the terrain. No wonder people heap praise on the fantastic ride quality of the SUV. We drove it across all manner of road conditions. From paved road surfaces to none, actually. And from the finest driving roads to under-construction roads. It performed without any hiccups throughout the journey and proved to be, unquestionably, one of our most sought-out SUVs.
Pictures by Kaustubh Gandhi