Diamond Hunting: Renault Kwid on the India Diamond Trail – I
I love driving. Pretty-bloody-obvious, that, since I’ve got my name in this magazine. But tell me to drive through rush hour traffic and I’ll gladly pass. Even if it’s a 1000bhp supercar. Actually, more so if it’s a 1000bhp supercar. So you can imagine how thrilled I was that this roadtrip that we planned was starting in Delhi. Fun. I could already imagine spending hours waiting behind the wheel of our Kwid, hoping that the next junction is better planned than the last. Delhi is a mess. Time is money, and you’ve got to be a millionaire if you’re commuting from one end of the city to the other by road.
I’d have preferred if the Renault Kwid we were driving was air- dropped to Kargil. It would make for some spectacular photos, and I could actually average speeds above 6kmph. Why Kargil specifically? Because Kargil is one of the major checkpoints on the India Diamond Trail. I’m pretty sure you’ve got no idea what I’m on about, even though a clue to what we’re up to is in the name. We’re tracing out the diamond that makes up the Renault logo on the map of India, by driving the Renault Kwid from north of India to the south and back, hitting the farthest points in the west and east along the way. So in addition to Kargil, we’re going to be driving to Koteshwar in the west, Kanyakumari in the south and Kibithu in the east. It’s a complete coincidence that all four checkpoints (and the car we’re driving) have names that start with the letter ‘K’, I swear.
Renault India’s corporate office is in the dark depths of Gurgaon. Gurgaon isn’t a particularly friendly place. If you stick to the main highway, it could easily fool you with its glittery glass towers and opulent bungalows. But get off it, and you’ll realise that these are oases that are walled and gated, and the streets are hard places. But come here we must, because it was where this drive would officially start. Our Renault Kwid, an AMT variant with the Climber livery, was flagged off from the French organisation’s India HQ late one afternoon. What lay ahead of us was 15,000km of roads (or otherwise) through all the diversity this country could throw at us, and thirty long (but undoubtedly fun) days on the road.
We set course for Koteshwar, and that meant driving through the heart of Rajasthan and Gujarat, all the way to the westernmost point in India. Peak summer isn’t the ideal time to be doing so. But before I could even begin to grumble about the heat, dark clouds rolled in and it began to pour. This is a late afternoon on the outskirts of the NCR region in the middle of summer, mind you. I was half expecting to see a unicorn cross the road next. I put it down to the ripple effects of cyclone Fani tearing up the east coast, and soldiered on. Plenty of cars were pulling over and waiting as the gale-like winds ripped through the trees around us. I’ve heard these roads are notorious for pile-ups in low-visibility conditions, but we carried on at a snail’s pace with our eyes peeled as we had a good 400km to cover that day.
The land of Kings
It’s a beautiful place, Rajasthan. But getting to the beautiful bits means navigating the sea of heavy vehicles that flood its highways. The Kwid is a small, city car and you might think that getting it out on to the highway will leave it out of its depths, but nothing of the sort happens. In fact, the compact dimensions allow you to weave through slow-moving traffic with confidence. The stretch from Delhi to Jaipur is a mess and the Kwid really makes quick work of it. You’d think the engine would be inadequate too, but the car is so light that it accelerates well enough on the open road. I’d wax eloquent about how the landscape shifted as we went further into Rajasthan, but I can’t because it was dark. Roadtrip 101: leave early. Our late departure from Gurgaon wasn’t doing us any favours.
With Ajmer being our halt for the night, we had one agenda in the morning – exploring the Mayo College campus. Being someone who studied at a boarding school, I’d heard legends of the campus’ sheer vastness and the fact that it is steeped in history makes it all the more alluring. The campus is a microcosm of India’s past — founded way back in 1875 as an educational institution for India’s royalty. Forget the fact that it has 17 tennis courts, a polo ground, squash courts, hockey, cricket and football and some 70 horses on campus, Mayo’s charm lies elsewhere. It lies in the halls that were once filled with nobility, in the rich pool of notable alumni, in its unique architecture with different boarding houses being built by different kingdoms back in the day. It is a campus dripping in heritage and old world charm, while being thoroughly modern and proper at the same time. This may seem contradictory, but Mayo shoulders this contradiction with pride.
The first milestone
Getting into Gujarat from Rajasthan was a breeze. The infrastructure in these parts of the country is so brilliant, and the landscape so flat that you’ve just got to point the Kwid in the direction you want to go, and go. The Aravallis do make an appearance — jagged old-fold mountains which are as barren as the desert around them, and the highway snakes around their bases, barely riding up the side of one or two mountains.
The more time we spent in the Kwid, the more we got comfortable in it. The Kwid is not an unfamiliar car to me, or the evo India team— I’ve had three separate long-term Kwids, and the team did the 29 States in 29 Days record run in a Kwid. The same car on these pages, in fact. One thing you really appreciate about the Kwid on a drive like this is the amount of luggage it can swallow — a week’s worth of luggage for three, plus tripods, cameras, gimbals, drones and all sorts of paraphernalia needed to document this drive properly. No other car in its class would be able to do so. The boot swallowed nearly all of it, with the really fragile stuff being kept on the backseat. Speaking of the seats, the driver’s seat is supportive and does well over long distances and the rear occupant seemed to be rather comfortable where he was too. Plus we had a touchscreen with navigation, though we relied on Google Maps for the most part.
With the Aravallis (and the cops that searched us thoroughly for booze at the Gujarat border) in our rear view mirrors, we were making our dash for the coast. Once past Bhuj though, things really changed. We were in properly remote areas now — the road had narrowed down to a single-laned affair and wasn’t exactly well- surfaced. The Rann of Kutch was close by, but we had somewhere else to be. Koteshwar was calling. There was a lot of darting around to avoid avoidable potholes, and a lot of braking for the unavoidable ones. The Kwid’s suspension was working overtime to keep us comfortable, and it was doing a rather good job. Soon enough, we could smell the sea in the air. It was no longer dry, but sultry and humid with the sea breeze carrying in salt and sand with it.
Koteshwar isn’t particularly grand. It’s got some security as the Pakistan border isn’t too far away, but apart from a temple and a pier that runs into the sea, there isn’t much to speak of. The temple itself is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and the site of the temple is ancient, the temple has been around in this form since 1820. I’m not the religious type so to me, Koteshwar’s significance lay in the fact that this was as far west as I could go on land within our country’s borders. It’s an odd feeling, standing at the edge of the pier and looking out knowing that you are the farthest edge of our land, and the entire country lay behind you.
With Koteshwar behind us, we turned the Kwid south. Our next destination was Kanyakumari, and that meant crossing through home soil. Maharashtra. Gujarat posed no trouble whatsoever, and bringing the Kwid into familiar territory was certainly a relief. We halted at the evo India base in Pune, where we undertook a swap — both of car and crew. We wanted to experience everything the Kwid has to offer, so we swapped out the AMT for the manual. And meanwhile, my colleague Suvrat took over at the wheel of the Kwid as he planned to take it further south to Kanyakumari.
Suvrat Kothari: After Aatish passed on the baton to us, we set course for Bangalore. Pune to Bangalore is the single longest distance we’ve had to cover in the entire 30-day long drive. 850km might not seem like much, and is entirely doable in a day, but add in the regular stops for shoots and the hours add up, making it a much more daunting task. We managed fine though; leaving early, combining stops and maintaining a steady pace on the brilliant roads meant we entered Bangalore by 4:30pm. We hit peak traffic, and for the first time on this drive, the Kwid’s city-tackling prowess was called to the fore. The tiny footprint and peppy motor allowed us to navigate the sea of traffic and make it to our hotel without trouble.
Our next stop was to be Madurai, but we’re always up for a challenge, so we attempted to push towards Kanyakumari in a day. And we did it, despite shutterbug Sachin taking his own sweet time with the camera! 1500km in two days in the Kwid is certainly something to write home about. Kanyakumari is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India, known for the Swami Vivekananda Rock Memorial and the giant 133-foot-long statue of Thiruvalluvar, the esteemed Tamilian Poet from ancient times. Poets from that era (300 BC – 5th century AD) wrote long-form poems but Thiruvalluvar’s short poems turned out to be more impactful, and he is regarded as a stalwart in the field of literature. However, Kanyakumari is also known for being the southernmost tip of peninsular India. It’s spectacular — seeing the distinct waters of the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea from a single place.
Looking out at the Indian ocean, it’s hard not to feel a sense of pride at the blazing trail we’ve left behind us. In the last week, we’ve driven a Kwid from Delhi to Kanyakumari via Koteshwar, drawing out nearly one half of the Renault Diamond. However, this was the easy bit with straight roads, familiar territory and forgiving topography. The next leg will be way more of a challenge. We’re going to have to take the car in to the eastern and western Himalayas to hit our milestones in the east and north. These are unforgiving places and the Kwid, and the team, will have to step up to the challenge.