We are driving the 1.2-litre MT to the Bandipur Tiger Reserve to spot the big cat
We are driving the 1.2-litre MT to the Bandipur Tiger Reserve to spot the big catHyundai India

2023 Hyundai Great India Drive: Exter goes to Bandipur

The Hyundai Exter is the star of this edition of the Great India Drive, and in Part 1, we head to the Bandipur Tiger Reserve to see if we can spot the big cat

Two things have remained constant every time I’ve visited Coimbatore over the last couple of years. A great biryani and the Kari Motor Speedway. I ensured the former happened but this time around I wasn’t in Coimbatore to visit the track. I was there because it was the start point of a road trip — across the Nilgiris and to the Bandipur Tiger reserve. The only goal on this drive? Spot the elusive tiger!I wasn’t alone. I was on the Great India Drive, and 15 Exters were with me in convoy.

The Nilgiris are filled with tea gardens and forests, making for brilliant views
The Nilgiris are filled with tea gardens and forests, making for brilliant viewsHyundai India

In the lead car was Sarath Champati, a naturalist who would be guiding us about the wildlife we would be seeing over the course of this drive, and also leading our expedition into the jungle the following day. The route we took from Coimbatore to Bandipur wasn't straight forward, instead we took a slightly longer route that went through the Nilgiri mountains with a lunch halt at the hill station of Ooty. As soon as we left the hustle and bustle of the city behind and began our climb up the hills, Sarath came into his own. He pointed out small traces of the wild along the road. Spiders, birds, insects — stuff that we're normally blind to, but the side of the road is teeming with them. It was an eye-opener on how much wildlife exists right next to us, out of sight and out of mind!

This was the first time I was driving the Hyundai Exter and it was proving to be quite impressive. It certainly looked good and the impact of its styling was magnified by the seemingly endless line of them in tow behind me. The interiors were rather well appointed for a ‘micro SUV’, with a nice large infotainment screen, easy-to- read cluster and a logically laid out dash. We were driving the manual which made progress uphill much easier, though I did have to wring the 1.2-litre engine out. That said, the engine was refined, quiet and on the flat patches, didn’t mind being hustled a little bit. The ride was good for a small car, and handling was friendly. The tyres did let out squeals if I pushed too hard but we were behaving ourselves in convoy, for the most part.

The Exter has an 8-inch infotainment screen that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
The Exter has an 8-inch infotainment screen that supports Apple CarPlay and Android AutoHyundai India

As we descended on the other side of the Nilgiris and entered the forests of Mudumalai and Bandipur, the landscape changed. It was straight out of Jungle Book — thick overgrowth lined the single road through the forest, with large animals — mainly spotted deer and gaurs along the side of the road. A few guys even managed to catch a glimpse of an elephant but I wasn’t that lucky. For most of the drive, I kept my windows rolled down and was enjoying the fresh forest air. Oh, how refreshing it was to be away from the city...

Once in Bandipur, my focus shifted entirely from the car to the wildlife safari. A documentary screening the night before on Project Tiger was hugely enlightening — tracing the background of the dwindling population of the big cat, the push towards preservation, the pitfalls of the project, and even the challenges that come with it being so successful. The Safari itself started in the wee hours of the morning and lasted a good three hours. Sarath was at the helm of our open-top bus, painstakingly explaining to us about the lives of the critters we saw around us. Jungle fowl, the giant wood spider, mongoose, peacocks, elephants, sambar — we saw them all. All eyes were glued to the foliage for a sighting of the tiger. We spotted a frail gaur that was grazing, but carried injury wounds from a tiger attack. That, along with one fresh set of pug marks was the closest we got to spotting a tiger.

The road runs through the forest and lets you get up close to the wildlife
The road runs through the forest and lets you get up close to the wildlifeHyundai India

The elusive big cat might be the draw for people to head into the jungle but there’s so much more in there to see and learn from. Did you know, that in the giant wood spider species, only the females are giants and the males are but a fraction of their size? Stuff like this was so interesting and made me realise how diverse this world is, and how clueless we are about it sometimes. But a nagging feeling remained. A need to see the tiger. Stay tuned, for next month we’re going to head back into the jungle in central India looking for one. The Great India Drive continues...

Read the part 2 of the Hyundai Exter Great India Drive here!

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