- About Us
Words: Benjamin Gracias
Photography: Gaurav S Thombre
Weekend destinations are taking over prominence from long vacations. These days, there are plenty of options where you can jump into your car and in the morning and be back home for dinner. Pune, for example, has hill stations like Lonavala, Mahabaleshwar and more recently, Aamby Valley and Lavasa which are in close proximity and can be enjoyed even if you have half-a-weekend to spare. And that is precisely what we did. With a long week filled with travel, ace lensman Gaurav and myself convinced the Ed that a trip out of the hustle-bustle and chaos that now defines Pune is required to revitalise ourselves before we willingly jump into another week of self-inflicted passion that is ‘automotive journalism’. The Ed agreed and we were off in the new Hyundai Elantra; seemed like a good idea as most of us have yet to lay eyes on the refreshed version. A quick call to Hyundai and we were set for the drive.
Now normally our drives centre around popular tourist spots and weekend getaways. This time though, we decided to indulge in a bit of fort tourism or ‘Gadh tourism’ as it is colloquially known. It involves (former) royal residences and in some cases forts that have been converted into resorts. These ancient structures have been made habitable while retaining their old charm and ensure you don’t miss out on creature comforts. These are places where you can experience the royal life, a fantasy many want to tick off our bucket list, I reckon. One such place is Jadhavgadh.
An hour’s drive south of Pune, Fort Jadhavgadh is an easy drive for lunch or you could spend the night and properly indulge yourself. As our plan hinges on a cosy and comfortable Sunday out of town, we choose a car that will keep us fresh and rested. And the Hyundai Elantra fits the bill perfectly.
Our sojourn begins at the Sanjay Hyundai dealership situated in the heart of Pune. We collect the spanking new Elantra and immediately dive into the heat of peak-hour traffic. The agonisingly slow crawl and, at times, stand-still traffic gives me time to soak in the details of the car. Admittedly, this is the first time I have been behind the wheel of one and immediately I am charmed by its interiors. The waterfall-inspired design of the center console, the way the lines flow from the dash into the door panels, the plush leather seats … I could spend a couple of hours in here, relaxing and oblivious to the chaos outside. Which, by the way, is pretty isolated thanks to the excellent sound insulation.
We manage to inch out of Pune’s chaotic traffic and eventually on to the Pandharpur road which has sparse traffic but resembles a worn hand-woven quilt with patchwork of varying shapes and sizes covering most of the tarmac. Now usually that would make for a very juddering drive but we feel no such thing cocooned inside the Elantra. Inspite of the suspension being set up on the firmer side for a bit of sportiness, the damping is excellent. This allows us to revel in a fairly high-speed jaunt which I, for one, am enjoying. The meaty steering wheel is lovely to hold and the driving position feels spot on. Soon we are on to the Dive ghat (pronounced div-é) which gives me all the more reason to indulge the Elantra’s dynamics. Gaurav doesn’t seem to mind our spirited dash up the hill and ensconced in the passenger seat, he is in a blissful state.
Jadhavgadh was built by Pilaji Jadhavrao, a Maratha general in the army of Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, the grandson of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. Born in 1680, Pilaji Jadhavrao was known for his valour and excellent swordsmanship. He is credited with gathering the simple folk in and around his region and training them to fight the Mughals which eventually resulted in victory and Shahu Maharaj successfully reclaiming the Maratha Empire. The 300 year old fort served as the erstwhile residence of the general.
A few kilometres after Dive ghat, we turn right, off the road and onto a country road for a kilometer. Not that you will have any trouble finding the fort as prominent signs placed on the highway are hard to miss. Once you turn off, you can see the imposing fortress-like structure in the distance. Jadhavgadh has been preserved as a heritage hotel with a museum, two restaurants and a cafe, living quarters and a pool with a spa, all inside the fort.
The entrance to the courtyard is accessed via giant wooden doors that seem to be a gateway to another dimension. The courtyard affirms this feeling with its cobbled stone driveway that encircles a cannon. Walk the gigantic stone steps to the fort and you are greeted with a royal welcome. A sentry dressed in period uniform greets you with the traditional Maratha trumpet resonating along the great walls. Women wrapped in traditional Paithani sarees welcome you the traditional way, applying a smear of vermillion on your forehead, as they would in an era long past, welcoming a victor returning from battle. Climb up the steps and you can’t help but fall for its old-world charm. This is no dark, dingy, crumbling structure but a well-preserved one. The restaurant inside is tastefully decorated with new furniture infused with old decor. The multi-cusine fare also includes some signature Maharashtrian fare such as kanda bhajji and mutton tambada rassa which is mutton cooked in spices and has a fiery aftertaste. We have a relaxing lunch and then wish we’d brought along an overnight bag and indulged in the lavish accommodations that range from royal tents to the Maharaja suite. Plus there are lots of things to do around the 25-acre property. You could enjoy the rustic countryside astride a bullock cart. The adventurous type can indulge in trekking, river crossing and mountain climbing. Wildlife lovers can revel in deer spotting and bird watching (we saw a bright blue Kingfisher close to the fort) or you can explore the fort as we did. The museum holds a lot of well-preserved artefacts belonging to the great general. To step in, is to step back in time where you are taken into an era of simple excess and experience ways of the nobility. The fort also has dungeons and secret passageways. But it’s now time to head back.
Back on the road, I successfully coax Gaurav to take the wheel and sink into the comfortable passenger seat. As the mid-day sun scorches down, the cabin temperature is at a soothing 21 degrees. Usually leather seats can be a bother leading to sweaty backsides but the Elantra has one more trick up its sleeve. Push a button below the climate control and you immediately feel a cool breeze through vents in the seats. Yes, cooled seats are an excellent feature considering the tropical climate in India. I’m surprised other manufacturers do not provide this feature in their cars. Gaurav seems to be enjoying the automatic controls for everything and likens it to his trusty Canon – comprehensive and effective. I agree. Once we switch places, the electric seats take a jiffy to find that sweet spot. And then there is that premium feel from the well appointed cabin which is aces in my book. I think the dash with its layout canted towards the driver has to be amongst the best out here both in terms of feel and execution.
Soon it is time to return the car and I admit the Elantra has grown on me as has Jadhavgadh. Both have a lot to offer, a lot to explore. Now where do we head to next month?