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Driving the Toyota Camry Hybrid to one of the most spectacular forests in the country, and a luxury resort nestled in its depths
We were gliding along through the narrow, winding roads of these hills rather silently. It was early in the afternoon and the sun was beating down on us hard — a constant reminder that winter was well and truly behind us. The days were getting longer, the sun was getting hotter and the sweater I had optimistically carried with me stayed firmly tucked in my bag. I never leave home for a long drive without my polarised glares either and they were serving me rather well until... wham... darkness. The automatic headlamps of the Toyota Camry Hybrid threw themselves at the road ahead, the cabin lights dimmed and I took off my glares with the most incredulous look on my face. No, I hadn’t entered a tunnel, but I might as well have. The canopy of trees over my head was so thick, it blocked so much of the light out from the forest floor, that this car assumed it was night-time!
YOU NEED TO WALK THE DEPTHS OF THIS FOREST TO TRULY UNDERSTAND HOW RICH IT IS
That’s the thing about the western ghats. They aren’t the highest mountains in the country, the coldest mountains in the country or even the most fearsome. What they are, instead, is among the world’s 8 hottest biodiversity hotspots, a region that has some of the densest flora and fauna anywhere on the planet. The forests are thick, the roads narrow and the villages sparse. Species that are found nowhere else in the world are endemic to these rolling hills, that stretch from Gujarat all the way down to Kerala. All the famous national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in other parts of India — Nagarhole, Kanha, Jim Corbett — have nothing on this place. I could count through the number of species that call this region home (139 mammals, 508 birds, 6000 insects and over 7000 flowering plants, shamelessly sourced from Wikipedia) but those are just figures on paper. You need to walk the depths of this forest, feel the million wild eyes fixated upon you, breathe in the freshest air on this side of the world, to truly understand how rich it is.
I feel like the Camry Hybrid is an appropriate car to bring here. I say this, not only because the hybrid credentials make this car less of a burden on the environment, but also because of our destination. The Wildernest resort tucked away in these hills is a luxury destination, and the Camry Hybrid is a car that does luxury really well.
I was on a particularly narrow strip of road snaking through these forests, one that starts in Sanqelim in Goa at sea level, scythes its way through the mountains and spits you out on the other side at Belgaum in Karnataka. It is a road that is extremely popular amongst biking folk for the sheer variety of corners it offers. First, it snakes up the side of the mountain through the dense jungle, hairpin after hairpin, and gains altitude quickly. Then it shoots you out alongside the mountain for a long, long stretch with a peculiar lack of trees that offers a spectacular view of the valleys around. Then you duck back under the canopy in to faster, more flowing roads that almost feel worthy of being part of the TT circuit.
I had spent the better part of the day in the Camry hybrid, driving over 500km from Mumbai to make it here. Walking in to the Toyota dealership where I picked it up, the Camry held pride of place. It is, after all, the flagship car Toyota offers in India. It certainly looks like a flagship. The proportions and stance are spot on — it is long, low slung and has lovely flowing lines from the front all the way to the boot. The front-end, with the massive grille and LED projector lamps give it immense presence on the road and the 18-inch wheels look properly classy. The proportions fool you in to thinking the car sits low to the ground, but in reality it has pretty good clearance and it won’t scrape anywhere if you exercise just a little caution.
This ain’t no regular car though, this is a hybrid. And one of my favourite bits about the Camry actually involves this hybrid drivetrain. Before I get to what that feature is, allow me to delve a little deeper in to the workings of this drivetrain. The Camry Hybrid has an internal combustion engine — a 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated petrol motor that puts out 178PS and 221Nm on its own. But that isn’t all, the Camry also has a nickel-metal hydride battery that powers an electric motor. This motor puts out 120PS, and the entire hybrid system has a peak output of 218PS. I must mention here that this is a self-charging hybrid. There’s no need to bother with charging infrastructure or anything of the sort — the car knows when the battery is running low on juice and charges it through regenerative braking, and even with the engine.
Coming back to the bit that really caught my attention — the Camry Hybrid can run on electric power only, provided the speeds are low and you aren’t mashing the throttle pedal. This is particularly useful in city traffic and parking lots. But out here in the open, the silence was even more pronounced, punctuated only by the symphony of song birds, the buzzing of cicadas and the rustling of leaves. It almost felt rude to fire an engine to life and heave it through the rev range. The Camry, instead, will roll in silence and once it has picked up speed, the petrol engine kicks in so seamlessly you don’t hear or feel it, allowing you to hustle through the countryside in utter silence and fantastic serenity.
The Hybrid system is versatile; it plays the dual role of enhancing performance, while also increasing efficiency and decreasing tailpipe emissions. The Camry gets three drive modes, and Sport sets up the drivetrain for performance, with maximum power from the engine and electric motor being deployed to the wheels. In Eco mode though, the electric motor focuses on taking the load off the engine to burn as little fuel as necessary. Normal mode finds a balance between the two. As tempted as I was to slot it in to Sport and hammer it up and down these roads, it all felt a bit inappropriate. I would rather slot it in to Eco, and glide around these hills causing as little a nuisance to this sensitive environment as I could.
As tech-laden as the Camry is, Toyota haven’t held back on luxury. I was ensconced in some very comfortable leather seats, that were ventilated and electrically-adjustable, mind you. The infotainment system had an infographic that showed me exactly what the hybrid system was up to, though I would switch the navigation screen every now and again to make sure I was on track. I had the sunroof closed, but once the sun was lower, it would open up to let that lovely golden evening light in. And if you thought the driver’s cockpit was the place to be, you should see the rear seats. Reclining seats, electrically adjustable sun- blinds, and the left rear passenger can slide the front seat forward via easily accessible buttons. There’s also a whole touchscreen control panel built into the armrest for the climate control and music system. Add the long list of safety features including the standard nine airbags, along with ABS, traction control, stability control and brake assist, and you’re looking at a very well-equipped car.
We rolled up to Wildernest just in time to catch the sunset. This resort has been designed in the least intrusive way possible, and you can’t even see it from above the canopy. The log cabins are comfortable, but what makes the Wildernest experience special is how immersed in nature you are. Mobile phone network is laughable so disconnecting isn’t an option — it’s the rule. It’s the perfect place to relax, introspect, and be at one with nature. If you’re the kind who likes to trek, there are a few curated treks around the resort but if you prefer just lounging by the infinity pool with a book or even just your thoughts, you could. The resort has some great literature about the flora and fauna in the region, and also immerses guests in to the local culture. On the day we were there, there was a pottery workshop along with mehendi art, and a screening of a wildlife film in the evening.
I wanted to come to Wildernest to unwind and get away from the daily grind, but I found myself unwinding much before I got there. The Camry’s cabin, with how silent and comfortable it is, makes it an ideal place to relax. It seems like the ideal place to be after a long stressful day at work — an oasis to rejuvenate in before you get home to the family. And then when you take it out on a weekend holiday like I just did, the indulgence starts right at your doorstep.
Learn about the Toyota Camry Hybrid's features and comfort here