Hyundai Great Driving Roads: i20 N Line to Vaitarna Dam
It's a foggy Friday morning. The mist has settled down just above the crystal clear stream that's flowing parallel to the road and there's absolutely no traffic at all that's bothering me. There's pin drop silence everywhere, with only the i20 N Line's turbocharger and its burbly exhaust note providing the much needed melody. Smiling and giggling, that's what I'm doing after a properly spirited stint, on one section of the road that leads up to the town of Jawhar. I'm super glad to have discovered these roads, because this has turned out to be one of the best driving days ever. An unexpected surprise, we've discovered a few gems that were hiding right under our nose.
At evo India, we always have a laugh whenever somebody says that our country lacks great driving roads. There are plenty of brilliant roads for driving enthusiasts to enjoy, hidden gems yet to be explored and that is exactly why we've curated the Great Driving Roads series. To showcase some of the best stretches of tarmac, from around the country. This story is about not one, but a bunch of roads that blew our minds away. Suggested by our subscriber camaraderie, we've explored some epic Great Driving Roads from around Nashik. A locale that certainly demands your attention, the next time you're planning a drive.
Great roads call for a great car and that is exactly why I asked my colleague Anand, for the keys to his long-term Hyundai i20 N Line for this roadtrip. The car that has set the ball rolling for Hyundai’s go-faster ‘N’ brand in India. It's a sportier variant of Hyundai’s best-selling premium hatch in the country and it has received plenty of changes under the skin which make it more fun — exactly what I was looking for on this drive. One quick Google search and I found that this road trip was going to have it all; a smooth highway, some broken B-roads as well as some amazing twisties. Perfect for it then.
We’d be heading to Nashik, via Sangamner through National Highway 60. And what a great way to begin, with the traffic free Pune-Nashik highway allowing us to stretch the i20 N Line's legs before the crack of dawn.
This was going to be about a 6 hour long drive and the i20 N Line is a car that I am always happy to drive on a long trip like this. We've done numerous drives with it and from experience all I can tell you is that this is an excellent road trip machine. Although Hyundai has given it stiffer dampers, to aid its handling. That hasn't come at the cost of comfort. It still does a good job of ironing out all the pothole ridden roads and handles bad patches like a champ. The stiffer dampers also add a sense of stability while gunning down the highways at triple-digit speeds. Plus it has some really well cushioned seats which provide a good amount of lumbar as well as side support.
After a very soothing early morning highway run, half-way through the journey we decided to exit the highway after passing the town of Sinnar. We turned on to some B-roads and if you ask me these are the best ways to explore Maharashtra. This is where you'll find the true essence of this state. Its beautiful backdrops, tiny towns, villages, and numerous local eateries to grab a bite. Destination one for the day was the Vaitarna Dam and the next time you're headed to Nashik, do yourself a favour and take this route. It has been freshly paved and has almost no traffic at all. It is wide, has a lot of flowing corners and some very nice tight bends too. And the best part about this 50-odd kilometre stretch is that it has beautiful lush plains on both sides. You also get a glimpse of some grape vineyards and windmills along the way and that is how you get to know that you're nearing Nashik.
The other good thing about this region is that there are numerous small towns, where you can just go to relax for a weekend. Places like Kasara and Igatpuri. These places are good to visit all year round, but the Monsoon is arguably the best time, as everything turns greener and the water bodies get fully filled.
This section is one of the reasons why I brought the i20 N Line with me. It is small, offers very good visibility of the outside and is very easy to place because of its compact dimensions. Its 1-litre turbo-petrol engine is a gem too. The power plant produces 118bhp and 172Nm of torque, with a good amount of low end and mid range grunt. This powerplant urges you to step on the gas because of it's revv happy nature. It provides a surge of torque between speeds that would put you in jail, and that's exactly what you need to enjoy a car on B-roads.
We arrived at the Vaitarna Dam, just before noon. This place would definitely be at the very top of the, "most underrated places to visit" list in Maharashtra, if there ever was one. Just as you approach the main viewing point, you're greeted by a thick canopy of trees that opens up into crystal clear silent waters with fog capped mountains in the background. There's fog that has settled down just above the reservoir too and we arrived just in time when it was all clearing out, to expose the peaks that were hiding behind. You drive through a narrow road with water on both sides and it's best to come here early in the morning to enjoy the tranquility of this region. We stopped, dropped our jaw and took in all the views before bidding adieu to the friendly local dogs. This was meditation and then some. Surely a must visit if you're nearby.
The i20 N Line's engine is mated to a 7-speed DCT and this combo is best enjoyed in the bends, which is where we are headed to next. The Jawhar Road. It's the twisties where the i20 N Line comes into its own element. It has a sharper front end feel and overall feels more planted. The DCT responds fast and paddle shifters behind the wheel mean you can take control. Hyundai has also given the N Line disc brakes at the rear and that has resulted in better stopping power. You get better bite when you initially get on the pedal and this improved performance just urges you to push harder. And that isn't all, drive it sanely and its turbo-petrol engine will deliver great fuel efficiency too. We eked out 18kmpl at highway speeds, which is very commendable to say the least.
The Jawhar Road is where all the supercar owners and motor heads from Nashik come to spend their weekend mornings. It's located on the eastern side of the city and is just an hour away from Nashik, ahead of Trimbakeshwar. This is a fast and wide road with mountains on either side. And if you're a fan of the staple Nashik Misal Pav, a hearty breakfast that's best enjoyed super spicy, you'll get some very famous restaurants serving it along the way.
One good thing about Nashik is that it isn't a densely populated city and has even fewer folks living on the outskirts. Sure, there are many villages present here, but most of them aren't on main roads and are shrouded three to four kilometres on the inside. Just a few kilometres after driving on it, I understood why the Jawhar road is liked by motor heads. It's hard to understand why this country road isn't part of any motorsport event yet. Because not only does it have an amazing backdrop, with a little stream flowing parallel to it in some parts, but the asphalt here is butter smooth too. It has crests, ascending and descending portions and even some lightly banked corners. Something which definitely wouldn't look out of place in a rally stage.
This edition of the Great Driving Roads series was an eye opener for me. The next time I'm out looking for locations, I'm going to scout all the localities nearby first, because if there is one thing that this trip has taught me, it is that hidden gems like these are hiding everywhere. At just 4 hours from Mumbai and a little over 6 hours from Pune, Nashik and the lovely roads surrounding it make for great weekend getaway destinations. This city isn't densely populated, has a lot of beautiful resorts for you to stay, and if you're an oenophile, there are lots of vineyards to explore and experience some of India’s finest wines. What's not to like?