How often does one get a chance to take a luxury SUV and head into the wilderness? I most certainly wasn’t going to miss mine!
Through my adventures with Chai With Hyundai, I often found myself out in the wilderness in my quest for good chai. During that time, I’d often come across some genuinely breathtaking roads that, in most cases, didn’t lead to anyplace significant, but it’s the journey that went on to enamour you. This soon got me thinking about how some of the best roads our country offers were in some of the most offbeat parts of India, tucked away amongst some dense jungles. Now I love venturing into the unknown, but what is more unknown is the inside of a wildlife sanctuary. A place reserved solely to help biodiversity bloom. I know that driving through one would be scenic, to say the least, but what if I discovered some great driving roads along the way?
Well, a little bulb went up in my head, and without any delay, I grabbed the keys to another worthy companion and ventured to a wildlife sanctuary about 7 hours away from Mumbai. It’s called Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary, and a quick view from google maps let me peek at a road that was as serpentine as a serpentine can be. Not knowing what the road conditions could be like, I left knowing I’d be taken care of in an expensive-looking SUV in the form of the latest iteration of the Hyundai Tucson.
With its chiselled and muscular appearance, I was hoping it would keep me safe from any animals that saw me as an easy prey and, with its AWD drivetrain, keep me from getting stuck in a place where help wouldn’t be as easily accessible. The first 5 hours of my journey were all via the highway, where the Tucson flexed its touring capabilities as it gobbled our uneven cement roads. After a long highway stint, I was finally in the district of Satara, where the roads got twistier as I climbed up to Mahabaleshwar. Once there, we briefly stopped for supplies and continued towards Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary.
We were heading to Tapola, located at the heart of the sanctuary. It was about 45 kms away from Mahabaleshwar, with some incredibly narrow and twisty roads overlooking genuinely breathtaking sights and scenes as we worked our way down to Tapola. I had my hopes up that we’d be fortunate enough to spot some wildlife along the way. However, I had doubts since we were on the cusp of summer, and most animals would probably get out once it’s much more relaxed at night.
As we ventured deeper into Koyna, the dense canopy of trees paved the way for a more clear view of the valley, which looked breathtaking, to say the least. The road conditions were pretty broken, and the Tucson’s plush suspension made short work of it. However, once the roads improved, I slotted the Tucson and its gearbox into sport mode and let its motor accelerate hard as it shoved me into my seat. The Tucson we were driving was powered by a 2.0-litre diesel motor that produced 184 bhp of power and 416 Nm of torque, which is more than sufficient for such tight roads. Thanks to the AWD, the Tucson propelled out of corners with great ferocity and put a smile on my face each time I left or entered a corner with great speed.
The brakes on the Tucson, too, worked rather well and stopped on a dime which gave the enthusiast in me more confidence to push this SUV. After a lovely drive down the twisty road to Tapola, I finally arrived. Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary is no ordinary wildlife sanctuary. It was officially recognised as a sanctuary in 1985 and has since been declared a UNESCO natural world heritage site. It spans about 423.55 square kilometres and is nested in the Western Ghats, allowing its biodiversity to bloom. It is also known as the renewable energy capital thanks to its numerous hydro and wind energy projects scattered across the park. Tapola, on the other hand, was a tiny part of Koyna and had earned itself the name “Mini Kashmir”. It had earned this name thanks to the boat clubs and how the sights and scenes during monsoon and winter mimicked that of Kashmir.
Unfortunately for us, in summer, it looks a lot like Maharashtra and not Kashmir; nevertheless, we had a lovely boat ride and spotted some birds, water buffalos and even monkeys. I’ve heard that Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary is home to Bengal Tigers, Leopards, Bisons, Sloth Bears, multiple Deers, and the Indian Giant Squirrel. The list of birds here is even longer, and all in all, Koyna is known for being extremely diverse and protected, thanks to its geographic location and local authorities.
As much as I hoped to come across wildlife, I will take it with a pinch of salt and spot some on my next visit. Despite being hot, the Hyundai Tuscon did an excellent job keeping me comfortable in the lap of luxury, with all its features working to keep the harsh weather and dust out. This was a lovely drive, and I’d urge most of you to check out Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary and Tapola during the monsoon as the forest and scenes genuinely come to life. Sadly it was the end of our adventure, and it was time to return home. The journey to Bombay was set to be long, but thanks to the lovely Bose sound system and punchy motor in the Tucson, I knew the drive back would be just as entertaining.
Photography - Aatman Singh