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Venue to venue: from history in the making to the historic

S Muralidhar | Updated on November 07, 2019

Hyundai’s compact SUV plays the role of a reliable partner to perfection on a long road trip

The surfeit of historical landmarks in the country just got another big addition last year with the inauguration of the Statue of Unity. Described as a modern engineering marvel, the 182-metre statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is said to be the tallest statue in the world today. The sheer size of this colossal structure hits me only after I drive right up to the entry to the island on which it has been constructed on.

Built on a rocky outcrop of an island in the middle of the Narmada river just a little over three kilometres below and downstream from the Sardar Sarovar Dam, the Statue of Unity is a tribute to a man who has been credited with uniting the 552 princely states of pre-independent India.

He was the first deputy prime minister and the home minister of independent India. Fondly called the Iron Man of India, Sardar Patel’s statue, though, is made up of more than 3,500 tonnes of bronze plates and cladding. Up close, the over 6,500 micro and macro cast panels can be seen individually and they are even numbered on the inside for identification.

Size matters

Inaugurated for the public in November last year, the Statue of Unity has reset the record and is about 54 metres taller than China’s Spring Temple Buddha the previous record holder. The other impressive statistic about the statue is that it can withstand winds of up to 180kmph and even strong earthquakes measuring up to 6.5 on the Richter scale. But what has all this got to do with driving and cars? Well, it was the venue for the Hyundai Venue for the car maker’s annual “Great India Drive”. Hitting the road early in the morning a couple of weeks ago from Vadodara, the 100-odd kilometres to the statue takes a good two and a half hours with a mix of well-paved roads and stretches of broken tarmac. Much of the way leading up to the statue is still a work in progress with road widening and bridge construction still underway, pretty much like the area surrounding the Statue of Unity, where a wildlife reserve, valley of flowers, butterfly park and cactus garden are all in various stages of completion.

After a quick tour of the statue and a ride up the elevator to the observation deck located at about 153 metres and roughly at the chest of the statue of Sardar, we were ready for the flag off of the Drive. My plan was to drive the Hyundai Venue from this modern monument created nearly 70 years after our independence and cross the 450 kilometres heading west and south to reach Mumbai. And the journey was to end at the Gateway of India - the 95-year old, pre-independence monument by the sea which in many ways represents the resilience and dynamism of the people of our Maximum City.

On the road

The Venue has been quite a success for Hyundai with sales crossing the 45,000 units mark in October and starting the drive from the Statue of Unity was meant to signify the pan-Indian appeal for this model. My test mule was the Venue 1.4-litre U2 CRDi Diesel engine with the 6-speed manual gearbox. I remember this to be a refined mill with a slick-shifting manual transmission which is really quick off the line for a vehicle in this segment. I head back out in the direction of Vadodara before turning left into some of the state highways around the area. The plan was to bypass Bharuch and join National Highway 48 just before Ankleshwar and head straight towards Mumbai. I was hoping to experience a bit of the Gujarati hinterland and its roads before hitting the four-lane highway leading towards the Maharashtra border and then into sprawling metropolis of Mumbai. Gujarat and its capital Ahmedabad are very well-known for the quality of the highways. But, some of the state highways within a 30-kilometre radius of the statue were in pretty bad shape possibly because they are yet to be relaid after the hectic transportation and construction work that would’ve been needed for putting up the gigantic statue and the supporting infrastructure around it. Potholes that could’ve swallowed a few small vehicles were deftly avoided by the Venue and its light, but responsive steering. The ones that caught us by surprise, the Venue managed to go over without getting ruffled. The stiffer chassis improves ride quality compared to the other vehicles in the class and some of the bad stretches of road also reminded how much more of a difference to the ride quality can be delivered by controlling shock absorber rebound.

Turning into NH 48 also meant that though it was full of truck traffic, since it is one of the busiest commercial corridors, there were fewer surprises on the road like traffic rolling down in the opposite direction in the same lane. So I decided to try out some of the other features in the Venue, including its impressive audio system. The trim I was driving was the SX(O) with optional features. Two convenience items in the cabin really made it comfortable for me - one was the fact that even in this segment I was getting a wireless charger, which meant that despite google maps draining my smartphone’s battery I didn’t have to bother myself with pulling the cable out of my bag. And the other was the connected car features offered by BLue Link, which though didn’t allow me to turn on the engine or aircon remotely (available only in the DCT automatic transmission variants of the 1.0L turbo petrol model), it still left me worry free about what might happen in the event of an emergency.

Mumbai’s Symbol

In the meantime, I drove past Bilimora, Vapi and Silvassa, reaching Vasai-Virar in the outskirts of Mumbai. The middle stretches of Western Express Highway was leaving me wondering if the late evening traffic into Mumbai would be bad. But, I made decent progress and reached the last stretch of road leading towards the highly guarded and barricaded area surrounding the Gateway of India. After a short half hour break in between for a coffee and a snack, the journey had taken a total of about eight hours. I wait for the small batches of visitors to the Gateway to abate before attempting the pictures of the Venue with the Arch in the background that you see here.

The Gateway has been the venue for historic events both pleasant and otherwise. But its enduring appeal and iconic location makes it timeless. It was first commissioned in 1911 to commemorate the arrival of the first British Monarch to visit India, but what King George V and Queen Mary got to see instead was supposedly only a cardboard structure. Overlooking the Arabian Sea, the Gateway was finally completed in 1924. At about 85 feet tall and built in a Indo-Sarasenic style of architecture, the arch has been constructed mostly using Basalt of volcanic origin. Symbolically, the Gateway was also the location from which the last British troops left India post-independence. Interestingly, the Gateway’s form and style is said to have incorporated a lot of influences from 16th-century Gujarati culture and architecture.

From the symbol of conquest and colonisation to the new symbol of a free, rising India the Hyundai Venue was a trusty steed marking a road trip full of s historic significance.

Published on November 07, 2019

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