Thursday, December 13, 2012

Unbiased review of the Duster - Part 3: Unfinished business in Anamudi Shola

This post should have come under Mango Musings but I've placed it here because it qualifies as Woodcrawling! To see the earlier post of the 'Unbiased review of the Duster' see the post in Mango Musings

A little more than three and a half months ago we had discovered a lovely little place during our trip to Munnar.  (Link here).

For two people who had been used to sitting in a safari jeep and going around the same tracks in the hope of catching the eye of a predator it was a new experience.Here was a scenario where we were in the wilderness we loved so much, but instead of getting driven we were driving ourselves. That meant we were in control of where we stopped, how long we stopped and what we could do. That evening we spent in Maryoor had left an indelible impression on both of us. We had be limited by our transport and the opinions of a few people who probably had some ulterior motives to prevent us from going ahead. Despite encouragement from some unexpected quarters we weren't sure of testing the terrain in a hatchback with less than ideal ground clearance.

1st, November 2012, I took delivery of our Duster. It was a vehicle that had appeared in the horizon earlier in the year and we had booked in July. It had been a long wait but we had to ourselves a gentle beast to carry us to place we had never been to before. I had tested it out in and around Palakkad (link here) but there was nothing here like the Anamudi shola.

So on the 18th, November we were off to see how the Duster would handle the shola. There was a full complement of five passengers and a boot full of photography gear and food. We left at 6.30 AM because we had to be back by nightfall. I hate driving after sunset these days, and since our route was to take us through an area I had not traveled in I could not really predict how long I had to be at the wheel.

The sun was still hiding when we crossed Pollachi (45 kms) onto Udumalapet (75 kms). The wind turbines stood like sentinels in the maize fields and the road was tempting. I'm a sedate driver normally but I succumbed to temptation and let the Renault K9 engine have some fun. The needle was nudging 130 kph when I ran out of road for speed test, besides I thought the people in the back seat were making noises, so I eased off. The memories of chasing a Santro on NH 47 weren't too pleasant. The Duster was rock steady at that speed. Absolutely no feeling of the wheels going out of control anytime or the engine straining.

We stopped for breakfast at the Chinnar checkpost (105 kms). The EDC canteen does not have breakfast unless you pre-order but they let you take your packed food and use their dining area. Of course, you won't believe if I told you they couldn't even provide a cup of tea! Please keep a fiver ready if you want to use the toilets; they rarely have change! (Fuel efficiency shown by the instrument panel FE calculator was 17.5 till this point)

If you want tea, stop at Karimutty (118kms). The little tea shop at the bridge serves nice tea.

The road to Anamudi shola splits off to the left at Marayoor (120kms), just after the petrol station as you up come up the last curve. The rocky slopes on either side of the road from Marayoor to Kanthaloor are dotted with 'muniyaras' or dolmens, the ancient tribal burial sites. These simple tombs are empty now and are worth a brief stopover if you have time to spare.

You can go up to the 'muniyaras' through the Goverment school that is situated on the upper curve of an S-bend as you reach Kovilkadavu. The other option, which is actually better, is to look for a board on your left about a kilometer after the turn off near the petrol station, (much before the school I mentioned). This small road takes you to the top of the hillock where the 'muniyaras' are. You can park at the bottom and walk up or drive up if you have a car with an attitude!

We didn't hang around too long exploring the tombs. We had a long drive before lunch and I wanted to soak in the atmosphere of the shola. The sugarcane fields of Kanthaloor were filled with cane ready to be harvested. We reached Kanthaloor (135 kms) just before 11 AM. If an old man waves you down at the forest check post you can ignore him. He only wants to take you on a guided tour of Kanthaloor's fruit farms! The board pointing to Anamudi Shola suddenly seemed very familiar even though I had been on this road only once earlier. Perhaps a gaur would be waiting for us!

Easwari's stall  (138 kms) signalled the entry to the Shola. This time she had a larger variety of fruits including custard apple, guavas and bananas but no pears! She told us there had been no rains so the road was not so tough to travel on. It was then we realized there wasn't a cloud in the sky and it was extremely warm for a place in the hills. 

Upto now we had either traveled on highways or relatively narrow and winding ghat roads. The instrument panel's fuel efficiency calculator was now showing 15.6 kmpl. The next 7 or 8 kilometers were going to be a test for the Duster. 

There was no rain so it would be relatively easy. Absence of flowing water on the track would mean less chance of deeply eroded parts filled with slush or mud that could hide invisible dangers. I would know where my tire was going exactly. The last thing anyone would want is a tire burst! I had reached a bridge with a little cascade on my previous trip and that was my first destination.

A half hour break here enjoying the beautiful sounds and sights of nature we decide to move on. As we rolled over the loose cobbles on the track I could feel the Dusters power. No sudden jumps or slips. It just moved forward like the Nilgiri Tahr. I just had to point it in the direction I wanted it to go and it went forward where it was meant to go. I was mostly in second or first gears, and rarely in the third. The track gets more rough as we climb further.

The bright sun that had been with us till Easwari's shop was struggling to pentrate the canopy. The rough track was getting more narrower we progressed that I was left wondering where I'd go if a vehicle came from the opposite direction.

My fears were unfounded. The Duster was exhibiting its versatility and it seemed completely at ease in this environment. After about 8 kilometers of negotiating this rough track we reached the other end of the shola. It had taken us a hour (excluding the half hour spent at the little bridge) to cover this distance. There were no complaints of aches and pains after the constant bouncing. The car itself had not exhibited any strain. The fuel efficiency had come down to 13 kmpl after this stretch, which was not bad considering the fact that I had been driving in 1st or 2nd gear all through, with many stoppages.

There was no gaur or elephant waiting for us on the track but signs of their presence were all around.  We weren't disappointed though; the langur sentry fixed us with a glare that was filled with contempt. He knew the four adults and child below him were incapable of climbing his tree. He continued foraging without a second thought. 

The Malabar Giant Squirrel, whom we met near the watch tower on top of the shola, was even more  nonchalant in his expression. It seemed that we were invisible to him as gave a show for nearly 10 minutes at touching distance.

Outside the shola the landscape changes instantly. Within a few feet of the  forest check post the the vegetable farms and tea estates start. Though there is a fencing between them there was a distinct possibility of curious animals straying out of their territory.

Clear cloudless skies above us and winding roads under, our next stop was Kundala dam which we could see in the distance


There is a whole lot of Idukki district that will keep a Woodcrawler interested. I was constrained by the limitations imposed by my car. Now I have a vehicle that can take me anywhere without batting an eyelid (if it had one!) and without burning a deep hole in my pocket.

 Watch this space....... Mathikettan Shola and Pampadum Shola are on the radar now!

For the Duster Fans only
Total distance: 338  kms
Fuel consumed: (full tank to full tank): 22 liters (filled after 352 kms)
Fuel efficiency: Highway - 18 +/-, Hills - 15 +/-, Off road - 12 +/- (based on figures shown on the FE calculator in the instrument panel). Overall - 16 kmpl (based on topping up after 352 kms)
Ride quality: Excellent. There were two people with bad backs in the car. Despite the grueling drive in the Anamdi Shola, neither of us felt even a twinge of pain. On the highway there is no body roll even at high speeds and at no point do you get the feeling that you are losing control.
Engine noise: Barely audible even when negotiating tough roads in low gears, almost silent on highway
Gears: Easy shifting, no strain between 2000 to 3000 rpm, shift down if you run below 1500 rpm. I have found the clutch as easy as in my Punto. Drivers shifting from petrol engines might take a little time to get used to the heavier clutch and frequent need for down shifting.
Steering: Easy and ultra steady. It was only when the wheels slipped of loose rocks that I felt a wobble, which I think is natural. Again, people shiftin from a smaller or lighter car might find it a bit stiff.
Tires: Excellent on the highway. Minor slipping on loose gravel in the Shola. The OE MRF Wanderers seemed to be better suited to paved roads than off-roading. Have to test it out on rough terrain in the rains.


ron said...

back to reading all your posts after a long gap.

ron said...

enjoyed reading all your posts .

Anonymous said...

Superb writing and fantastic photos. Waiting for more...

BTW, I did 165+ kmph on Bangalore- Hyderabad Highway recently and Duster took it with ease. The instability was not on the vehicle, but in my mind since I was a bit shaky thinking about the 4 people sitting in second row, 3of them 60+!. To Duster's credit they did not even notice the speed.

Renault Duster Review said...

Renault Duster has started a price war in India as it is equipped with all necessary features,spacious interior and stylish exterior.Its price has also been set aggressively.