One-hundred-and-fifty-issues! Now, that’s a significant milestone – cementing years of hard work and perseverance. So, to celebrate, we set out to find the best driving roads in the jungles of Madhya Pradesh. And, of course, to spot some wildlife while we were at it!
I relish challenges. But, sometimes, that can be a double-edged sword. So, when our editor asked me if I’d like to explore what was perhaps the most under-explored route of our four 150-kilometre journeys to celebrate this issue, my answer was a resounding yes.
My colleagues were also tasked with discovering some fantastic routes, albeit in slightly familiar territory. Madhya Pradesh is a bit different. It’s easily accessible, but not swarming with tourists yet and relatively unexplored in that sense. Finding exciting roads would be a challenge, but one that I was looking forward to.
I was also very happy with our steed of choice – the Volkswagen Tiguan. Ever since I first drove the Tiguan back in 2017, I’ve thought that it was one of the most underrated SUVs on our roads – and this was certainly substantiated on this 2,500-kilometre journey.
Our first destination was about 2 hours out of Bhopal – the Kheoni Wildlife Sanctuary. You see, Kheoni was attractive for us for two reasons. First, it’s still a relatively new and unexploited sanctuary – meaning that we could spend some quality time on wildlife sighting, and second, Kheoni is perhaps the only sanctuary in India that allows you to drive into the core area of the park in your own vehicle.
Of course, the park is tarmac free, which means that we also had the perfect opportunity to test the 4Motion all-wheel-drive system of the Tiguan. But, first, we had a nearly 15-hour drive ahead of us from Delhi before we could even reach our first destination.
We began quite early, at 5am to be precise – the only time when driving on Delhi roads is an absolute delight – with the city still sleeping, the sun peeking over the horizon and roads still empty.
Soon, we found ourselves passing through Agra. And, after driving through the Badlands of Chambal, we turned towards the highway heading to Guna. This allowed us to bypass the city of Bhopal. Roads in this region are smooth, well maintained and wide. The only problem, however, was that since the terrain is flat the roads are mostly arrow straight. And, as a result, a tad boring at times.
It was already noon, and according to the Tiguan’s temperature gauge, the outside temperature was 42-degrees. However, despite its large glasshouse, the Tiguan’s air conditioning system – set at 22-degrees – kept us comfortable inside the cabin.
Before we knew it, noon gave way to dusk, and, just as the night fell, we decided to call it a day – after having covered over 900 kilometres.
We had an even earlier start on our second day. We hit the road at 4:30am in the hope of spotting some wildlife. As we closed in on Kheoni National Park, the roads steadily became more challenging. Of course, in the park, they completely disappeared. Here, the Tiguan came to our rescue, and despite its large 18-inch wheels, it delivered a measured and supple ride.
We began a 3-hour driving tour of the National Park. But what greeted us was the acrid smell of smoke and blacked out flora and fauna. Evidently, the core area of the park had just seen a big forest fire – the result of being a dry, deciduous forest, especially with the advent of summer – causing the big cats to move to the nearby Ratapani Reserve. That’s not to say that we didn’t get lucky though. I selected Off-road mode and, guided by someone with considerable local knowledge, we headed deep into the jungle. With perseverance, and a considerable amount of patience, we were able to position the Tiguan for a perfect sighting. The majesty of the tiger is difficult to describe in words. It’s not only a beautiful animal, but also one that radiates power, strength and elegance.
Sighting complete, it was time to get back on the road. The Tiguan dealt with everything that the Kheoni National Park threw at it with aplomb. The instant torque delivery and throttle response of the 2-litre diesel engine meant that conquering some pretty exacting terrain was a breeze.
And, on the next leg, we would find exactly the kind of roads that we were after.
Hunting in the hinterland
I must confess that we also had some help in finding the best roads on this trip from a dear friend of mine, Ashwini, who is a wildlife enthusiast and a keen photographer. It was he who recommended a 150-kilometre stretch through the state highways and back roads of Madhya Pradesh. The route essentially started at Kitya, a small village, moved towards the town of Nasrullahganj, and then headed to the Kolar Dam.
The road turned out to be quite a revelation, with little to no traffic. It was wide, beautifully surfaced and was mostly surrounded by farmland and jungles, with very little human population in the area – which gave us the perfect opportunity to really push the Tiguan.
Another surprise was still ahead of us. After leaving the wide roads behind at Nasrullahganj, it was on the road to the Kolar Dam that our chosen stretch transformed into a driver’s fantasy. The road here is narrow, and there’s an approximately 30-kilometre-long ghat section that’s wide enough for two vehicles, with some shoulder room to spare. Add to that constant curves, dips, off-camber corners and fast sweeping bends, and you’ve got yourself a road that not only challenges you as a driver but also offers an experience that I can only describe as exhilarating. It really allowed us to push the limits of the Tiguan.
As we reached the end of the road at Kolar Dam, and the frenetic pace slowed, the pinging from the exhaust filled our ears and the aroma from the cooling brakes pervaded the air, as if to announce the end to an epic journey – an immensely satisfying experience for a petrolhead.
The fact that the Tiguan, with its agile handling, allowed us to push the limits of its performance made makes the effort even more satisfying. I must add that its all-wheel-drive system was brilliant in tackling tight corners and putting the power down with any fuss.
Dawn of reality
After multiple runs through these twisting roads, it dawned on us that the next morning would bring with it another 15-hour drive. But the experience of a lovely and upcoming wildlife sanctuary in virtual isolation, and the fact that we discovered a beautiful driving road, somewhat eased the disappointment of the impending reality check. Oh, and while the tiger is majestic, the Tiguan proved to be the real King of the jungle!
Despite the intense heat that’s already enveloped Madhya Pradesh, we managed some pretty incredible sightings in the jungle.
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