IAB Travelogue: From Amritsar to Dharamshala in a Nissan Terrano
Aravind Jayachandran, It goes without saying that I'm a huge petrolhead and can apparently convert all my driving emotions into words you can read.
Anniversary drive from Amritsar to Dharamshala
As part of the Nissan Terrano’s first anniversary celebrations, they not only launched a special anniversary edition to commemorate the feat, but also invited us to a driving tour to experience the beauty of India’s northern region behind the wheel of the compact SUV.
Called the “Son of the Soil”, the route spanned from the holy Amritsar to Palampur, a town nestled in the Himalayan mountains of the Dhauladhar range. We covered nearly 250 km of picturesque scenery and rich culture that each place embodies. Since I have never been to the North, this journey offered me the chance to not only seek the true beauty of Mother Nature, but also find out whether the Terrano is the ideal vehicle to cover the arduous journey that lay ahead.
Since I was flying from Chennai, I had to leave a day before the event’s flag-off from Amritsar. After a dull and long flight from Chennai-Delhi-Amritsar, I finally reached the night before the drive. Next day, I was driven to the starting point where the flag-off took place at the Radisson Blu hotel located near the SH25.
Before the flag-off, Nissan briefed us about the pre-planned route, the checkpoints that we were to reach on time, and a brief reminder about the Terrano’s features and performance figures. Once that was completed, they handed over the keys and we set-off. Thankfully, Nissan arranged a support vehicle for each Terrano, with all the necessary items required to cover the journey comfortably. And since the drivers of the support vehicles knew the route before hand, we were confident to do the journey peacefully and not rely on Google’s confusing Maps service.
First highlight of the tour was the highway cruise from the start to the checkpoint. Once we left the flag-off, we were on the NH15 (a single carriageway). Since traffic was minimum then, we were allowed to push the Terrano upto safe speeds while being baffled at the endless farms that we were passing by. The suspension set-up was a bit softer than I expected, which made the car heave about and roll a bit when overtaking the many tractors that one will come across Punjab’s country side.
With other motorists paying little to no regard, we had to be constantly alert, keeping the foot near the brake pedal in case somebody decides to be a little adventurous. But otherwise, once the roads were clear, slot it to the top gear and keep the revs around 2,400 rpm (for the diesel variant), and the Terrano covers kilometers comfortably.
An hour later, we reached the first checkpoint that was located at a resort called Punjabiyat in Gurdaspur. Since the beautiful resort was located on a farm, this proved to be an opportunity to test the Terrano’s mild off-road skills. Thanks to the high ground clearance and 215/65 R16 section tires of the Terrano, we were able to traverse through the freshly cut sugarcane stalks and rocks without any hassle, and reach the stop where our mouths started to water at the sight of an authentic Punjabi lunch waiting for us.
Once we were done raiding the food at Punjabiyat, we set out towards the next checkpoint located at the famous Taragarh Palace in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh. After driving through some ill-constructed roads, we finally touched upon a nicely paved dual-carriageway that allowed us to cover more distance before the sun went down. Once the road ended (and a few kilometres later) we reached my second highlight of the trip – the hill climbs.
This was where the Terrano had to prove its mettle. Once we started climbing, the immense turbo lag of the 110 hp 1.5-liter DCi engine started to became apparent, which made us nervous when overtaking the plethora of slow trucks, buses and cars that regularly ply on that road.
But once the turbo spooled after 2,000 rpm, the Terrano lunged towards other motorists, ready to overtake like an excited puppy. So, we had to slot between 3rd and 4th gear at high rpms to access power immediately. Thankfully, the braking performance along with other aids like ABS and EBD instilled confidence in us when pacing around bends and through crowded villages.
As the sky slowly turned from royal blue to pitch black, we were nearly halfway through the hill climbs. Surprisingly, even though the Terrano’s suspension is slightly on the softer side, it managed to keep itself composed when tackling sharp bends. Plus, the steering wheel was not only light at lower speeds but also designed in such a way that it was comfortable to hold, with nicely shaped thumb rests and ridges at the back to seat your fingers. This allows one to keep a good grip on the steering wheel, in case you want to make quick turns that are sometimes hard to spot.
Being thousands of feet above sea level, and in places that look deserted, we couldn’t receive any radio frequency to listen to some tunes. Fortunately, since I was driving the top-end XV Diesel variant, we resorted to the in-built Bluetooth audio playback for entertainment, which worked flawlessly with my smartphone.
Being a long-drive through highways and bending roads, the front seats of the Terrano weren’t as comfortable as we’d thought. With barely any bolsters for body support, and the lack of a central arm rest tarnished the otherwise comfortable driving experience of the SUV.
As the temperature started to drop, we knew that our destination was nearing. After a couple of exciting hours going through hills and small villages, we finally arrived at our destination at Taragarh Palace in Kangra Valley, where we would spend the night in a palace-turned-hotel owned by the current royal family of Jammu and Kashmir. Since we arrived at night, the picturesque scenery that we were hoping to see was under darkness.
It was only early next morning that we got to see why Google reviews about Taragarh Palace were mostly about the hotel’s beauty. Under the nascent sunlight of wee morning hours, the beautiful construction and the classic design of the palace became apparent. What made the scenery much better was the Dhauladhar range that was just peeking right behind the hotel. To discover more about the Himalayas, we set out towards the endpoint at the Norbulingka Institute of Tibetan Culture located in Dharamshala.
Again, we were greeted with bending roads and climbs, which the Terrano gobbled up without hesitance. What made the journey towards Norbulingka more memorable was the scenery we were greeted to. We were ogling at the distant ice-capped Himalayas, the greenery, tea plantations that made us stop at every point to take a picture.
After nearly 1.5 hours of driving, we finally arrived at the finish point of the trip – the Norbulingka Institute. Since I had to fly back to Chennai from Jammu, time wasn’t in my favor when it came to exploring the monastery. Once we had a quick breakfast and went for a stroll around the place, it was time to say goodbye to the Terranos that brought us there.
Overall, the journey was nothing short of amazing. I’m a person who was born and brought up in the bustling life of a city. To experience the calm, peaceful and rich, diverse culture of the country is a rare opportunity.
What about the Terrano? Even though the car did have some downsides, like an awkwardly placed door mirror control, less-than-comfortable seats, turbo lag under 2000 rpm, and the lack of an AWD system, the car still proved itself to be a capable SUV that can take a beating without a complaint.