Route spanned from Gujarat's capital Ahmedabad to the Rann of Kutch via Bhuj
To commemorate the sub-4 meter Amaze sedan's success in India, earlier this year Honda invited us to an experiential drive from Ahmedabad to the Rann of Kutch, Gujarat's famed salt flats, via Bhuj. The timing couldn't have been anymore perfect as Kutch was observing the Rann Utsav (festival of the Rann), which usually attracts plenty of tourists from other states, and temperatures were cool enough to visit the white desert without getting a heat stroke.
Since I have never driven the Honda Amaze extensively nor paid a visit to the Rann of Kutch, this was a perfect opportunity for me to finally put a tick on both at the same time. After going through the itinerary, I was a bit worried about Honda's choice of the Amaze, a family oriented sedan that would be used to tackle the Rann's marshy terrain. But tales have been told of the Amaze's incredible ability to traverse across such terrains without breaking apart, as experienced by my colleague in Honda's previous drive. So it was my turn to find out whether such tales were true.
After a long and early flight from Chennai, we landed in Ahmedabad in the wee hours of morning, where the airport greeted us with numerous posters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reaffirming that the flight landed in Ahmedabad only!. Once we got out, we were driven straight to the Taj Gateway, the flag-off point of our exciting journey. Since a long 300+ km journey laid ahead of us, it was imperative that I stock my belly with whatever the hotel offered to keep myself active throughout the drive.
For the drive to the Rann, Honda decided to bring the latest 2015 Amaze in the range-topping VX(O) spec, equipped with the new AVN (Audio, Visual and Navigation system). Once we were assigned the respective cars, it was time for us to leave the hotel and drive straight to Bhuj. Luckily, we got the Honda Amaze powered by the awesome 1.5-liter i-DTEC diesel engine, good for 100 PS and 200 Nm of torque. The engine is a free-revving gem, as experienced in the highway drive where its low-end peak torque and smooth response helped us overtake the many trucks and overloaded rickshaws, worry free. Honda claims that the NVH of the new Amaze has been improved over the previous model, which was apparent when the car was either idling or cruising at safe speeds.
Between Ahmedabad and Bhuj was the NH947 highway, a smoothly paved dual carriageway that was more or less empty at that time. Though the car effortlessly cruised to its limited top speed of 145 km/h, the sheer wind noise begged us to slow down. Of course, it's not exactly an aerodynamically-focused supercar to speed at triple digit speeds with minimal wind noise, so no points lost for that. Otherwise, its soft suspension and smooth engine gobbled up the road for hours. In that respect, the Amaze served its purpose well - to transport four people and a bit of baggage across cities comfortably.
213 km later, we stopped for lunch, where we discussed about the route from Bhuj to our accommodation at Dhordo Tent City, located quite close to the Rann itself. We then resumed our journey to Bhuj, while looking for a good spot to start taking pictures. After staring at several of Gujarat's windmills beside the highway, the road began to narrow down and a town was in our horizon, meaning that our checkpoint at Bhuj was close. Once everyone grouped and was ready for the drive to Dhordo Tent City, our support vehicle took lead and zoomed off towards our destination. As we kept up with the support vehicle, we were greeted to a single carriageway that presented corners and dips. At high speeds, the Amaze's soft suspension had the car bouncing all over the place, requiring us to ease off the throttle. Thanks to the light steering wheel and good turn in, the road's corners were negotiated smoothly.
In the darkness of the night, we spotted a brightly lit area, which we later figured out was our destination for the night. The Dhordo Tent City covers a large area, and is known for its one-of-a-kind accommodation facilities. After our arrival and check-in, we were directed to our respective tents (Yes, Tents!) to spend the night. While it looked like a normal large house of cloth from the outside, the inside was as well furnished as an ordinary hotel, even with a nice bathroom. However, I wasn't sure about the tent's security, which was simply guarded by a zipper accessible by anyone from the outside. Fear not though as the whole place is monitored by CCTV cameras and 24x7 security. Not to mention the BSF (Border Security Force) that usually patrolled the area, since the Pakistani border was less than a hundred kilometers away.
Next day, the whole convoy was given permission to drive on the Rann of Kutch itself (kudos to Honda for that). After setting off from the Dhordo Tent City, the concrete roads slowly disappeared, leaving a vast sand trail. As kilometers passed by, the color of the trail was slowly turning to what we hoped for - white. We finally arrived at the salt flats, and the first thing that popped into my head was the famous Bonneville Speed Week (a competition of top speed on Bonneville's salt flats). Shouldn't such an event be hosted in India on this beautiful turf?
An extensive photo shoot later, we decided to go further up the stark white desert. The terrain, as expected, started to get marshy, and because we were in an Honda Amaze (which is not exactly a rugged 4x4 of any sort), we had to stop at a point and bask in the silence and emptiness of the Rann. Thankfully, the cool breeze made us comfortable under the sun's bright and glaring shine.
On the final day of the "Discover Amazing India" drive, we had to drive ourselves to the Bhuj airport from the Dhordo Tent City. On the way, we stopped by Bhujodi, a place known for its beautiful handicrafts and textiles. If you want a piece of Gujarat's rich culture and tradition, visit one of the many shops in Bhujodi, where one can find a good collection of hand made items that are brought in from various small tribes spread across the state. So, as first-time tourists, we delved into nearly every shop's collection for the perfect item to take back home. Then, after our little shopping spree, we arrived at the Bhuj airport- the last point of the drive. The time had come to say goodbye to the car that brought us there all the way from Ahmedabad.
What's my impression of the drive? To put it briefly, the "Discover Amazing India" drive was an eye-opener. Being brought up in the bustling life of a city, I hardly get opportunities to travel around the many picturesque locations of India. So it was an absolutely gratifying to experience the various cultures, interact with the local folk, and see the famed Rann of Kutch with my very own eyes, rather than checking out someone else's travelogue about it behind the screen.
The Amaze? With new updates, Honda has made the car a little bit better than last year's model. Even though the Japanese market the Amaze as a sub-4 meter family sedan for small journeys, we pushed it to its limits and drove it through some rough terrain, where it took the beating without complaining at all. Overall, Honda has packed nearly everything an Indian consumer demands, in a well-engineered and durable package, which is why - in my opinion - it's an "Amaze-ing" vehicle for its money.