Close on the heels of the massive north east trip, I had to take the miffed wife to an excursion. It was though more on the lines of her taking me out on my birthday. We zeroed down on the quaint state of Uttarakhand. Her only condition was that it should be a driving holiday and one wherein I need not worry much about shooting the vehicle or understanding its tidbits. Had to scratch my head for a bit on that one. That was when Zoomcar came in to my mind. Rent a vehicle from them and not having to worry about writing about the vehicle’s attributes stoked the fire. So, how was an automotive journalist’s experience with Zoomcar and how did the trip pan out. Read on.
It is as simple as things can be. Logon to the Zoomcar website, choose the vehicle you want (depending on budget or liking), select the kilometres you’re likely to cover and whether its intra or interstate, pay the deposit amount and you’re good to go. Zoomcar gives you the option of delivering the vehicle to your place or has significant pick up points near airports, stations and malls. I chose the former.
A Zoomcar official called me a day before delivery and confirmed the drop location. On the day of delivery, before he left from the warehouse, the Zoomcar driver called to confirm the location and if I will be available. Loved the company’s professionalism. On the designated date and time, the driver arrived with a gleaming Hyundai Creta. The car wasn’t straight out of the showroom but the wear and tear was minimal compared to other rental vehicles. The interior was neat and clean as well. I was shown the vehicle papers, explained about the Fastag (more on it later), tyre pressure to be maintained as well as the stepney condition. The car came with a full tank of gas and Zoomcar expects the self-drive customer to return the vehicle in a similar condition.
I rented the car from Zoomcar on December 13. This was two days ahead of the Fastag deadline. Greg Moran, the CEO of Zoomcar, a few days before had confirmed that nearly 80 per cent of their cars are equipped with Fastags. He specifically mentioned that, “With an aim to ensure a seamless experience for our customers, over 80 percent of Zoomcar vehicles have had Fastags in them for over a year now helping customers zip through the toll gates. We are in the process of including Fastags in some old models as well ensuring that 100% of all Zoomcars are Fastag enabled before the mandatory deadline.” He also said that whatever Fastag-enabled tolls the customer crosses, at the end of the trip, the money will be deducted from his deposit.
With an aim to check if these statements were not just marketing talk, me and the better half set out on the journey. We left from Noida at around 7am and the first toll was on the Meerut highway. Credit must be given that all lanes had a clear marking that showed their Fastag-readiness. Unfortunately, the Fastag scanner wasn’t working on the particular lane we entered and the lady after checking the windshield just let us pass. Subsequently, the tolls ahead though had proper scanners and the Fastag just worked like a charm there. You stop for barely 10 seconds to let the scanner read the barcode and the barrier to lift.
The Noida-Ramnagar trip took almost four hours to cover a 275km distance. The Hyundai Creta provided by Zoomcar proved to be an able companion. There wasn’t a single occassion wherein which I would have wanted another vehicle for this trip. The roads at certain parts were patchy, something that the Creta dispatched with aplomb. We were put up at Krishna Wilderness Resort and this was a stone’s throw away from the Dhela zone. Jim Corbett Park is divided into four zones – Bijrani, Dhela, Dhekala and Jhirna. Dhekala ranks the highest when it comes to wild cat spottings. Dhela is for the beginners.
Krishna Wilderness Resort took good care of us. The meals were homecooked and with the limited menu on offer, the cooks were all the more happy to serve us. Not only this, the rooms, limited in number, were spacious as well as good too. There was a swimming pool and a common sitting area too was provided. You get the wellness feeling sitting there in nature’s lap, sipping a hot cup of chai. Hot reminds me that the climate there during winters borders around 2-3 degree. Do remember to take proper warm clothes with you.
On the very same night that we dropped into the resort, the wife and me decided to have an adventure of our own. We chose to drive 12km away from the resort in the dead of the night. The result was we spotted deer grazing by the roadside, a wild boar and an owl. However, the resultant eeriness of the place meant that we had to return to base as soon as possible. A word of caution though. When you spot a potential predator or a larger animal like an elephant, switch the headlights off. Animals get easily irritated by the vehicle headlights and are provoked in to attacking you.
Day two, we went to see the Naini lake. The lake was a good 90km away from Ramnagar. The roads were narrow but well laid. Since it was a Sunday, there was a bit of market traffic. While the roads leading to the Naini lake were a bit narrow, they were well surfaced. It took us around 2.4 hours to reach the place. One word of caution though. Naini Lake is a star attraction. There are limited parking spots around. So on the roads leading up to the lake, there will be haphazardly parked vehicles. Moreover, there was also black ice that leads to loss in traction. One has to drive carefully, maintain appropriate distance between the vehicle ahead and apply minimum brakes.
With the wife’s presence of mind, we were able to get hold of a secure parking spot in a hotel. We did touristy things like going on a boat ride (costs Rs 210 and you get the canoe for yourself). The local food is called pahadi and it is actually a blend of masalas that lend any dish a unique flavour. Anupam restaurant in Mallital, Nainital, is a highly recommended place for local cuisine. Honestly, we think it was a tad overrated. Their kebabs though are to die for. In Uttarakhand, as a takeaway, bal mithai is the best. It doesn’t go bad for a good 15 days. So taking it on flights will not be an issue.
Day three was when we leave for Noida. Before that, we had a 6am safari in a well-kept Maruti Suzuki Gypsy. This open-top experience was to die for. One needs to have their government-recognised identity cards ready. These are inspected at the gates of the aforementioned zones. Before I get to the actual safari experience, a word of advise. One needs to book their safaris well in advance. 40-60 days to be exact. These safaris are hot selling items and last minute bookings will lead to disappointments. The approximate cost is Rs 5,000 per safari. One Gypsy will take in a maximum of four people.
The guide as well as the driver are knowledgeable folks. However, more often than not, they say that tourists miss out on the real essence of a safari. It is to enjoy nature and understand how these animals live. Tourists are more focussed on finding the big game and hence lose out on the smaller things. The safari consists of a good three hours. In this time, if you keep your eyes and ears open, there are chances you will spot muniyas, parakeets, deer, hornbills, fox as well as peacocks. At least, we did. The big cat was elusive here as well. Dhela not only houses tigers but is also home to elephants as well as leopards. We spotted a rogue elephant. Our guide said that this one was seen last night at Bijrani and it is likely he is searching for a mate; hence highly aggressive too.
The day ended on a high note with these sightings. It shows us how vulnerable animals are and how humanity has gone for a toss. With these musings, we headed towards Noida. The journey, coupled with frequent stops ended in five hours. However, the deluge of memories of this particular trip will not cease for quite sometime. The better half, who has an aversion to remembering places and things, still recollects all the places we visited during these days. Now, isn’t that suggesting something?
On another occassion, just to try out if the services change from city to city, I tried Zoomcar’s service in Kochi. I actually shouldn’t have bothered. It was flawless. Zoomcar will be high on my list of recommendations for someone looking to rent a self-drive vehicle in India.
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