Maruti Suzuki S-Cross: Travels to the land of rising sun

By: |
Published: December 23, 2016 6:05:45 AM

This article is not about Maruti Suzuki starting exports of yet another car to Japan—after the Baleno—it’s about the motorsports arm of the company organising its first rally championship in the Northeast, in Arunachal Pradesh, called the land of rising sun.

maruti-lThe Itanagar to Dambuk distance is 300 km, and my vehicle is a rally-ready S-Cross. Itanagar is located at 93-degree East longitude, so compared to Delhi the sun rises 70 minutes earlier.

This article is not about Maruti Suzuki starting exports of yet another car to Japan—after the Baleno—it’s about the motorsports arm of the company organising its first rally championship in the Northeast, in Arunachal Pradesh, called the land of rising sun.

“The actual meaning, in Sanskrit, is Land of Dawn-Lit Mountains,” says Ju-long, a local botanist I meet at the ITDC hotel Donyi Polo Ashok, in Itanagar. “With over 82% of the geographical area under forest cover, the state is also a paradise of botanists,” he smiles.

Called the North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) since early 20th century and even post-Independence, Arunachal Pradesh became a Union Territory in 1972, and acquired full statehood on February 20, 1987. It is the largest state of Northeast India, and has a 1,630-km of international border which it shares with Myanmar to its east, China to its north and Bhutan in the west.

I am attending the fifth leg of the Maruti Suzuki National Super League TSD Rally Championship, which starts from capital Itanagar and ends at Dambuk in the eastern part of the state. The championship is composed of six legs in a year, and it’s the first time Maruti Suzuki Motorsports is holding the rally in the Northeast.

The Itanagar to Dambuk distance is 300 km, and my vehicle is a rally-ready S-Cross. Itanagar is located at 93-degree East longitude, so compared to Delhi the sun rises 70 minutes earlier. As we leave at 6.00 am, it’s already broad daylight. A short distance away, a hillock with brick structures shines in the morning sun. “That’s the Ita Fort, meaning fort of bricks,” Ju-long says. “Itanagar is named after Ita Fort.” Our route primarily takes us through National Highway 15. The first major town is Pasighat, 250-km away.

On the well-paved NH-15, the S-Cross, powered by the 1.6-litre DDiS 320 diesel engine, drives like a dream. The 320Nm of torque is available from a low 1,750 rpm, and a slight pressure on the accelerator pedal sends all of it to the car’s front wheels; the result is exceptional acceleration. It’s just a matter of time and we are in Pasighat.

Located on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra river, Pasighat was founded in early 20th century by the British, as a gateway to the northern parts of NEFA. British-era buildings in the town reminisce about the times gone by.

A short bridge over the Brahmaputra—the river isn’t too wide here—takes you on the road to Dambuk.

The highway narrows and one has to cross multiple riverbeds. These are the tributaries of the Brahmaputra which swell during rainfall, and because there are no road bridges, the access to Dambuk remains restricted during the July to September rainy season.

The October to June dry season, however, throws a unique challenge—driving through the sandy and rocky riverbed. The S-Cross, even though it’s a crossover car, has a ground clearance of only 180mm, and the undercarriage scrapes rocks and sand. And because it’s a front-wheel drive vehicle, it struggles to negotiate the soft sand. This rally-ready vehicle is ‘rally-ready’ only by way of racing stickers and decals on the body. How I wish I was driving the 4×4, all-wheel drive variant of the S-Cross that Maruti Suzuki Motorsports is rumoured to own.

Dambuk is a sleepy village. However, in December it comes alive. The reason is the Orange Festival—four days of music, art and adventure—being held since 2014. This year has attracted musical bands from across India and beyond, including Boby Techi (Itanagar), Shubhangi Joshi Collective (Mumbai), The Con Artist (Mizoram) and Yngwie Malmsteen (Sweden), among others. Among the audience is the young chief minister Pema Khandu, who says that the aim is to tell the world about Dambuk, and Arunachal Pradesh in general. The festival is called so because orange is the principal cash crop of the region.

Arunachal Pradesh is not a linguistic state. It’s ethnic, inhabited by colourful tribal people of diverse cultures and lifestyles. A lot of them get together at Dambuk during these four days. Their medium of conversation is, surprisingly, Hindi. “Arunachal Pradesh has the maximum number of dialects of all states in India, and people may not fully understand each other’s lingo. Hindi binds them,” one of the organisers of the Orange Festival says.

From Dambuk, the nearest airport is Dibrugarh in Assam. To reach there, one has to cross the Brahmaputra at a place called Bogibil, on a ferry. Here, the river is at its mightiest in this part of the country. As you cross it, a few thoughts are sure to cross your mind. For instance, the real God is nature. I saw locals, from across religions and beliefs, bowing to the river, worshipping it—a worship that appeared to come naturally, out of respect, without demanding anything in return.

The fifth leg of Maruti Suzuki National Super League TSD Rally Championship 2016, Rally of Arunachal, concluded in Dambuk last Saturday, with Jagmeet Gill and Chandan Sen emerging as champions. This was the first time Maruti Suzuki conducted a motorsports activity in Northeast India. The rally returns to the region next year.

Get live Stock Prices from BSE and NSE and latest NAV, portfolio of Mutual Funds, calculate your tax by Income Tax Calculator, know market’s Top Gainers, Top Losers & Best Equity Funds. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.