Now where do I start to praise the pure pleasure that the vehicle is. LC200 may be a full crore dearer than the Fortuner, may have innumerable creature comforts and (above all) bragging rights, but when it comes to the pure pleasure of driving, none of the cars we had beats the Fortuner. The steering is as precise as it can be for a SUV and the seats are superb. The entire feel of driving it on fast curving roads is just priceless (mind you am comparing it with SUVs here not with sedans/hatchbacks).
The more I drove the more I fell in love with the car. Yes the manual box seemed a slight discomfort after driving the autos for so long, but then the involvement factor is so much higher that even shifting the box feels like a boon. The seating position is very nice and I feel the other cars cannot begin to compete with it in the looks department. Infact I feel the Fortuner is the most attractive SUV in India, with maybe only the Captiva coming close.
However looks is not all this beauty is about, cause take it off road and she can turn into a total animal. The butch looks then, with flared wheel arches, air duct on the hood etc are not purely cosmetic as it makes easy meal of broken roads, inclines and the little slush we had to wade through. Yes it definitely cannot match the Landcruisers in pure off road ability, but in day to day driving and the little off-roading that owners might do (personally I don’t think these vehicles evefr leave the tarmac in our country) it is more than capable to deal with what is thrown at it.
Anyways this is a travelogue and so I must refrain from making it a Fortuner road test (in any case Toyota is not paying me any anything to do that). But one last word, the Fortuner is a steal for its price, and pretty much has no competition, now only if Toyota can improve the center console and dashboard which seem from a bygone era.
Returning to the tarmac, we were back on the GT road were treated to the pleasures of the previous day. But soon we headed into Jharkhand and as expected the roads deteriorated. It seems the NHAI could not continue the good job they have done turning around the road infrastructure in UP and Bihar to Jharkhand. The four lane pleasures dissolved to a normal two lane road (albeit sufficiently broad). Also potholes returned to haunt the suspension and frequent towns ensured there was enough traffic on the road to keep speeds low.
The state also had no other sights on offer to make note off, except for maybe slightly more impoverished countryside. As we entered West Bengal – one of the last remaining communist strong holds in the country – the conditions did not improve much. Yes the pot holes reduced and speeds increased slightly, but the road could not be compared with the luxuries of the previous day.
A new feature was the sign boards, which for the first time on the trip were illegible to me, being obviously in Bengali. Even then finding the way to the “city of joy” did not prove tough and we made decent progress till we hit the outer edges of India’s oldest metro. I’ve always found Kolkata to be a maze and a cauldron of constant chaos with innumerable people milling around, fighting for their share of the tarmac among trams, buses, taxis and hand-drawn rickshaws. The rickshaws and trams are definitely unique to the city, but in my opinion do not make for a good sight (neither good for traffic).
But the city drips of heritage at every corner, be it the buildings, the yellow Amby taxis or the general local dress up. Being the most populous city of the nation, every inch of space is hard fought and that adds to the vintage feel. So do the local traffic policemen, their white uniform reminiscent of days gone by, and their ubiquity at intersections is also something not generally seen in today’s metros.
Kolkata also has innumerable one ways which follow an unique system of reversing direction with time. This makes navigation a total b***h and even our GPS navigator was baffled trying to reroute at every junction, only to find its efforts have gone in vain as the next road is blocked. I’ve never driven in more confusing traffic and the narrow streets got us totally lost. We kept going round and round in the same area till finally someone had to come from our hotel and guide us to the place.
Tomorrow will be a rest day and thereafter a new team joins us for the next leg of our travel. This roughly marks the halfway stage of our trip, and so far thankfully, things have stayed well (except for minor hiccups). Now we start travelling south towards Kanyakumari and the cuisine etc will change drastically, but am quite excited about the coastal drives. Day after we head to Puri which does not promise much on the face of it, but still more on Kolkata and Puri in my next post, till then adios and drive safe