The subject of this story is orange and very delicious. Like the mangoes we have come in search of, it is usually produced in the hot, tropical weather of Chennai. If taken in big doses, it can soothe the soul and is available across India.
Unlike the seasonal mangoes we are after, this one has proven itself to be fruitful 365 days a year; which is why we picked the Hyundai i20 for our quick mango run.
We call it a quick mango run because this plan was made a day before departure. Somebody came to the sudden realization that we are nearing the end of summer and that India’s most famous mango, the Alphonso, will soon go out of season. This obviously will not do – we must go sink our teeth in before they go away for a year.
We also figured that on a road trip to get something as Indian a mango, we might as well do it in a car that is as Indian as Hyundai. Now, you could argue that neither the Alphonso nor Hyundai originated in India but, time and familiarity have now made them practically Indian. So without much ado, here is a story about a road trip down a great road to get some great mangoes.
If you don’t know how intricately the mango is woven into Indian society, here is a short tutorial. The mango is the national fruit of India and we are the largest producers of mangoes in the world. Interestingly, our mangoes account for a tiny percentage of the international mango trade which only means we love mangoes so much, we end up consuming almost everything we produce.
Of all these mangoes that we love and consume, the Alphonso is widely regarded as the king of them all; and it came about because of a man named Afonso de Alburquerque. Afonso was a Portuguese general and military expert who helped establish Portuguese colonies in India. More importantly, he introduced the process of grafting mango trees in India. For those not in the know, grafting is a process where tissues of different plants are joined and allowed to grow together. That is how the extraordinary Alphonso mango came to be.
The i20 is like that. Anyone who doesn’t remember Hyundai’s humble beginnings in India with the Santro won’t be able to fully grasp the leaps and bound that Hyundai cars have made, over the years.
You get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The way the cars look, how they ride and handle, the equipment on board, the quality upgrades – it is all a far cry from when Shah Rukh Khan introduced the original Indian tall boy. You could say that after being in India for so long, Hyundai has grafted all that it has learnt about the country into its latest cars.
The poet Kalidasa was so inspired by mangoes that he sang a song about them. It is not available on the iTunes store so, instead, we hook up an iPod to the i20’s entertainment system and settle for The Cranberries, and the Black Eyed Peas, and the Smashing Pumpkins.
Fun to drive through the ghat roads in Ratnagiri.
The cool thing about this new facelifted i20 is that everything works so seamlessly. Once you’ve hooked up an iPod, it will connect instantly every time you thumb the start button. There’s no waiting or lag time. The new touchscreen system works slickly and all the controls are so light and easy to operate that getting out of Mumbai’s traffic is easy.
Now, anyone who has ever seen cartons of mangoes on a conveyor belt while waiting for their luggage will know that the home of the Alphonso is in the Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. This is where we are headed. Our plan today is to take the long way around because the car’s navigation system tells us that the Pune-Karad-Ratnagiri route is much faster than the direct route via the old Mumbai-Goa highway. We put our faith in Hyundai and point the i20s smart nose towards Pune. The idea is to rush through the straight highway that runs all the way down to Karad; then head West towards the sea and the mangoes. Since the car is a comfortable cruiser and because the road demands just that, we make it to Karad, carry on through sleepy little villages and twisty roads and enter the mango district.
Yes, there’s more than enough space in the boot.
We know this because, every few kilometres, the locals have lined up the sides of the highway with (you guessed it) Alphonso mangoes. This is the end of the season so most of the orchards around here are done plucking fruit. We need to hurry because it would be a shame to come all this way and only manage a whiff of the awesome scent of the Alphonso.
We have to be careful with what we buy. Since this species of mango is so popular, there are plenty of imitations out there; but lucky for us, we know of an Agro farm about 50km south of Ratnagiri town, where they grow them organically. The 40-acre Ganesh Agro farm is in a place called Ambolgarh and specialises in chemical-free mangoes. The fertiliser comes from the dung and urine of the cattle they keep and they have unique ways of keeping fruit flies from laying their eggs inside the mangoes grown here.
Nice road, beautiful scenery, great car – what else do you need?
Ganesh Ranade, the man who owns this property, later tells us that it is a combination of the rusty red Laterite soil of this area and the humid tropical conditions that are ideal for the Alphonso. He walks us through his orchard and points out the building that serves as the packaging house for the mangoes he produces. It is empty right now; the season is over and the workers have gone home, not to return until March, next year, when the season starts anew.
He also tells us not to worry and that he has kept a special batch of mangoes for us to take back home. We decide to stay the night at one of the four basic but clean rooms that the Agro farm rents out to visitors and feast on some superb aam-ras made from the mangoes grown here. The aam-ras and the quiet night far away from the bustle of Mumbai ensure we sleep deep.
There is one final challenge for us before we leave the orchard the next morning. You know how every relative of yours will suddenly call you up when they know you are in Ratnagiri? We worry the i20s boot doesn’t have enough cubic feet to accommodate our throngs of relatives – but Hyundai comes through for us, again. We squeeze in more than enough mangoes in addition to our luggage, safe in the knowledge that the i20’s powerful air con will help keep the Alphonso mangoes from over-ripening along the way.
I find this ability of the i20 to easily accommodate all our needs on this trip to be its most endearing feature. It is this which ultimately leads me to believe that, for all practical purposes, the i20 is, like it’s maker, nothing less than an all-round Indian.