Perfect recipe. A Tata Zest, a rainy weekend and a city to get away from. All that’s needed is a place not too close so you can avoid mad throngs of annoying tourists, and not too far so you can get back recharged and ready for the next week. Luckily, there is such a place. It usually passes under the radar and is just a morning’s drive away. It’s touted as Gujarat’s only hill station and is walking distance from the Maharashtra border. It’s called Saputara, the abode of serpents.
So began the 250km drive from Mumbai. The usual rules apply. Leave early to beat traffic and get as far out of the city as possible before people wake up. Driving out in the Zest is easy. Empty streets are perfect for a bit of fun. The Multi-drive makes the experience even better. Switch to Sport mode and the car gets even livelier than it is in the normal City mode. And the Revotron 1.2T — a 1.2-litre turbocharged MPFi petrol engine — feels like it loves to be pushed. The Sport mode livens up acceleration and makes getting out of the city that’s just waking up, so much fun.
The highway arrives in no time. Time to put the Zest in its maximum efficiency Eco mode and settle into a comfortable cruise. There’s no chance of getting lost, of course. The navigation feature on the state-of-the-art ConnectNext touchscreen infotainment system by HARMAN™ makes driving anywhere simple. But what is a good drive without some tunes? With seamless smartphone connectivity, 8 speakers for that brilliant surround sound effect and speed sensitive volume control, the mood is always going to be upbeat.
Highway driving is fun. You enjoy the view, the road and the car. It gives you time to appreciate every single detail of the car being driven. The pleasantly designed dual-tone dashboard, the intuitively placed controls on the steering wheel. Then there’s the Fully Automatic Temperature Control that keeps the inside of the car cool and comfortable. Of course, every once in a while, it’s nice to roll down those large windows and feel a bit of the rain. The comfortable seats with a tonne of shoulder, head and leg room make the inside of the Zest a nice place to be in.
Adding to the driving pleasure is the balanced suspension, brilliant stability and the Mumbai-Nashik highway. Arriving at Nashik, though, means facing some traffic. This is the perfect time to switch to City mode on the Multi-drive system. It smartly combines power and economy so you can overtake when you need to and save fuel in case there’s stop and go traffic. Once you pass Nashik, the road clears out and driving is an absolute pleasure. The road throughout is in fantastic condition and the 100km between Nashik and Saputara can be covered in just two hours.
Saputara may be a disappointment for the testosterone-pumped young men, but for a young family, it is the idyllic getaway to spend some quiet time together at. It is the place to go for long walks, read a book, enjoy an aerial view of Saputara from the ropeway, eat steaming corn on the cob, take a leisurely boat ride or take a ride on a pony.
As with every tourist place, there are tourist ‘points’. Thankfully, despite the number of tourists flocking here, it’s not littered with garbage. The table-top at Saputara might not be as vast as the one at Panchgani, but it has its own charm. A fun thing to try here are the mini-motorcycles with Pulsar bodies and Kinetic engines. Or if it’s not cloudy or raining, you can just soak in the last rays of the sun calling it a day.
Initially developed as a tourist destination by the government, they built a large lake that continues to be the centre of this little town. Small eateries and rides for children have mushroomed around the lake while colourful swan-shaped boats offer rides. A ride on the ropeway offers a bird’s eye view of Saputara and watching it from the slowly moving gondolas is fascinating.
The Saputara museum, located opposite the lake, built to showcase the tribal life of the area, is the usual picture of neglect and apathy. But within it are some exquisite Warli paintings by the celebrated master Warli painter Jivya Soma Mashe. Here is art that is lauded internationally, and should be feted and preserved, covered in a layer of dust and hung in open corridors. The trip to Saputara is worth it just to see these.
Also opposite the lake is the Gandharvapur artist village run by two artists — Surya Goswami and Chandrakant Parmar. It’s an ongoing project for the duo, who have a dream of turning it into a hub of art in the district. Then there’s the honey bee centre behind the Aakar Lord’s Inn hotel. It’s a humble place, made entertaining by Raju Madhawala, who will tell you how to grow a beard made of bees.
But with the Zest, you don’t want to just hang around. You want to explore. So there’s a drive down to Ambapada, 48.8km from Saputara circle, on the road to Waghai. It’s a lovely drive and we almost missed the sign pointing to the narrow road going off the highway towards Ambapada. It’s a small Dangi village where the villagers make some fine toys, curios, baskets and furniture from bamboo. There is no shop because the villagers make them at their houses. It’s interesting to watch them make the stuff. Of course, you want to keep going down the road till you reach the river where you can park your car and enjoy a picnic on the banks or watch the Gira waterfall that comes alive during the monsoons. Parking everywhere is made easy thanks to the ultrasonic rear parking sensors and the display that gives an accurate visual of the space behind the car.
All this driving is made easy by the Zest. It’s lively, feels solid and just knowing that it’s brimming with safety features like dual airbags, ABS with EBD and CSC puts the mind at ease. At the end of the weekend, when it’s time to drive back, the powerful projector headlamps with LED guide rings light the way back home in style. A weekend with the Zest transforms into a weekend that doesn’t leave you exhausted, but charged up for the week ahead. It’s just a brilliant companion that will drive you anywhere.