Searching for roads in the sand dunes
A great drive – entry for Michelin Pilot Experience by Arvind Passey
‘The great escape,’ I heard someone say, ‘is like searching for roads in the sand dunes.’
I thought for a while, turned to him, and asked, ‘Roads in the dunes?’ he was one of the rally officials. This rally was all about off-road driving and we were to drive to this location that was far from the Jaipur-Delhi highway and one had to go winding through the villages of Rajasthan. The official said, ‘Yes sir. The dunes just pretend to be hard. They begin melting or just come apart at the slightest insistence.’ This was all Greek to me. I was thinking until this point of time that driving through the dunes in the Mahendra Thar, which is a sturdy 4-wheel drive, would be a rather tame exercise, and I told him so.
The official laughed. ‘Tame?’ he said, ‘this day is going to show you a different definition of everything. Just wait and see. Experience it yourself.’
This was getting intriguing and Specky was a bit worried. She asked, ‘What did he mean by that? You haven’t done any off-road driving yet. Do you think we should be content to just be a part of some other team?’
‘Don’t worry,’ I said with a wave of my hand which simply meant that it is good for a mortal to remain confident and high spirited.
It was fun getting those fancy rally stickers and we loved putting them on the Thar, getting ourselves clicked… until there was a public announcement that the rally was being flagged off. We joined the line of Thars and other SUVs and the adrenaline flow slowly began. The drive on the high was fast, furious and quite a distance. We then swerved into the smaller village road at a point… the sort of roads that have never seen a divider and no one knows about lanes!
Yes, it was fun zipping and zooming on these roads as well. Specky even remarked, ‘This is quite an experience! We’ve never done even this kind of off-roading.’ She meant that any drive away from a six-laned metalled road was off-roading. I smiled.
When we reached the site, we were informed that a recce team had flagged out a route that went through different levels of difficulty. They never told us that they were different levels of impossibilities! You see, the path we had to follow had already been partly disintegrated by the recce teams. However, for every difficult part, they had chalked out an easier bypass route as well.
The first sandy bit saw us miserably trapped and we had to be pulled out by the rescue team. We, however, did manage the hillock bypass, the treacherous slope down… we did not attempt the steep climb and opted for the more sedate but manageable route.
‘Look at my husband,’ whimpered one wife as I stood on the hillock near a flag, ‘we’ve just bought this SUV and he’s bent upon giving it such a rough time!’ It was rough indeed… the husband attempted six times and the sea of sand compelled him to roll back. Well, he did finally make it to the top… but said, ‘This is going to be unforgettable!’
There was one vehicle that almost over-turned and a team of rescuers had to position it gently. There was another intending to go turtle and was at an impossible angle and had to be manoeuvred by the rescue officials with the help of wrenches. The words that were thrown around most were ‘yank’, ‘tug’, ‘jerk’, ‘pull’, ‘push’, ‘struggle’, ‘steady’, ‘careful’… and also ‘Hope you’re enjoying this off-road experience?’
‘Enjoying?’ I softly asked Specky.
She smiled and got busy with the camera… there was so much to capture. The gawking villagers, the sand-trapped wheels, ecstatic sand fountains when vehicles zoomed angrily over it, the excitement, the frustration, the weariness, the exhaustion, the satisfaction, and the buzz of the rescue team!
We did not realise when it was late in the afternoon… the obstacles were over and we were to drive almost 100 kms back to the hotel in Jaipur. The return journey was at a cruising speed and we reached as the sun was setting!
Photo-version of this great drive:
Waiting for the ‘Great Escape’ to begin… an off-road driving adventure that is unforgettable!
The numbers and stickers are done… Mahendra Thars lined up for the Dune Rally!
We are now more than 100 Kms away from Jaipur and far away from any highway… this is where the recce team has decided to place the route flags with all sorts of difficulties.
This is one of the blood-curdling moments when you realise you need the help of the rescue team!
Just a few mm more and the Thar would’ve been lying there upside-down with us trapped inside…
The poor marker flags don’t even know how deceivingly treacherous this terrain is.
Struggle… the key word for even the powerful Thar.
A close-up of what the tyres have to deal with…
Villagers do tend to line up as spectators to watch people trying to triumph over sandy resistance!
This one calls it a day… another adventure ends!
29 July 2013
Email from Michelin received. Another win… though I’m still not sure if I’ll be in the final list or not:
The final list of winners for this contest is now declared…