It has taken well over a month and a half in research, planning and execution (Phase 1 done and 2 and 3 to go still) and getting my new Thar for off-roading was in itself a learning experience, let alone the art of off-roading, which has well and truly begun with this outing.
Well, First things first. I have always wanted to dabble with Off-roading (I would bet any boy growing up would definitely have this as his dream) and it took THIS LONG to afford it:)
It all started with the beginning of the year (the resolutions time) and it was the turn of off-roading this year – to study, procure a vehicle, modify as needed and develop the right abilities to tackle the best off-roading challenges over time.
First item to tackle was what’s the best bet of a vehicle to achieve ones objectives. My first thought was to combine my daily needs with the off-roading needs to see if I can replace my current car with one vehicle that can do it both (deal with the commute, family duties, long drives and such other tasks that a family car needs to cater to) and the off-roading streak in myself.
While the research was going on (I did read about several current, upcoming vehicles to this effect and test drive some), it was important for me to sort out internally how seriously and frequently would I engage in off-roading my self. It was also important to fix a budget for taking care of both needs so I did not break the bank to take care of this item on my ‘Bucket List’ (Chombu Cheeti as we fondly call it at home:)). After over a month and a half of serious thinking, I came to the conclusion that an off roader and a family car cant co exist (at my budget levels:)) and even if I stretched it a bit to reach out to the likes of the upcoming ones, not sure however if I would get the heart to throw them around in the mud and on the rocks:).
So the decision was made to retain the existing family car (which is btw a pretty capable one though a little aged) for some more time and get the most affordable 4X4 in the Indian market. That narrowed the list down to 3 vehicles of which one fell off the list due to my perceptions of it’s support network in India and the other for the fact that there’s no power steering and AC in it. So ended up one late Feb AM at the local Mahindra dealer to book my Thar.
It arrived well ahead of the promised time and we did manage to get it to Coorg. (You can read about it here), but that was hardly an off-roading intended outing so…….
Post return and our subsequent other outings, it was mid May that I got to get the modifications going for the vehicle. Here too there’s a ton of decisions to make. Most important one is the one relating to a hard top. The racket the soft top makes in the cabin when one drives fast (for this car) on the highway is a big no no…. Here again one needs to look at how long one would take this vehicle out on the high way for a trade off call on the hard top. Although many options exist for a hard top across the price spectrum, I was advised, rightly so, to stick with the option from Mahindra, which does, cost a packet. I also needed to make this decision early since a strong roll over cage is needed around the cabin space to ensure safety of an advanced off-roader so the decision on the hard top needs to be made before the rollover cage build (yup – you don’t buy a off-roader, you build one:)). Given its in the advanced category, we decided to keep it off phase 1 of the off-roading ready plan for our Thar and also see how the soft-top fares in the monsoon by when my off-roading skills too will improve to justify such an investment (hopefully).
So phase 1 of the modifications was limited to the basic needed to START off-roading. So the obvious ones such as a Bumpers, Light Guards, Insect mesh, Limb raisers and a Snorkel made the list for phase 1 and the most of the mods were completed in the workshops of Mahindra and just one (rear bumper) elsewhere owing to availability constraints.
It was about the last week of May by when this was all done, and as fate would have it, health would give haath…..
Finally, we could make it on our first off-roading trip last Sunday. Again needed some searching around to decide on which place to get to (especially for a first off-roading experiment) via search online, speaking with some friends who are ardent off-roaders and finally decided on the area around Savandurga.
The drive up to Savandurga was via familiar road (that we usually take for bicycling) up to Manchanabele dam after which a short distance later, one would arrive at the base of the savandurga monoloith, near some temples. We were at first a little disappointed to see well-laid roads all the way through when we were looking for off-roading:), but explore a few narrow alleys around the parking area, to no avail.
We return to the point of entry (where one needs to buy entry/ parking tickets) and ask for possible routes for off-roading. At first they were a little amused that we were asking for ‘bad roads’, but eventually guide us to a small lane deviating from the tarmac near the entry gate on the right side and that was FUN.
Broad smile returned on our faces as we move a few hundred meters through this road, which actually is a trail in to the Nilgiri (Eucalyptus) plantation nearby that the locals use also for grazing their herds as we found out on the way back. A few more hundred meters through the dense tree line with shrubs folded away neatly by the ‘limb raisers’, but banged into us through the window that was rolled down, that was rolled back in a hurry:), and we arrive at the plantation challenge:)
The first challenge was a sort of a water trough (Bund) created around the plantation to ostensibly hold the rainwater, so it was sort of a raised mound, more like a super-sized road hump. The challenge was the place around it. It was rather undulated both at the start and over the hump rendering it a diagonally uneven hump:) as you can see one of the wheels was in the air on this manoeuvre, after which we tackle some rocks nearby.
Having cleared the simpler one, we advance further and notice that it was a series of such humps and the second one too was done easily, but the real challenge was the next one. It was a narrow stretch near the hump with a 2 feet deep ditch on the left side. We get down, collect as many rocks and any thing else we could fill the ditch with from the nearby plantation and encounter some real scorpions. Glad we were wearing heavy-duty trekking shoes, which helped both on the sandy, slippery surface and such eventualities:). We fill the side of the ditch enough (in our estimate then) for the tire to pass though with a protruding tree stump on the other side in the narrow lane. (Looks like the forest department have implemented the recent ban on eucalyptus by cutting the trees leaving the stumps but the trees had sprouted anew).
We manage to squeeze the front through the narrow track but once we got over the hump, the rear tire fell in the ditch and the vehicle now rested on the front differential case (lucky there was no rock there) so we just could not get through as you can see, with the wheel freewheeling:)
All we could do was reverse the vehicle and get back and enjoy the rest of the obstacles. We could have traversed further had we carried a shovel and an axe as most off roaders do.
Given this was my first tryst:) off-roading the lesson learnt on this outing was more than enough for the first try:). The lessons also included why some of the accessories I added (Limb-raisers, Off-roading bumpers etc) are an absolute must and I am rapidly realising the need for what I have planned for in phase 2 and 3 (rollover cage, mud tyres and steel rims, electric winch etc) but more on those later.
Some of the enthusiasts in the group also try out the 4X4 experience on the easier terrain and I spend some time back on the track evaluating how we could have tackled it better perhaps the next time, while the enthusiasts take some pictures with the off-roader:)
We had hoped for some water streams and perhaps some rain but those were not to be. I am sure we will find those on the next outing given the monsoon has advanced and intensified.
We return to the tarmac driving though the dense brush of shrubs, a patch of tilled field via some breathtaking views of the bird shaped rock peak this area is famous for.
We stop briefly at the local watering hole for some juice made of Bela fruit (wood apple), with a twist though. Traditionally we make a sort of a Panaka with this fruit with Jaggery, but this chap had quite literally made a juice (like any other fruit juice) and that was not easy to drink, given the nature of this fruit.
We relive how the outing was a great entertainer for all, not just the driver (me) as it presents a very unique problem solving situation/s that the entire group can engage in solving.
After the rather refreshing drink:) we return with some grapefruits in hand (for the family back home) back to the now off-road scarred Thar (the shrubs have scratched the paint job a bit – why I decided to not go with more expensive options) and drive back home.
All in all it was a great first off-roading outing and personally it’s a good mid road milestone for me on my trip to off-roading nirvana:) and for the uninitiated, a good intro to off-roading. Looks like they too did enjoy it and I could see their own thought process on whether to join in the growing ilk of off-roaders.
On my part, I hope to return here and on to other off-roading locations in Karnataka (most notably in Uttara Kannada) to further hone my driving skills and pick up the ropes on off-roading and of course write about it here.
Thanks Lakshmi for the pics and the raw video footages.
One can use this post also as a reference read too, if there’s intent of similar craziness as you might hear from the members of your family, most notably the spouse:)
Do write what you feel or contact me directly for specific topics to discuss if any.