WildZests: 2013

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Mahindra Great Escapes - 2013


So I realized that it’s been a couple of months since the last update and a lot has happened since then. Now I didn’t really get time to pen down trip reports from the Mahindra Great Escape events, but it’s better to get it documented rather than forgetting it altogether. This post is going to be more of a catch up rather than a detailed photographic update and most of the pictures will be with my phone camera or the GoPro since I don’t take my SLRs on these trips. Some of the pictures are from the Mahindra Adventure FB page and I’ll give due credit for those.

June 23, 2013: Kottayam Great Escape

I had plans to attend as many OTR events as possible in this year and with the advent of monsoons, there were quite a few Mahindra Great Escape events announced. The first one was scheduled around the end of June at Vagamon near Thekkady in Kerala even though it was called the Kottayam Great Escape. One of my jeep buddies was eager to join me for this event and we set off early morning on Saturday so that we reach Thekkady by lunch time. We were supposed to finish the event by lunch time on Sunday and head back home to reach late night.

The day had begun with a mis-adventure of a broken rear bumper which just crashed down on the road while we were happily cruising at triple digit speeds. Luckily nobody was behind us and there was no collateral damage. It would have been quite dangerous if the bumper door with the tire and hi-lift jack mounted on it had fallen in front of a trailing car. We thanked the heavens and carried on after recovering all the broken parts.


The monsoon was at its best in Kerala and we had really high hopes from the event scheduled for the next day. However, fate had something else in mind that day. The rains had played havoc through the past 2-3 days and the trail had become increasingly difficult from what the organizers had originally planned. The convoy started almost a couple of hours late and then got stuck with the first obstacle which was a deep water crossing. Of the 30+ jeeps participating in the competitive event, I was told that only the first 3-4 jeeps managed to cross it. Later the stream kept getting tougher as the participants spun tires haplessly and dug the ground deeper with each attempt before getting winched out. We had 25+ jeeps ahead of us and by the time we got to the obstacle, the marshals were insisting that everyone gets winched out directly instead of putting up a battle. It was already 5PM by the time we crossed the stream and the day ended shortly after the last jeep was pulled out the water. The whole excitement of the event had gone down the drains, literally!


What started out as a very promising event with a beautiful location and superb weather turned out to be flop. To add salt to the injury, there were winners announced on some mysterious basis which angered the participants even more since nobody really had a fair chance of being evaluated for their skills in that water obstacle. We were dejected with the whole experience and more so because our plans to drive back to Bangalore were washed away by the fact that it was 8PM by the time we reached back to have lunch. There was no way we could be driving back 600kms in the night after such a frustrating day, so we just went back to our room and got the much needed rest. The next day we got up relaxed and drove back to Bangalore to reach home by evening for dinner.

July 6, 2013: Lonavala Great Escape

Couple of weeks after the Kottayam event was the Lonavala Great Escape. The brakes had gotten some gravel during the OTR and I dropped it at the service center to have all the brakes checked for wear and tear and get them cleaned thoroughly as well. With the brakes serviced, the jeep was ready to see some more action!
Now, we’ve done a lot of monsoon trips on the bike to Lonavala while we used to be in Mumbai, but it was going to be the first one in the jeep and that too for an off-road event. The event was going to be held over the weekend but somehow it wasn’t making enough sense for me to drive 1000kms one way for a half day event on Saturday and then drive back home on Sunday. Then came a brilliant plan where all three of us can reach Mumbai on the previous weekend and work from there for the week. Being the US Independence week, business was going to be lighter than usual for me at least but it was a busy week for Gozu. It gave us some opportunity at least to catch up with family in between of regular work schedules even though it was going to be a hectic trip overall. We made arrangements at work and the plan was finalized!


The week went pretty quick and soon I was on the way to Lonavala with my brother as my navigator. This was going to be his first off-road experience and I was hoping that this event doesn’t turn out to be a dud like the last one. I must admit that it was a much better planned event and even though they called off one of the three obstacles for the day, we weren’t disappointed by what we experienced. It wasn’t a very tough trail but it did have some elements of surprise to keep us amused. At the end of the day, my brother was happy with how the day had progressed and I was satisfied too.

The trail involved some tricky slippery slopes where the jeep just skid down without any engine input.

Image Courtesy: Mahindra Adventure

The first obstacle was a stream crossing which was quite easy since the water level wasn’t deep at all. Besides the river bed was mainly stones and there was no risk of getting stuck in mud.

Image Courtesy: Mahindra Adventure

The second obstacle was a little more technical and involved some careful driving to avoid hitting the underbody and damaging the jeep. Again, this was also over some rocks and hence there wasn’t going to be any drama in the slush. We completed both the obstacles fairly easy and were happy with the jeep’s performance overall.

The drive back to Bangalore was tiring because of the lower average speeds we were doing and the bumpy ride at higher speeds even on the highway. This was the longest journey we had completed with the jeep and will remain that way for quite some time to come.

August 7, 2013: Mahindra’s Front Wheel Escapes

Post the Lonavala event, the jeep remained parked in the basement without any action for almost a month. I had to drop it for scheduled service but the timing wasn’t really working out. Finally, it was August first week where I realized that I shouldn’t delay the service any further since there were a couple of events coming up later that month. Called up the service center manager and informed him that I’ll be coming to drop the jeep for the 10k service. The odo was a little over 9k but it was okay if they did the 10k service a little earlier given that the jeep had accumulated enough mud from the past two OTRs.

The jeep started behaving a bit nervous as I drove it to the service center. I slowed down thinking it could be all the mud from the OTR which may have hardened by now and increasing the resistance. But it wasn’t the mud after all. About a KM short from the service center, the jeep came to a complete halt. I got down to inspect what was the issue and was shocked to see this…


The front left wheel had broken off the hub completely and there was no way the jeep could be driven any further. The service center guys sent their breakdown assistance vehicle which was a Scorpio but they couldn’t tow us because of the broken wheel. Finally a towing van was called and he lifted the front wheels and rolled the jeep directly to the service bay.

What followed this event was an agonizing wait for parts to arrive. The good part was that Mahindra agreed to cover the repairs under warranty, however the delay in procuring the parts was just intolerable and I ended up missing the Goa Great Escape scheduled on Aug 25th. I wasn’t even sure if the jeep was going to be ready for the next week’s Sakleshpur Great Escape. The service manager was hopeful that the parts should arrive earlier that week and he’d be able to deliver the jeep on time. On Wednesday that week, he broke the bad news that one of the parts was still awaited and there was no way I could get the jeep back ready for the Sakleshpur event. Not losing hope, I reached out to some of the higher ups in Mahindra and the next day morning was greeted by a phone call from the Area Manager that the part will arrive by that evening. The Service Center Manager was equally determined to start the assembly process as soon as the part arrives and get the jeep ready by Friday evening. I was supposed to leave on Saturday morning for the event.

Friday evening I got a call from the Service Manager informing that the jeep was ready and I can come and collect it. Given the last minute rush of getting all the work completed, they hadn’t finished the billing process and I was told to settle the bill next week once I’m back.

Aug 31, 2013: Sakleshpur Great Escape

I was glad that the jeep got fixed right on time for the Sakleshpur event. There were only good things that I had heard about this event and didn’t want to miss it. I was accompanied by a very close friend Ramesh who was on his maiden adventure trip. We started early morning towards Sakleshpur in order to reach by lunch time and explore the place a bit before the event starts on the next day.

The drive was pretty uneventful and once at Sakleshpur we drove up to the venue to make sure we knew the road we have to take the next day morning. The event was planned at the Kadamane Estate which spans over 10000 acres with a large part of it remaining as natural forest. Once at the Sakleshpur town we found this awesome hotel Gandharva that served awesome non-veg food and booked a room right upstairs at the lodge. The day was pretty much at leisure and we did a bit of walking around the town in the evening.


Next day, we reached the venue on time to be the second jeep for registration. The day was pretty relaxed given that it was only going to be a competition stage. The fun drives had concluded on the previous day and even the organizing team was at ease since it was only 25 jeeps to manage. The day proceeded pretty much on time and we had four well thought of challenges to complete for the day. This was definitely the most well executed event of all and we were quite happy with it.

The first obstacle was a steep rightward fall followed by some tricky slush patch and then a small stream crossing. The fun was when the jeep tilted and one of the wheels went up in the air.

Image Courtesy: Mahindra Adventure

Image Courtesy: Mahindra Adventure

The next one was more of a time based driving skill test with the competitors having to finish fastest through a zig-zag route amidst some tall grasses – in the reverse gear. The lack of rains had made the ground quite hard and it wasn’t as difficult. Had it rained, it would have been a totally messed up track for most of us. The participants were judged on the time and whether or not they struck down the flags along the track.

Image Courtesy: Mahindra Adventure

The third obstacle was more of an unknown since it involved driving through an unmarked trail which had a series of climbs and drops. It needed a fair amount of risk taking and keeping your cool as the jeep crawled down the steep slopes with amazing ease.

Image Courtesy: Mahindra Adventure

Image Courtesy: Mahindra Adventure

The last one was more of a fun thing than anything else, but this was also the one that nobody could clear except for one jeep. It was a small slushy patch that had to be crossed, but it was just not possible to do it since the open differentials let the tires spin wildly without any positive movement. A lot of jeepers made use of this opportunity to give their steeds a nice mud bath before getting winched out.

Image Courtesy: Mahindra Adventure

We reached the end point just in time for some nice lunch which was followed by the announcement of winners for the day. All in all, this was a very well organized event and it’ll probably serve as a benchmark for similar events in the future. The drive back was pretty good and we received a roaring welcome by the torrential rains which had hit the garden city that night.

Well, that's all for now, but I promise some more updates pretty soon from the new acquisition and some trips that are lined up.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Kabini Magic - Not once, not twice but three times lucky!

Winding Roads

Finding time to do hobby stuff is becoming increasingly difficult these days, especially with newer things getting added to my to do list. Earlier it used to be bike rides, long distance tours and photography on my mind, but since November last year, a lot of time is being consumed on the Jeep. It was the end of April 2013 that I realized I hadn't done even a single trip to the jungles since November 2012. Not that I didn't want to do a trip, but given the work schedules and the list of things to do over the weekend, it just never happened. And when I did have the time to go out for a weekend, it was the finances that never worked out (the jeep has sucked a lot of moolah ever since it arrived in my garage!)

Having missed all the action at Tadoba in the last season I was very keen on visiting the jungles on central India once again, but the plan wasn't materializing. Then one fine day Charles and Shalu casually mentioned that they wanted to go to Kabini or Bandipur for a weekend. I volunteered to join them or let's say I just shamelessly tagged along even though their original idea may have been to spend time together. And so it all started...

Trip #1: Bandipur and Kabini with 4les and Shalu


Our search for places started with Kabini which was fully booked as usual so we searched for other options and found one room available at Bandipur for Friday. So Bandipur it was going to be, the room was promptly booked else it would have been sold out too. Given that it was a weekday and Gozu wasn't coming, Pozu was going to join me for the trip. The Safari was due for a service which meant the Jeep had to be taken for this trip, not the best highway runner but we had no choice.

We reached Bandipur at about lunch time and were off to the jungle for the evening safari in no time. The jungle looked a lot greener due to the recent rains and I'm sure that the animals were feeling a lot relieved after surviving through an almost drought-like situation. There was hardly any big cat movement to be noticed  that day although sightings were quite frequent until the week prior. We returned back with the hope of having a better morning ride.

Monitor Lizard Changeable Hawk Eagle

The morning safari was equally quiet with absolutely no big cat movements, but we had some interesting encounter with a small family of elephants at a water hole. A mother with a young calf and another sub-adult arrived at the water hole only to be shooed away by a few egrets and storks that had taken control of the place. It was funny to see the big beast get scared and agitated by the egrets that kept flying low over the water. The mother and the young calf stayed away while the sub-adult female tried to run after those birds.

Elephant chasing birds at waterhole

End of the morning safari, we all were left wanting for more. I knew that this wasn't how it was supposed to end, especially since it was my first trip after 6 whole months. There were a couple of alternatives in front of us, either we wait for the evening safari at Bandipur or try our luck at Kabini instead. Staying back at Bandipur wasn't making strong sense as the chances of sightings looked pretty low given the mood in the jungle during the morning safari. I called the Kabini JLR and was pleasantly surprised to find a tent available on the basis of a cancellation for that day. That sealed the conversation on what should we do next, we were headed to Kabini right away.

Serpent Eagle with Snake Kill

Now, Kabini was rocking at that time with a good number of sightings each day and the tiger movements had been very high as well. I guess this season was one of the best at Kabini with respect to tiger sightings. Right as we entered the jungle for the evening safari, a few jeeps had spotted a leopard perched on a tree. It was a little difficult to spot it though and getting a picture was almost impossible so we decided to move on. We we had almost finished our safari and were exiting out of the gate when we noticed that there were some jeeps parked on the main road right next to the water hole. A quick dash to the location revealed a young male tiger cooling off at the water hole. Soon the crowding on the road increased and some impatient drivers started honking which made the tiger walk inside to find another peaceful spot to rest. My day was done, all the running around from Bandipur to Kabini now made perfect sense. This was the first tiger sighting for Charles and Shalu so they were all smiles too.

Tiger cooling off at waterhole

The next day morning ride was pretty uneventful, but we had nothing to complain about after the wonderful  sighting on the previous evening. Soon we were back home in the evening and life was back to the normal routine.

Trip #2: Kabini with Pozu (yet again!)

Sunkadakatte Forest Guest House

My plan to visit Tadoba was still not moving ahead of the planning stage, mainly because I had nobody for company and managing Pozu single-handedly on such a long trip would have been difficult. Finally, one day I decided to give up on that idea and spend the time and money on a familiar and nearby place like Kabini where Pozu and I can manage without hassles. I managed to get a 4 day booking at Kabini through the last week of May and set off on yet another father-daughter adventure trip.

We were on the first safari of the trip and it will be my most memorable leopard sighting ever. It was raining pretty heavy that day and even though all the cameras we nicely tucked inside to avoid the water, we were tracking a few alarm calls which signaled movement of the predator. Our driver was very quick in spotting this huge male leopard resting on a tree and preening itself as the rain had reduced to a light drizzle. Given that we had spotted the cat before anyone else, we had the liberty of finding a nice spot to park so that everyone can fire off with their cameras in tandem.

Leopard on Tree

After about 10-15 minutes, the leopard decided to walk down the tree and perched on a mound right next to the road. We were extremely lucky to have the guy pose for us for those few seconds before it decided to climb down.

Leopard - Male

Next up, he put up a good show by crossing in front of our jeep a couple of times before heading out into the backwater area. Even while he exited, he tried to sneak up on a Sambar deer but ended up getting chased by a full grown Gaur. Those 20 minutes, the only sound you could hear the shutters going click-click-click in our jeep and for the rest of the safari, everyone had a nice "content" smile on their faces.

Leopard - Eye to Eye

As if that wasn't enough for the day, we had another sighting of a female leopard resting peacfully on a tree. But this one was not so easy to photograph and we could only make some record shots. After waiting about 10-15 minutes, we decided to move on and circle back after a little while. When we returned, she was gone!


The next day morning safari was pretty uneventful while the evening safari had us excited with the news of another leopard perched on the tree. However, in the end it turned out to be a very difficult sighting as the leopard was sitting right inside a thick cover of branches. We did manage some really nice peacock photographs as it obliged by staying put on the tree stump for a while.

Perched Peacock White Bellied Woodpecker

It was already halfway through the trip and the morning safari yielded a few shots of the white-bellied woodpecker, not the very best I could get, but  better than just record shots.

While we came to the Gol Ghar for lunch, I noticed the former Indian skipper, Rahul Dravid had arrived with his family. There was a bit of an euphoria among everyone at the venue and a few ladies desperately wanted to go get their picture taken with him. I'm sure he must have come to spend some quiet family time with his wife and kids but he wasn't going to be spared.

Spotted Deer

In the evening, as we came to the grouping point for the safari, I was informed about a change of vehicle. We had been riding with a group of wildlife enthusiasts and serious photographers for the last four safaris and Pozu was very well settled with the group. She didn't really approve of the change in plan at the start, but given that she had some like-minded company in the other jeep, she settled down quickly. We were scheduled with the Dravid family, this came with a bit of a surprise initially since I thought he'd get a special safari jeep given his celebrity status.

Here's our favorite naturalist Prasanna standing with the wall for a profile picture.
Dravid with Prasanna (Kabini Naturalist)

Our ride started with a bang! A langur frantically giving out alarm calls while sitting right next to the safari track. There was a lot of excitement about what we're going to see emerging from the bushes, but soon the langur became quiet and whatever it had spotted had either changed directions or settled down to rest. Just then we got lucky with a juvenile Changeable Hawk Eagle that was sitting on a nearby tree with a myna kill in its claws. This was my first time watching this magnificent predator with a kill, but the light wasn't in my favor.

Backlit Langur A29Y4431

As we drove through the jungle, we had a lot of conversation about the forests and conservation etc. Apparently, Dravid had been visiting these forests quite regularly until a few years back. The two junior Dravids were very keen observers and had a lot of questions to ask. I guess it was their first time in the wild and they were pretty excited to see all the wildlife around them. The former skipper talked about how he wanted this break after the long IPL season which had just gotten over. Now, cricket and me don't really go well together. I didn't really remember anything apart from the fact that he captained the Rajasthan Royals team so I wisely chose to keep the cricket topic away from our conversations. Moreover, I'm sure he must have also felt relieved that we didn't discuss the game, given all the controversial match-fixing incidents that were being discussed at that time. Overall, based on our interactions through the three hours in the jeep, I must admit that he is a true gentleman and even his family was very warm and accommodating.


During the initial half of the safari, Pozu had dozed off nicely and Mrs Dravid was very surprised on her ability to sleep so cozily in the jeep as it moved through the bumpy forest tracks. Finally my little tigress woke up and I knew there were some hopes of a sighting now that she was up. True to her reputation, it wasn't even 5 minutes after she woke up, we got lucky to spot on the male tiger cubs resting on the opposite bank of the Bisalwadi lake. Now, this was a far away encounter and you could only see the cat with the help of binoculars, but nevertheless it was exciting for the Dravid family who were witnessing their first striped cat in the wild. After making sure that everyone had their share of viewing the big cat, we decided to move on.

Mamma Wild Dog

As we turned back from Bisalwadi, there was another good news for us! One of the jeeps had spotted a pack of seven wild dogs resting by the jeep track on the temple road. Soon we were at the location and were very happy to see a nice and content pack of dholes relaxing right in front of our jeep. We spent the next few minutes in watching and photographing their behaviors as the 4 pups played around. Soon it was time to head back to the resort after the wonderful 3 hours in the jungle.

Kids at Play

The next few safaris were nice, but devoid of any big cat sightings. One of the rides we had a female elephant charging at our jeep pretty aggressively. It always serves as a reminder that you're an outsider in the jungle and not everyone welcomes your presence. It's always exciting to have an elephant charge at you since no matter how confident you are that it is only a mock charge, deep down you also know that it may prove you wrong!

And She Charges!

On the last safari, I had switched over to the wide angle lens and focused my energy on capturing the beauty of the forest rather than looking for the elusive cats. The common notion is that you need a long lens for wildlife photography and that only close-up shots look beautiful. But on the contrary, the longer lens can be quite limiting at times and the wider lenses can do wonders to highlight the habitat and it's relevance to the subject in question.

Standing Tall

Deep down in my mind, I was trying to answer the question - what makes the forest so special?

  • It's not only the tiger or leopard which are good health indicators of the ecosystem and the most sought after animals with respect to sightings. They'd be struggling to survive if the prey population wasn't healthy.
  • It's not just the animals that form the prey base - they wouldn't have survived if there were no trees. 
  • It's not only the trees since they'd not be able to propagate without the help of animals, birds and insects. 
  • It is the natural equilibrium of all the above elements that make the forest special. 

The Woods

The interdependence of plants and animals and the prey-predator relationships are quite complex by design, but they're equally interesting as well. It's amusing to see how the prey population is controlled via natural predators while the predator population is mainly balanced based on area available in the jungles. Habitat destruction is a bigger evil than poaching that affects the conservation of our forests and the growth of tiger population in our country. If we continue to squeeze the forest reserves and don't give the animals enough space to live, just by providing them protection we can only delay the extinction process but not reverse it. 

Elephant Scape

Anyway, this was definitely one of the special trips of recent times and the inability to visit Tadoba was all forgotten at the end of it.

Trip #3: Kabini with the whole gang!

Surprisingly, the trip with Pozu wasn't going to be my last trip to Kabini for the season, a couple of weeks down the line our whole group decided to spend a weekend at the place. This was not my regular photography trip, but more of a get-together with a close group of friends. Everyone was pretty excited about the trip and were hoping to get lucky with the sightings as well.


Our convoy started from Bangalore pretty much on time that morning and this was the first time both the Safari and Thar were going on an outstation trip together. We reached just around lunch time and soon it was time for our evening safari. Given the size of our group, we were assigned the mini bus instead of the regular safari jeeps. I wasn't complaining since I firmly believe that sightings are a matter of luck more than anything else. The mini bus was actually quite a comfortable ride as compared to the jeeps where everyone is pretty much restrained due to lack of space. The downsides were that the mini bus wasn't a 4x4 so we had to stick to the easier routes rather than the slushy trails that a 4x4 could conquer quite easily, also the angle of shooting was much higher than the jeeps. But given that this was more of a enjoy together type of a trip, it was a good idea for all of us to be seeing and experiencing the same things.


The evening safari turned out to be a good one with a lazy leopard sighting on the tree. It looked like a sub-adult who chose to rest peacefully on the tree while we moved back and forth in our van to get a clear view. The raised view from the van actually helped us get a better view to watch the leopard and there was a rush of excitement running amongst everyone. It was the first safari experience for a few and the leopard sighting made it extra special.


The next day morning started pretty quiet, but soon we noticed a female leopard hastily crossing the road in front of our van. There was another group waiting in anticipation of her sighting and our van had actually made the leopard disappear inside faster than it would normally do. But all wasn't lost, we could retrace her again a little ahead and what followed next was a complete entertaining drama for about 5-10 minutes with the leopard crossing in front of our jeep and then leaping over to the other side of the track and disappearing in the bushes. We slowly moved in the direction where the leopard had gone but on a parallel track and were lucky to spot mother-cub leopard duo on a tree. They were situated a little too far from the jeep track and though we could see them using binoculars, there was no clear view to photograph them both. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful sighting anyways and everyone in the jeep were super excited to have witnessed so much of action in just two safaris.


The return journey was mostly filled with conversations about how such sightings make you come back for more. What was planned to be a leisurely get-together, turned out to be an exciting encounter with the spotted cat. Overall, during the 6 days I spent at Kabini through the season, there were 7 leopard and 2 tiger sightings - a much higher hit ratio than any of my earlier trips so far. And to add to this, the other sightings have been pretty good too with peacocks dancing, elephants charging etc.


For now, thats the end of my update until my next travel to the jungles or some other interesting event comes up.

Jungle Tracks

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sunday Morning OTR - Bidaraguppe Lake

OTR 01

Post the Chennai event in March which was more like a teaser, I wanted to go out and practice a little more by myself, but a newbie off-roader like me should  never go out alone. Having some company always helps in boosting your confidence and allows you to stretch a little more than what you'd do alone. So the plan was discussed with my jeep buddies and the location was finalized to be the Bidaraguppe lake in Sarjapur. The terrain is a dry lake bed with a lot of ditches and mud, the chances of getting stuck in mud were moderate but the risk of damage was not going to be very high. But as with every great plan, even ours didn't really take off.

One fine morning, I saw a FB update by Dwarak sir checking for participation for a Sunday morning OTR at Bidaraguppe. That did it, I instantly said yes! Even though most folks were busy that weekend, I did have Abhay confirm that he'd join me so the plan was still on.

Sarjapur OTR 40

About 12 jeeps were in attendance for the event with 2-3 marshal jeeps. We started off with some quick breakfast on Sarjapur road and then drove to the entry point of the lake bed off the highway. We had a couple of marshals from the BODA club I guess, that helped in keeping the group regulated through the obstacle course while Dwarak sir captained the whole group. A quick briefing was done for the do's and don'ts since there were quite a few first-timers as well. Soon after, we were all trying out different entries and exits in the various ditches across the lake bed. I was amazed to see how easily Dwarak sir could identify possible routes which looked difficult at the outset but once the marshal vehicle did it, there was no holding back for any of us. 

Sarjapur OTR 17

The first course was tried with various different combinations entry and exit points and my Thar performed flawlessly all through. There were a few jeeps that struggled a bit since they missed following the marshal's instructions but no major issues were reported. 

Sarjapur OTR 11

Moreover, there were enough and more people to help in pushing and rocking the jeeps out of a sticky situation. 

Sarjapur OTR 20

The terrain was pretty harsh with thick growth of thorny Babul trees (Prickly Acacia) all over the place. Since there were no marked trails, one had to navigate through these trees every now and then. You could hear screeching sounds as the jeeps got scratched by the huge thorns. Despite my doubts, the soft top took all of it quite well. I still think it will be time to replace the soft top in about a year from now. By then, it would have suffered enough abuse to retire gracefully.

Sarjapur OTR 36

Next up, we did some trail driving through a large rut in the ground with uneven surfaces on both sides to reach the next obstacle. 

OTR 02

This one was where the entry point was nothing short of a 60-degree nose-dive to get inside the 15 feet deep cavity and then there was a right turn which was more like an articulation pit followed by a mound where it was more than likely to beach the jeep if there wasn't enough momentum. 

Sarjapur OTR 31

But what was more interesting was the exit point where it was impossible to come out without having the front wheels in the air for a short while. The strategy was very simple, the situation demanded enough momentum to get the jeep over the edge and pushed a little further by virtue of the short flight and then once the front tires are on the ground, you could gain traction to pull yourself out from the ditch. There was only one problem though, the first two successful attempts were made by the gypsies. They in any case would fly over obstacles because of the lighter weight and lack of articulation when compared to jeeps. 

Sarjapur OTR 23

Only four vehicles attempted this and the only other jeep that did apart from me had gotten royally stuck with a broken clutch even before the exit point. Surprisingly, it came out of the ditch with the help of a veteran offroader who demonstrated how you can conquer difficult terrain with the jeep even with broken essential components.

OTR 04

I was mentally prepared to make the Jeep fly at the exit point and the first 2-3 attempts were pretty scary yet exciting. Each time the front tires lifted off the ground, the jeep would get thrown towards the right and land on the extreme end of the exit. I was not sure if this was because of the angle of my approach or something that I had no control over, but the cause of concern was a small rut at the right-most edge of the exit which was where I was landing after the first bounce. Eventually, on the 4th attempt, my front right tire hit hard in the rut on the right and deflated fully putting an end to my future attempts. 

Sarjapur OTR 34

I was worried whether it was a tire burst since that meant a big bill, but a more logical explanation was that as the jeep landed the right tire got squeezed inside the small rut releasing all the air instantaneously. Anyway, it wasn't going to be easy changing the tire inside the ditch even with the hi-lift jack and so we decided to winch the jeep out with the flat tire. The winch proved its worth yet again and I was out of the situation in no time. Another jeeper bro helped in changing the wheel and I was ready to hit the road in less than 15 mins. 

Sarjapur OTR 39

It was already a little past lunch time and everybody was wrapping up. We bade goodbye to everyone and made our way to the exit. The only thought in my mind was to check the tire for any signs of damage and hope for the best!