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Bijoy heads out to the dunes in the Middle-East to get his boots sandy and tagging along are a bunch of Toyota FJ Cruisers and a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
If you have been a motoring scribe, you know what to expect when an invite says ‘experience’. Allow me to translate. ‘Since you are not good enough to drive our car, we have appointed a greying driver who was an F1-aspirant in his heydays but settled to do some obscure tin-can series and has just been released from his rehab centre to earn some pocket money’. This guy will strap you into the passenger seat of a Porsche GT3 which has no seat padding and is extremely uncomfortable and drive like a total hooligan around a Formula 1-spec track. Obviously, his lines are all over the place and you end up with a severely reshuffled organ structure. Then when you tumble out of the car the next ‘victim’ gets strapped on and so on. In short, an ‘experience’ is a sadistic double shot used by PR people to keep all-conquering motoring journalists grounded.
So, it was with trepidation that I agreed to go for an off-roading ‘experience’ with my friends in Dubai. It was a family holiday and we had a ten-year-old to an 80-year-old in our gang. ‘Eat your lunch early, unless you want to see it again soon’, Ajay, my friend chipped in rather enthusiastically. Couple of gleaming Toyota FJ Cruisers and a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited came to pick us up and I expected them to do some fooling around in the dunes. My friends Ajay and Santhosh had other things in mind. Ten other cars joined the convoy as we headed out of town and that meant each of my family members had one car to travel in.
Soon we reached the base camp of the activity – tyre pressure was reduced, trail flags fixed, and we were ready for action. And what action it turned out to be!
I was riding shotgun with Ajay who was leading the convoy and he transformed into a virtuoso performer in no time. I have done some dune driving in the past, but this was another level altogether. To begin with, these cars have burly V6 power plants that spool out tremendous torque and power. Add to that stage-3 off-road suspension and you get an off-road tool beyond comparison. These guys were attacking the dunes and carrying insane speeds. As they reach the crest they would send the car on a tangent and slide to the other side. At this moment the passenger is expecting nothing short of a free fall and is about to wet his pants! Instead the 4X4 hurls down the slope carrying even more speed. It is all about carrying the momentum and some precision driving. It is totally against your intuition too – for example, the instinct when you cross over a crest is to slow down or apply opposite lock. If you do that you are bound to roll multiple times! Instead you floor the throttle and point the nose of the car to where it wants to go. Easy for me to write, but these guys have shoehorned their skill by driving almost every Friday for many years. This gravity-defying activity went on for a good three hours. Easily the best off-roading ‘experience’ I have had in my life.
Sure, we did the touristy bit in UAE, but nothing, not even the roller coasters at Ferrari World could compare to the sheer unpredictability and thrill of dune-slaying by these off-road Gods. Special thanks to Ajay and Santhosh and their friends who turned out that day to make our holiday a little special. And yes, I have new found respect for the FJ Cruiser!