It’s not something that is usually said about an SUV, but it kind of sums up our epic Rajasthan road trip. I’m yet to check the firewall for a hole in it but I’m sure it’ll be fine. The Safari Storme was the first car I reviewed for evo India in December 2015. We drove it for about 50km on the outskirts of Pune for a quick review, almost all of it on road and dropped it off in a few hours. Little did I know that I’ll be clocking over 10,000km in the coming year, a fair bit of it kicking up a storm. Of the huge number of miles I’ve clocked in the Safari Storme, over 2800km came over four days this January, when we decided to go dune bashing. I suppose it is safe to assume we have been the most adventurous Safari drivers in the year gone by, but we’d love to hear from someone wilder.
Until we do, here’s one wild ride…
Deogarh in Rajasthan is 1,100km from Pune. It takes about 17 hours, and being judicious with our breaks, I knew that we could do it in 16. The Safari Storme has turned us into marathoners. It took us 18 hours anyway, with long queues at tolls as everyone swiped cards instead of cash or Fast Tags. 18 hours in any car is tiring. The vehicle can take it easily, but your foot aches with every gear change, the shoulders drop with every turn, and by the end of the night, we could just about crawl through the entrance porch of Dev Shree in Deogarh, our stay for the night. The luxury homestay is as warm and comforting as its owners, and just what tired travellers like us needed at the end of a long day. The next morning we drove over narrow trails through a forest, saw some wildlife, you know the stuff we have been doing with the Safari over the past few months. We then drove out to a place called Kakani, a couple of hours from Deogarh. Kakani is the start of a drive I never thought I’d put the Safari through.
We get off the main road on to a dirt trail and stop to turn the shift-on-the-fly 4WD system to 4-High. It’s actually on the fly but better to be cautious than to shovel gravel out from under the Safari. So once I’m sure that all the power is going to all fours, I slot in to first gear and floor it. And almost all through, for the next couple of hours, I floor it in first, the tacho at its redline, a frantic engine screaming its heart out as I drive through gravel, sand, river beds, river crossings, thick shrubs, the works! Now I have crawled over rocks and through jungles but the desert is new to me and the skills required here were getting developed as I drove. First, conditioning the mind that it is fine to drive your car in first gear with your right foot stuck in like a lunatic, then trusting that there could be times you will scrape the sump and because the Safari Storme has a strong sump guard nothing is going to happen to it and you carry on without a hitch, and third, I should have taken the number plate off before diving into the Luni river.
The Luni river meanders through Rajasthan before emptying itself into the Rann of Kutch. It passes through Ajmer and Jodhpur as it moves southwest. It runs for almost 500km which was surprising considering its depth at our first river crossing. All the damage the Luni did to our Safari was swallow our number plate. Then on, we powered through a fair bit of dry river bed, the Thar desert that runs alongside the river bed and a few villages that are part of our rural drive. The rural drive is a brainchild of Ajit Rana and Uday Bhan Singh, adventurers who have turned the hobby of driving their vehicles in 4-High into a profession. A few years ago, the duo started a company called Overlander India, and pun intended, they’ve been stuck in first gear ever since. We had caught up with Singh at Kakani village and drove into the Luni following his tracks as he gave us a tour of Rajasthan we would have never seen otherwise. Usually Overlander hosts foreigners with an adventurous bent of mind and takes them to the nearby villages to interact with the locals and soak in the culture. But we were here to do a lot of off-roading and Uday gave us just that. We drove through some tough terrain and crossed the Luni a few times. Some of the off-roading principles came in handy – thumbs out, quick hands at the wheel and trusting that it is okay for the engine to be this frantic. When the engine speed begins to drop and you are losing momentum, it is a bit of a worry, so the main thing while driving on loose ground is to keep your engine speed high enough to keep the wheels from sinking. There is no time to shift to second gear, and once you get to second on a stretch you know the ground is hard enough, you may not have the time to shift down to first when it gets loose again. Hence, it’s best to keep your momentum in first and stick to it.
After a few hours of driving through this tough deserted landscape, Uday turns in to a village for lunch at a farmer’s house. The beauty of the trip is that everything is planned without it seeming like you are working by the clock. I think that’s to do with everyone who enjoys off-roading. You go with the flow, and keep some spare time for when you go against it and get stuck.
After a nice meal, we get out of the wild desert tour and on to a single lane tarmac road that takes us to our camp site in Sar. Sar is not too far from Luni, the village Uday belongs to. A trail from the tarmac road leads us to two big hills in the middle of nowhere. You need a 4WD vehicle to get to the camp site, where a few tents have been pitched for us. It’s late in the evening and the winter wind gives us a nice chill and warning of the cold night ahead. Thankfully the hills take most of the beating and the rest of it is taken care of by some delicious food cooked in classic camp style and a few pegs. In this part of the world, Chinkaras are spotted more often than dogs, owls hoot in the night and stars light up the landscape. It’s just like you’d expect from a campsite in the wilderness. Two adventurous days had warmed us up nicely for our next day in the dunes of the Thar.
When it rains in the desert…
… it doesn’t pour. But it’s good to compact the sand enough for better traction, and the tyres don’t sink in as easily too. We dropped pressure from the tyres by about 8 PSI and drove in, again, flat out in first. It’s in here when you are climbing up a dune that you realise how strong the 400Nm of torque of the Safari is under your right foot and how tall the first gear is. It just pulls and pulls as we get through a lot of rough stuff. The Safari wasn’t made for this terrain. It is an off-roader that can take a beating on broken roads and a comfortable SUV that can do a long haul in comfort, but the dunes are not the Safari’s natural playground. The strong engine pulls it through though whatever we throw at it. In fact Uday remarks that the Safari Storme we are driving is doing stuff his Gypsy probably will struggle to emulate. You have to be careful flying off the crest of the dunes, careful of how steep the descent is and not to slam the nose at the base of the dune. Like any 4×4, if you lose momentum, you can get stuck but there is a way around it, and that is being cautious. Control throttle and entry points at each crest, scan the dunes for simpler angles instead of steep uphills and surprise downhills, ride the crests for longer and keep off any jumps. You still have an SUV that will cruise at high triple digit speeds on the highway, cross rivers and bash dunes with considerable authority.
We got stuck in the dunes too, once because of a foolish mistake and the other because of a loss of momentum. But both were learning experiences, ones I will not forget, because the effort required to dig out sand from under stuck wheels will sear your mistake into your memory. Everyone should make this mistake, just to learn from it.
From one dune to another, we went deeper into the Thar desert and drove around a large dune to get out for lunch. This last dune was a steep descent of about a hundred metres and the last 30 metres of it was like looking down a roller coaster. Foot off all pedals with first gear engaged, the Safari crawled down as I embraced the dune life. We drove out for lunch at another farmer’s house for our last bit of the authentic Rajasthani experience and then in the dust trail of Singh’s SUV through the night to get to our camp.
It was the last time the Safari redlined its heart out in Rajasthan and got us out of some crazy stuff I never thought it could do. We left early the next morning, clocked another 1200km and were back in Pune by midnight. What a drive it has been, 2800km over four days, of which about 200km of pedal to the metal off-roading and two nights of camping in the wild. Reclaiming life is all about pushing your limits, exploring the unknown and living life outside defined patterns in congested cities. We pushed ourselves in these four days, living an adventure that will be a part of our memory for a long time. And that’s the beauty of an SUV like the Safari. Very few vehicles can give you such an extensive experience on road and off it, and pull it off in style.
Special thanks to www.devshreedeogarh.com for a comfortable and luxurious stay and to www.overlanderindia.com for an adventurous drive. For bookings, contact Shatrunjai Singh (Dev Shree) – 9929172000 and Ajit Rana (Overlander India) – 9811159571