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We take the capable Toyota Fortuner to explore the little Rann of Kutch like we’ve never done before, courtesy some friendly Gujarati villagers, of course
When you desire to break free from your humdrum routine, deserts don’t generally make it to your ‘places to visit this summer’ bucketlist. The Rann of Kutch however, is a completely different story. It’s a salt marsh of the Thar Desert in the Kutch district of Gujarat which is made of a very peculiar surface. The region is also home to exotic wildlife and more often than not, allows you to witness some spectacular sunrises and sunsets. But what is the Rann like during the monsoons? That’s the question the guys in our office wanted an answer to. The monsoons, after all, are when cities go under water, cars wash away like dirt and municipal corporations face ridiculous trolls for their melted roads. It’s that time of the year when you need the reliable, go-anywhere Toyota Fortuner.
In all our years of going to the Rann we’ve never ventured there in the monsoons, and not without reason. The Rann used to be the ocean once upon a time, and in the rains it sort of resembles an ocean. We’re a car magazine, not a boat mag, and what will we do when the entire expanse is flooded? Then again we’ve never taken a Fortuner to the Rann, and the Japanese SUV is our preferred steed as we went to find out what the Little Rann is like during the monsoons. We flew to Ahmedabad, picked up our Fortuner and headed straight to the Rann Riders resort in Dasada, on the edge of the little Rann of Kutch.
The first impressions of the Fortuner are of a properly tall and intimidating SUV. And so is its road presence. When you’re behind the Fortuner’s wheel, you feel like the lord of the road. The driving position is very commanding and the view of the road is excellent thanks to the optimal positioning of the A-Pillar and the large glass area. Other motorists just let you pass by when you’re seen in their rear view mirror, even when you’re not flashing those stylish bi-beam LED headlamps. Also, the combination of the triple slat chrome grille, aggressive bumpers and strong wheel arches give it the jawline of a predator. No one likes a predator on their tail.
The commune was an hour off the Bhuj-Ahmedabad NH 947 and getting there was quite a task. The trail leading to Koparani was a part of the Rann’s wet marshlands and if you’re not cautious you can end up in the middle of nowhere. But I was rather positive while entering this trail. The Fortuner, normally condemned to city and highway use by most owners, was finally entering its natural habitat. We know that the Fortuner shows no mercy to bad roads, but it doesn’t shy away from challenging off-roading trails either.
The trail was a test for the Fortuner’s wheel articulation. As the SUV snaked through the trail, one wheel of the car would end up in the air on occasional instances. But none of this fazed the charging Fortuner – the off-road DNA built in to it makes it unstoppable in terrain like this. Also, all of the 450Nm of torque in this AT variant is available from as low as 1600rpm making sure its gets out of tricky situations without any hassle. At a point, I had to nosedive the SUV down a steep slope. With downhill assist control on, the SUV made it to the bottom with sublime control, not even needing a touch on the brake pedal.
While other SUVs struggled through these trails, we breezed past. What was also helping was the Fortuner’s tough body-on-frame construction, well-tuned suspension and the chunky 265-section tyres aid grip and stability, making you considerably quicker through bad roads compared to other vehicles. Moreover, the eco and power modes do alter the throttle response by quite a bit.
The villagers were intrigued. Visitors weren’t common so deep in the hinterland, especially in the monsoon months. We met a bunch of villagers and explained to them why we were there — they turned out to be rather eager to help us to find a location for that perfect photograph. As a result, from three passengers in the car, the number more than doubled and the Fortuner was now off-roading with seven people along with our camera equipment.
Even though the Fortuner boasts openly of its road presence and off-roading talents, Toyota has made sure that the SUV doesn’t miss out practical things like space and comfort. AC vents in all three rows made sure that all of us were safe from the heat and humidity of the desert. Also, the vast safety kit in the Fortuner is nothing but all the more assuring.
Amongst the incessant chatter in Gujarati, we finally reached Koparani. The fishermen had a satisfactory catch of prawns after an entire night of netting and they were filtering out unwanted aquatic insects and dirt before selling them to local vendors. But the highlight of this drive was the incredible view of the Little Rann of Kutch it offered. Any newbie in the area would have mistaken the Rann for the Arabian Sea!
There was water as far as the eye could see. And the fact that we made it to this point felt like an achievement. “Nobody dares to come this far in the Rann during this time. It’s a challenging affair and most of the times you need a tractor to get here,” said one of the fishermen. I just glanced at the Fortuner. I knew it had championed the off-roading trails leading up here. This was possibly one of its greatest tests and it fared impressively.
No one has attempted an adventure of this nature in the past and thanks to our friends from Rann Riders in Dasada and an extremely capable set of wheels, we managed to get through. So, the next time you’re planning to go on an adventure, you know that the mountains and the beaches are not the only options you have. All you need is a go-anywhere and reliable SUV like the Fortuner along with some local friends, and you’re armed to take on the impossible. Also, now you know what’s missing on your bucketlist.