Ready to Discover: Dune bashing near Bikaner in a Land Rover Discovery Sport
You may have seen YouTube videos of dune bashing happening around the desert sands of the UAE, but did you know that you can do exactly the same, right here in our country? You just need to have a spirit that is ready to discover. I did it with the Land Rover Discovery Sport. As a matter of fact, dune bashing happens quite frequently in India in not one but two places. The most well known one is of course in the Sand Dunes near the ancient city of Jaisalmer, but that’s also a bit touristy. So instead of heading way out west, we went to the city of Bikaner instead. Located in the middle of the Thar desert, this five hundred and thirty year old city founded by Rao Bika has some fantastic dune bashing opportunities. In fact, our guide Yogendra Singh Rathore who runs the Rao Bikaji Camel Safari and Wild Desert Resort said that the desert dunes around Bikaner were better for this than the ones around Jaisalmer. He should know, for he has camps near Jaisalmer too.
“You may have seen YouTube videos of dune bashing happening around the desert sands of the UAE, but did you know that you can do exactly the same, right here in our country?”
The technique for crawling on sand in a Land Rover Discovery Sport
Bouncing along the sandy track that led to the dunes I am wondering whether I should continue in normal mode or switch the Land Rover Discovery Sport’s Terrain Response into Sand mode. I quickly check with Rathore and his voice crackles over the radio that all I need to do is maintain momentum and not brake too hard. It is like a flashback from my days spent in Oman where I had gone dune bashing and managed to convince my Arab guide to let me have a go at it. He had said the exact same things. Maintain momentum. Don’t brake too hard.
“If you don’t have grass or some form of vegetation, then the dunes keep shifting and varying in size with changing winds”
The dunes here however are nothing like the ones that you’d see on Visit Dubai brochures. Where the ones in Arabia are totally devoid of vegetation, the ones here in the Thar are dotted with clumps of grass and the occasional tree. Now that may not look as pretty and as romantic as a pristine desert would, the vegetation does keep the dunes from moving around. “If you don’t have grass or some form of vegetation, then the dunes keep shifting and varying in size with changing winds,” explains Rathore. His desert camp, located on top of the region’s highest dune at 250 feet (76m) sank by a few feet in the course of one season because the top wasn’t ringed by vegetation. Rathore’s troubles aside, what the vegetation really does is make this dune bashing ground easier to find because a dune here today will remain a dune here tomorrow, and day after.
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How to climb dunes?
The first one we got to didn’t seem particularly steep or high from a slight distance. But as we got closer I realised that the afternoon sun had been playing tricks with its ability to create light and shade. It was a straight climb of at least 70-80 feet from the base till the crest. I quickly searched in the recesses of my memory for some handy tip my Arab friend of yore might have given me. After a bit of scrounging around while I put on my don’t-worry-been-there-done-that look, I found a few things of help. First, attack it head on and not at an angle. Second, go some distance for a good run up. You’ll need the momentum to get up since you’ll be working against not just sand that is trying to suck you in but also against gravity. And of course, if you get stuck before you make the climb, don’t panic, slot it in reverse and slowly come back down.
“You’ll need the momentum to get up since you’ll be working against not just sand that is trying to suck you in but also against gravity”
I dropped Rohit and Alameen, our photographers close to the dune and headed out to get a bit of a run up. Having turned the Land Rover Discovery Sport around and facing the dune, it was time for Sand Mode. I remember my Arab guide fiddling with a bunch of gear levers to get his vehicle in to four-wheel drive. Here, it’s as simple as pushing a button. Literally so, because you just need to use the buttons on the centre console to stick this Land Rover in Sand Mode.
All set, I get the thumbs up and off I go. Throttle carefully feathered so as to keep maximum momentum without going too fast for my own good. There’s a thud from the tyres as the front wheels hit the slope and the SUV starts clawing its way up. Almost at the top I’m hit by a sudden burst of over enthusiasm that makes me let go of the throttle before I’ve cleared the crest. The Land Rover stops nearly instantly. Stuck at an odd angle, facing the sky and the flat ground being a fair way down, I put the Discovery Sport in reverse and started the slow descent backwards. On level ground, Rathore tells me that I need to use a bigger run up. Meanwhile, I tell myself to not back off until I’m over the crest.
Getting on the top is an achievement
I hang a big rounded U and turn to face the dune again. By now, I’ve also psyched myself to a point where getting past this first dune is a matter of ego. I take a deep breath, grab the steering wheel and floor it. The resulting wheelspin kicks off a tremendous amount of sand and my attempt number two starts with sufficient drama. As the Landie gains momentum, I back off a bit and stay with a third of the throttle. I hear the familiar thud of the front wheels hitting the slope and the sensation of looking at the sky through the windscreen feels familiar already. I get to my jinx spot, the Discovery Sport slows down and my heart begins to sink. But determined to get past, I stay on the throttle. Slowly but surely she claws her way upwards. And then, with a sudden lurch she leaps ahead signalling that dune one has been conquered.
“I hang a big rounded U and turn to face the dune again. By now, I’ve also psyched myself to a point where getting past this first dune is a matter of ego”
At first it seemed like a plateau of a sand dune and I was thinking of driving along the crest. But Rathore reveals there is a lot more fun to be had on the other side. This “other side” turns out to be a steep downhill that’s even higher than the climb behind me. I’m not sure if Hill Descent Control on this Discovery Sport will work on sand but I punch the button on the dash anyway and head for the climb down.
The roller coaster drive
I’ve already seen Rathore’s SUV rush down the slope and am expecting the same as the nose of the SUV starts to dip. But the Land Rover’s descent is slow and controlled. I can tell you for sure now that HDC definitely works on sand. I tried the same downhill without HDC as well and can tell you that it’s equally exciting either way. And thus we went, from dune to dune. Up and down, and up and down. Sometimes sliding, sometimes in a wild fountain of sand. It was all incredible fun and I was just getting the hang of it when Rathore takes us to that mountain of a dune, the 250-feet high monster atop which his camp is built.
Despite the flat ground at the bottom of the dune, there is no space for an adequate run up and getting back up this dune head on is impossible. Instead Rathore uses a slightly circuitous route to get to this dunetop. I wait for Rohit and Alameen to get to the bottom of the dune before I start my descent. This monster dune is not for the faint of heart. Where earlier, Rohit and Alameen had seemed small from the top of the other dunes, now seemed like little indistinguishable specks.
“I would have liked to say that I went down without a moment’s hesitation but the truth is a 250-feet downhill descent is straight scary”
Mustering a bit of courage that sounded like a gulp in my throat, I inched forward. I would have liked to say that I went down without a moment’s hesitation but the truth is a 250-feet downhill descent is straight scary. While I was still debating “Should I”, “Shouldn’t I” in my head, I suddenly realised that this was a now or never moment. I would regret it if I chickened out. No, that would never work, so off I went. Inch by inch and over the crest, the nose dipped. And then dipped some more until I could see nothing but sand through every glass surface on the Land Rover Discovery Sport, except for the panoramic sunroof that revealed the coming of dusk. It seemed like an eternity before I hit level ground and then as suddenly as it had begun, the head rush was over.
The feeling of accomplishment
We were of course far from done and wanted more fun. So we drifted around some, kicking up clouds of sand and creating a merry spectacle for Rathore’s staff who were watching all this from the top of the dune. By the end of the day, the day of dune bashing had completely caught my imagination. In more ways than one, it would be fair to say that the Thrill of Driving over sand dunes had conquered me. I’m pretty sure if we could have taken the great Caesar dune bashing, his famous words would not have been Veni vidi vici (I came, I saw, I conquered). I’m sure they would be Ego vidi victus (I came, I saw, I was conquered).