The Jeep Trails: White Sands experience!
The Jeep Trails is an event held around the year for Jeep customers to experience what the Jeep life is all about — off-roading, visiting remote areas and being one with nature. It is also about bringing together people who share the same passion for adventure, and throwing them headfirst in to one. And did I mention off-roading? I attended the White Sand Trails in the Rann of Kutch, touted to be the most scenic one yet and can attest to it being an experience that is worth buying in to the Jeep brand for.
I had never attended a Jeep Trails before and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I used the wonders of technology (err, Google) to search about what a ‘Jeep Trail’ really is and found that the goal is to take customers on unexplored routes and let them experience what their SUVs are capable of. The gorgeous backdrops are just a bonus. I was excited — a weekend of driving around in Jeeps and off-roading, what more could one ask for?
My Jeep Trails experience started at the Ahmedabad airport, from where I was to drive 440km to Kutch where the event was being held. My backside was rested in the seat of the Jeep Compass, in four-wheel-drive diesel guise wearing the Limited Plus badge. I put on some sweet AC/DC tunes and hit the road. Outside the city limits, the roads were absolutely sublime — they were surfaced brilliantly and there were patches of arrow straight tarmac with very little traffic, the manual gearbox on the Compass was a pleasure to work with and the car picks up pace with no hesitation. The Compass displayed great highway manners however, the soft suspension could unsettle the car over bumps. Nevertheless, I was making good progress and soon caught up with a convoy of owners who were also headed to the event and we drove in formation the rest of the way.
The Jeep guys were kind enough to allow us a relaxed day after the long drive and post a short briefing, we rested and then had a small get-together in the evening. Staying true to the Jeep legacy of being adventurous, there were many activities setup for us including ATVs and ziplining (the latter of which was a complete no-no from me thanks to my horrible vertigo). The main event of the night though, was a set of off-road hurdles set up so the customers can truly experience what a Jeep can do. The demo car for the course was a Wrangler but they also let a Compass Trailhawk loose after seeing the amount of eager customers waiting to have a go.
I had a go in the Trailhawk and there was a Wrangler ahead of me, showing off its massive articulation capabilities with its live axles. It was a sight to behold but knowing the Compass had a monocoque and more road-favourable suspension was unsettling as the course had been set up specifically for the Wrangler. To my surprise, the Trailhawk had no issues tackling the obstacles, it was almost shocking to see what it could do. The first obstacle was light articulation which the Compass did without breaking into a sweat, I put the car in low ratio and barely even touched the pedals. The next one involved a little more articulation and a slight hiccup while getting up a slope was sorted out by the car’s computers and it got us up with barely a struggle. The last obstacle however was a 46-degree slant and I was really sure I was going to tip over! To my surprise even that wasn’t enough to put the Trailhawk to bed! Although seeing the ground inches from my face surely almost put me there!
Our second day started early. After all the cars were lined up and flagged off, we headed towards the White Rann and I was to lead the convoy of 19 Jeeps in a Wrangler. To those of you who may not know I love driving in convoys, it's probably one of my favourite things to do. Genuinely, I'm not being sarcastic here. The long snake of Jeeps in all colours was met by turning heads everywhere we went and must have been quite a sight in these remote parts! Ahead of me was empty arrow straight tarmac and each of my mirrors was filled with a bunch of seven-slat grilles. Had I died and gone to heaven? The drive lasted for about an hour before we reached what is called the India Bridge. It is the last point any civilian without the proper permissions can go to. Why? Because beyond that lies Army territory and the three lines of defence guarding the border with our friendly neighbour, Pakistan. We had the permissions though and proceeded past the bridge. The landscape was littered with army bunkers everywhere, it was almost chilling. As we proceeded further, the roads became worse and a road-block up ahead meant we had to go off the track. Not that this was a problem, we were in Jeeps! The path to go off the road was a steep decline that is used only be Army trucks, and their tracks had caused two deep ruts with a tall mound in the center. I knew our Wrangler would have no problems at all, although I feared the Compasses might have issues with its ground clearance, I was wrong. The Jeep team guided everyone through and we climbed back up a steep, slippery incline as well with all cars still with us. We reached the Army camp and we were greeted by the battalion serving there, who were thrilled to have us. They took us to see a bunker from the inside before we headed to the border, three cars at a time. It was a very humbling sensation to actually see the end of the country and the start of another one, and one that hasn't seen peace in a long time. We also spoke to the BSF official posted in one of the watchtowers who shared some anecdotes with us.
All this was cool, but what I really was looking forward to was driving on the salt flats. We reached a remote spot and and after taking a photo with all the Jeeps and Jeepers, I let the Wrangler loose — traction control went off, two-wheel-drive came on and the tail came out! It was a hoot! The owners joined in too but after neglecting the advice from the Jeep team, some people got their cars stuck in the wet patches of the Rann we were told to avoid. It wasn’t a big deal though, they put one of the support Wranglers to good use and pulled them out. Perks of being in a Jeep convoy, I guess!
After nightfall, at the dinner, I got talking to a few Jeepers and was amazed to hear that people had come from all corners of the country! One customer, who owns a tastefully modified Wrangler, had been travelling for over a week! He started in Bangalore and covered the coast of Gujarat before heading to the Rann. Another Jeeper had come all the way from Hyderabad! There was a family from Gurgaon too! It was fascinating to hear their stories and I realised they shared more in common than just the badge on their cars, they shared a passion to explore and go to new places and that made them almost like one big family, it was amazing.
The next morning we woke up before the first light to witness the magnificent sunrise on the Rann. The vast expanse of the flats makes for an amazing foreground for a sunrise. I couldn’t hang around for too long though, I had a flight to catch 400km away! The Wrangler served as my steed to the airport and the more I drove it, the more I fell in love with the thing. Its road manners aren’t the best but it is a car with such character that it’s hard to dislike. It has road presence like nothing else, its plenty quick and it can hold good speeds no matter the surface, it’s wonderful! I was so in love with it that it was almost depressing to hand the keys back.
The compact SUV market is a crowded place and the Compass is not the most luxurious of the lot, nor is it the most technologically advanced but what it can do is stay true to what SUVs stand for more than any of its competitors, and that is the reason these people made that choice. So it’s great to see a manufacturer do so much to enhance their customer experience and let people experience the Jeep life — living off the road, staying away from civilisation and going where your heart wants to. My Jeep Trails experience was fantastic — touching the border, driving in a convoy with more than 20 Jeeps to such remote areas and interacting with the Jeepers, who felt like one big family by just the second day was amazing to see. Doing these things alone would be one thing but doing it in a large group with people that think alike is a whole different experience, it creates bonds when people help each other out in tough situations or when everyone gathers around just to share their love for off-roading! The Jeep Trails is something every Jeep owner must experience, it brings a sense of community with a brand that has a rich history of making SUVs that can go anywhere and do anything, it makes you feel part of a much bigger picture.