Being an avid off road enthusiast myself, I couldn’t wait for the annual NIOC off roading jamboree. The day finally came and to add to the excitement, the rain gods blessed Gurgaon with a solid shower which worked its magic to make the trail incredibly tough to navigate through thanks to the abundance of water flowing in the ravines that we were set to tackle.
I was behind the wheel of a Polaris RZR 800, courtesy Polaris India, and was all set to take on the challenges that lay ahead, but nothing could have prepared me for how my day was going to unfold. The flag-off witnessed over 75 participants taking to the wastelands around Gurgaon on a set route. Apart from the Polaris vehicles, the only other vehicles allowed to enter the event were Jeeps as the course was touted to be one of the toughest ever traversed by the NIOC.
Without further adieu, I fired up the RZR800 and made my way onto the course. We had been briefed that there are a total of 14 obstacles to tackle along the way and finally reach the finish line where lunch would be served. I gently navigated my vehicle through the tall grass and down a steep slope, then I made my way into a water filled ravine and proceeded to climb out at the far end while conquering a slush covered land bank. I was finally at obstacle number 6 when hell broke loose. As per the guidelines, I was to drive in the ravine, but due to the rain, this sector of the ravine was to be abandoned. However, the lead vehicle managed to make it through and I followed suit. Unluckily, the RZR800 finally bogged down and I was stuck in deep water, literally!
The next hour was spent trying to get the Polaris fired up, but even with the help of a mechanic, the stubborn engine just wouldn’t crank. With my energy drained, ego hurt, frustration levels on the rise due the thought of missing out on all the action ahead, I finally decided to abort my drive and asked the mechanic to tow me back. The challenge lay in the fact that he only had a Polaris ATV at his disposal. Regardless, we tied the RZR to the ATV and we made our way through the course all the way to obstacle number 9. As amazed as I was at the ATV’s performance, our luck was running out and to add to the blues, it started to rain heavily again. Sitting on top of a mole-hill with a vehicle that wouldn’t start and getting soaked in the rain, really wasn’t my cup of tea, so I decided to fiddle with the mechanicals a bit. I was sure that water hadn’t gotten into the engine and that the real problem lay in either the air or fuel department. Having taking out the air filter to let it dry, I resorted to looking at the fuel flow and that is where I managed to find the problem. There was no fuel flowing into the engine. A couple of attempts later, I got the fuel to flow and the engine roared to life! I was ecstatic! This was sheer brilliance and now I could be on my way again once the rain stopped.
The rain didn’t stop for another hour! In that time, the ravines around our mole hill flooded and the group was further disbanded. Along with 10 other vehicles, I found myself stranded with just 5 more obstacles to go to the finish line. After waiting it out a bit, the group finally decided that the only way out of here would be to back track all the way to the start line. People argued, people complained and it was at this point that I realized that we are truly being tested. A group people in a Maruti Gypsy tried to make a run for it only to sink their vehicle all the way! This catastrophe highlighted the danger of trying to traverse the ravines, so the task that followed was to find a whole new route back.
Taking my RZR800 I made my way down a dirt trail that I had located on the far side of the hill. It led me to a crossing point and we were assured that from there onwards we could easily make our way back to the start line without too much difficulty. The 10 odd vehicles followed suit and post this point, the group further broke up into two. Five vehicles set out on a dirt route over the mole hills, while the remaining five, of which I was a part of, decided to follow the dirt path along the embankment as it seemed the most direct way back to civilization.
Gunning my engine, I made my way through slush and water to finally reach one last obstacle-the very place where I had gotten stuck in the morning! It seemed like ages ago that I was here getting towed out and the subsequent headache of trying to get the RZR800 to fire up. But this time, not only was the water deeper, I was nervous about having failed here once already. In front of me was an old Willys Jeep and a Maruti Suzuki Gypsy. I waited for them to go through, as they made their way around the bend at the far end of the stream, I gathered my courage, stomped on the gas and plunged into the flowing stream at a pace that sent the water flying everywhere, including up my nose! Not that I minded, as I was covered in mud, and soaked to the bone already. The RZR800 had its nose up and was moving through the stream like a motorboat. I kept on the gas and as I came around the corner I found the Gypsy and Willys stuck in front of me! Not wanting to get bogged down again, I turned the wheel and gunned the RZR800 for the steep mud bank on the side and was lucky enough to get my wheels out of the water and therefore keep my engine and exhaust far away from any flooding scenario.
It took about 45 minutes to get the two jeeps out of my way, and I finally made my way out of the ravine and onto a dirt track and back to civilization. What was supposed to be a 6 hour off-roading jamboree turned into a 12 hour wilderness survival course! In many ways I enjoyed getting stuck and having to find my own way back more than having to follow the designated route. I thank my lucky stars that I happened to be in a very capable machine that didn’t give up on me, despite my curses, and after having showered and cleaned the mud out of my pores, I assure you that if the call comes, I will definitely be back in the driver’s seat for some more off roading excitement.
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