Rediff.com's Rajesh Karkera relives his time at the Mahindra Adventure Off-Road Training Academy.
The Mahindra Adventure Off-Road Training Academy is India's first and only dedicated off-road training centre. With its own fleet of Mahindra Thars, and spread across 28 acres in the hills around Igatpuri, Maharashtra, it is also an off-roader's dream getaway.
The academy offers two courses (scroll to the bottom for the details), and I am here for the longer Trail Survivor course.
It holds the promise of more adventure with tougher obstacles and night off-roading, and I can't wait to begin.
The course starts with Selvin Jose, manager, Adventure Initiatives, Mahindra Adventure, explaining the importance of knowing how the 4x4 mechanism in cars -- not just the Mahindra Thar -- works. He also shows us some of the manual hub locks and how to operate them -- a must for every off-roader as this technical knowledge is key to getting your car through tricky obstacles.
To get us started, Jose also demonstrates one of the manoeuvers we will have to do in this course.
A combination of man and machine, this course will ensure that you don't topple or crash even in extreme circumstances.
It's not just Indians who participate in these courses. Joining our group of adventurers is Jorg Alexander from Germany, who has decided to try the Trail Survivor course a second time.
After a morning of off-roading, our fleet stands ready for us.
The fleet, which mainly consists of the Mahindra Thar CRDe beasts, has one that stands out -- the Mahindra Major cl550 (the third one in this lineup), a trophy jeep with a legacy of its own.
The first drive of after the theory lessons is called the Home Run.
It involves manouevering the vehicle through a 4-foot drop. Though it is supposed to be navigated very, very slowly, enthusiasm can often overtake theory on the first drive and leave you stuck.
It is dark by the time all of us finish the first obstacle course, giving us confidence to tackle whatever is thrown at us the next day. However...
We are not prepared for the night driving!
While we are expecting to drive at dusk and head back to the hotel, this next track changes all that.
We walk through the dark track -- which includes me falling on my bottom four times! -- before trying any off-roading.
The track, complete with a hillock, is tough. A lot of it has to be navigated without using your brakes. You are supposed to let the Thar's 4x4 capabilities take you through it.
It turns out to be gruelling, but fun.
Finally at 9.15 pm, we head back to the hotel, which is 50 km away. After the day we have had, the 50 km drive on the highway feels like a joy ride. In about 40 mins we were in the lap pf luxury, calling it a night.
Come morning, after a quick breakfast, we are back at the Mahindra Off-Roading Academy.
Our first off-roading obstacle of the day after the theory is this one.
It involves driving out of this hole, taking an immediate left, going straight and then making a complete U turn on a steep slope down -- all without toppling over.
It looks manageable until they spray water on the track.
Kingshuk Banerjee from Mumbai is the first one to complete this task.
Oh the joy of finishing this one! Don't ask how many tries it took.
The second course of the day doesn't get simpler.
All of us struggle with it just like Mayukh Bannerjee here, sometimes getting stuck in ditches and other times in deep slush.
At one point one Thar has to be pulled out of the slush by using a winch tied to another Thar.
This is shot at one of the obstacles on the third course -- inside the car is Saravanan Singaravadivelan from Chennai while all of us take turns posing.
We all try our best to topple the Thar, but thankfully do not succeed.
The fourth and last task is to clear a series of ditches in a narrow pathway; not easy, but we all do it.
At the end of the Trail Survivor course, we are all better drivers -- off-road and on it.