It would be fair enough to say that India is one of those countries with a multi diverse cultural heritage. There is so much to explore out here and the more you see it, the more it begins to fascinate you. Talking about a time like 15 years ago and getting about the whole country was task if not that easy. The major cult of people to go beyond that extra mile were hardcore motorcyclists/trekkers etc. But as the years went by and as more and more people started exploring this country, people became aware that there is a lot to see in India before going around globe-trotting.
Mahindra & Mahindra, India is one such company who decided to take touring in India to the next level. With their concept of ‘Arrive and Drive’ they began the division of Mahindra Adventures in 2011. Ever since they have successfully completed multiple expeditions to some of the most exotic and beautiful locations around India. This year, the team incited us to come and experience the The Royal Escape 2016-17 which is a 7 day exploration in the sandy dunes of Rajasthan to experience the utmost royalty of this city.
We arrived at Gurgaon at the Le’ Meridien on the evening of the 26th where we met the entire team of the XSO (Xtreme Sports Organization). The vehicles used in the expedition were the XUV 500 and the Scorpio. The team was very well organized and they followed an apt protocol which was briefed to us in the evening session. The entire convoy consisted on 21 expedition vehicles. Each vehicle was given a number starting from adventure 1 to adventure 12. The rest included a Lead car which would roll ahead, a Float car which would keep its pace up and down the entire convoy to ensure that no vehicle bridges the gap between the other car and a Sweep car in the end of the convoy which ensured that everyone was together and no one was left out. All the vehicles were equipped with a VHF radio which enabled the team to stay in contact at all times. This radio was also really helpful in order to warn the other team mates if there was any kind of danger/emergency coming up ahead or if the team needed to make a stop or to increase/decrease the pace of the convoy.
The evening went by with all the rules of the expedition being informed to all of the participants. It was clear out here that this was an event which catered to the audience of all age groups. There were families with children and there were young couples. There was a diverse group of people and everyone got acquainted to each other over a nice dinner as we enjoyed the hospitality at the Meridien. From the first day itself, it was clear that the XSO team of Mahindra Adventures was a dedicated team who were clearly focused and well experienced with handling such expedition as they have in the past years and it was impressive to see how they made the whole group comfortable and confident for the days coming up ahead.
We began the expedition with a long drive of 500 kms from Gurugram to Gajner. The entire convoy was lined up and ready to hit the roads by 7:30 AM in the morning. After each member was allotted the respective vehicles the convoy departed from the hotel. The one thing amazing to see in this drive was the graphic work and stickering done on all the vehicles. The convoy looked like one huge team and the onlookers and passersby’s couldn’t help but stare. We quickly picked up pace and soon realized that the team at XSO was into some serious driving and this expedition would be best enjoyed by people who are passionate and good drivers.
We were driving the new generation Mahindra Scorpio. Powered by a 2.2 litre in-line 4 cylinder diesel engine, this new M-Hawk motor produces 120 BHP @ 4000 RPM and a peak torque of 280 Nm @ 1800-2800 RPM. This new model has a better improved suspension setup and it takes care of the body roll which the previous models were prevalent in. The vehicle is also equipped with an all new infotainment system pre-loaded in maps, tire tronics and vehicle information. The open roads of Rajasthan were perfect to tackle with this SUV.
With a halt for tea at the Highway king at about 11 AM we could clearly see that the team had now started to interact well with each other. The XSO team would also constantly keep talking to the members in the car while driving to keep everyone active and enable the members to know each other. This was a great initiative as driving post lunch can be strenuous and the constant pace of following the car in the front of you could definitely make one feel drowsy. As the day went by we covered the barren but beautiful desert landscapes of Rajasthan and saw some spectacular colors during the sunset. An interesting thing to notice among these roads was the ample and lush amount of greenery. The locals have been digging bore wells up to depths of close to 2000ft which enables them to reach the water table. The result is plush irrigated lands which are tilled and yield atleast two crops a year. This is remarkable considering that we were in a desert.
After a long day of driving the team finally reached the beautiful palace of Gajner which is located on the outskirts of Bikaner. Bikaner is 330 Kms northwest from the state capital of Jaipur. From the moment we stepped into this place, we were taken aback by the beauty and royalty of this place. From palatial rooms to the sheer opulence of this palace, the feeling of royal Rajasthan was soon beginning to sink in to all the members of the team. We ended the day with a nice dinner with the entire group and enjoyed sitting by the fire before we retired back to our rooms.
We woke up early in the morning to actually see the beauty of this palace. Gajner palace is spanned at more than 3000 acres in area. This monolithic structure was the former hunting lodge and ground of the Maharaja of Bikaner. The structure overlooks a huge water body and is surrounded by forest reserves which host a variety of wild life. There are vehicles in the palace who could take you for a tour if you are interested in checking out the grandeur of the wilderness. The entire experience can take more than 1 hour touring which clearly makes you understand the massive size of this reserve.
The team grouped in for breakfast and soon we were all packed and ready to hit the roads to Jaisalmer. The city of Jaisalmer is called as ‘The Golden City’ and is well known today as a world heritage site. The drive was for about 341 Kms. After driving through some long straight desert highways, we arrived at the historic fort at Pokharan for lunch. This was once again a unique structure in itself and the team spent a nice afternoon savoring the local Rajasthani food and enjoyed capturing memories and photographs.
Post lunch the convoy moved ahead and we were now heading to the sand dunes of sam, Jaisalmer. Prior to arriving at our destination, the entire team grouped about few a Kms before the halt for some scenic photographs of the convoy right at the setting sun. We did manage to get some incredible scenic shots out here. Finally the team arrived at Le Royal camps at Jaisalmer. This was a beautiful and exotic location where we were staying the in tents. The structure was built out of stone walls and an all-weather fabric as the canopy. The tenting experience was pretty awesome and this is one of those things which is a must to be done if you’re visiting Jaisalmer. The evening went by with drinks and dinner and everyone was enjoying the desert experience. The sky out here is so clear that you could see countless amounts of stars. We did manage to capture some incredible shots and time lapses before we retired to bed.
The next morning, we began our day with what was the most exciting part of this trip. Off roading in the sand dunes of Sam. The purpose of the vehicles we were given was an all-round adaptability to drive and tackle the most strenuous terrains possible. The Scorpio has a toggle switch with three switchable driving modes. These are 2H, 4H & 4L. 2H is for a two wheel drive system which is best used for highway cruising. The power is supplied to the rear wheel in this case. The 4H mode is a full time 4 wheel drive which is best used for mud, slush and hill climbing terrain. The 4L is a low torque 4 wheel drive mode which is used to get the vehicle out of sand, marsh or any kind of surface which causes the vehicle to get immobile. This mode supplies high torque to all the wheels and helps the vehicle maneuver itself out. The 3 modes must be only shifted when the vehicle is stationary to avoid any kind of damage to the system.
Off roading on the desert is an enthralling experience. It requires a particular technique of driving or you are sure bound to get your vehicle stuck in the sand. It’s basically a game of momentum. The XSO team gave us a detailed briefing on how we need to go about in the desert. Soon all the particpants started to get a good hang of it and it was clear that the people were surely enjoying and having a lot of fun here. The photography team did manage to take some aggressive and challenging shots of the desert.
Our media team took a detour here and went to down to visit the haunted city of Kuldhara. According to urban legends this city was abandoned by its own villagers some 200 years ago. The houses are almost in the same condition as they were left behind by their inhabitants. As we climbed the steps of one such home, I could see the entire expanse of the village. Lanes and brick homes, equidistant from each other, all neatly laid out. The place has an eerie vibe to it even though it has been declared as a heritage site by the archaeological survey of India.
The teams returned back to the camp by evening and spent another evening with food and bonded over drinks with performances by Rajasthani folk artists before heading to bed.
Today was a drive of 286 Kms towards the city of Jodhpur. This is the second largest city in the state of Rajasthan. It is a popular tourist destination which was formerly the seat of the princely state of the same name known as Marwar. The city is also called the ‘Sun City’ for the bright weather all year round. It is also referred to as the ‘Blue City’ due the prominence of blue houses painted around.
After driving all morning our first halt was at Manvar resort. Located in the heart of the sand dune region of Rajasthan between the ancient cities of Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Bikaner, the Resort is a hidden gem – very quaint and pleasant, a green oasis in the desert – designed and built in the style of a village settlement against the backdrop of a desert landscape.
An oasis in barren lands which weaves technology and comfort to a contemporary traveler in this rustic expression. Providing warm and comfortable interiors in contrast to the earthy and rugged exteriors which has led to the blossoming of a boutique environment which has retained the original beauty and royalty of Rajasthan in its red and beige stone structure. We had a delicious lunch out here before we headed to the Mehrangarh fort.
Standing tall and high in the city from a rocky hill stand the 120m high fort of Mehrangarh. This fort is still run by the royal family in Jodhpur. It’s a spectacular network of stone-latticed courtyards and halls which show the example of the exemplary Rajputana architecture. It has a resemblance to sandalwood. This has the best collection of palanquins and elephant howdahs with a variety of textiles, paintings, manuscripts and swords.
The team spent a lovely sunset enjoying the beauty and grandeur of this magnificent palace before heading to the grand ITC Welcome Hotel at Jodhpur where we spent the night relaxing.
Our next day involved driving to the city of Pushkar which was about 187 kms away. Pushkar is a town in the Ajmer district in the Indian state of Rajasthan. It is situated 14 kms northwest of Ajmer at an average elevation of 1,670 ft and is one of the five sacred dhams for devout Hindus. According to Hindu theology, the pond at the Katas Raj temple Near Choa Saidan Shah in Chakwal District of Pakistan has a theological association with Shiva; it was formed by the tears of Lord Shiva which he is believed to have shed after the death of his wife, Sati. The story goes that when Sati died, Shiva cried so much and for so long, that his tears created two holy ponds – one at Pushkara in Ajmer in India and the other at Ketaksha, which literally means raining eyes, in Sanskrit. It is from this name that the word Katas is derived. It is often called “Tirth Raj” – the king of pilgrimage sites – and has in recent years become a popular destination for foreign tourists.
The drive to pushkar was a pleasant one with the national highways present to guide us. We reached and checked in to the Taj Gateway at the Ajmer Pushkar bypass. The evening went by with a visit to the city which was buzzing with a huge amount of tourist and Israeli travellers. We spent some time in the local coffee shops before heading back to the hotel for the grand New Year celebrations organized by the Taj hospitality.
The last day of the trip finally arrived. We spent the morning with some of us visiting the famous Dargah Shariff at Ajmer. The local city streets were crowded but we still enjoyed the spiritual vibe of the place. There is some sort of energy out there which no one can explain.
The drive back to Gurgaon was plain and kind of boring. The roads were monotonous and the there was a fair amount of highway truck traffic including long halts at the toll plazas. After a long drive of 403 Kms we finally arrived at our destination at the Le Meridien once again.
This was the final pit stop of the Royal Escape 2016-17. A perfect symphony of long distance driving and off roading with a serene experience of Rajasthan. Mahindra Adventures have executed this road trip with perfect co-ordination and organization. The team was highly enthusiastic and energetic and at no point did any one feel the pressure of the trip or the driving for that matter. There was a safety of a service team too should anything go wrong on the trip. The hospitality was fantastic and the experience of staying at the some of the finest hotels money can offer was totally worthwhile. There was a new group of people who interacted and by the end of the trip it was like a bunch of an extended family of people.
This is an incredible initiative by Mahindra and will surely inspire people to go ahead the extra mile for an adventure. The prices are reasonable enough for the kind of experience they have to offer. It was indeed a grand way to call in the New Year.
Photo Credits – Milind Kale