JEEPERS KEEPERS We experience the Jeep Life as we head to the Greater Rann of Kutch in a convoy of Jeeps with a bunch of nutty owners
Heading to the Greater Rann of Kutch for a peek into the Jeep Life
PANIC. THAT’S WHAT WAS RUNNING through my mind as I dashed out of Ahmedabad airport, having landed an hour later than scheduled. I snatched the keys to my chariot, a diesel Jeep Compass. The convoy hadn't waited for me and I had ground to cover. I put on some sweet AC/DC tunes and hit the road, hard. But I might have jumped too far here, let me give you some context.
I was racing to attend the Jeep Trails, an event for Jeep customers to experience what the Jeep life is all about — off-roading, visiting spectacular places and straying off the beaten path. At the same time, it brings like-minded people together who share a passion for adventure, and put them headfirst into one. Oh, and did I mention off-roading? This edition, the White Sands, was being held in the Greater Rann of Kutch, but the drive started in Ahmedabad, some 400km away.
So, there I was, sat in the Compass, comfortably cruising at triple-digit speeds on the highway, eager to catch the convoy of owners. Thanks to Gujarat's great roads and the Compass' polished road manners, I caught up with them well before reaching the Tent City at the Rann Utsav, on the edge of the White Rann. Sticking with Jeep’s legacy, there were some activities set up for us, chief among which was an off-road course to show what a Jeep can really do. I jumped in a Trailhawk and had a Wrangler ahead of me, tackling the obstacles with the poise of a cat. The awe of watching it quickly changed to a sense of fear, as my co-driver reminded me that the course wasn’t set up for the Trailhawk. Gulp. But it was almost shocking to see what this new Compass could do. The first two obstacles involved articulation which it managed to tackle without breaking a sweat – I put the car in low ratio and it went up like a mountain goat. Pfft, easy. The last obstacle, however, was a 46-degree slant and I was really sure I was going to tip over! But even that wasn’t enough to put it to bed, although seeing the ground inches from my face almost put me there!
The next morning we lined up the cars and headed out towards the White Rann. I was in the supremely capable Wrangler with a long snake of about 20 Jeeps filling my mirrors with almost every colour the company offers. It must have been quite a sight in these remote parts! Our rendezvous was the India Bridge, the last point any civilian without the requisite permissions can go to. Why? Because beyond that lies Army territory and the border with our friendly neighbour. We had the permissions and went straight through. As we proceeded, the roads became worse and a roadblock up ahead meant we had to go off the track. Not that it was a problem, we were in Jeeps! The path to go off the road was a steep decline with two deep ruts and a tall mound in the centre. I knew our Wrangler would have no problems at all, but I feared the Compasses might have issues with their ground clearance. I was proven wrong though, and we climbed back up a steep, slippery incline as well, with all the cars still in formation. We reached the Army camp and headed toward the border. Although it’s just a fence, it is very humbling to actually see the end of one country and the start of another. It was an experience of a lifetime, but at the end of the day I am a petrolhead and the urge to take the Wrangler on the open salt flats was growing. My wishes were soon granted: we drove to a remote spot for a picture and as soon as the shutter clicked, I hopped into the driver’s seat and let the car loose — traction control went off, two-wheel drive came on and the tail came out. It was a hoot!
At night, we all got together for dinner and I got talking to a few Jeepers. It was amazing to hear that people had come from all ends of the country, one had driven up from Bangalore and on the way here, had covered the entire coast of Gujarat too. Over the evening I realised that these people share much more in common than the seven-slat grilles on their 4x4s. They share a passion for exploring, for adventures, and trying new things. 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. But more than that, it makes you feel like a part of something much bigger than yourself. Of the legacy of the Jeep. ⌧