Weekend At Mahindra Adventure Off-Road Training Academy

I have always been fascinated by jeeps. When I was growing up, the only jeeps on the roads of Bandra were either army surplus vehicles or those that had been painstakingly reconstructed by enthusiasts, again using old army jeeps.

It was only in the mid nineties that Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd (M&M), an Indian automotive company, started manufacturing and marketing the Mahindra Classic; a jeep that was a classic in every sense of the word. Simple and rugged and an icon of the time.

I fell in love with the Classic and it was right up there on my wish list. However, due to legislative norms that came into effect in 2005, production stopped and for many years the closest one could come to owning a jeep was the Maruti Gypsy.

And whilst several SUVs and MUVs are available in the Indian automobile market, no ‘authentic’ jeep was available commercially till M&M introduced the Thar, a CRDe jeep.

For the uninitiated, a jeep is a four wheel drive (4WD) vehicle that comes into its own on rugged terrain; like climbing hills, driving through cratered terrain or fording streams.

Last weekend, I got an opportunity to finally drive the Thar when I attended a two day Trail Survivor training program at the Mahindra Adventure Off-Road Training Academy at Igatpuri, about 120 kms from Mumbai.

Normally, if one is interested in off roading, you first buy an off roader like the Thar or Mahindra Scorpio or the Tata Safari Storme and then join some group of enthusiasts and learn the techniques. But this can be costly learning curve.

The primary purpose of the Off Road Academy, a part of Mahindra Adventure, is to allow customers of Mahindra to explore the the potential of their off roading vehicles, though other like me can also enroll and learn the basics.

What Mahindra Adventure have done is taken 28 acres of such terrain and set up an off road training track. This picture taken from the 4WD track of the Academy gives you some idea of the terrain of the place.

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Here each participant is supplied with a Thar CRDe jeep and taught to off road in a controlled environment , with emphasis on safety and without damaging the vehicle.

We were a batch of four – Abdul, who came in from Bengaluru and Shashank (Doc) were proud owners of Thars and had joined the course to help them realise the full potential of the vehicle whilst Sanjeev drove a Mahindra Scorpio, a SUV and wanted to learn off roading, having already participated in a number of Great Escape Rallies organised by Mahindra Adventure.

Being a novice as regards driving a jeep, I cautioned Manish Sarser from Mahindra Adventure, who was conducting the course, that I would require lots of hand holding to which he responded ‘As long as you can change gears, you will be fine’.

Our session commenced around 2.30 on Saturday afternoon, after lunch at a nearby hotel. Since the course curriculum mentioned a session on 4WD theory, that I thought would shepherded to a classroom to attend a power point presentation.

But we were pleasantly surprised when instead, we were each assigned a Thar and were asked to follow Manish to the 4WD course. And after a brief theory session, with the bonnet of a jeep was raised for demo purposes, we were given helmets and started off roading.

The first obstacle was called Home Run, where we had to drive down a narrow path, with deep ruts, reverse at the bottom and return to the start. As I negotiated this stretch, at one point the Thar appeared to tilt so precariously, I thought that it would topple over. But following Manish’s instructions I made it to the bottom and returned to the top. And the bouncing about I received confirmed the need for the helmet.

After completing the Home Run, we once again drove down the same path, this time a lot more confidently and proceeded to the next obstacle, viz. the Pond Rush. This obstacle required you to drive down a slope, ford a small pond and drive up another slope. And return to the start.

Steering and acceleration were the key to clearing this obstacle. Sanjeev who was the first on the course, got stuck as you can seen in the picture below. So we got a live demo of a rescue operation, with Sanjeev’s Thar having to be winched out.

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 After Sanjeev was rescued and completed his runs, the rest of us took our turn and I was pleasantly surprised that I could complet my runs without mishap, in near darkness. To put things into perspective, I don’t like driving after dark and managing to negotiate this obstacle  using headlight gave my confidence a big boost.

As the rescue operation took a while, for various reasons, the last obstacle for the day, was postponed for day two and we drove 40 kms to the Express Inn at Nashik for the night. Over a real sumptuous a la carte dinner in the hotel’s coffee shop, the four of us had great time with Sanjeev, a born raconteur regaling us with stories of his travels around the world and experiences in the corporate world. We hit the sack only around midnight.

Day two began with a not so great breakfast at the same coffee shop. Guess its the difference between buffet and a la carte. And after checking out of the hotel, we drove to the 4WD course to start tackling the remaining obstacles lined up for us.

The first obstacle we tackled on day two was the one left over from the previous day, viz. Zig Zag Hill, which involved going up a hill, coming down and then retracing the route, in reverse. Somewhere along the path up, there was a patch of wet surface, which ensured that you got bogged down and learn how to extricate your self.

This obstacle was also used to demonstrate the difference between 2WD and 4WD. Manish made us start the climb in 2WD mode and only after we got stuck, shift to 4WD. And boy, the difference is unimaginable.

And for me the biggest takeaway, was doing the hill in reverse. In fact, I did more reversing in the jeep up and down the hill, than I normally do on a flat surface in a car.

After Zig Zag Hill, the next obstacle was the Boneyard, named because the pot holes and steps make it a car breaker. According to Manish, if you dig up the mud, you will find bits and pieces of vehicles that have attempted the obstacle.

Whilst Abdul. Sanjeev and I made it without to much difficulty Doc tried pushing the vehicle to its limits by attempting difficult maneuvers and got thoroughly bogged down.

Having successfully negotiated the Boneyard, we then moved on the Blind Zone that involved going up a 45 degree slope, which meant driving blind for part of the way since you could only see the sky through the windscreen. With the ‘vast’ experience we had already garnered all of us completed this obstacle with elan.

The last obstacle for the day was the Slush Pit that required driving slowly down a steep incline into a pit filled with slush. Seemed quite scary, looking down from the top of the hill but by then my confidence had grown to such an extent that I volunteered to go first.

However, I must confess that sitting in the Thar at the top of the slope, I felt quite nervous. But Manish’s confidence was infectious and precise instructions were sufficient to overcome this obstacle. (Thanks to Dr Shashank Dhuri for this video).

 

Besides negotiating the various obstacles, we received tips on safety and recovery. Going off roading is a dangerous sport and no attempt was made to downplay this aspect. So there was repeated warning to don a helmet and fasten our seat belts.

And most importantly, not to succumb to peer pressure and attempt obstacles you are not comfortable with. As Manish told us right at the start of the program, ‘off roading is not about spectacular stunts, but getting from point A to point B, without damaging your vehicle’.

Further, since getting stuck is an essential part of off roading, we learned what to do when overcooked (or stuck, in plain English) in mud, water and sand, or when when the jeep gets beached (vehicle resting on its underside and seesawing). The picture shows the Thar on the left  that got beached at the top of the Slush Pit.

thar_beached

And when all else fails, the only option is to winch the jeep out. So we had two demos of winching a Thar to safety; one, when Sanjeev was winched out of the pond  and the second a simulation with plenty of practical inputs regarding safety and maintenance of the winching equipment.

 

winching_operation

To take us through the basics of off roading, we could not have had a better pair of instructors in Manish  and Rahul Kakar (of Autocar India), who incidentally partner as rally drivers. Both have excellent communication skills and are totally unflappable in any situation. In fact, I had interacted with Manish at the time of enrolling for the program and he allayed my fears of not having the required skills to navigate the Thar.

The entire weekend was most stimulating and I can’t remember having enjoyed myself so much in a long time. Besides the sheer exhilaration of driving through slush, ponds and rocky terrain, what made the weekend even more memorable was the attention to detail as regards the facilities provided..

I am sure that whilst the Academy is treated as a profit centre by M&M, there was no attempt to control costs, say, by rationing the mineral water and cold drinks. Or setting a per person budget at dinner.

So whilst Mahindra Adventure were generous with the budget, a special mention must be made of Abhishek Rahalkar of the Western India Sports Association (WISA) and his team who did an excellent job of taking care of the support functions; handing out the walkie talkies and  helmets, ensuring at the same time  that we were regularly supplied with snacks, tea, cold drinks and bottled water.

And finally, during the entire program there was no attempt to hard or soft sell the Thar or any other Mahindra vehicle to me. But if, after driving the Thar at Igatrpuri, I decide to buy one that is another matter. 😉

Disclaimer: I paid the fees to attend the course and if you are interested too can sign up. Details of the course can be obtained at the Mahindra Adventure website.

Working Dreams: Bandra in the Seventies

Given that I have been writing about remembering my  growing up in Bandra in the sixties and the seventies, how do I reconcile memories with dreams, which is the prompt for this final post for the Write Tribe Festival of Words -2?

Actually, its not too difficult, as we all had dreams or aspirations growing up. But this post is not about my dreams that I had growing up and how many of those have been realised.

Instead, I shall focus on what shaped the aspirations of my generation, particularly of those  growing up in Bandra in the sixties and seventies. Naturally, its not just local factors that influenced our dreams or aspirations. The times we lived in, namely the sixties and seventies, also had molded our dreams.

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Artist – Prashant Miranda
http://prashart.blogspot.in/

To begin with, we hardly experienced much peer pressure when it came to studies. What was important was that you got promoted to the next class and that was not a given; every year some of your classmates ‘ducked’, which was a colloquial expression for failing to make the grade, thereby losing a year.

The only time you felt the pressure was when you had to appear for the secondary school certificate examination. But even at this exam, if you secured a First Class or more than sixty percent on the aggregate, you were assured of admission to a college of your choice in the faculty you wanted.

However, given the economic circumstance of those times, many felt that college was unaffordable, not because the fees were high but because you would not earn during the four years of college.

Of course, a few institution offered evening or morning classes for working students, but many who did attend did so with the limited objective of graduating and getting a promotion at work.

Under these circumstances, the great aspiration was to get a job in a ‘good’ company. And a multinational was the first choice with Indian companies like those in the Tata Group being the next best.

To fulfill these dreams or aspirations, many of the girls in our generation living in Bandra opted for a secretarial course where taking dictation in shorthand and typing were basic skills imparted. And for those who opted for secretarial work, the dream was to be appointed as the secretary to the managing director or some other senior executive.

Or many of the boys joined a technical courses, that prepared them for a shop floor job. In the seventies, with the inflow of the petro-dollars, the economies in the middle east or ‘the Gulf’ as it is popularly known started booming resulting in the creation of employment opportunities for the Bandra boys.

In fact to enhance their prospects of being employed in the Gulf, I remember boys learning multiple skills like like welding, fitting, turning or lath operating and even truck driving. In fact, working in the Gulf was the ultimate status symbol for many and a huge positive in the marriage market.

Of course, some of my contemporaries did attend college, even going on to do post graduate courses, but again there was a pressure was to become employable at the earliest. And this influenced your choice of course at college with most boys preferring to secure commerce or science degree as opposed to liberal arts, as the employment prospects were better. Of course, doing professional course like medicine or law or accountancy made one into an outlier in Bandra.

To sum up, in those days, with money in short supply all your dreams were about fulfilling Maslow’s first three needs, namely food, clothing and shelter. In fact, in the 1971 Indian General Election, Indira Gandhi won an overwhelming mandate with the slogan ‘Roti, Kapda aur Makan’.

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Bandra School Memories

In the earlier posts in this series that form part of the Write Tribe Festival of Words, I have been writing about my memories growing up in the sixties and seventies in Bandra, a leafy suburb of Mumbai or to use the old name, Bombay.

For today’s penultimate post the prompt is ‘people’ and I would like to share with the readers memories about some of the people who shaped our lives. I know that, without doubt, my parents were the major influence but they were ably assisted by those who imparted an education to us.

Of course, I am referring to the many teachers and masters in my alma mater, whose guiding principle was ‘Don’t spare the rod; just save the child‘. And the parents were in complete consonance with this principle. Given the ‘zero tolerance’ policy and the threat of instant retribution, I sincerely believe that in the long run we developed a strong sense of discipline.

In this context, I was recently browsing the website of the alumni association and I came across a thread in which two of my classmates on the occasion of Teachers Day discussed the caning techniques of the principal and assistant principal, in much the same manner that two cricket buffs would compare the square cut of Gavaskar with that of Vishwanath!

What a sharp contrast to today, when we read of parents filing police cases against schools if their wards are punished or some students taking the extreme step of committing suicide for the same reason. I guess things have changed but I am not sure whether these changes have been for better or worse.

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The teachers and masters were a real dedicated lot, who in addition to maintaining discipline, took a personal interest in the students. And the class size was not exactly small. In fact, each division comprised of around fifty students.

And if you could not grasp a topic, you would be asked to stay on after school so that the same could be individually explained to you. Or even be called over to the house of the teacher on the weekly holiday for some extra coaching. All gratis! I guess the same was true of other Bandra schools and teachers.

Of course, the teaching staff had their idiosyncrasies; in my final year our class master hero worshiped our fist prime minister, Nehru. He would never miss a single opportunity to extol the virtues of Nehru, much to our irritation. No, we didn’t have any thing against Nehru. Rather that we felt that the adulation was unjustified. In retaliation, every time the master started speaking about Nehru, we would chant the the name of Lal Bahadur Shartri, India’s second prime minister.

Boys being boys, some of the staff were referred to by their nicknames, the origins of some of which were unknown to us. But that did not stop us from using the nicknames freely. Like, one master who was called Bader, a reference to the  WWII Royal Air Force Fighter Ace.  Since the gentleman never taught me, till this day I don’t know his real name. And another, was called Hitler, probably because of his mustache. I guess these names were given in the forties and continued till the sixties.

I believe that my school days were probably the best years of my life and it was only in the final year that pressure of a board examination manifested. And in no small measure, I believe that the teachers and masters of my school to whom I dedicate this post, made a huge difference.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013.

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Travel Travails In Bandra Of Old

After reading the first three post on memories, food and books, you have probably concluded that I am an incorrigible nostalgia buff, yearning for the ‘good old days’ of the sixties and seventies.

But if there is aspect of our lives that has changed for the better it is traveling around Mumbai and more particularly in Bandra. Despite the overcrowding, double parking and the pot holes, we are better off today than we were forty years ago.

As I mentioned in ‘Growing up in Bandra’  when we first moved to Bandra, the road outside our building had not been tarred. Walking on that road was a nightmare, especially during the monsoon when you risked slipping and falling. Only a few years later, when more buildings were constructed along the road that the municipal authorities tarred the road.

To get around Bandra, in those days, you either had to walk or cycle, because though there was a bus service the frequency was around once in half an hour. And the bus traversed a long and circuitous route. So you sometimes reached your destination faster if you walked instead of waiting for a bus.

Initially, I used the school bus to get to school. But since we lived on the outskirts of Bandra, I was one of the last to be dropped in the evening. And as the long drive cut into my play time, I started skipping the bus on the return leg, instead walking home with my friends. Eventually, my parents got wise to this and discontinued the school bus.

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Owning a bicycle, in those days, was a status symbol in school. And a racer cycle with gears and cable brakes was the envy of all. So, when I reached the secondary section, I started pestering my parents for a bicycle.

My dad did not directly refuse to buy me a bicycle. Instead he laid down a condition; if I got a first five rank in my class at the examination, he would buy me the bicycle. Being a sucker, I agreed when I should have known that this was never going to be.

Eventually, I realised that was being taken for a ride by my dad. So, using a gift from my godmother who was visiting us as seed capital augmented by my ‘savings’,  a couple of years later, I bought a bicycle.  If I recollect right, the bicycle cost around rupees seven hundred, which was quite a fortune in the sixties.

With the acquisition of the bicycle, every morning I joined the peloton  at the start of what is today called Manuel Gonsalves Road, all heading towards the school. In the evenings, the peloton headed in the opposite direction.

Traveling out of Bandra to other parts of Mumbai or Bombay at it was then called was always a horrendous experience for me. As a consequence of an infrequent service, a bus would sometimes be so full that it would drive past a bus stop without stopping. Especially if no passenger needed to alight.

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For some reason, my dad did not like to use the local train to move around the city. Of course, getting into a local train in Mumbai, then as well as now, requires a special skill set and is not for the faint hearted. It was only when I joined a college that was located in the city that I began to use the trains, which I believe is the life line of Mumbai.

As I mentioned earlier, traveling is one area where I am glad that things have changed. Today the bus services have  improved phenomenally and with more people driving their own vehicles, the buses are no longer overcrowded. In addition, auto-rickshaws ply in the suburbs and make commuting quite easy. If fact, given the difficulty finding parking space, it sometimes makes sense to use an auto for shorter trips.

Also the government has invested in infrastructure like flyovers, subways and freeways all of which have made traveling around the city comparatively a happier experience. I know that many will still complain of the bottlenecks resulting in traffic jams or the lack of parking or the overcrowding of the local trains, but when I compare the present with the sixties and seventies, I’m not complaining.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013.

Photo Credit: lecercle via Compfight cc

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Musical Memories of Bandra

When I was growing up during the sixties and seveties, music was am important source of entertainment, at least in Bandra. More particularly, western pop music. And Radio Ceylon was the main source of this music. Every morning as you walked through the leafy by-lanes or past houses in the East Indian villages called gothaans, your heard music from this radio station wafting in the morning air.

According to Corinne, who grew up in different parts of the country, Radio Ceylon that later became Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation was a popular source of entertainment even in those places too. And the request programs were by far the most popular with most of the those asking for a particular song seeming to live in places like Kazipet, Bitragunta and other Railway colonies.

All India Radio too had weekly request program, ‘Saturday Date’, but it did not command the same allegiance amongst listeners as Radio Ceylon. The announcers of the latter station or the disc jockeys as we would now call them, seemed to be on a first name basis with the listeners. In fact, if I recollect right, these announcers once visited India and traveled to some of the places mentioned earlier to meet the listeners.

In those days, the radiogram which was piece of furniture combining a radio and a record player with two large speaker occupied the pride of place in many the drawing rooms of many houses in Bandra. Since we only had an old Telefunkin radio and a record player that constantly went for repairs, for some reason, I associated the radiogram with affluence.

radio_telefunken

To increase business, many restaurants and cafés invested in a juke box. Such places would be packed with young adults who would listen to music over endless cups of chai  (tea). But this phase did not last too long as stand alone record players, manufactured locally, hit the market.

There were two music shops in Bandra, ‘Twist’ (on Linking Road) and ‘Sweet Melody’ ( on 33rd Road – off Linking Road), which sold LPs and 45s.  Sweet Melody still exists, but now sells TVs and other electronic equipment. These shops had little booths each containing a turntable and you were allowed to sit in there and preview the albums or singles. Like trying clothes today at some stores, you were only allowed to take only three or four  records into the booth,  at a time.

Given that music was an integral part of life in Bandra, it was not surprising that many youngsters got together to set up beat groups or bands. When these groups practiced passers-by were entertained, but I am not sure the neighbors felt the same!

These groups got an opportunity to showcase their talent at the annual Bandra Fair in the month of September. At the fair there were two places that had live entertainment, the WigWam that was run by the ex-students of St. Stanislaus High School and the September Garden run by the Mount Carmel Church. The former was designed as a Red Indian wigwam, complete with the mask of an Indian Chief hanging at the entrance.

The music bug bit at an early age. I remember when I was in school some of the seniors used to perform as a group for school functions. And the high point was the drum solo by a student named Paul Fishery. It was reserved as a finale and we always shouted for ‘one more’.

Paul later went on to be play with the ‘Juveniles’ that became the ‘Combustibles’, a leading Indian beat group in the sixties and seventies. And just down the road from where I lived and continue to live, another group of youngsters formed  ‘The Friendship Clan’, which attained much popularity and regularly played at various beat shows and Catholic weddings.

Part of the reason for the proliferation of talent was the annual talent contests that the various churches in Bandra organised for the parishioners. Normally held during the monsoons, the contestants were classified age wise, with separate contests for classical and modern music. And again these categories were split into vocal and instrumental.

Somehow, the whole community appeared to be involved in these contests with the parish being divided into zones based on geography and competing against each other. If you didn’t have talent to sing or you didn’t play any instrument, you helped by ferrying small children to the pianist’s house for practice. Or did some other odd jobs to ensure that your zone did well.

In those days, ‘terrace parties’ were a regular feature in Bandra on weekends. Any party whether on a terrace or in the house meant music and dancing. Not just music played on the radiogram or turntable; invariably there was singing with someone strumming a guitar. At times, the guitar would be supplemented with a bass (base?), a home made contraption which produced a bass sound. It was made by taking a wooden crate and drilling a hole in the centre of one of the sides. Through this hole a thick rope would be passed and the rope was knotted inside the box. The other end of the rope would be attached to one end of a wooden pole in such a manner that when the pole was placed perpendicular on the box, the rope was taut.

I have not gone into who was a popular artiste or which song topped the local hit parade charts. Those are personal preferences and I am only attempting to highlight the importance of music to us in Bandra, when I was growing up during the sixties and seventies.

I am taking part in the Write Tribe Festival of Words 8th – 14th December 2013.

 

Do take a look at these links for more:
Bombay, It’s Ours
Sixties Mumbai Garage Rock Band Gets Vinyl Reissue – about The Combustibles
More about The Combustibles

Sample some Bombay Duck?

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