There is no better way to start a new year, than with a road trip, and I was fortunate to be invited for the 2021 Mahindra Royal Escape. For those who don’t know what Royal Escape is, in essence, it is a multi-day adventure across Rajasthan in the new Mahindra cars – in my case the all-new Mahindra Thar – put together by the team at Mahindra Adventure.
For me personally, this trip was going to tick many firsts, first time off-roading on sand, first time driving the new Thar and to top it all, my first media drive. Suffices to say, I was eagerly waiting to get behind the wheel of the Thar and get this trip underway.
The first night of the trip comprised of just getting to know the Mahindra Adventure team that we would be travelling with, getting briefed on our itinerary for the next couple of days as well as meeting all the other participants in the convoy.
Coming to the car I drove over the week, it was a hard-top Mahindra Thar with 132hp, 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine and 6-speed torque converter automatic gearbox. The trim was the top-of-the-line LX version. Though it is worth pointing out that due to the shortage in supply, all the Thars we used for this trip were from the last batch of pre-production models. This meant that while on paper they matched all the specification of the production models, each of these were hand-built and had some quirks that the customer cars wouldn’t have.
Day 1 – Udaipur to Jodhpur
We started our week-long drive from Udaipur, with our first stop at Shikarbadi private airport which is occasionally used by the Royal family in Udaipur. At the airport we met with Prince Lakshyaraj Singh Mewar of Udaipur, who is an avid automobile enthusiast and has a sizeable collection of Mahindra off-roaders. He had brought a few of his off-roader for us to look at including a Thar Wanderlust, a limited-edition Thar 700 and even his brand-new kitted out Thar.
After a brief interaction, he invited the convoy to visit the royal family’s vintage car collection for a special viewing – though not part of our original itinerary – it was an opportunity we could hardly refuse. So, we carved out a short 30-minute visit and hoped to make up time on the road.
However, Udaipur had other plans and we were stuck in traffic, luckily my Thar was an automatic so it was easy going but time we did lose. Nonetheless, we made it out of Udaipur with the convoy intact and joined the National Highway from where it was smooth cruising until we got to Jawai. Here the Mahindra Adventure team had scouted a hill-top from where we would get a good view of the Jawai city and the dam.
We were told to drive up the hill which was steep and didn’t have any set path for the last few hundred metres, easy right? Actually, it was (sort of)! The Thar and the amazing team guiding us played a massive role in ensuring the entire convoy made it up, especially considering many of us had minimal off-road experience. I used four-wheel low and followed directions from the spotters and pretty soon I was at the summit.
After that it was down to the Jawai river bank to take in a serene sunset and then on to our night halt at Jodhpur.
Day 2 – Jodhpur to Jaisalmer
The next morning, I had a leisurely start from the picturesque Hotel Pratap Niwas whose architecture was inspired by the old palaces. After lining up all the cars for a quick photoshoot we hit the road, with the agenda for the day consisting of a relatively relaxed trip towards Jaisalmer covering 290km via the highway.
Considering that pretty much all our driving on this day, barring the initial departure from the city and crossing a few villages, would be on wide and well laid highways, this gave me an excellent opportunity to see just how usable the new Thar was on regular tarmac. It was comfortable cruising at triple digit speeds, not like a mid-size SUV for sure, but given this car’s hard core off-road bias its highway manners were surprising and the cabin was fairly quiet for the most part (though my specific car seemed to have an issue with the roof sealant which led to a lot of wind noise filtering into the cabin over 110kph).
Lunch was at the very aptly named Thar Oasis hotel, which had lush, green fields and a vegetable patch and after a hearty meal and some evening tea, we got back on the road and headed to Jaisalmer.
To keep the highway journey engaging, a local guide, radioed in every now-and-then giving us information about various points of interests and the general history of the area. He even briefed us on the lore behind the now well-known local legend of the ‘Enfield Baba’, when we passed his shrine. This information was accompanied by detailed history and insights on the various older Mahindra’s we saw along the way, where some of the information was new to even car guys like us! We ended up reaching our hotel in Jaisalmer by around 8pm.
Day 3 – Jaisalmer to sand dunes and back
Our itinerary for day 3 incorporated a late start from Jaisalmer as we headed out towards the Sam dune for our lunch stop. A few other journalists and I wanted to make use of the few free hours in the morning to explore Jaisalmer, and the Mahindra adventure team had very kindly agreed to let us take our Thars and head in to the city.
We decided to explore Jaisalmer fort which is one of the few living forts in India, where residents reside within its footprint. Due to our early start, we got to the fort early enough to witness its calm and tranquil side. Wandering through the narrow streets of the fort was an experience in itself along with the many view points of the fort that offered a breath-taking view of the ‘Golden City’.
We decided to take a few photos of the Thar with the fort in the backdrop, and it was here I realised how much attention the new Thar garnered. From the locals taking pictures of the off-roader and coming up to ask questions about it, to tourists entering the fort staring and taking pictures, there was something about the car that appealed to so many people (I am sure the stickers also played a role in the amount of attention it got).
We reached the hotel with just enough time to grab a quick bite before heading off to the Sam Dunes. The journey to the dunes was fairly straight forward, mainly relying on highways, though we did make a detour to visit the Khaba Fort and drove through our first section of sand tracks, giving us the mildest of taste of what was to come.
Our lunch stop for the day was at the Desert Glamping facility near the Sam dunes. We received a selection of popular local dishes for lunch. After that we were briefed about the basics of sand driving and the protocols to follow while out in the dune. Tyre pressures were lowered to 20psi from the standard 32psi (helps distribute weight over soft sand), which meant we had to restrict our speed on the road.
The first few kilometres on the dirt track seemed quite easy and our cars were still in two-wheel drive. I finally reached the part of my trip that I was both excited and unsure about. This was after all, my first time properly off-roading on sand. The perfectionist in me wanted to clear all the obstacles without any mistakes or hiccups, but the realist in me wanted to prepare for the possibility of getting stuck and not making a bad situation worse. As I lined up and saw the lead car – a 15-year-old Mahindra Legend - clear the crest, followed by the first new Thar from the convoy, my nerves started to settle.
With me being at the back of the pack had definite pros and cons. The biggest advantage, was that I could see everyone’s approach lines, the tracks they followed, and learn from any mistakes that others made. On the flip side, being the last car in the pack, meant the tracks I dealt with were less than pristine from everyone who went before me and got stuck. So, taking everything into account, I approached the first dune and put all the advice I had received to use. Much to my satisfaction, me and my Thar made it in the first attempt!
But the dunes and tracks got progressively harder, and before long I found myself stuck, just before a climb to the third dune. I was sure my car would have to be winched out. However, the off-roading expert from the Mahindra Adventure team calmly explained my error and the situation to me, after which he guided me out of the rut that I was stuck in. To my surprise, there was no need for a recovery vehicle to winch me out, all it took was some guidance (and the Thars wheel angle indicator helped a lot).
From here on, I decided not to stress much when I made mistakes and learn how to manoeuvre my way out of the situation. Once I started doing that, the experience became a whole lot more enjoyable. Driving on loose sand, is quite an exhilarating sensation as it is all about keeping momentum and finding the right lines. What’s also fun is that due to the low traction levels, your car does tend to slide around a fair bit and it is thoroughly satisfying, being able to control those slides.
We caught one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen from the top of one of the dunes. Once the sun dipped below the horizon, we headed to our dinner stop at the edge of the Sam dunes, where the team had organised refreshments and food. We got to spend the night under the clear skies in the cold desert, with a large bonfire keeping us warm. It was an ideal end to the day.
Day 4– Jaisalmer to Jodhpur
The fourth day in essence was our last day driving the Thar, and as we had the same route to cover as we did on day 2, there was no particular hurry to get going. After a lazy start we hit the roads by noon. For the final day the convoy was reversed and having spent the last three days at the tail-end of the pack, I was now positioned right behind the lead car in the convoy. This came as a nice change in pace and scenery. It also felt more relaxed up in the front.
The Mahindra adventure guys also decided to take us on some B and C roads to see how well the Thar performed on the different road conditions and also to keep the journey interesting. Due to our slightly less conventional route, by the time we reached our lunch stop in Osiyan, it was already quite late in the evening.
After a quick lunch stop, we restarted our journey taking the highways as it got darker. Keeping us engaged was all the interesting Mahindra trivia we were receiving from the team. The journey for the most part went smoothly, with only the hustle and bustle of Jodhpur city causing some additional work for the convoy to stick together.
We finally reached our hotel at around 9pm and had a dinner all together as a team recounting the many great experiences we had. The next morning, before leaving, we cleared out our cars and I have to say handing the keys of my Thar back to the organisers was the hardest thing I had to do on this trip. I think that in itself speaks volumes about the new Thar! I cannot wait to get behind the wheel of this car and set out for another adventure.
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