In over half a century, the mercury had never gone higher. Delhi was reeling under a heat wave, with the temperature in excess of 45-degrees Celsius. It was the kind of heat that necessitated sitting in front of the air-con with a jugful of ice-cold lemonade, not scampering around the country in the fragile hope of seeing the elusive tiger. You can’t call Audi owners anything but enthusiastic since there were a number of customer Audis parked at the Oberoi Hotel in Delhi, with its occupants ready to take on the heat on the 250km drive to the Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand’s Nainital district. The date was June 6, 2014. This was the inaugural Audi Club India Getaways drive. Audi Club India is a community of like-minded Audi owners. It is an initiative by the company to connect with its customers at the grassroots and has received fantastic support since its inception. The announcement of this drive received such an overwhelming response that all the slots were filled up within 30 minutes of the news breaking. Finally Audi had to accommodate more cars than planned. One car had driven all the way from Hyderabad, while another family had joined in from Gwalior.
The sun was unrelenting in its severity even at nine in the morning as the convoy was flagged off from the Oberoi. Accompanying the customer Audis were seven other Audis serving as pilot, guide and service vehicles. A fully equipped Audi Mobile Service car was present as an insurance if any of the cars faced a mechanical problem. At the tail was an ambulance along with a medic, in case of any emergencies.
The NH24 took the convoy past Ghaziabad and Moradabad to Gujraula, where there was lunch waiting at Hotel Meriton. The morning’s drive was more or less uneventful with smooth but crowded roads, though some empty patches let the cars stretch their legs a bit. The temperature continued to stay in the 40s, but nobody complained since the air-conditioning system in the cars continued to cosset the occupants in comfort. But this was one day that you could have fried an egg on the car’s bonnet, but since there was no egg handy, this fact could not be verified.
Post lunch, just when the drivers were feeling the effects of a full stomach, the road disintegrated into a series of craters held together by ribbons of asphalt. The road demanded your full attention. One wrong move and the deep craters could seriously damage the cars’ suspensions and undersides. While the Audi Q cars had an easier time, the A-series cars had to be more circumspect as they negotiated the road. Yet, the cars maintained their stoic demeanour and tackled all that was thrown at them with unruffled grace.
It was late afternoon by the time the convoy reached its destination, the Ahana Resort. The cars had made the long, tough drive seem easy.
As the sun went down, everyone gathered at the resort lawns to share stories of the day as well as a meal. Most people voted for an early night since a morning safari meant leaving at daybreak. The most common question during dinner was, “Will we see a tiger tomorrow?” Jungle stories
They say that the best time to see a tiger is in the summer months since they tend to stay close to the water holes. If that was the case, there could not be a better time since this was a record heat wave. At five-thirty the next morning, a huge number of Gypsys left Ahana with team Audi for the safari. The open vehicles, each of which can accommodate six guests apart from the guide and driver, provide the perfect platform to soak in the breathtaking panorama of this 520-square-kilometre park. While the tiger is the apex predator at Corbett and the park’s main attraction, it is part of a larger ecological system that is equally beautiful and fascinating. The Sal forests of Corbett are home to an amazing variety of birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals. As the vehicles penetrated deeper into the jungle, the bird watchers were rewarded with sightings of the crested serpent eagle and blossom-headed parakeet amongst others. The profusion of deer in the jungle included the diminutive barking deer, known as the ‘tiger’s breakfast’, apart from the cheetal and sambar.
As the vehicles made their way through the forest, the wonders of Corbett slowly unveiled themselves for those willing to see past the images of tigers. But it was the tiger that everyone had come to see, and the tiger refused to make an appearance. The guides pointed to a thicket near a water hole and whispered that there was a tiger resting there, but it refused to show itself. Finally, after about a quarter of an hour, most of the vehicles moved on, except a couple of determined people ready to stay put until the tiger appeared. Their patience was finally rewarded when not one but four tigers emerged out
of the bushes for a drink.
BIG fun and a bigger purpose
After the morning safari, some people opted to drive up to Nainital for lunch, some chose to visit Corbett’s house at Kaladhungi and Corbett Falls, and the rest just relaxed at the resort’s pool. As the sun slipped below the horizon, everyone gathered at the lawns for a very special evening with Joe King, Head of Audi in India, playing host to the gathering. He made it a point to go up to each table and greet and talk to the customers. At the function, Audi also presented a cheque on behalf of its customers to the Corbett Foundation that is doing a lot of social work in this area. But it was not all serious business. Livening up the evening’s proceedings was stand-up comedian Sorabh Pant, who kept the audience in splits with his irreverent jokes and witty one-liners.
There was something special that had to be done before the Audi Club could start its return drive to Delhi. So Sunday morning saw the cars drive down to Ringora village, where the Corbett Foundation provides aid to the villagers eking out a living in this harsh land. A simple function was organised by the villagers, during which they welcomed the visitors. The ladies in the group were invited to give away 40 stoves, which used half the amount of wood than ordinary stoves, to the villagers. They also inaugurated the newly installed solar-powered lamps in the houses of the village. Post the function, it was time to make the long drive back. As the cars made their way to the capital, it was time to look back at the drive.
The first Audi Club India Getaways had not only been a fantastic experience for the Audi family, but also a rewarding experience for the villagers who received a helping hand from the contribution gathered through this drive. And some lucky ones had even got to see the elusive tiger. This was the first of the drives in this initiative, and Audi promises more to follow. And they promise to be bigger and better. So log in to www.myaudi.in and sign up to become a member today.