Offroading is among the fastest growing urban recreational activities among motor sport enthusiasts in India. This is evidenced by the increasing sales of 4WD SUVs and vehicles, the vehicle modification and customization shops being set up, the over 30 offroading clubs that have mushroomed across India as well as the regular weekend OTR events being organised.
Offroading in India is however not a new phenomenon. Most old timers have been driving offroad during their regular farming and hunting jaunts except that it never had a glamorous name associated with it. Mahindra & Mahindra has put in significant efforts over the years to develop offroading as a sport with the Mahindra Great Escapes organized throughout the country. Leading International automobile brands also continue to regularly organize offroading events such as the Land Rover Experience, the Pajero Heart in Mouth, the Mercedes Star Drive, the Toyota Fortuner Boot Camp etc. to showcase the capabilities of their 4WD vehicles that help to propagate interest in the activity.
Offroading can be broadly categorized into recreational and competitive. Recreational weekend OTRs also referred to as “Jeeping” involve members of a club meeting with their 4WDs on a early morning or late afternoon to drive for a couple of hours through natural off road terrain such as sand, mud and slush, rocks, water, side inclines, ascents and descents, etc. found usually on the outskirts of their city of residence followed by a contributory snack and drink. These are good for initiation of new comers and to learn driving, recovery as well as vehicle modification skills from the more experienced members. Driving one’s vehicle through off road terrain and over some seemingly tough obstacles requiring higher ground clearance and providing limited traction gives immense satisfaction and the confidence to go almost anywhere. The alternate identity of an “Offroader” supported by their Facebook posts is an added bonus and provides a break from the sanitized corporate image that most of us carry around. There are also a number of “virtual” offroading clubs on Facebook with lakhs of members discussing and sharing their offroading aspirations!
The more dedicated of the lot end up improving their driving skills and vehicle capabilities to compete with other offroaders. India is now host to a number of off-road competitions that are raising the bar significantly in terms of safety and driving skill. The Rainforest Challenge, the International Offroad Challenge of Malaysia that is counted among the five toughest off-road races and ten toughest motor races in the World, also has an India chapter. Rainforest Challenge India has been held at Goa regularly since 2014 and brings together some of India’s most evolved offroaders together on a week long extreme adventure. Apart from offroad driving skill, the event tests the endurance of both man and machine who have to survive in the incessant rain and compete, repair, cook and camp in the jungle over multiple days.
It’s perhaps only the beginning and offroading has a long way to go. As with any fast growing activity, the challenge will be to encourage newcomers to maintain the minimum safety requirements and to indulge in it responsibly and in an environmentally sensitive manner.