“Adventure lies within those who set out into the unknown.” This is a line that always inspires me when I set out on a quest of the unknown. This time it was a different story, though. Mahindra and Mahindra had organised an adventure challenge in order to highlight the company’s latest offering, the Thar. The challenge before Car India was to choose something unique, some place unfrequented by tourists or one that would hardly occur to anyone’s mind. It was quite difficult, as many of you have already read about, heard about or visited many parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Yes, we visited two of the hottest states in the country to discover something that was always there, but never came in the public eye.
I realised that there were a few intriguing places that I had never visited so far, which I knew I would always be interested in discovering. Thus while drawing up a plan for the adventure of discovery the first place that came into my mind was Alang. It’s a graveyard for ships, a place where humongous monsters are laid to rest. But these monsters do not go down without a fight. They make sure that the mortals who slay them are bereft of even the basic amenities of life.
The tiny town of Alang is located some 50 km south-east of Bhavnagar in Gujarat. This place is known all over the world as a ship wrecking yard. But once you reach there, you can clearly see how humanity is humiliated inside the closed gates of many of the small wrecking companies dotting the coast of Alang. In the distant background you will find the monsters floating on the waters of the Gulf of Khambhat with many others being spifflicated right on
the beach running parallel to the main road.
On the other side of the road we saw hundreds of makeshift huts made from the wreckage of ships. These little huts have served as shelters for the hundreds of poor Indians, who came to Alang in search of a livelihood and lived there for generations. It is a place where average life expectancy is said to be about 40-45 years only. The minimum wages per day and no medical benefits make Alang one of the scariest places to work at. Besides, the working conditions are hazardous because of the chemicals and other toxic stuff that the ships-to-be-wrecked are loaded with. Life here is very tough indeed and, therefore, we were moved when we saw the workers and rag-pickers mask their sadness behind a big smile whenever Varun pointed a camera at them. Now you know why Alang is out of public gaze. However, it was time for us to return to bearable reality and to continue our search for more adventurous places.
The salt-shaker on the dinner table reminded me of another place that was vast and covered with indescribable amounts of NaCl. It is located about 275 km north-west of Alang and is quite adventurous in its own right. The Little Rann of Kutch is a destination that deserves to be visited at least once in one's life. It is a place that needs to be respected in order to enjoy the beauty of this vast salt land. A rugged 4X4 like the Thar was an ideal companion to tackle the cracked, salty and dirt surface. It’s a place where you can just go wild with your vehicle and drive as fast as you want to. However; always watch out for wildlife and salt farms and moist places that can just gobble up your vehicle if you get stuck in them. Therefore, safety should always be your priority on such surfaces.
We stayed at a place called Rann Riders, which is located at village Dasada, some 100 km north-west of Ahmedabad. The landlord, Mujahid Malik, is a nice person and a wonderful host. While I was engaged in a conversation with him over dinner, he spoke about his plan to upgrade his fleet of Mahindra MM 540s that he had got for the Rann Safari offered by his resort. He was very keen on introducing the new Thar into the fleet and, after a test-drive in our Thar, he was quite impressed by it. He said he was loyal to the Mahindra brand and would definitely include the Thar in his fleet in the near future.
The Rann Rider resort is a place which offers you an opportunity to behold the beauty of the Rann in greater depth than you would on your own, because, to understand the Rann, you need experts to guide you in and out of this salt marsh.
Just two days of travelling and I was already feeling homesick. However; I knew it was impossible to return home. We had entered Rajasthan and were headed for a place called Munabao, a relatively lesser known destination in this biggest state of India. It is located in Barmer district and has nothing except a few huts, a few concrete structures and a railway station. And, yes, a Border Security Force (BSF) post too. Incidentally, I was just two kilometres away from the place that has a road link to my ancestral village in the northern part of present-day Sindh in Pakistan. We were at the international Munabao Railway Station. Even though we had cameras with us, we were not allowed to carry them or even get them out of the Thar. A BSF officer escorted us to the railway station and showed us various concrete structures that belong to various agencies. The feeling of patriotism is at its highest once you reach a high-tension area such as the Indo-Pak border, where you realise that you are an Indian before everything else. But the most exciting part of this adventure was yet to come.
After being disappointed at Munabao (because we weren’t allowed to click any pictures), we turned the Thar around and headed for Jaisalmer. The road from Munabao to Jaisalmer is through the Thar Desert and is one of the most inhospitable and scary roads that I have ever driven on. The landscape comprises sand, thorny shrubs and tiny villages located wide apart, each containing only a few houses. The BSF officer at Munabao station had warned us about the possibility of being accosted by security forces on the road ahead, where they catch you and detain you until they are convinced about your bona-fides. The mere thought of being caught was enough to shake us. However; once we crossed the area we were warned about, we had the best time of our life. I switched the Thar from 2X2 to 4X4 and it started gliding over sand dunes with ease. It was also the time when we spotted a large number of the black buck deer and other small animals along the desert road. At one time we found a young black buck standing right outside the passenger seat occupied by Varun, completely unafraid of the huge Thar!
I wanted to see more of Rajasthan, a state with a lot of uniqure aspects, some already well-known. One thing that impressed us the most was how lively this state is. The world knows about the palaces and the rich lifestyle of the former royalty. However, today many people in the state lead a hand-tom-mouth existence, in tiny villages and towns, but still exhibit the true character of Rajasthan. These Rajasthanis know how to smile in the face of adversity. Even a fleeting glimpse of these rugged people and their lifestyle and the modern city-dweller cannot but realise what a miserable life he leads in his hemmed-in urban surroundings!