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Extreme off-roaders - Magnificent Seven

Yearning for the outdoors, it was about time we set off the beaten path, and what better way than to go off-roading with a bunch of like-minded folk, all out to have some dirty fun? So we headed out, camera in hand, enthusiasm in our hearts and trekking shoes on our feet to tackle the great wild outdoors. So what if we drove a mere 50-odd klicks away from Mumbai, and so what if the only wildlife we encountered were ruminating bovines and a couple of scrawny dogs? The guys from Extreme Off-Roaders more than made up with the way they drove their vehicles, just like the makers intended.

 

Without much ado, I now present the magnificent men and their filthy machines.

 

Name: Alok Mishra

Drives: Maruti Gypsy

Occupation when not off-roading: A professional working with Reliance

Another example of how not to judge a book by its cover, Alok comes across as being rather reticent. Then, I realise the man placed third in the Adventure category of the Raid de Himalaya. Alok drives his Gypsy like it’s an extension of his body. He gave us a demonstration of his driving prowess and it left us and the local wildlife scrambling for cover, as he went sideways through the dirt with great poise and amazing control.

His Gypsy is rally prepped and retains the whole gamut of modifications to make it Raid spec. Most noticeable are the roll cage, the snow-chain covered spare tyres bolted down to the rear and the snorting exhaust note.

He didn’t need much prodding to urge him to get his Gypsy airborne. He’s always keen on taking up a challenge.

 

Name: Gogi Singh

Drives: 1980 Mahindra CJ3B

Occupation when not off-roading: Hotelier

Gogi drives his CJ3B like it was merely a day old – there’s absolutely no place that he won’t plonk his Mahindra into. Okay, except for maybe the cowdung pond.

A great chap with a greater penchant for cars and jeeps, Gogi is a good friend of BSM. We’ve featured his VW Golf GTI in the past and it was about time we witnessed him bashing about in the dirt.

His CJ3B is bone stock, down to its powerplant – a petrol Hurricane 4-pot motor that purrs like a kitten, till Gogi gets behind the wheel, engages 4-wheel drive and then bounces about on terrain many brand new so-called SUVs would wince to be on.

See that slat in the windshield? It’s for the anti-tank recoilless gun that the army had shod it with. Gogi is still a little disappointed over the fact that they didn’t let him retain it. Also, watch out for that antenna if you’re following Gogi’s jeep - it makes for an interesting device that beats a ‘Keep Safe Distance’ sticker.  

 

Name: Ibrahim Furniturewala

Drives: Tata Safari 4x4

Occupation when not off-roading: Student

Ibrahim is a quiet fellow, genially smiling when the others joke and roar with laughter. There Ibrahim will be, silently nibbling on his idli-sambhar, while the world rotates about its axis.

I have never seen a Safari whipped about like that, but that’s where the other side of Ibrahim comes forth – in the driver’s seat. The 2-tonne Safari was slammed this way and that, digging holes in the dirt like an excavator, but making it through all the same.

Then, Ibrahim decided to take his Tata through the slush pond. It went in and got bogged down, but Ibrahim kept slithering his Safari about with its wheels spinning and the motor revving as hard as it possibly could. Just when everybody thought that it was time to get the tow ropes out, perseverance paid off and the Safari made it out on its own steam. Bravery and determination or just plain madness, whatever it is, Ibrahim has plenty of it in his system.

 

Name: Manan Patel

Drives: Mahindra jeep mated to a Willys body

Occupation when not off-roading: Engineering student

Manan is the type of guy whose mere presence makes a party worth its while. He’s the comic, bringing relief in tense situations.

But Manan is also an avid off-roader, and with his jeep of mixed heritage, he’s one to watch out for, especially if you’re a bovine quietly chewing cud and generally going about your own business. He’ll trot off forward, but he’s way quicker in reverse.

Manan’s jeep is the sum of an assortment of parts. The chassis comes from a Mahindra Classic, the body is from a Willys while the engine is off a Bolero. The whole contraption rolls on huge tyres and I winced when I imagined the kind of muscle power one would need to steer the thing – till Manan pointed out the power steering pump that once did duty on a Toyota Qualis, of all things.

 

Name: Abhishek Kasliwal

Drives: Toyota Fortuner

Occupation when not off-roading: Businessman

If you ever spot a filthy Fortuner driven by a grinning bloke, you know you’ve just seen Abhishek. In the company of the jeeps and Gypsies, the Fortuner seemed a tad out of place. I mean, everybody else had their canvas tops and spartan interiors, while the Fortuner pampered him with air-conditioning, power steering and even a music system.

Then, when you see the Fortuner jumping crests and forging through slush, you know it deserves to be here. Abhishek drives this gargantuan mountain goat with great aplomb, oblivious to the boulders that threaten to rip out the oil sump or bash the footboards.

The Fortuner is exactly as it was the day it left Toyota’s production line. But Abhishek, with his Fortuner, will go through hell and back. And then, when the worst is over, he’ll grin widely and talk to you like it was nothing at all.

 

Name: Paras Shah

Drives: Maruti Gypsy

Occupation when not off-roading: Businessman

Don’t let Paras’ boyish face or cool demeanour fool you. He drives over dunes like the devils are hot at his heels. Apart from alloy rims with rubber to match, Paras’s 1-litre Gypsy is otherwise all stock. But that doesn’t stop Paras, as he attacks terrain like he was born to do it.

Not one to flinch before attempting to scale a 45-degree gradient covered with rock and shale, Paras and his Gypsy line up, and then just go flat out over everything.

 

Name: Imran Soudagar

Drives: Gypsy King with a free-flow exhaust, huge tyres, a winch and a redesigned front bumper

Occupation when not off-roading: Businessman

Meet Imran initially and he comes off as an introvert. Then, as he begins to thaw, you begin to laugh harder and harder, until you sit beside him when he’s piloting his Gypsy. I said ‘piloting’ because Imran has this fascination for seeing the front wheels of his Gypsy in the air, and on most occasions, he succeeds. Always among the first ones through an obstacle, Imran is eager to spot for others attempting to follow. Just make sure you understand

that when he yells ‘right', he means ‘to  your left'. And vice versa.

The Gypsy King skimmed over everything that was thrown at it and then, for good measure, Imran would take a U-turn and tackle it once more.

 

Birds of a feather

Brought into existence by Dr Tejas Kothari, a sports dentist (among other things), Devang Panchamatiya, a financial analyst and Allan Almeida,  an engineer and automobile customiser, Extreme Off-roaders is a group that was formed by three friends to bring off-road enthusiasts into a common forum. After attending several off-roading events over the years, these three realised the need for organising the sport and for the inculcation of driving technique and respect for the environment. And so Extreme Off-roaders was born to address these needs. Safety comes first for these guys and fun automatically follows. If your love for the dirt knows no bounds, log onto www.extremeoffroaders.in or check out www.facebook.com/extremeoffroaders for more details.