“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference” – Robert Frost

2012 Mahindra Great Escape Lonavala
2012 Mahindra Great Escape Lonavala – Click above for picture gallery

If you are the adventurous kind, you would know the above words are always on the mind of Mahindra Thar owners. The Mahindra Great Escape needs absolutely no introduction, so I won’t even go there. Last week was the 91st such Great Escape, which was conducted by Mahindra Adventures in Lonavala. It was flagged off at 19-degree North (near Amby valley) and there were more than 75 participants. The enthusiasm was completely electric and only Mahindra vehicles were allowed to participate. Participating cars included the Mahindra Thar (naturally), Scorpio, Bolero, Classic and even the XUV500. Amazingly no two Thar vehicles looked alike, with participants all having customized their Jeeps to their liking.

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The route was around 10 kms or so and took us more than 4 hours to traverse. We were in a Mahindra Thar, which ironically wasn’t powered by the 2.5-litre CRDe motor that does duty in the regular Thar. Instead our vehicle was powered by the Scorpio’s 2.2-litre mHawk engine which is more powerful than the regular Thar. The vehicle also featured the instrument cluster and steering wheel from the Scorpio. Inherently the biggest problem we faced with the mHawk powered Thar was clutch burn and we were told not to half clutch!

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The initial section of the rally was not very challenging and 2-wheel drive vehicles were allowed to drive there. However due to some vehicles getting stuck, there was a big delay and we were moving at a snails pace. A few participants took advantage of this and left the trail to enter a small garden area, where they drifted away to glory. The Thar’s high ground clearance of 200 mm also played its part in ensuring that it never scrapes even when there are no roads.

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The off-road route is very narrow and not more than one vehicle can move through at a time. This meant that if one vehicle failed, all were halted subsequently. This snail’s pace continued for sometime and then the rally swung in full pace. I was driving in 2-wheel drive mode till I had to switch to 4-high as I got slightly stuck on a slushy incline.

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Shifting the transfer-case using Borgwarner’s manual shift is a tedious task. This is because the lever is positioned very awkwardly and is very difficult to use (hard to move from 4H to 4L). The Mahindra Thar has huge rough edges and the interiors are far from modern. The key almost hits the dashboard when you turn on the ignition, while the clutch is extremely heavy. There was no air-conditioning in our vehicle and the manual roll down of windows wasn’t easy to operate (we had to frequently operate the windows as the rains used to come and go).

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We moved on and finally saw a large convoy of vehicles parked on the side. This was the point which I was waiting for. All 2-wheel drive vehicles had to take a less challenging route, while the 4-wheel drive machines had to navigate arduous terrain. Moving forward, we traversed rocky, slushy, slippery inclines and declines with loads of puddles thrown in for good measure. It was quite challenging to turn through stone filled terrain, where the steering wheel had a mind of its own. The Thar would start to slide with very little grip on offer. However we never got stuck but the biggest hurdle was yet to come.

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Just ahead we saw the complete 4-wheel convoy halted. There was a stream right ahead and people were clueless where to go next. A call to the Mahindra Adventure team was made who reached there quickly to decide further course of action. Their decision was firm – ‘WE DRIVE THROUGH THE STEAM, WE HAVE 4×4.’ A large decline took us to the stream, which was gushing with muddy water. We entered the steam and had to keep the revvs high to prevent water from entering the exhaust, but we could not prevent water from entering the drivers compartment.

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Sitting inside the stream, we had to be very careful not to hit a rock or burn the clutch. We got into 4-wheel low mode and had to climb a big rocky slope to get back on track. The Thar moved ahead without a blink and easily climbed the rocks to only be faced by hanging tree branches right ahead and no where to go. We quickly rolled up the windows and drove through them, making our own path. The feeling was truly amazing but I was sweating as if I just got down from a 30-minute session on the treadmill.

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However the rally was far from over. There was still rain soaked terrain slush yet to be overcome. But quite the opposite happened to many, who were overcome by the slush. Some vehicles got stuck in this terrain and no matter how much power they gave, there was absolutely no traction and all 4-wheels spun in glory. Mahindra’s support team came to the rescue, winching out the stuck vehicles. We too had to go through this terrain and had high chances of getting stuck. So what do we do?

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I quickly told my co-passenger to roll up his window. Slotted the Thar in second gear and gained some momentum. Took the vehicle on the edge of the terrain so that 2-wheels remain firmly on the grass while the other 2-wheels go through the slush. This way I was able to power out without getting stuck. The last section consisted of very steep inclines with nothing but stones, mud and puddles. This was easy to complete in 4×4 low mode and we shifted into third gear and sped up a bit through this section. Yes the ride was quite harsh over stones and everything inside was being thrown around left, right and center, including the occupants.

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The Mahindra Great Escape concluded and was a memorable experience. The energy is totally electric and even women were driving their Jeeps through the treacherous terrain. This goes to show the spirit of off-roaders. Its a Jeep thing, you can only understand once you experience it. I pat myself with pride for not getting bogged down even once because a few sections felt very difficult to conquer but more than myself I pat the Mahindra Thar, which never let me down, in-spite of a lose clutch. The Thar kept going strong, taking all in its stride with utmost confidence, showing everyone what it really is all about – mud slinging and taking the road less travelled!