The Romance of Jeeping A woman Jeeper recounts her first-time experience in the rugged terrain of Karnataka.

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There is nothing like living life the wild way. When a good old friend, who had for years engaged me with stories of his 15 years of Jeeping experience, called up and invited me to join him and his group in their next adventure, there was no way I could say no.

The “fun begins where the road ends,” he said. Little did I realise that this Jeep off-roading experience of mine would turn out to be fun unlimited and once in a lifetime experience in the wild. The adventure was as simple and as complicated as: “eat, drink, sleep and jeep.” For someone like me, who has trekked in the ­Himalayas and the Western Ghats, and who drives to work daily, this was what I had always wanted to experience.

The jeepers who lined up with their ‘four wheel drive’ machines — Mahindra Thar or a customised Gypsy, or a Willys or even a Scorpio — were there to have a lifetime adventure and determined to return to civilisation with a sense of bravado and achievement. Their hearts were beating to the rhythm of the Jeep, their minds were tuned to the Jeep mode and the language they spoke had only one name: Jeep!

This event took place in ­Karnataka and was very well organised by a well known registered off-roading authority called BODA. Whatsapp lived up to its reputation and acted as a binding force for the gang of jeepers with whom I was grouped. Balaji, a senior and experienced off-roader, was the mentor of the gang and he lived up to his role in style, taking a lead in every issue and ensuring that the needs and requirements of the team members and their jeeps were met. The team was named partly after him and we loved it.

We were the coolest girls in the world and felt: Mud, not makeup, looks good on me!

We were eight, including two women, in four jeeps — all four ­Mahindra Thars, fully equipped with tow ropes, high lift jacks, winches and other required tools. The team members came from varied walks of life —  businessmen, government officials, advocates, executives, journalists. There was not even a single misunderstanding or unpleasant experience among the group members and the group was a perfect example of camaraderie and team work. The team went all out into jeeping during the off-roading trail under the leadership of Balaji and after two days, left the camp with a sense of extreme satisfaction and achievement.

The organisers of the event made all the necessary arrangements and painstakingly laid out the routes to be taken by the off-roaders. The campsite was in the middle of nowhere and the trails were extremely challenging. There were four routes which the jeepers could take and these were identified with ribbons or flags tied at crucial corners. The four teams of the jeepers were sent into the wild off-road trail, ably assisted by marshals and volunteers. The food and water for the day was packed and handed over … to be consumed whenever the tummies growled for food! But honestly, who cared for food as each and every moment of the trail was filled with thrills and excitement?

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Each day of the two-day adventure began with the jeeps lining up groupwise, before being flagged off into the wild. From that flag-off moment, it was team work, concentration and exhibition of a jeeper’s skills in hardcore mountain manoeuvring. While the veterans in our group took to offloading and encountered the driving challenge as fish to water, others struggled. On day one, we had to pull a fellow jeeper’s jeep from a ridge and the entire team spent one hour in this endeavour. After push, pull, tug, tow and lifting, the machine (jeep) was pulled out amidst cheers and was again set to conquer the rugged hills and quarries, which, its seasoned owner Uttkarsh did in style!

Then came the narrow gauges and the slush, which were child’s play for the team. Aided by marshals, the rest of the jeep off-roading was “thrill-a-minute experience” and the hills of Karnataka rocked like never before.

The second day of jeep off-roading was much more adventurous and even veteran jeepers found it very tough and challenging. But a real jeeper never gives up and all participants tested their skills at each and every turn, uphill and downhill. The slush never bothered anyone; a true Jeeper’s jeep, with mud all over it, is actually a trophy!

The jeeping experience is not only a test of your grit and nerves; it also enhances your technical knowledge in automobiles to levels unknown. Jeepers can retrieve any breakdown vehicle easily and can help in road and off-road emergencies.

Interestingly, the romance of the Jeep lures women too, and female Jeepers look at the jeep with the same twinkle in their eyes like other seasoned male off-roaders. We, the women Jeepers sparkled with the mean machines during this event and were the coolest girls in the world and felt: “Mud, not makeup, looks good on me!”

Like in most events, we had Rotarians too in our group. Chandrakumar from RC Madras Industrial City said, “The off-road was rough and tough and the hills showed no mercy to the jeeps. The adventure was so thrilling, that we couldn’t predict the next turn and terrain.” He added, “It would be nice if Rotary clubs also organise such events, as they nurture the body, mind and the soul.”

For a wide-eyed adventurer like me, the challenge of the dirt was both fun and adventurous. The fun was in each and every moment of the camp, be it in jeeping up and down the hills or in laughing out loud, post a tired day of off-roading or while just hanging out.

All in all, it was full time engagement with mud, slush and adventure in the wild. The two-day romance with off-roading in four-wheel machines was the beginning of a long-standing association with the jeepers, their culture and craziness! As the sun set and the rugged hills in Karnataka bid goodbye to the jeepers, the four-wheel lovers left the camp in their jeeps with a sense of fulfilment and wishing each other: May the Fours be with you.

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RI Director Bharat Pandya is Treasurer for Rotary International for 2020-21, when Holgar Knaack will be RI President, JohritaSolari will be the Vice President and Stephanie Urchick, the Executive Committee Chair.