THERE were many surprises on this trip; a motoring event is just that, surprises and adventure. To begin with, we were the only people headed towards Jaipur and the desert. Everybody else was on the other side of NH 8, heading in the opposite direction, towards the hills.
It was the first week of May and the temperature was around 40`B0C. The desert was hotter. What better time to enjoy the desert and what better way than a car rally!
It was the Maruti-Suzuki Rally Desert Storm. MUL does this from time to time, an all-Maruti affair and it brings out every model. There was a Maruti 800 rallying on the same rough roads as a Gypsy, a tough off-roader that has an established representation. There was a solitary Zen, there were Esteems and, of course, the Gypsy’s, both the 1000 cc and 1300 cc. Like ducks take to water, the Gypsy takes to sand. I had driven down in my own Gypsy and drove through most of the competitive stages. From the boulder-strewn dry streams to the broken tarmac to the riverbed stages, which were pure desert. Soft, fine quality Rajasthan sand. It’s possible to skim over its surface, with the tyres barely caressing the sand. Slow down and get into the ruts. The sand will clutch you in an embrace and not let you go.
The organisers, Northern
Motorsport, had foreseen this problem and positioned four tractors for
the riverbed stage. Many cars fell prey to the sand and had to be pulled
out. Bhalinder Sangha and co-driver Gurbir Pannu from Chandigarh had
mastered the art of staying on top of the sand and not in it. Their
Esteem simply skimmed off the sand. They were also the fastest.
The first competitive stage was in the Bhatti mines in Delhi. Once upon a time, this was a massive quarrying area.
We headed down NH 8. A sheer pleasure to drive on this road. It instils a great sense of confidence and pride in one. Yes! India will make it to the 21st century. An oft voiced complaint is, "We have the best cars in the world but no roads!". Take heart, good roads are going to be a reality.
At Shahpura, we left NH 8 after having refuelled at Kot Putli. The delights of NH 8 faded immediately and we were on the rally route. The start of the Ghatta CS, saw one of the toughest stages. The competitive stages from Ghatta through Agar, Pratapgarh and Aandhi were tough. Surprisingly, only three vehicles dropped out.
Inspite of all this, there was some spectacular driving. Sandeep Sharma was fastest in four of the five stages. He pushed this Esteem to the limits and alas, had to retire the next day with a broken gearbox. Bhalinder Sangha also claimed the fastest time in three stages.
The tall, lanky Sarika Sehrawat and petite Maninder Sharma formed the all-woman team. The duo drove the ordinary and drab-looking Gypsy King. Maninder is a seasoned rallyist with many events behind her. For Sarika, it was the third event. The duo bagged the women’s prize and also came second in the 1.3 Gypsy category.
In the sandy, riverbed section, Maninder drove with her Gypsy in four-wheel drive. She zipped through the sand effortlessly. She came upon an Esteem bogged down in the sand, put her front bumper against the car’s rear and pushed it out. A neat trick. She did it a second time. It worked again. However, no luck the third time, when her own Gypsy’s bumper got pushed into the tyre!
Sunny Sidhu, also from Chandigarh, with co-driver Kamal Sidhu put up a sterling performance, as expected. This, despite the fact that his Gypsy 1.3 was misbehaving. Sunny took the first prize in the prototype category plus was second in the overall event.
The riverbed section was fast and the spectators saw some tremendous driving. However, what was more amusing and fun to watch was the tractors pulling the Esteems out of trouble. There were bicycle tyres and nylon ropes being used as tow chains. The tyres and ropes kept breaking, adding to more delays and confusion.
Rallying in the desert in May was fantastic, but what was more pleasurable was driving on NH 8.
The road has been four-laned in the past two years. The stretch from Kot Putli to Amer is to be a part of the Golden Quadrilateral (GQ), the Prime Minister’s dream project of linking the four main cities of the country.
The first thing to catch your attention on the super highway are the helpline call boxes right next to the kilometre markers. In case of an emergency, the driver is never more than 2 km from a phone. This is part of the Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS). The ATMS includes closed circuit TV (CCTV) to monitor speedsters and other problems on the road. Electronic boards flash messages to motorists e.g. cautioning against fog. All information from the road is monitored by a sub-centre, which remains abreast of the road conditions every minute. Thanks to the CCTV, a police ambulance or tow trucks can be rushed to a problem spot instantly.
This experiment on the Amer-Kot Putli section has been so successful that the entire Jaipur-Delhi highway will come under the ATMS.
The credit for this highway miracle goes to the privately run Intertell Cecon and Siemens. Maybe, the government should consider handing over the functioning of the country to private parties too!