If someone told you "let's go off- roading in Chennai" you might have stared at them long and hard and burst out laughing. Right? Well, that is pretty much my reaction as well. But then when I met Arka and team, came to know they have been doing The Palar Challenge for 8 years and are all set to get started on the 9th year event, I was zapped. Who knew Chennai had such a mean streak to it..
And so, that sunday I was all set and excited to see what lay in store.. All I knew was we were going to be travelling to Vayalur and exploring the off roading tracks in the Palar River bed. I had 9 others coming along and all of us were equally excited and anxious. We met a few from the Terra Tigers Team who gave us a ride to the venue.
A good 90 kms from Tiruvanmiyur, on ECR is where I saw the board "Vayalur". A sharp right turn and down the road is where we came upon the Gated community. Wondering what the plan was, I sat back and told myself to just enjoy the day. The cars were all parked, and we switched to the 4 wheel drives there. Beyond the property is where the dried up Palar river bed was. And woah, it was huge and open and I could see nothing but sand for a few kms.
About the event:
The event is an annual team-based off-road competition held around the Independence day weekend . Each team consists of 3 vehicles and 6 competitors and there are a whole list of parameters based on which teams are chosen/finalised ...
The very first event was back in 2006 where the core team flagged off with around 21 members of the Jeep Thrills community. Today, the event has gained national prominence with entries pouring in from across the country.Over the last couple of years, the event has seen international off-road drivers of repute competing with the best Indian off-roaders. Now they put a cap on how many teams can participate and are quite firm on the rules laid down.
Palar river is a with its source in the Nandi Hills in Karnataka, the river traverses three different states over a distance of 350 km to meet the Bay of Bengal near Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu. The terrain is a mix of water, sand, slush, boulders, rocks and rubble that offers excellent opportunities to set up challenging competitive Off-Road Special Stages. And when it rains, or there is water, the challenge gets even more exciting... there is slush, there is chaos and much more...
The event also goes to Kancheepuram for another round of off-roading during the Challenge. It gets exciting as the team keeps changing the special stages, and throws the drivers off with their quirky routes and markings.
For us, it was one helluva experience. We were in different 4 wheel drives and got to experience the thrill of making it over each of the special stages. Some vehicles struggled, got stuck and shivered, while others made it with ease. I got to ride in a Fortuner that managed most stages but got stuck at one tough one, to a point where the rear bumper was nearly falling out. And we had to be towed out. We got to witness how vehicles are towed out, helped out of a sticky situation and how the team comes together when one is in trouble.
I did a round with Arka in his jeep which is a mix of nearly 17 other vehicles. He says he is very picky about his jeep and ensures that others too follow the rules. A seat belt is a must, cage is a must have and similarly there are quite a few other items that need to be checked off before hitting the sand.
But the bottom line of this event is that the vehicles all need to adhere to rules, have safety processes and equipment in place and ensure conditions are met before hitting the sand.
On that gorgeous Sunday, we not only got the opportunity to enjoy the rugged terrain, but interact with the Terra Tigers team- each one with a unique personality. Almost all have a full time job but have gotten into this out of sheer passion. There are professional sports photographers, travellers, people working in auto industry and so much more, but what connects em all is their passion, thirst for speed and eagerness to overcome challenges.
We spent the entire day out in the sun, with the team making sure we had enough liquids to stay hydrated and we enjoyed the day. When we would up around 6pm, we had a big grin on our faces much to the surprise of the TT team. We were all high, even though the day had been hot, we were running on an adrenalin high!!
Deflated tyres before the ride..
The Terra Tigers team [Photo Courtesy: Karan]
While we were out there, we also spotted a few ATVs zip zap zooming around. Predominantly driven by foreigners who seemed to be having a whale of a time, this is another activity that I would love to try...sometime!
Now, am looking forward to witnessing the actual Palar Challenge as it happens in the 2nd week of Aug...
If you are curious about this event and want to know more, check out the links below--
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Q09dt4dtYw [by Avanthi vissa]