As I come close to the edge of the dune, “Rev that engine! Press! Press the accelerator!” yells my instructor, and just as the car looms over the huge dune, I let it ride. If I press the brakes I’ll be in deep trouble – literally, and my friends and I would probably spend the next two hours digging ourselves out of it.
Dune bashing in Rajasthan is a great December to February vacation option – the sense of freedom I get behind that 4×4 wheel is simply matchless! We usually arrive in Jodphur in the morning, do the regular touristy bit and then start bashing the dunes after an overnight stay at Osian – an oasis in the Thar desert about 65 km north of Jodhpur. The word “dunes” throw up this vision of unending crescents of sand mounds, but in the Thar there are an equal number of bushes and brambles that we have to plough our way through before we actually hit the big dunes. The SUVs gets a really good run down, and I often warn my friends: “if you’ve bought the 4×4 to show off and not actually use it, keep it parked in the garage and don’t bring it out here!”
Jodhpur by itself is an intriguing city and since I tend to identify every place I visit with the food I eat there, I dig in to the dal batti churma the moment I arrive! Right there, in the heart of Rajasthan, this dish tastes quite different from the local Rajasthani restaurant in your city. The churma part is my personal favourite and that sweet flavour of jaggery-ghee combo lingers long after you’ve licked it off your fingers!
Jodhpur is also the city of forts and palaces, so we plan on where we're headed well in advance, else by the end of the day, we will really be “forted out”! The Mehrangarh Fort is on the top of my list – built across five kilometres, it stands 400 feet above the city level and its palaces have some of the most intricate carvings and expansive courtyards, with mirrored walls and artwork that has stood the test of time. It’s breathtaking enough and to think that all of this was built between the 15th and 16th century, simply boggles the mind. A Flying Fox zipline across its stunning ramparts is truly the cherry on the cake! Don't miss it for anything in this world!
We head to our Osian home by evening. We’re staying at the Thar Camp, an old village home with a huge central open courtyard and bedrooms all around. The bon fire is lit, and mother nature does her bit by lighting up the sky with millions of sparkles you’d never get to see in the city! The aroma of hot rotis on the tawa pervades the courtyard and the laal maas for dinner completes the picture-perfect night as far as I am concerned!
We head out early the next morning, it can get quite warm during the day, even in December, and we want to get some dune bashing under our wheels before they day wears on. It’s Chinkara country, and this Indian Gazelle crosses your path – beautiful, delicate and fearless – when you least expect it. We stop often to peer at these gentle creatures, who gaze back at us with equal curiosity from behind the bushes.
Less than an hour of driving and we’ve hit the big dunes. Dune bashing is an art and just because you know how to drive, it doesn't mean you won’t dig yourself into a deep hole!
As you come up the crest you need to be…fearless, is the only word I could think of. For amateurs like me, the rule is simple – rev that accelerator like your life depends on it and no matter what happens, don’t press the brakes. When you reach the edge of the dune just let the car slide down - nice and easy. It’s exhilarating enough already. The wheelies and the unending circuits - leave that to the pros!
TOP 5 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FIRST-TIMERS:
I don't follow the tourists. I like to dive into experiences without a plan and simply follow my heart - and my stomach. My memories of every place I've been to is often enmeshed with the food I've eaten there. I love to travel and the sheer exasperation of not being able to find those special places led me to quit the television industry I'd worked in for 22 odd years and enter this unknown world.
MHE has several fixed departures for this trip - click here for more. We're the pioneers of this experience, having handled some of the biggest off-roading movements in India for over a decade. We not only organize the self-drive cars, we will also train you before you hit the big ones!
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