When I had first heard about Mahindra’s Adventure Training Academy it sounded a bit strange to me as a concept. How can someone teach you adventure? I mean, isn’t that supposed to be an inherent trait. Is it really possible to inject a bit of adventure into someone? For me, an adventure and an academy are names of two distant territories with hardly any visible overlap. But then a more careful look at the invitation revealed the phrase ‘Off-Road’ sandwiched between the two terms ‘Adventure’ and ‘Training Academy’, and it suddenly started to make some sense. We decided to figure out what this whole thing was all about and quickly packed our bags without wasting any time, for an exciting couple of days at the sprawling Mahindra Off-road Adventure Training Academy premises situated at Igatpuri, near Nasik, which is a three hour drive from Mumbai.
The Mahindra campus at Igatpuri is a far cry from the other campuses I’d been in all my years of educational and professional pursuits. It doesn’t boast of well architecture buildings, neatly manicured hedges or rows of bright colourful flower beds. On the contrary, off road trainers or professors (if I may call them so) appeared to be taking pride in well maintained mud pools, broken ridges and offbeat rocky trails in the midst of a scenic plateau surrounded by hills. The 30 acre piece of wild & desolate land has been left to the mercy of natural forces with minimal human intervention of any sorts. The unpaved mud trails pass through a variety of wild vegetation taking occasional dips into deep trenches and some small yet well curated slushy water ponds.
The basic off-road training course at Mahindra Academy is called – Getting Dirty. It’s meant for beginners with little or no prior off road experience. Opt for it if you want to play really safe. We participated in the course named ‘Trail Survivor Course’, where the emphasis was more on learning driving techniques in off road conditions and then applying them in person in natural environment, using a Mahindra vehicle.
The first day was more about understanding the basics on vehicle dynamics and key factors differentiating driving on regular roads vs. on ‘no roads’. The first obstacle lined up for the evening was not as intimidating honestly and involved careful manoeuvring over ditches, but as the sun started to go down, new challenges awaited us. Understanding the trail characteristics became even more critical while driving in dark later with limited visibility of the ground ahead. A couple of rounds up & down the slant of a hill gave us a taste on what lies ahead on day two.
This was meant for some serious off-roading challenges. The most interesting ones being passing through water & slush and climbing up onto the pond’s edge laced with loose gravel. Another interesting task involved going up a steep hill on a muddy track and return back the same way after a difficult U-turn at the top. A variety of obstacles with different levels of difficulty were followed during the course of the day, with some equally exciting names like – Zig-Zag Hill, Rock Crawl, Blind Zone, Pond Rush I & II, Slush Pit, etc.,
At the end of this training, you would realise the importance of a robust chassis and suspension system for driving conditions such as these.. You’ll learn a few tricks and techniques on how you can tackle different obstacles when going on an off-road trip. You would start paying attention to rather neglected areas of the vehicle eg. tyres, battery, vehicle fluids, etc., and eventually you and your vehicle would be able to work as a stronger team together.
Training is Gaining
Two days spent in the company of capable Mahindra vehicles and experienced instructors, made me realise that often our driving habits and the understanding of a vehicle (read: mechanical device) is shaped up by the experience of driving everyday cars. We usually don’t appreciate the importance of techniques like engine braking and neither are we truly aware of capabilities of potent features like the four wheel drive in different modes typically found in Sports Utility vehicles (SUVs).
You may not deliberately venture into the off road driving zone in normal circumstances. However, if accidently been pushed onto bad roads in the neighbourhood or heavily water logged mud trails in our upcountry surroundings, the understanding gained at the academy could certainly be of use. Also, if off-roading as a subject has enticed you long enough, but you never knew where and how to begin, perhaps this is the place.
Author: Aashish Bhardwaj.