Mud cake: Celebrating Learn Offroad’s second birthday

A convoy of Thars, Gurkhas and Isuzu pickups (and a lone Wrangler) go all out in their natural habitat.

Published On Jul 08, 2022 05:12:00 PM

Mud cake: Celebrating Learn Offroad's second birthday

As fashionable as SUVs are, most barely tread any surface other than tarmac, and that’s true even for the 4×4 breed. Off-roading may not be interesting to all 4×4 owners, but for the small group that it is, finding a suitable environment to fully exploit their vehicles is a struggle. Fortunately, there are places like the Learn Offroad Academy – located in Bherav, 120km away from Mumbai – where off-road enthusiasts can really put their cars through the elements.

For their second anniversary celebrations, we joined the school for a day of off-road competition with the most quintessential off-roader of current times – the Mahindra Thar. Dr Tejas Kothari’s Learn Offroad Academy is a specialised school that offers Level 1 to Level 3 off-road training courses. But this was not a day for training, as Kothari, Asia’s only International 4WD Trainers’ Association (I4WDTA)-certified off-road instructor, had curated a competition with a set of unique challenges for his students.

Kothari briefs the participants about the challenges.

Autocar India’s in-house off-road expert Rahul Kakar sat behind the wheel of the Thar while I played shotgun. The academy’s students, nearly 15 of them, had turned up in all sorts of 4x4s – there were Gurkhas, modified Isuzu D-Max pickups, an entire fleet of Thars, a Toyota Fortuner and even a Jeep Wrangler.

After being briefed about the competition, and given some dos and don’ts, we were quickly off to the 65 acres of hilly playground that’s home to Learn Offroad.

4x4s galore: Thars, Gurkhas, Isuzu pickups and a Wrangler.

The participants were put through three challenges – a wheel articulation challenge, but in reverse; a steep hill climb challenge where one had to knock off an awkwardly positioned energy drink can on the way; and a blindfolded obstacle course which the driver had to clear by relying on a trusted spotter outside. Points were awarded based on how smoothly and in how many attempts the challenges were cleared. It had rained the previous night, which meant the terrain was damp in a few places, making it more fun and challenging for the participants.

The 4x4s, digging mud and splashing water, were thriving in their natural habitat. Kothari sure had trained his students well, as each of them cleared their respective obstacles, the only difference being how cleanly it was done. 

Gurkha acing the hill climb with one wheel in the air.

Having cleared the challenges, with sufficient time still in hand before lunch, the convoy of 4x4s headed out for a casual trail drive across the estate. The weather too played its part – a light drizzle added to the adventure. We wrapped up the drive with some donuts on loose gravel, and went back to the base location for results. But more than the competition itself, what really stuck with the participants was being around like-minded enthusiasts, talking 4x4s and exploring the great outdoors.

If you own a 4×4 and haven’t been able to get it properly dirty yet, it’s time you enrol in a training school and truly explore the capabilities of your vehicle. As for me, I’d like to be behind the wheel the next time such an opportunity arises.

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