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Mahindra Monsoon Challenge – Chasing the rain

Monsoon in India is a symphony — trees blossom, birds in their breeding plumage sing mating songs, life-giving rain cascade down the mountains as streams and waterfalls, filling many rivers and lakes. As the monsoon season begins, Mahindra is in a mood to tame it. After many Mahindra Monsoon Challenge rallies across India, stage is set for the biggest Monsoon Challenge that starts from Bangalore and heads to the party capital Goa.

We embark on the three-day TSD rally; watch this space for all the action along 1000 kilometres spread across highways, B-roads, scenic country side and the magnificent Western Ghats.

Following is a quick breakdown of Time-Speed-Distance rallies from Bijoy Kumar, veteran automobile journalist and Chief of Adventure Initiatives, Mahindra.

Day 1, 19th July 2012 - Flag-off

The rally is officially flagged off in the evening in a gala event at Orion Mall, Bangalore. Not much action today, the flag-off is followed by the rules briefing and safety instructions.

Day 2, 20th July 2012 - Bangalore to Mangalore

The monsoon has been teasing Bangalore for quite a while with showers at awkward intervals and making the weather a crazy mix. So, in anticipation of a romantic rendezvous with the majestic monsoon, we set out from the IT capital at 8.00 am. To add the excitement, I was handed over the keys of a flashy yellow Scorpio Getaway 4X2 along with the road book and speed chart. Thankfully for the media category there were only five time checks that were completed in less than two hours. My navigator was completely exhausted after the calculations for just five time checks, which made me say hats off to the navigators in the real competition, who keep flipping the road book and tapping the calculators throughout the entire rally.

Most of today’s route was along the country side of Karnataka, where we met the ones who need the monsoon the most – the farmers. As we passed by the lush green farmlands, the sky suddenly turned dark and the winds grew wild. Heavy rain pounded the tillage, freshness in air and the beauty of villages stole our heart at every turn. Complementing the overall ambiance was a Marigold field we passed by.  
The major crop of the stretch we traveled today was a long-leafed plant with rose flowers. We assumed it to be anything from cabbage to gladiola, but to our surprise a farmer told us it was tobacco. The lovely flowers never suggest the danger the plant posing to life.

We managed to reach Mangalore by 7.30 pm. Monsoon looks to have turned a deaf ear to the pleas of Managloreans, it’s pretty hot here! Tomorrow’s route will take us back to the Western Ghats, all the way to Shimoga on a more exciting and more challenging drive. Watch out this space as we’ll be discussing more on the vehicles, participants and of course, the splendor of Western Ghats on Leg 2.

Day 3, 21st July 2012 - Mangalore to Shimoga

Everyone looks a bit relieved to learn that today’s drive is less than 250 kilometres. Although the second leg appeared much shorter and easier than the first, most of the turns and time checks were pretty tricky. But today’s drive was what really lived up to the name of the event. As the road rose to the Agumbe ghats, we saw the monsoon in its full glory. The rain was coming down in sheets and I felt the Scorpio’s wipers fell short before the forces of nature. The hairpin bends appeared quite intimidating with near-zero visibility, but the Scorpio’s terrific engine and maneuverability kept me confident uphill all the way.

Called the Cherrapunjee of the South, Agumbe is one of the places in India that receive very heavy rainfall. It’s also called the capital of king Cobra and is a protected area for Medicinal Plants. Although I desperately wanted to bring you the radiance of Agumbe through lens, I could not even step out of the car, such was the intensity of the rain.
Heavy downpour was unrelenting all the way until Shimoga, our pit-stop for the day. Members of the Indian Motor Sports Club excitedly continued to do the time checks periodically, no matter how forceful the rain was. I’m sure they were enjoying their job to the hilt.

We stopped by Mandagadde Bird Sanctuary, a stone’s throw away from Shimoga, as we saw a flock of birds fly over us and settle in the bamboo forest on the other side of the Tunga river. My ornithologist colleague identified the them as Egrets, Cormorants and Purple Swamphen. Home to more than 5000 birds, this sanctuary is also good for trekking, tenting and staying overnight.

Day 4, 22nd July 2012 – Shimoga to Goa

Again, we are supposed to cover another 400 kilometres today, and every participant is all set to go by 6 am. Having collected the route book and speed charts, cars started leaving the hotel one by one, at a regular interval of two minutes. As my co-driver started tapping the calculator keys for the precise Distance ÷ Time and Distance ÷ Speed figures, I started the Scorpio with Jog Falls and destination Goa in mind.

I had no choice but be patient until the first five time checks before I start the free-run to the Jog Falls. It’s 100 kms drive from Shimoga to Jog Falls and we got the fifth time check at around 45 kms. It was all magical from here onwards. We are back to the main road to Sagara, well-maintained, twisty and smooth. Through the light monsoon mist the landscape is a painting, forests look greener washed by the showers and clouds shroud distant peaks. On both sides of the road are lawns laid out by the nature.

We heard the roar of the Jog Falls from a distance. We parked the car, took the camera and rushed to the viewpoint. To our greatest disappointment ever, the valley is filled with thick fog. We didn’t give up, waited and waited, eventually the mist did lift like a curtain, gradually revealing the splendid falls. The waters tumble from a height of 829 feet, turning completely into mist before crashing into the rocks. Bliss!

We left Jog Falls with chills that we would never forget. The drive was more peaceful from here as the TSD challenge ended and everyone was given free-run till Goa. We saw the till-then-crawling Thars, Scorpios and Logans zipping past us yelling: “we got free-run.” We were in no mood to end the rally and reach Goa in a hurry. At every other corner there’s a boy selling straight-from-the-farm pineapples, jackfruits and other locally grown fruits and vegetables.

One of the finest experiences of the rally was the break we took at one of the shacks by the road. The fresh tea and piping hot mirchi bhaji tasted the best in the world! We spent couple of minutes there taking in the stillness of time, the boundless breeze and lush greenery.

As we started the descent toward Goa, the sun peeped through the clouds frequently. It started getting hotter when we reached Karwar. Driving along the seaside roads, we reached the destination by 5 in the evening and the stage was set for the prize distribution.

Karthick Maruti (navigator S. Sankar Anand) with a penalty of 1 minute 52 seconds emerged overall champion in the Mahindra Monsoon Challenge Rally. In second place, eight seconds behind, was Sanjay Takale (Mohd Mushtafa) while Amittrajit Ghosh (Neerav Mehta) were third. The 31 finishers negotiated not just the monsoon, but also a tricky route that was a mix of highways and twisty secondary roads.

For the benefit of those interested, I'm including the route map which is almost double the regular route distance. But trust me, every extra kilometre you drive is worth it. Should you need more details on Mahindra Monsoon Challenges and Great Escapes, here's the link to their website

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