Mahindra Off Road Training Academy can satisfy your hunger for off-roading with expert trainers guiding you from the ground up
Igatpuri is shrouded by the tall-standing peaks of Sahyaadri (Western Ghats) and is a notorious hill station located in Nashik District, Maharashtra. From the ever-busy Mumbai airport, one would have to travel around 130 kilometers to get there in an approximately 3-hour journey. It is not just known for the Vipassana International Academy but a favourite destination for Indian films due to its adoring landscapes and all-green ambience.
The captivating hilly region is also home to one of India’s automotive giants, Mahindra & Mahindra. The brand has its engine plant there and a dedicated vast training facility. However, what would excite you the most is when the highly skilled trainers step on the gas cautiously and lead you through a wild expedition on mud and wet soil.
The around 30 acres of Mahindra Off Road Training Academy acknowledges you with enthusiasm and every six minutes a train passes by just underneath the enormous course of challenges to whet your appetite. It is a perfect setup for the renowned SUV manufacturer and would slowly make you realise why this facility is chosen after all.
The rains were seemingly never-ending but the undeterred Mahindra delegates would greet you with a smile and begin the debriefing amidst a sea of Mahindra Thars. I got there well ahead of my scheduled time by 1:30 pm thanks to my taxi driver and following a healthy lunch I had about three hours to observe what was unfolding with the set of people on the previous batch.
It is a systematic approach to off-roading with the enrolled members being taught of what to do and what not in different scenarios. “Learn to respect the machine” is what they say and after sitting inside the cockpit of Thar with safety equipment on and seatbelt strapped, you would cognise the tasks ahead of you.
The trainers would make you feel at home though and following their instructions is a holy grail to manouevre through the loose surfaces. When my slot arrived with a gang of people at around 5:00 pm, I was a bit nervous during personal introduction. The friendly bunch came from different background and some owned Thar for a good number of years unlike me.
Being a journalist, I knew the leading couple of Mahindra trainers with proper journalistic CV for several years would expect me to hold the pride and I thought I did okay on my first outings. The academy has four different courses – Basic, Trail Survivor, Global Explorer and Certified Off-Road Trainer – each with increasing levels of toughness and endurance.
For beginners or otherwise, the technicalities of the off-roading course will be explained in advance and how different parameters impact the traction levels. The weight distribution of the SUV, role of differential unit, articulation, power transfer, angle of approach, throttle control, putting the foot down at the right time, art of engine braking and when to loosen the clutch or dip right at it were crucial and form the narrow line between getting out of the slush safely and toppling over.
Our first challenge was to tackle a sudden dip and every course will be headed by a demonstrating run and proper explanation of how things are going to turn out. The two demo Scorpios had the front bumper ripped off and been through beating over time but they were as solid as you could imagine. The alarming depth you could not see on the run into the course was eased with diligent braking on the way in and careful control of the inputs on the first gear.
We headed to the next course late in the evening with little or no light but the trainers and associates made sure we got through the course without hassle. After the track walk, in which all the tricky puddles and undulations were briefed, the uphill was taken in first gear and thanks to the persistent rain there was no traction available. It brought the skills of participants into display as different lines were taken in the seemingly swaying Thars on the Zig Zag course.
The obstacles would test the different driving styles and adapting to the conditions were key in pulling out a perfect course. With heavens went wide open again, we were driven back to the hotel and after a tiring day, it was time to regroup and do it all over again in the morning. I observed three batches including us and all had appreciative passion for off-roading.
It was good to be interacting with the trainers and sharing knowledge as driving skills along with common sense and technical know-how were important to improve individual off-roading abilities. The roll-caged beasts with 31-inch tyres took us forwards the next day as another difficult challenge was put up against us.
It was the mixture of everything we learnt like throttle control, engine braking, steering preciseness and clutch movement. It was the longest as we reversed through a puddle and went straight on a difficult mix of sudden crests, shallow ruts, deep grooves and hidden dips. We were assisted about the cornering lines and the important vantage points to brim up the confidence.
Next was through a running pond where different hand signals played effective role in the ease of tackling off-road. The significance of co-driver and his intuitiveness to understand what lies underneath were taught clearly and after a demo we were given the go. The hardest part of driving into a deep hole was made easy but this time we relied on the instructors’ hand signals.
These are some of the Basic courses offered at the academy and unfortunately my time ran out when the steps involved in winching was explained. Any newbie off-roader can take up these courses and improve in huge leaps and if you are already into water-splashing and good enough to tackle the harsh roads, other alternative courses with Intermediate and Advance levels of difficulties can guide you to hone your skills better. At the end of the day, I came out of Igatpuri smiling and with satisfaction that I had improved my apprehension in off-roading (narrowly escaping Mumbai floods too) and I am sure you would feel the same way.
Mahindra Adventure Off Road Training Academy Gallery: