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Old 29th January 2009, 14:54   #1
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Default Offroading in Godís Own Country: The Munnar MGE & JT Event

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The murmur about the Munnar OTR started somewhere around October. The next Mahindra Great Escape (MGE) was on December 13th and Jeepers from Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and even New Delhi had started showing interest. At that time I wasnít seriously considering attending this event. Using website I found that it was at least 580Kms from my place. Doing 580kms one way on a SWB Jeep would be crazy, at least thatís what I thought.

However by November the murmur had grown into a rumble. The thought of meeting all those Jeepers in one place was really exciting, and therefore I started pitching the idea to my wife. And then all of a sudden MGE gets cancelled. Many people had applied leave and made their travel plans and were very disappointed.

Then it happens. A Kerala Jeeper named Satish George pitches the idea of an independent OTR in place of the cancelled MGE. As a carrot he posts the photographs from the recce of a mind-blowing terrain, and we are all hooked. However, with only 1 week to go, there was hardly any time to make our preparations. Besides, my Jeep ended up in Mahindra service station with gear box issues. In the end most of the out-of-station Jeepers backed off and the first Munnar OTR happened mostly with local participation. And the photographs that came out of this event really made most of us burn with envy.

Meanwhile the MGE gets rescheduled for Jan 24th. Most of us who had seen the non-MGE Munnar trail knew we wonít be satisfied with just a tame MGE. We wanted the whole deal, the MGE followed by a hardcore Jeep Thrills event. After lots of discussions in the Jeep Thrills forum, we were all set for the same.

After seeing all the photographs I had decided to attend this event even if I had drive nearly 600kms on the Jeep, while my wife was no sure about the long drive. So we did an exploratory drive of 320Kms of Jeep drive to Muthodi forest and back on Christmas. Considering this whole effort was on Karnataka roads, it was literally back breaking effort. We came back home shaken and stirred with our spirits broken. With that my wife opted out of riding the Jeep to Munnar. However, I had my suspicion that so much fatigue happened because of bad roads rather than the distance or time. Meanwhile, we had bigger problems. If we canít find baby-sitting for our younger kid for the 4 day duration, my wife canít come. After much desperate brain storming, I finally proposed taking the baby and my parents to Munnar. I would drive the Jeep and rest of the party consisting of wife, baby and parents would travel in an Innova Taxi. So I went ahead and booked the Innova taxi and a two bedroom + living room suite at Ayur County, Munnar. Meanwhile my wife was flip-flopping on her attendance. In fact, ten days before the event she dropped out along with the baby. But I didnít change any arrangements hoping she might change her mind. Finally on the penultimate day she opted back in.

By the way, I was not the only Jeeper participating from my area. There was another Jeeper called Sachin Karkera who had learnt offroading in my office backyard. He too was coming with his 1992 CJ340 which has been modified to look like a Classic. After attending the Coorg MGE, he was really hooked and wanted more. He collected 3 more of his friends to join up as passengers. I too had passengers for the events. Since Shahnawaz couldnít participate in MGE with his Gypsy, he and his wife were to join us on the CJ340. And rippergeo from Cochin was to join me for the Jeep Thrills event on the second day.

I did my entire route planning according to website. They had a very nifty interface similar and I was quite happy with the route I had mapped. I was to take Manipal-Udupi-Mangalore-Kasaragodu-Kannur-Thalessery-Mahe-Calicut-Thrissur-Chalakudy-Angamaly-Kothamangalam-Munnar-Chinnakanal. The total distance calculated by mapmyindia was 569Kms. Another Jeeper from Kasargodu namely Sandeep Bhat who was joining the event was planning to break the journey at Calicut. He claimed that the distance from Udupi-Munnar is closer to 700Kms than 600Kms. But since I got my data from a respected GPS mapping company, I decided to stick with my figures.

On Jan 22rd, I finally had everything ready with the Jeep. The cooling problem was fixed, gear box was fully sorted out, all brakes were overhauled, and the Jeep had alloys. By the time I packed and hit the bed it was 11PM. I was actually afraid of sleeping through the alarm because of the loud AC in my room. So I kept 3 different alarms and very near my head.

The alarm went off at 3AM and I was up in a jiffy. By 4:25AM I had loaded the Jeep with all the offroading paraphernalia and took off to the rendezvous point at Udupi to meet up with Sachinís Jeep. We both reached the rendezvous point within 5 seconds of each other. Since he had 3 passengers and I had none, we quickly moved one passenger to my Jeep and almost immediately started off. My wife was planning to start only at 7:30AM and collect my parents on the way. All my clothes and the dSLR were to come on the Innova. I only carried a small P&S camera, water and some biscuits in the Jeep other than the offroading tools.

We reached Mangalore in record time and even crossed Kasargodu before the first light of dawn. By the time my wife finally started at 8AM, we were already 160Kms away. Throughout the drive we were a strange sight to the onlookers. It is not every day one gets to see two purpose looking SWB Jeeps ripping the countryside highway. Many people asked where we are from and where we are going.

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This time we were truly blessed with good roads. The NH-17 within Karnataka is mostly patched up. The same NH-17 once it goes beyond Kasaragodu gets really smooth and wonderful. Kasaragodu despite being in Kerala is basically a Kannada speaking area, there all the boards are in English/Kannada/Malayalam. Once the NH-17 goes beyond Kannada speaking area, gets really better. So there it is, Kannada speaking is injurious to roads.

We ran a perfect a 2-Jeep convoy. Since I had charted out the route, I lead the convoy while Sachin followed diligently never breaking the formation. Every time I donít see him in the rear, I slow down or stop. Whenever I had to stop, he stopped right behind me and not ahead of me. This kind of discipline is very necessary when you take up such a long distance drives on not so reliable vehicles. It takes the anxiety element out of the picture and makes you confident of reaching the destination safely. Also, we fuelled up every 200Kms just to make sure we never had less than half tank of diesel.
We crossed Calicut by 1PM and were quite happy with progress so far, we were doing 40Kmph average between multiple food/fuel/health breaks. At every break I was calling my wife and giving proper directions about the turns and road conditions. The NH-17 all along is a very busy road all the way, I mean all the freaking way. There is no deserted stretch until Kothamangalam. While we were Calicut, I call Sandeep Bhat and he tells me that he started from Calicut at 6:30AM and he is 60kms away from Munnar, likely reach by 2:30PM. That means it takes at least around 8 hours from Calicut to Munnar. Now, this was little confusing. According to our figures, Calicut is beyond halfway point, why should the remaining part take 8 hours from somebody who started early in the morning. And how much time it would take us to do it in high traffic conditions. As we start closing in on Thrissur, I had really started suspecting the mapmyindia data I had. Instead I started relying more on the Eicher map.

By the time we crossed Thrissur, one thing was very clear. The mapmyindia route had underestimated the route by at least 100Kms. Since the traffic was really crazy all the way till Kothamanagalam, that means three extra hours to our original estimate. I didnít have the heart to convey this bad news to wife, instead I kept giving out turning directions. However, she too found out at Thrissur that she still had 150Kms to Munnar even after travelling 500kms. I agreed, but I didnít mention that we had to go 20Kms further to Ayur County after reaching Munnar town. Meanwhile, I was constantly getting route updates from Sandeep Bhat who was the only one in Ayur County with a BSNL mobile. The Airtel is useless in those parts. I should say he saved me from getting lost a few times. He too was similarly guided by somebody else that afternoon.

I have Satguide in my HTC Touch and have a GPS receiver handy. But I have never become comfortable with it yet, it is quite vague outside cities. Therefore I still used age old techniques to keep my bearings. I knew the rough position of us on the map, therefore using the position of the sun and knowing the time of day, I was able to ascertain we are driving in the right direction. Yeah, I am a dinosaur.

After suffering heavy traffic from morning 8AM to night 8PM, we finally encountered empty roads beyond Kothamangalam. We finally reached Sachinís resort about 8Kms prior to Munnar at around 9:25PM. I got to meet Patrickís family from Chennai and at first I decided to have my dinner there. However, it was getting delayed forever.

Finally I decided to go ahead without dinner hoping Ayur county may have a 24 hour cafť. Now I was alone, the mountain breeze was freezing me, and I still had 25Kms to go. In normal circumstances that wouldnít be a problem. But in Kerala, most towns simply shutdown after 9PM with not a soul in the road, so nobody to give directions. Once I crossed Munnar town, my Airtel mobile too went out of signal. There were hardly direction signs, since I knew Ayur County was near Club Mahindra, I was hoping to see sign boards to the latter. At first I saw a board saying 18Kms to Club Mahindra, which told me I was on the right track. Few Kms later I found a fork with lots of boards to various resorts. I found the Ayur County signboard point straight ahead and continued. A little later I found myself in the small town of Devikulam with no more directions. There was nobody in the street to ask for directions. Every road I tried ended at somebodyís yard or got too narrow to be a real road and sometime even a trail.

I realized something was wrong, so I returned all the way back to the fork. Again I stared at all the boards, Ayur county still points to the Devikulam, so I again drove half Kms into the town and then stopped. By now I was worried to death, I had no signal to contact neither Sandeep Bhat nor my family on the way. If I got lost, I didnít think the Innova driver would do any better. He had even less sense of direction than me. Instead of panic, it was time to make some quick decisions. One, I could go back to Munnar town entrance, get back Airtel signal, wait for the Innova, and then search for the resort together. Second, find the resort before they cross Munnar town and then give them directions to come to the resort. I chose the second option.
I drove myself back to the fork and again checked all the boards. Now I noticed that the Club Mahindra sign saying 12Kms pointed right while the Ayur County sign saying 10Kms pointed straight. It didnít make sense since they are supposed to be near to each other. Since the straight road had proven to go nowhere, I decided to follow the route to Club Mahindra. Right after the turn I found a packed restaurant with few people hanging outside. Both the people I talked to confirmed I was on the right path towards Club Mahindra, but both of them claimed it was 20KMs away, instead of 12Kms. This was getting crazier by the moment. Anyway, I continued further.
Driving in an unfamiliar road that winds through forest and tea estate in the dark not knowing where it goes can be a surreal experience. The road kept going and going and suddenly I see a fork with both Club Mahindra to the left and Ayur County to the right. What a relief!

Finally at 11:25PM I barged into the reception and demanded a landline to call my wife. At first the receptionist cribbed about STD call, and then I dumped my tale of misery on him. I had driven close to 700Kms in 19 hours in a door less SWB Jeep and had no Airtel signal to guide my family safely to the resort. Just charge whatever on my room account I said. Then he pushed the phone towards me without another question. I called my wife and she was too tired to take the call, she instead made the driver talk to me. They were still 35Kms from Munnar. I gave further direction as to how to proceed and then went to the suite.

The suite had two bedroom, two bathroom, a living room and a dining room. It was almost like a house. That means my parents and the kid would not feel cramped being here for the next two days. I quickly called Shahnawaz and informed I reached. Then there was the question of food, restaurant closes by 10PM here, so they had no food. I begged for any food saying I havenít eaten since 2PM. Finally they got me some rice and curry from the leftovers. While I waited for the family, I couldnít take bath and cleanup. All my fresh clothes were in the Innova. So I waited covered in the dust from the long ride.

Meanwhile I discovered that one of the bedrooms did have Airtel signal because of the height. I called the Innova driver and they had just entered Munnar town. Remember I said he had even less sense of direction, while I had managed to find the metal bridge towards Ayur County, he managed to go in circles since there was nobody on street to guide him towards Club Mahindra. After another half hour he finally managed to get to the right road and called me again. This time I told him step by step how to come to the resort without getting lost in Devikulam. Finally they reached Ayur County around 1:30AM. Wifey was in a wild mood after such a long journey. It was 2AM by the time we showered and hit the bed.

By 6AM I was up again to get ready for the Mahindra Great Escape. Wife preferred to catch up with the sleep. At around 7:15AM Shahnawaz and wife show up at our door, his wife decided to come only because of my wife, so eventually my wife to decides to come. We remove the soft top so that the rear passengers can have a grand view from the back. Within 5 minutes we are at Club Mahindra.

The open CJ340 before the stickering.

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The registration was quick. Since all the payment was made upfront, I just had to sign and pickup the kit the included T-shirts, caps, breakfast/lunch coupons, first-aid and stickers.

The view from the breakfast area.

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The breakfast was not a tasty affair unlike Coorg Club Mahindra. That explains the sad looks.

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The flag-off area.

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The Mahindra Service team awaiting the flag-off.

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Wouldnít this be a case of child labour, you canít be too careful in Kerala.

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And Munnar valley beckonsÖ but we had to wait for all the speeches to get over.

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There is not much to say about Mahindra Great Escape considering this was a very tame affair for Jeepers.

But then watch out for the eye candiesÖ

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While this tame affair was going on, some Jeepers couldnít take it anymore. Some of them discovered a short cut that goes through a water stream, and went off-course from the designated track. As a result one MM540 got stuck in the slush and required the first and probably the only rescue winching action of the day.

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This action was happening right next to a lake and a tree house.

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I wouldnít be too far from truth if I say this MGE was close to theme park ride or jungle safari ride than a 4x4 action adventure. Many of the Jeepers never engaged 4WD and did it in 2WD. I however switched to 4WD since I donít like unnecessary wheel spins and revving, besides I am still a rookie in the 4x4 circuit.

To Be Continued...
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Old 29th January 2009, 15:11   #2
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Amazing pics Samurai !!!!!!!!
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Old 29th January 2009, 15:44   #3
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Sharath - you literally put the camera on our eyes - thanks a lot and also thanks to your wife for accompanying you and letting you do this - else we would have missed so much!
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Old 29th January 2009, 16:02   #4
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Here comes the samurai:-)))))) Nice start and thanks for the eye candies, really well maintained jeeps including yours!! Munnar has come on high priority list as a MUST GO place!
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Old 29th January 2009, 17:55   #5
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WOW is my only reaction!!
Eagerly awaiting the next part.
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Old 29th January 2009, 18:00   #6
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Satish's jeep looks amazing with that custom snorkel...I have been wanting to do that, but my heart wont let me cut anything on my original stamped willy's bonnet or fire wall :(
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Old 29th January 2009, 19:05   #7
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Slightly OT,

Since Ayur County is mentioned, here is a snap taken in June 08. I was there for Honeymoon. Its a good resort.

Offroading in Godís Own Country: The Munnar MGE & JT Event-dsc00105.jpg

As usual, wonderful report Samurai, eagerly waiting for the rest...

Last edited by Sabareesh : 29th January 2009 at 19:10.
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Old 29th January 2009, 22:30   #8
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@samurai, Nice pics!

I remember following that RED BOLERO (TEAM TVS Sticker) for a few kms on 23rd on the Ernakulam - Vaikom route. One little girl was smiling and waving at us from the backseat seeing another Bolero of the same color following them.

Is he a TBHP-ian by any chance?
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Old 29th January 2009, 22:30   #9
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No 36 and the Orange one looks great.Hope you have more pix.
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Old 29th January 2009, 22:47   #10
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nice report.regarding food ,munnar is a big let down :( .even ,we miss the normal kerala rice meals there ,you know! all that mis-spelled "ariiyas" BS.
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Old 29th January 2009, 23:15   #11
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Lovely writeup, Samurai.. Waiting for more stories and pics.
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Old 30th January 2009, 00:15   #12
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Another view of the tree house.

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The trees almost gave out fall colors.

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Letís droll some more.

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Apparently this was the first Jeep ride for the Khan family.

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The only other Jeep from Udupi district, notice the Team Udupi sticker. Sachinís CJ340.

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A video of the plantation drive:

So we continued and finally reached a parking lot on the top of a hill.

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Valet parking was not available, we all had to do self parking.

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The view was very good from this hill, nearly 50kms visibility I think.

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Meanwhile Arka decides to drive his Jeep into a ditch, thatís his idea of fun.

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Actually he wanted to help Sreenivas to test the new lambda hydraulic winch. However, the owner of the land jumps in with some legal argument and the ditch diving gets cancelled.

Arka and Sreenivas are disappointed.

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Meanwhile my wife is getting really hungry and wants to return back to the club for lunch. Since nothing else was happening, we collect our passengers and drive back on tarmac. Did I mention most of the MGE trail was on tarmac including a long stretch on NH-49.

The entrance to the lunch room was virtually blocked by Club Mahindra employees wanting us to fill various survey forms. They wanted us to give our reviews on Xylo and win a free Xylo. What Xylo? Oh, we havenít really checked it out. Yes, we know it is placed outside, but let us have our lunch first, we are really tired after all the on-road driving. The lunch was again very ordinary affair. Desserts were better. Couple of odd things about the breakfast/lunch. They had no seating space at all and they gave really heavy plates. Clearly they didnít want us to eat much. However, they had open bar for the participants, go figure that one. I couldnít have any of that since I was planning to drive to Munnar town for fuel and food shopping for the next day. After lunch however, Vinay Thomas announced a drastic change of timings from 6AM to 9AM. Besides, the Jeep Thrills drive would take us through Munnar town. That means we can fuel up next day at Munnar and also pickup food packets there. That was a huge relief, we could now think of crashing to bed at the resort to make up for all lost sleep from last two days.

As we were about to leave the dining room, one of the survey man convinced my wife into filling the Xylo form. As she was filling it, Shahnawaz sounded a quiet warning. You know, if you submit it, you might win a Xylo. She quietly left the place without giving the form back.

Anyway, as we walked out, we decided to Xylo anyway. Iíll spare you guys the review, but it is not as bad as seen on the photos. I feel it is better looking than the Innova. The controls and interiors are tacky, but seats are very comfortable.

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As we walked out of Club Mahindra, we saw the Chennai Jeeps parked along the road.

The first ever Jeep I drove, Arkaís pride and joy. I learnt offroading 101 on this Jeep.

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Dr.Jonesís Willys Jeep.

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After getting to the resort I gave a call to Rippergeo saying he can come in the morning instead of that evening. But he was already at Adimali, just 30Kms away from Munnar. So I asked him to stay somewhere in Munnar town since our drive will go through that place. Fortunately he was able to find a place despite the long weekend crowd.

As I was trying to catch some winks, I get a call from Sachin. BAD NEWS. His mother was not feeling well, so his dad asked him to come back immediately. So, within less than 20 hours of reaching Munnar, he and his entire team drove back to Udupi. He drove 650Kms from Udupi just to attend a tame MGE, consider the irony of that. He missed the real event we came for, which was the Jeep Thrills OTR next day.

That day we slept early so that we can leave the resort by 8AM in the morning. After a good sleep in the night, I woke up to this view from our balcony.

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To Be ContinuedÖ
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Old 30th January 2009, 00:51   #13
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samurai awesome really beginning to become a fan of your threads.
and the pictures of some of those "eye candy" jeeps will come in handy as i plan to apply those cosmetic changes to my cj3b which is still under restoration:
just a question..of the 2 eye candy jeeps, the darker olive green one has a very large snorkel type of that actually a snorkel?and from where/what has he sourced it?
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Old 30th January 2009, 09:29   #14
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Samurai, Excellent pics as always. The Orange Jeep stole the show for me. Keep them coming

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Old 30th January 2009, 10:54   #15
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63 and 35 are real wow! Where these stock

And great sunrise pic, Samurai.
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