Photography: Rahul Kapoor
Never in my
life had I even imagined my asthamatic self to wheeze my way into off-roading.
But ever since I was asked to try out a Polaris RZR, I realised how amazing and
adrenaline pumping it can be despite my clumsiness when it comes to a
topsy-turvy terrain. Now, off-roading has become my favourite thing to do.
Covering off-road events I reckon is the best part about my job which I cherish
more than anything.
When the guys
at Cougar Motorsport decided to introduce Rainforest Challenge India (RFC) (sponsored by Force Motors) in 2014, I really wanted to cover the event,
but due to my inexperience covering anything last year on my own, I was asked to
sit it out. This year however, when they came back for Season 2, i was sent
into the battle field. With just the right luggage, I made my way to Goa.
1 - The Arrival
around late afternoon in Goa. At the airport, our driver Badshah was waiting to
take all of us, mediawale, to the Goa International Centre where we were going
to spend most of our week. It was the place where the officials and the
organisers were also putting up.
and headed to our respective rooms. The Driver’s Briefing took place around 5pm
after which we just relaxed till we were to head to Bay 15, a night club for
the pre event party and dinner. I would like to tell you what happened but
everything is just a blur, and the second hand information I have from that
night is unspeakable. All I can tell you is, Badshah took us to our hotel
safely and we did get some sleep or probably just passed out.
2 & 3 - Hungover Prologue
The first day
of the challenge was Day 1 of the Prologue stage. We were all set to leave to
the location by 10am. Cougar had found a spot right opposite the hotel, a large
ground which was converted into 6 special stages. Every driver had to go
through each stage once and then move on to the next one. It was my job to find
a live stage and run to it without getting on the track and get good pictures
for my story. Its sounds relatively easy, but with Wellingtons on my feet, I
was just begging to sit down somewhere.
matters worse is that with the camera in my hand, as the most exciting shot was
to come into the frame, the heavens opened up. I struggled to shelter myself
with the waterproof poncho provided by the Cougar team. As soon as I wore the
poncho, the rain stopped. This happened at least 7-8 times that day…and every
day thereafter. The competitors had to build bridges, jump over gradients,
splash some water, change 37 inch tyres, winch themselves, and climb into a
pit, set up a ladder for the vehicle and climb out the other side. Everyone was
drenched in rain water and sweat. The boiling sun wasn’t much help either apart
from sunburns on every part of our exposed skin.
After lunch I
stayed back for about another hour for some more pictures and decided to call
it a day. Then I realised the only way back at that point is to walk. So I
started climbing the steep, but well paved road to the hotel. Halfway through,
I saw a Force traveller coming my way. It was Badshah to my rescue. I arrived
back to the hotel and passed out in my room. Later at night, all of us guys
from the media decided to head out for dinner scouting for some Goan fish. We
found some, and we came back happily smiling.
day of the Prologue stage was similar to day one with new and more challenging
6 more special stages. These 12 stages eliminated the weak ones before they
were to head to the Predator, Terminator and the Twilight zones in the days to
4 - Alien VS Predator
Next morning we were dragged out of
the hotel by Juhi and Murchana, the PR team who were responsible for us, to
Quepem for the Predator round. Badshah took the wheel for the hour long journey
to the location where the alien like 4x4s were already revving up at the start.
As he did in the previous stages, David Metcalfe, the Course Master &
Designer had set up 6 more mind boggling special stages for the competitors.
and gradients that were as close to 90 degrees up or down hill as possible,
Metcalfe made the competitors go through rivers, small valleys, through the
ruins of a fort, and anything he could find to challenge and test their skills.
This meant we as photographers needed to get deep inside there as well while
gasping for breath, inhaling smoke from burnt clutches and the screaming from
navigators losing their tempers.
Up until this
point Gurmeet Virdi and Kabir Waraich, the two Indian’s led the tables with
their respective navigators putting up a fight to the Malaysian teams in the
Gurkhas. Once the Predator stage was a go, the Malaysian teams of Tan and
Mervyn showed that this is where experience plays a huge part in succeeding at
this stage of the competition. On SS7, Gurmeet/Kirpal went first as they were
leading the board. The duo met a full 90 degree incline which they needed to
use their ladders and winch themselves out.
But Kirpal couldn’t manage to find a strong enough anchor. So they
decided to call it quits. Tan and his navigating nephew showed them how it’s
done. With his awesome spikey shoes, little Tan (nephew) ran up the 20 foot
tall hill opposite the very same spot, tied the winch to the tree, while his
uncle throttled out of the obstacle with astonishing ease. Mervyn/Hamizan in
the second Gurkha, followed as both cars set blistering times before heading
out to the next SS.
profusely, running tirelessly, climbing endlessly, eventually it was lunch
time. A few of us from the media were so hungry, we arrived before the food was
set up and found some bananas. We hogged until they decided to feed us some
real food. With our appetites met and satisfied, we went back into the field
again for more shots at the other 5 stages. Day 4 was also the first day we had
a choice to camp with the officials and competitors. Unsure if I would survive,
I decided to head back to the hotel with a massive backache.
5 – You are Terminated!
All fresh to
be terminated, the next day we left for Sanguem, South Goa for the Terminator
round for 6 more Special Stages. After suffering a million degree burns from
the sun on the previous day, I resorted to whatever I could find in my luggage.
I found a balaclava and a pollution mask. All geared up and humiliated by my
peers from other publishing houses and making it to social media we arrived at
the camp site where the teams had camped the night before. Once the stages were
live, it wasn’t long for them to be red flagged. The competitors found it so
difficult, at one point, 4 out of 6 stages were awaiting recovery. With limited
number of cranes available, some teams waited for 3 hours for recovery. This
delayed the entire day and hampered its progress.
SS19 was the
stage where all drivers found it extremely hard. This stage destroyed many cars
from the first major obstacle. It was quickly nicknamed the axle breaker. The
scariest point on this stage was when Raj Singh Rathore almost ran over his
navigator Guhan Shetty in the Polaris S800. Guhan was knocked down to the
ground by the spare wheel on the side of the UTV. Luckily, he saw it coming and
moved out of the way inches from the driven tyres. No humans were harmed in the
execution of the SS. However the same could not be said about the cars.
became the favorite SS of all. A fast uphill and downhill sprint to the top and
back, a stage Team Polaris felt most comfortable on and set one of the quickest
times of the stage despite the fact they were wet with barely any illumination
I was also
ordered for a lead shot for the magazine so I headed to SS22, the pitch back
dark gap in the trees that lead to a river and a waterfall. I made my way right
into the trees not knowing what I would find. Then I remembered a quote from
Dumbledore from Harry Potter. “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times”
Literally, what I found there was next to gold. Some of the best pictures I was
able to get were from that stage itself.
down, the stages were stopped and the remaining cars were to complete the
stages the following morning. At this point I had noticed that my fellow peers
from the media who camped the night before were still alive. Spontaneously I
decided to camp. Unprepared, unaware and with barely any supplies, I thought
how hard can it be? With me being the noob, it was obvious I was to get the
broken bed of the 4. After some beers, water, food and a lot of pointless
meaningless conversations, we went to our tents and tried our best to sleep
amidst the smell of stinking feet and the grumble of snores. In my intoxicated
state I didn’t notice the side of my tent was completely exposed.
6 –Challenge Accepted!
The next day,
I woke up completely drenched in water from the rain from the night before and
the terrible stench of wet and dirty socks. But when I climbed my way out of
the tent I was welcomed with one of the most beautiful view I could have NEVER
We did out
daily routine and headed for breakfast, while the competitors who couldn’t
manage to complete all the stages the day before got their times in for the
The day was
meant to be a rest day for all of us. But Ashish Gupta and his Cougar team
decided to have some fun with us Media professionals. They had set up two
special stages just for us as a part of what they called the “Media Challenge”.
By around 1:30pm the stages were set and two Polaris RZR S800 UTVs were ready
at each SS. SS2 was my first stage of the group. Going first everyone had a
beautiful view of my incompetence and were making notes on what not to do. The
start was right at the edge of a cliff. From where I was sitting all I could
see were the top of 20 foot high trees. Srivathsan Vallabhan, a veteran marshal
was assigned as our navigator for the stage. We had to gingerly head down the
hill and into a tight left hander at the bottom. Follow that path to a cross
axle right hand and slalom though a series of trees turn around, slalom again
through them and back to the start point across the finish line. I handled the
first bit well, then hit a rock on my way to the slalom, hit a tree in the
slalom, hit the same rock on my way back and climbed up that hill to stop the
SS1 was a
relatively easy downhill followed by a slush pit which led into a dense trail
into the trees with lots and lots of water. With Guhan Shetty as my Navigator,
I went in blind not knowing what I would have to do. With Guhan’s life in my
hands, and only his instructions as my guide I floored it as the sound of the
whistle. With mud all over us from the very first splash, I soldiered on,
pinning the throttle completely, batting the torque steer into the gully
between the trees. We came to a point of…return, jammed the CVT into reverse,
turned the car around and made my way back as quickly as I could across the
finish line. My idiotic driving was rewarded with a terrible time on both
stages but I was happy that I was not last. I came 8th of the 12 of us who took
Marshals and organisers had their fun watching us make a fool of ourselves, we
forced Juhi and Murchana from the PR team to go as passengers. Once we
FORCEfully…(terrible pun intended) strapped them in, we called Raj Singh
Rathore, from team Polaris to give them a ride of their life. Needless to say,
as we had told them, they came back with brown muddy faces grinning with their
glistening white teeth overwhelmed from the experience they witnessed for the
By far, it
was the best day of my life. I will put my hand on my heart and say that I have
never had so much fun in a single day in my life. I can’t speak for everyone
there, but I’m sure they would say the same. When the excitement settled, we
headed back to our hotel to clean ourselves up.
6 - Twilight (No Vampires and Werewolves in this story)
Day 6 was
scheduled to be the Twilight Stage, the real RFC stage. The selected location
was a forest in Sattari, Goa that no one had entered in the last 15 years. The
start point was marked, a GPS location was provided to the drivers, no marshals
will be marshaling, and a time of 10 hours was allotted to them. Starting from
12pm, on the way, they had to ford 4 waterfalls, treacherous paths that they
had to carve out from the forest to make their way and drive as the crow flies.
I knew I was
not physically fit to handle the task for 10 hours to complete it on my own on
foot. But with some help of my dear peers from the media, we helped each other
through the dense jungle. It was pure camaraderie not just among us
photographers and reporters, but also the competitors. Climbing the mountain as
the un-treaded path through the forest, with all the knives, sticks and
protective gear we could find to prepare for snakes, spiders and anything else
mother nature decided to throw at us, I thought to myself if the Virgin
Screwdriver I was offered before I left would have helped me survive. Come to
think of it… No. So I wheezed my way to the first waterfall with the others.
Over there we saw the competitors working together building a path through the
waterfall, moving rocks, tying winches, placing ladders for each other and
helping other competitors with whatever they faced in the jungle.
After a few
pictures and numerous bottles of water, we decided to head back for lunch and
then back to the hotel. We relaxed for the rest of the day. At dinner, all of
us from different linguistic backgrounds sat down together and made fun of each
other one by one. In short, we just
laughed our way through the evening.
7 - Judgment Day
the competitors were on their way back from Sattari. In the evening, the final
results were announced in the prize distribution where all the trophies were
handed out. To our surprise, Juhi and Murchana also called every person
representing their respective Media houses to come up on stage individually and
receive a token of appreciation. It was a first time someone had done something
like that. All of us were pleasantly surprised and overwhelmed. Once the prize
distribution was over, we went out for the after party at Bay 15, again, where
we did some more questionable things. Half way through, suddenly I decided to
walk back to the hotel by climbing up the mountain. Midway I even decided to
jog to the hotel for no reason whatsoever and passed out in my room.
8 - I’ll Be Back
wasn’t hungover like I was from last time, I sat down with Luis, the founder of
the Rainforest Challenge over breakfast. We had a long extensive conversation
which I shall elaborate in a report later.
To sum up the
week, it was one that I will surely remember, and it was all possible because
of Ashish Gupta for hosting the life changing event, Cougar Motorsport and the
Marshals for doing an undoubtedly brilliant job, Luis and his RFC International
team for creating such an event and the good memories. A special shout out to
Murchana and Juhi, from Greenthumb PR for having us and running the event
flawlessly and tirelessly. Anything we needed, anything we wanted to know, they
were extremely helpful and deserve a massive round of applause. With that we
flew back home and I made a promise to myself, with a year at hand, I will be
fitter, I will work smarter and in the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger: “I’ll Be
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