Rotting camel carcasses is not the sight one expects while planning a trip to the desert. It’s the majestic dunes and safaris that come to mind. It’s also about clicking that perfect picture when the sun goes down, creating a light that makes Instgrammers on wanderlust go crazy.
While both sides exist, the first one is more common in the Thar desert. And that’s when you realise how deadly the heat is. It’s like the last scene from Majid Majidi’s Pedar or The Father. Mehrollah was never really able to accept his stepfather until both of them got stranded in the middle of the desert. After their motorcycle broke down, the duo was still fighting and arguing till the stepfather portrayed by Mohamad Kasebi collapsed. Unable to bear the heat, Mehrollah panicked and ran to find an oasis so that both could survive.
The Maruti Suzuki Desert Storm is one of the toughest rallies in the country. Many times, riders or drivers face situations like that of Mehrollah and his stepfather. Vehicles give up in the heat. The highly pimped and sophisticated beasts are no match to the might of nature.
Chances of injury are high. There is also the risk of accidents. Stranded in the middle of the desert, the only difference between Mehrollah and the drivers is a guarantee of help.
Yet, there are so many from different backgrounds bravely tackling the odds on wheels. “My father is a farmer and we are a middle-class family. But I loved bikes since I was a kid and it was a dream to participate in something like this. I did a diploma and am working in Bengaluru. A few years back, I came across an article about CS Santhosh and it said that he was coming to the BigRock Motopark in Kolar, which is my native as well,” says HC Pradeep, a private rider, one who does not have sponsors.
That’s when Pradeep decided what he wanted to do. “I went there determined to meet him and told him I wanted to take this (biking) up more seriously. He helped me out. I don’t have a sponsor yet. I am hoping that someone will spot me here and help me out. I have got money from my father and people in my city have helped too. I don’t have a great salary but to complete the Desert Storm is my dream and here I am riding with an injury. My shoulder is dislocated and my hip is paining. I suffered the injury in BigRock a week before the rally. But I had already booked tickets and everything and couldn’t afford to cancel those. I worked hard to get here. I won’t let an injury take that away from me.”
In the four-wheeler section of the same competition there were people in a Range Rover worth `2.5 crore. A stock Jeep Wrangler worth `70 lakh was the next fancy automobile on display. They were driven by businessmen passionate about the sport. There were also ladies revving up their bikes and cars. Some were professionals and some were there just for the thrill. They were a wide variety of people from different cultures whose hearts start beating as they accelerate.
Most of it happens purely out of passion, given that incentives are not worth mentioning. “I take care of my family business. It’s not easy in motorsports as you never know how much you will end up spending,” says Aabhishek Mishra, who won the Xtreme category with co-driver V Venu Rameshkumar. “A lot of things matter, from preparing the car to running the rally. While the prize money is nowhere close to what we spend, love for the sport keeps us going. It is unfortunate that the sport is not yet properly recognised in India. There has been some development in the last four-five years, especially for the bikers. I hope that someday, the government will involve themselves more in the sport as I feel that it is the only way forward,” he says.
It’s not easy for the established ones either. Santosh, who rides for HeroMoto Sports, agrees. “Every race is different and there is a lot of pressure on us (fully sponsored riders). It’s not just about going fast. You need to be consistent and finish the rally. You need to concentrate and put in a lot of effort and you need a little bit of luck as well,” says the Bengaluru man, who has finished the Dakar Rally twice. Santosh and the ones of his like have full-fledged service and medical teams. There is a chief mechanic with his crew. Staying in good hotels over the course of six days, they make sure that riders get the vehicle in perfect condition.
The money invested is huge and pressure that Santosh is talking about is understandable.
Some are also here to get ready for something that is every rider’s dream — Dakar Rally, which is considered to be the toughest cross-country rally in the world. “This is a great opportunity and I want to make use of it ahead of Dakar,” said Santolino Lorenzo of TVS Racing, who was making his debut in Desert Storm.
The desert and motorsports are not for the weak. We will have to wait and see if it continues to grow in the country. But India is not short of people willing to take the risk and go full throttle. With so much passion, how come there are so few riders or drivers from India at the top level of the sport? That’s another story!