An expedition unlike any that combined enthralling adventures and the thrill of exploring the unexplored at some of the most beautiful locations, the Tata SOUL Iconic Kutch Drive was a journey to be remembered, found Ameesha Raizada as she teamed up with explorers from across the country. By Ameesha Raizada
DAY 1: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS
Early morning at a Tata Motors dealership in Ahmedabad, I was excited and anxious at the same time for the Iconic Kutch Drive. Excited, because I got the chance to go on an adventure to beautiful Kutch, but anxious to journey with strangers belonging to SOUL (SUV Owners United League)—the exclusive community of driving enthusiasts created by Tata Motors.
Little did I know that in just six short days, they would become my family, and that we’d create a lifetime of memories together.
While I was lost in my thoughts, SOUL members started arriving in their magnificent Tata Harriers and the Tata Safari, one SUV at a time, making a grand entrance. Excitement levels were soon at their peak in the Tata Motors dealership, where a quick get-together in the form of a ‘SOULtroduction’ took place. My anxiety started wearing off bit-by-bit, as I got introduced to the Tata Motors SUV community during the get-together. After all, they were an excited bunch of adventurers, just like me. Then came the moment we all were waiting for— the flagging-off ceremony for the Iconic Kutch Drive—Desert Trail, Bhuj. Sitting shotgun in the lead Tata Harrier, I glanced at the rear-view mirror and smiled knowing that I was now mentally prepared for this drive with SOUL. Even though it was my first drive with them, I was able to gauge how deep the spirit of brotherhood ran in the SOUL community based on how well they all knew each other, and how welcoming they were to strangers like me. There were members who had made it a point to attend all SOUL Drives, (in true community spirit, they ended up taking me under their wing to ensure that I became a part of the SOUL family), and some first-timers like me.
We hit the NH 947 after the flag-off and headed towards Bhuj, which was once the land of the Raos, the Jadeja- Rajput rulers of Kutch. After travelling through Ahmedabad for a bit, we soon exited the city and took to the open highway. The smooth terrain gave the Tata Harrier a chance to demonstrate its prowess, surprising me by the effortlessness of the drive. Sensing my bewilderment, I was told by a fellow passenger that the Harrier uses a modified version of the rugged structures that are used in Land Rover SUVs. In the time it took me to understand the technicalities, the landscape had transformed itself into a semi arid plain with scrubs dotting the view periodically, all of which stood in stark contrast to the vibrant costumes of the locals we encountered on the road. Amidst chatting and appreciating the drive, I almost didn’t realise that we were fast approaching Bhuj.
At dusk, our convoy meandered through the streets of the town, reaching the majestic Swaminarayan Mandir. Lit up against the inky black sky, this temple made of white marble had us all soaking in its grandeur in complete and utter silence. After a day of constant movement, we finally got a chance to appreciate where the journey had brought us.
DAY 2: ONWARDS TO THE RANN
I woke up the next morning, all excited for the day’s adventures. As soon as I stepped out of my room, my eyes fell on the five waiting Tata Motors SUVs, gleaming under the sun. Like me, they too were ready for the big day ahead. Our first stop that day was Prag
Mahal—a 19th-century palace-turned museum that’s famous for its 45-foothigh clock tower. One of the rooms in the museum was full of distorting mirrors, where the group had a good laugh at themselves. Not long after that, we were on our way to the vibrant Rann Utsav Tent City. It was a smooth drive and I let the window down to feel the wind. I was greeted by a tingling in my nose, courtesy the salt in the air—a physical and emotional reminder of where we had reached. The pièce de résistance of Kutch, the iconic white desert, was waiting for us in all its splendid glory. Maybe it was because of a setting that seemed straight out of a movie, but when we reached the Rann, we began to acknowledge the unspoken bond between all of us.
We looked at each other—each aware of the rarity of the experience— and smiled like we were all privy to a secret. The magic of the evening continued into the night, where a garba troupe enchanted us with their magnetic moves. After just a bit of convincing, Sarita, who was one of the SOUL members, was able to get me and her daughter, Samata, to join the troupe; suffice to say that the performance ended with laughter all around, and a few bruises for me.
But we weren’t able to call it a day because the crew dropped a surprise— we were going to race the SUVs under the moon over the Rann to witness a sublime spectacle unlike any. The journey wasn’t at all what we imagined—it was everything and more. Left speechless, it dawned upon us that the expedition was as much memorable for the destination, as it was for the people.
DAY 3: FROM THE DESERT TO THE SEA
A knock on my door before the break of dawn the next day woke me up from my dreams full of adventures. Still groggy, I opened it to see a few members holding cups of coffee. “We saw the moon and the sunset, so it only makes sense that we see the sun rise before leaving,” said Samata, as she urged me to head to the SUVs. We went to the same place thrice within 12 hours, and each time it looked like a different destination. Stocked with pictures, we were ready for our next stop: Mandvi, a coastal town that once had the privilege of being a major port. “We have entered the Kalo Dungar Magnetic Hill, where it is said that if you stay in neutral gear, the car will move on its own,” Murugesan, a motor aficionado from Tamil Nadu, remarked on the way. Naturally, we did. The Tata Harrier actually did start to move forward, causing everyone to theorise why. On the way to Mandvi, we stopped at Hodka, a quaint village that seemed to radiate joy from afar. But it was the route that had us gripped.
Reaching Hodka required us to go through the Banni grasslands, where we all routinely insisted on pausing under the pretext of stretching our legs. But, in reality, we were in it for the views. No one could quite believe the vastness of the landscape; it required regular confirmation. Upon reaching, we immediately saw why the village was famous for its art.
Everywhere we looked, there was some form of cheerful creativity. In one corner, women were embroidering colourful quilts. In the other, men were crafting intricate objects out of leather. Through this flurry of colour, we saw a group of children running towards us. They had spotted our Tata Motors SUVs, and were ready to line up and pose with them—a welcome break from the homework they were preoccupied with. After a crash course on the items being made, we all purchased something—a reminder of the days spent together. Next, we set our sights on the sea nearby. With the sand under our feet, we appointed a SOUL member as a referee and raced on the beach. Our laughter seemed to be the only sound accompanying that of the sea.
DAY 4: IN AN ANCIENT LAND
Mandvi has its fair share of history, with the 400-year-old shipyard being the main attraction here. Driving past serene riverbanks, we reached the docks, only to become overwhelmed by the colossal size of the ships or dhows being made by hand. It was astounding to observe the tradition that was being passed on from one generation to the other. The day was steeped in history, as right after the dive into India’s medieval past, we drove 270 km to reach the ancient Harappan-era site of Dholavira. The road to reach the gated city was narrow and unforgiving, but we were well-equipped in our Tata Motors SUVs that were made to tackle treacherous terrains with ease. Strategically manoeuvring the fleet, our instructors guided us so well that we were able to enjoy the rough roads and still feel safe and secure.
Upon reaching the Harappan-era city, we walked through the mazes of stones— many of which were inscribed with indecipherable alphabets. It dawned upon us that the era is still shrouded in so much mystery and we wondered what stories the stones would tell if they could talk. Next, we ventured to the Dattatreya Mandir, which gave us a bird’s-eye view of the Little Rann. Cracked and barren, words cannot do justice to the landscape’s charm. But, once you see it, there’s a sense of wonder that’s left with you for life. It’s as if each broken and parched road somehow quenches your thirst for adventure, leading you to unbridled joy. At the Mandir, some members of the convoy mimicked the gait of camels around us, leaving the entire convoy in splits. Through it all, our Tata steeds waited for us, as if observing our antics.
DAY 5: THROUGH THE OPEN EXPANSES
It was time for the Tata SUVs (and the SOUL community) to unleash their wild side. The group was geared for a raw and unabashed adventure—one that couldn’t be enjoyed on a paved road. The 265-km route from Dholavira to Dasada is usually done via the highway, but since this wasn’t your ‘usual’ trip, an off-the-map desert trail was a must. This expanse through the Nanda Bet region is empty for huge stretches, making it a delight for offroading enthusiasts. The free-spirited nature of the SUVs was in sync with ours, which enabled us to be ready for some thrills. An emblem of adventure, the mettle of the SUVs was tested as they rushed over the rugged terrain and pivoted past rocks. We took turns driving and simply standing outside, observing the way the Tata SUVs drifted and braked effortlessly, all while surrounded by tiny dust storms. Thanks to the advanced Electronic Stability Program of the Tata Harrier, even the most perpendicular of turns felt grounded, allowing us all to test our own limits. Looking around, we were in the middle of nowhere, and we couldn’t have been more thankful. We went back onto the gravel, with the specks of dust still on our lashes, to make our way to Dasada. That night, we had our final SOUL family dinner. It was a time we usually spent happily decoding the day and uncovering a new facet to the person next to us. But, this night also had a tinge of sadness to it. The adventure was about to end and who knew when we’d all meet again. Shaking off the feelings, we decided to postpone the sentiments and continued to share stories instead. Vidya Sagar, one of the most experienced members of the group, told us about the trails he had covered, while I was engaged in an animated discussion with Ravi, a gentleman who shared my love for the hills. Before parting for our rooms, we all stood together outside under the open sky. Sagar said, “This was my third SOUL trip and, as usual, everything was so well-handled.” To this, Ravi added,
“Yes, every time a trip with SOUL is planned, I will surely join in, for I have immense trust in the team and love for this family.”
DAY 6: BACK TO THE HIGHWAY, BACK TO OUR LIVES
After a 127-km drive, we had come full circle to our starting point: Ahmedabad. I could sense that something had changed in me, for I was now a part of something bigger, something that had transformed my life completely. I was a part of the Tata SOUL family.
As we hugged goodbye and made promises to meet on the next trip, I realised that wanderers like us would always cross paths. It was then that the words of British essayist Pico Iyer rang in my head: “The best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.”
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