Words by Varad More
No matter how much I love going track riding and road racing, going off-roading is something that I really look forward to. So when Royal Enfield invited us to take part in the Scramble, a TSD-based rally around the foothills of the Himalayas in Shimla, I was quick to grab the opportunity.
The Scramble is the first time that Royal Enfield has ventured into the TSD rally format under the FMSCI umbrella. Helping them plan and execute the event was Himalayan Motorsport, led by Vijay Parmar of Raid de Himalaya fame.
It was a three-day event stretched over a total of 600km. All three days were a mix of fast changing terrain, going from soft sand to dirt trails along with a few tarmac stages. Following the time-speed-distance rally format, it was a non-extreme rally for beginners and novices, with a twist.
Conventionally, a pillion rider acts as a navigator. The Scramble though, had a team of two riders on separate motorcycles who were handed waypoints via an Android-only app, with a speed chart, as well as a road book for each day. It was interesting to see the riders struggle and cope with the waypoint navigation on their phones while referring to the road book from time to time.
The rally was loop-based, starting and ending each day at Koti resorts, north of Shimla. The 10 participants were split in to five teams of two riders. Each team, as well as every individual were given penalties based on their time in each stage of the rally. Their cumulative penalties were combined to give them a position at the end of each day.
Obstacle courses along the rally route were an added challenge. These included a slalom course and a really steep uphill climb complete with rocks, boulders and trees, making it a tough task for all competitors.
The real challenge in any TSD rally, was keeping the speeds in check and not arriving too early or too late at each time control, which meant one could not afford to get lost in the maze of trails that the landscape brought along with it or get too carried away with the ease of the Royal Enfield Himalayan on its home turf! It was easier said than done, and boy did I find that out the hard way!
Day 1: Our first day on the rally saw me and Joshua, my teammate and fellow motoring scribe, both TSD newbies, get to grips with navigation. The route went from our resort towards the banks of the Sutlej river carving through the mountain ranges and passing small towns like Basantpur and Thog. Some stages even went through the dense Shimla Reserve Forest sanctuary.
The first day itself opened our eyes to the beauty of the mountains with their lush green forests of cedar and spruce trees. Though we were tempted to stop and take photos, the ticking clock reminded us not to. And so we continued with the stages, often getting lost and returning to the previous junction – hassled, confused but persistent. Somehow through the first day of the Royal Enfield Scramble, we got to grips with the navigation technique, or so we thought!
Through the stages, I missed out on one time control and ended up attracting a solid penalty despite a good time through the day, covering almost 180km of treacherous off-road terrain. We closed the day at second place as overall finishers and were rather happy with ourselves.
Day 2: What followed was totally unexpected. Heading towards Narkanda via some lovely dirt trails, the second day was rich in its diversity of terrain. While Joshua maintained his pace through the day, I on the other hand, lost my way in the early stages and ended up losing a considerable amount of time.
The navigation app, Orux Maps was only android-compatible and I have an iOS device! I used the road book for navigation and had to stop at every junction, refer to the book and proceed. This got quite tedious. With a little jugaad, I managed to get my hands on a cheap Reliance LYF android device but it didn’t help with navigation and kept showing me attractive deals on Jabong! Aargh! Covering over 220km with only a road book for help can be quite a task especially when you have time and speed to keep in check.
Not wanting to miss any of the time controls, I ended up being extra cautious and in the process lost quite a bit of time. And I still missed one on the final tarmac stage, and arrived early to many (early arrival attracts the double penalty) while Joshua lost time after a spill and missed one time control. We slipped down to a spirit dampening fourth spot out of the five teams.
Day 3: Final day, our last chance. Heading to the south of Shimla, crossing Kufri and then riding through the Chail wildlife sanctuary, the third day was less about navigation and more about the terrain. There were tricky off-road downhill sections, steep uphill climbs, serious altitude in just a few hairpin bends, dense forests, low traction wet roads and to add to all that, a heavy downpour. It was mixed bag. The steep hill climb obstacle drained every participant and only a handful completed the climb.
The last section out of the day’s 160km involved some really nice tarmac sections riding up the hills and here’s where my road riding experience played its part. Back at the resort, we anxiously waited for the results as our team had not missed any of the time controls and were at the top of our game that day. But our inconsistency meant despite our efforts on the final day, we only managed to salvage fourth place in team standings while I stood sixth in the individual rider standings. Team Asta, with Balvir Kaur and Amung Sharma both riding Royal Enfield Thunderbird 350s, bagged the winner’s trophy and prize money of Rs 25,000. Well, that’s motorsport – it is unpredictable and you can never be too sure of winning!