Words & Photographs: Ambica Gulati
The breeze ruffled my hair, as we whipped past yellow mustard fields in the Chambal region, Uttar Pradesh. As the driver regaled us with tales of dacoits Paan Singh Tomar, Phoolan Devi, Nirbhaya Gujjar, we looked out to the clear skies, the green fields, the peacocks dancing away. It’s difficult to imagine that this was the home ground of famous dacoits and a land infested with fear. The stretch within the interiors of Chambal, through Etawah, has a stark terrain. Mud hills, narrow ravines, thorny bushes, wild berries mark the area. The thorns and mud makes you wonder why the outlaws chose this tough life. The agricultural belt still has people living in mud houses and nature is pristine. As the row of cars crossed, the children stood on the sides smiling and cheering the caravan, or I would say the Agra Car Rally fleet.
This was a two-day affair with Uttar Pradesh Tourism and Agra Motorsports Club taking adventure to the next level in the state, of showcasing UP Beyond Taj. The Car Rally went through the unexplored swamps, the narrow village paths, the green fields, over a pontoon bridge and into the interiors, coming out at Courtyard by Marriott, Agra.
Flagged at the Lion Safari in Etawah, the Agra Taj Car Rally 2015 was a chance for adventure enthusiasts to experience the state’s rustic terrain around Etawah, Chambal, Bateshwar, Jarar and Agra. There were 80 participants, 12 categories, and the organizers had invited famous Rally Champion Gaurav Gill and Arjuna Award Winner Athlete Deepa Malik.
Actually Malik, who was navigating for the first time, while her coach Prateek was driving, was quite on the edge. “I am not good at maths and if I had gone wrong, at least 20 cars would off the track as I began the rally,” she smiled later. Both Malik and her coach Prateek have physical challenges as Malik is on a wheel chair and Prateek’s right leg has been reconstructed with rods. The Tata Safari that they were driving was modified to suit their special needs but the never-say-die spirit and the love for sports doesn’t let the two get off the road. (for more on Deepa Malik, visit http://wheelinghappiness.org/). She later met us at a stopover at the Yamuna Expressway and said that this was one of the toughest circuits for first timers.
The rally was a challenging time, speed and distance (TSD) competition and it had many first timers and 20 female participants. Newly wed, 29-year-old Sakshi had come with her husband Sumant as she loved driving. The rally had pulled women out from their homes onto the road—four women who run Agra-based NGO Mahila Shanti Sewa were dressed in tri-colour sarees to take their maiden adventure trip. Vatsala Prabhakar (43), Captain Sheela Behl (49), Richa Pandit (42) and Ritu Kapoor (43) were out telling the world that regular jobs, sarees and car rallies can happen at the same time. Then there were two teachers from Delhi Public School, Agra, Pallavi Gurtu (37) and Reenu Tygai (45).
Speaking about the organizing, Rajeev Gupta, President, Motorsports Club, said that the 350-450 km long rally was part of the Uttar Pradesh Tourism’s plan to promote The Heritage Arc—Agra, Lucknow, Varanasi. The club started in 2011 and it facilitates people who want to know more about motorsports. All the 16 core members are Agra-based. The first rally had participation of 36 members in 2012. Participants came from across northern India—Chandigarh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Mumbai and more. There is a plan to make it an annual affair with more participants.
Hemant Jain who is also part of the core team of the Motorsports Club, said that the rally had participants between the age of 25-50. Jain has been an adventure junkie for as long as he can look back. He loves bungee jumping, scuba diving, biking and his dream is to watch the Dakar rally.
Conversations over, we didn’t follow the rally for long; though one of the more exciting passages was over a pontoon bridge and through the mustard fields. We took our own twists and turns to discover the Bateshwar temple which has 108 shivalingas and the Yamuna flows at the back. This area is a hub of waterbirds. We saw the geese, the swans and then went a little ahead to an ancient Jain temple. Quiet, clean and serene, this temple has two statues of Lord Mahavira, the founder of Jainism. In one we could see the reflection of a snake on the chest and in the other a conch and lotus along the chest and abdomen area. Monkeys jumped over the trees and peacocks meowed.
And we were off to try and see the elusive ghariyals. As we didn’t have permission from the Chambal Safari headquarters, the boatman refused to take us around the river to see the reptiles. But the peace and silence and gentle glow of the Chambal River was enough to satisfy the soul. And give us a craving to come back for more.