There used to be a time when I had a lot of time. Not that I’m complaining, but sometimes I look back at those days wistfully, when the entire office – and I mean every single person apart from the two editors – went off on a week long travel story with not a worry in the world. After all, back when I started writing about cars and bikes, there really weren’t that many cars and bikes to test and write about. My first road test was on the Sunny Spice and it was eight pages long. The next was some TVS moped and that was nine pages. And in between we had nothing to do, no social media to be active on, no website to continuously populate, just time on our hands.
We had to do something, and that’s when I hit upon the idea of a 4×4 travel series. Adil, then editor at Overdrive, sent me to meet Bob Rupani who pointed me in the direction of the Rann of Kutch. And armed with two Tata Safaris we kick started a series that would keep us busy for a week every month. We were the first auto magazine guys to write about the Rann, the first to trek up to Ladakh, the first to drive across Bhutan; we went dune bashing, drove through insurgent infested no-man’s-land in Assam – heck, every place we went to and everything we did invariably had the tag ‘first’ attached to it as it was still the early years of modern automotive journalism as we now know it.
Today I’m back to where it all started, speaking to the man who introduced us and made us fall in love with the Rann. Muzahid Malik was our host at Rann Riders in Dasada, on the edge of the Little Rann of Kutch, and he’s still in the business – still as enthusiastic as ever in planning our route but now fully in sync with what we need to get great pictures and videos. Planning is also more important this time round as we have a much larger group and that’s at the core of this new series.
Readers, friends, people I interact with on social media, everybody wants to tag along on our big drives – and I can’t believe we haven’t had you join us! “Isn’t that selfish”, asks Vivek Srivatsa, the marketing head at Tata Motors and a good friend ever since his Maruti days as I explain why I want to take two Safaris back to the Rann of Kutch. And so we hit upon the idea to invite fellow Safari owners on this re-creation of my very first travel story, show them what the Safari can do, in the environment it was designed for. And that’s when I first heard of the Safari Owners United League.