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Torrential rain, slushy jungle tracks, boulders, ditches and streams in spate. These are what daring men require to get their adrenaline going. They will get their fill when the six-day Rainforest Challenge India begins in Goa on August 8. One of the world's toughest offroad events, RFC, as it is called, will pit man and his capabilities against capricious nature.
RFC is certainly not for the weak-hearted. "It is intimidating and requires the use of modified vehicles," says Ashish Gupta, former banker and auto enthusiastic. His company, Cougar Motorsport, has brought the event to India because "extreme offroading" is evoking big interest in the country. Force Motors, maker of the tough Gurkha SUV, is the title sponsor of the gruelling challenge that will involve spending six days driving through tough terrain in the rain from Goa's genteel Dona Paula to the first jungle camp at Bhati near Uguem and then the second camp at Morlem near Valpoi. At these halts, there will be no rest and recreation. The participants will have to park their 4X4s and all-terrain vehicles and roll up their sleeves to set up shelters and cook their meals, come hell or high water.
Kabir Waraich, an experienced offroader and one of the founders of Gerrari Offroaders, an enthusiasts' group in Chandigarh, is excited because, having whetted his thirst for adventure in numerous auto events in India, he now gets to be right in the middle of a potentially nerve-wracking drive. Waraich, 31, who will be driving his much-used CJ3B Jeep in the event, says, "When RFC is coming to India, I cannot not participate."
Older enthusiasts with coolant in their veins are raring to go too. Ramessh Belaaram Ahuja, a 58-year-old wine-shop owner from Pune, is ready for the biggest challenge of his life. "Age has never been an issue," the Maruti Gyspy driver says. "Off-roading came to me very late, and I am determined to explore all that it has to offer."
While RFC will allow "touring adventurers", or non-competitors who pay Rs 10,000, to travel with the competitors and experience the thrills and adventures, the "Special Stages" with all the challenges that weather and topography can throw at man will be open only to competitors. Each Special Stage will earn 100 points for the team going through all the hurdles in the fastest time. Points will be deducted for violations , including not following specified safety measures. The competitor with the highest points wins, and will get an automatic entry in the mother RFC event to be held in Malaysia in November. There will also be winners across various categories based on engine size and fuel used.
Admirably, unleashing men and machines on nature will not mean destruction of the environment. "Stringent guidelines have been set to safeguard the flora and fauna of Goa, with an environmental steward monitoring compliance," says Gupta. Violations can lead to penalties and even disqualification of the team.
Twenty-four teams have confirmed participation in the challenge. Gupta hopes that Customs will clear the vehicles of the two international teams that have registered to participate in RFC India.
Eventually, however, it is the can-do spirit that will impel the participants into a danger-strewn territory. As Ahuja says, "My focus is on completing the 30 Special Stages successfully and not on winning the trophy. To me the thrill of the journey counts more than the destination itself."