Offroaders with a purpose

Offroaders with a purpose
By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 5/3/2019 11:36:44 AM IST

 People pursue a passion for the thrill and sense of fulfilment it brings. But when it is a succour in times of distress, it become a new ball game altogether. One such team that was in the thick of action during the landslide in Kiphire last year was the Off-roaders Association  of Nagaland, who with their driving skills and modified vehicles, quite literally bailed people out of distress and into safety. 

The Association of Off roaders Nagaland (AON) started their journey as a team on June 3, 2015 and since 2014 they have organized the annual “Offroad Maestro”, which has been going strong. What initially started as a hobby for these men soon turned into an off-road sporting event. Off-roading, unlike other motorsports, however aims to educate drivers on technicalities to equip oneself with the knowledge of saving oneself from dangerous auto scenarios, in the event a situation may arise. 

To the uninitiated, they may wonder what it is all about. Off-roading is all about the sheer pleasure and fun of driving without the speed. Unlike other driving experiences, off-roading is not only about the need for speed or the loud exhaust of the engine. It is all about control, anticipating the unknown, and knowing the capabilities of the vehicle.

 Off-roading is heaven for those who find the thrill of exploring the unknown exciting, the restless, curious, adventurous souls who choose to travel the road less travelled. It is the test of the man and his machine in the pursuit of conquering the challenges thrown by mother nature. 

Off-road is driving or motoring of 4x4 vehicles over unpaved or natural terrain that has rough or low traction surfaces. Having said that, a straight out of the showroom 4x4 SUV does not always make the cut.  Especially modified 4x4 vehicles fitted with recovery and safety equipments, and various mechanical upgrades are often the preferred choice. Modifications like increasing the ground clearance, fitting tyres with large deep open treads also known as mud terrain tyres, fitting recovery winches and equipments, installing safety roll cages, flexible suspensions, low ratio gearbox and even to the extent to swapping larger engines.

In the recently conducted RFC Goa 2017( Rainforest Challenge), which is also considered as one of the top ten toughest motorsport, the members of the Association took part in the event in the form of participants and also as Marshalls to judge the participants.  Off-road competition requires the driver and his spotter/navigator to negotiate designed or natural tracks within a designated area in a given duration of time.  Certain set of rules are set to judge the capabilities of the competitor in a gruesome competition where both man and his machine breaks down. As the officials of RFC rightfully puts it as ‘NOT FOR THE FAINT HEARTED’.

At present, the Association consists of eleven members from various walks of life and professions. Since the inception of the Association, it has taken part in various activities including voluntarily collaborating with the State Disaster Response Force by providing technical expertise during flood and other social relief situations. AON as an association was not only formed to promote off-road as a sport but also an activity to serve the community during natural disasters. With the prowess and the capability off-road vehicles possess in tackling unforgiving terrain, it can serve as perfect transportation tool during natural disasters and calamities by providing food, medicine and other relief materials.

 In 2018, the Nagaland State Disaster Management Authority (NSDMA) called AON  to volunteer and assist the district administration in transporting fuel and ferry essential commodities through NH 202 – the lifeline to Kiphire District as parts of it were washed away by massive landslides. The team was warmly welcomed by the Meluri administration and was provided with a comfortable accommodation on August 3. On reaching ground zero, the administration debriefed the Association of Offroaders Nagaland on the prevailing conditions and the task ahead.

 The District Administration Meluri headed by the ADC and his entire staff worked day in and day out to restore connectivity to Kiphire.  What set out as a mission to transport fuel to the Kiphire administration turned into a relief and rescue mission for stranded passengers along the stretch of landslide area. The Association with the directive of the district administration had visited the landslide affected areas days ahead to assess possible routes for commuters but all were in vain since the roads were damaged beyond repair and any attempts to restore would take months. But with the timely intervention of the state PWD highway department, an alternate road was forged with several earth mover machines. Although the efforts of the highway department led by the Superintendent Engineer (Phek) monitoring the entire road opening works to restore the highway was a warm welcome, it was not motorable for any vehicle along that stretch. The  freshly cut unpaved road and the unceasing rain and the gradient of the road made it impossible for vehicles to transverse the roads. AON team jumped into action as soon as the roads were motorable for their purpose built Off-road rigs specifically equipped to tackle the situation and started to provide every assistance possible to the commuters travelling to Kiphire and nearby towns, bound for Kohima and then to Dimapur to get through this section of the road .

Numerous vehicles;  both private and governmental were towed and winched out through the 2km bypass at the 3-km mark affected by the landslip and subsidence at Meluri. Their humble off-road rigs indeed proved their mettle although the brakes, clutches and other components gave up due to the severe road conditions and the loads they were handling constantly. Purpose built off-road vehicles fitted with recovery equipment and custom enhancements at the disposal of the Association proved to be very effective and efficient for the task ahead.

One vehicle was tasked with the job of towing stranded vehicles and other vehicles were used for ferrying passengers. The team successfully helped over thirty vehicles and several other commuters cross that stretch of the road. Several sick passengers, both young and old, including infants, students going back to colleges after holidays, medical teams, police personals and government employees were among the many commuters travelling along the stretch of the highway. According to one of the patients, they had attempted to travel to Kohima or Dimapur to seek medical attention but had to turn around several times. The team recalled the times when...they towed several Sumo taxi loaded with students and their luggage who were returning to their place of study after their vacations through a 2km slippery slope of a road. Police personnel from Kiphire division who came to pick up essential commodities early in the morning from the other end of the affected area were taken across in the off-road rigs so as they could have their much needed breakfast from Meluri town. All seemed endless then, but AON performed exceptionally and relentlessly soldiered on.

 The rewarding moment was when an elderly couple expressed their gratitude towards AON for helping them when they were stranded and helpless. The smile on their faces was priceless and these precious little moments are what we work for. What seemed like a small task for the team was considered nothing short of a miracle sent by God for the people. Words were spoken and gratitude was shown but the expression of relief on the faces of the travelers and the locals was a sight to behold. Such was the plight of the people. 

 Many were amused to see such unusual vehicles which were heavily customised with off-road tyres, recovery equipment and other custom parts. So much that even the members of the Meluri district administration took interested and test drove the vehicles. Some passengers even complimented the team by saying that the vehicles were very ‘strong’ in local dialect after witnessing one of the vehicles towing a loaded Tata Sumo with passengers and their luggage  across the steep slippery 2 Km road. 

 On successfully completing the mission, AON was again tasked to escort an oil tanker bound for Kiphire.  The district had run out of fuel supplies of both diesel and petrol. It was also learned that the district administration of Kiphire were left with roughly four thousands litres of fuel at their disposal. With all precautions taken and with an air of tension, the oil tanker precariously but gently glided down the road with what seems liked a synchronized dance. The truck successfully and safely went across and was warmly welcomed with people cheering and clapping. 

 The district administration also successfully transported essential commodities like food and daily needs to Kiphire with the help of decommissioned Military Shaktiman trucks. 

All said and done, the hardships faced by the people of Kiphire and nearby towns are far from over and it needs all the help it can get from both government and other NGOs. The Association of Off-roaders Nagaland will always remain humbled for getting the opportunity to provide a helping hand to the state government and will never cease to lend a helping hand in the future if called upon for duty. An adventure team with a goal to bring laurels to Nagaland in the field of Motorsport, but most importantly to provide humanitarian assistance in times of natural calamities; a passion with a purpose.

Association of Offroaders Nagaland.

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