Off-roading is slowly but surely catching up among the young as also the not-so-young from diverse walks of life with a healthy appetite for high-adrenaline adventure, and deep pockets.
All off-roaders, coming all the way from places as far as Arunachal Pradesh and Kerala at the Kikar Lodge, about 35 km from here to participate in the three-day February 17-19 "JK Tyre Xtreme 4Play 2017", were unanimous that this sport is clearly not for an average Joe. It is a passion and so money is just not a consideration, they averred.
How can one put money over the pleasure and thrill of driving on rough terrains like dry river beds, almost vertical climbs of hillocks, in the wilderness, and across semi-arid and dusty desert-ed landscape?
The adventure of off-roading is certainly catching the imagination of the extreme sport enthusiasts across the country, though their numbers are not mind-numbing, at least for the present.
And those in India who go all the way to pursue their love for the sport, are not the regular super-rich brats, as many may tend to believe, but serious sport enthusiasts like businessmen, doctors, dentists, lawyers and army officers.
Asked how costly this passion for off-roading is for a sports enthusiast, Naveen, a team member of KTM Jeepers from Kerala, said: "It costs a bomb."
"But what to do?" he countered, and came up with an answer: "After all, it's a passion."
Naveen pointed out that a set of five tyres alone costs anywhere near Rs 1.25 lakh, while suspension costs between Rs 20,000 and Rs 2 lakh.
Expenses to ready an off-roader vehicle are anywhere between Rs 5 lakh to Rs 13 lakh.
"Once your participate in an off-roading event, you end up with broken, twisted and damaged parts, which are costly and need to be replaced before the vehicle is battle-ready again," he said in a matter-of-fact manner.
And who are those willing to put that kind of money in their passion?
Naveen pointed out that one of the teammates, Dr. Mohame Fahed V.P., is an Ayurveda practitioner back in Kerala.
Chow Ujjal Namshum, the 37-year-old tea planter from Arunachal, said the modification of the two vehicles they have brought to the competition, cost them Rs 12 lakh to Rs 13 lakh each.
Gurmeet Singh, a member of "Gerrari Offroaders" club based in Chandigarh, said they got into off-roading initially just for fun.
"Now, we have 60 active members who go off-roading near Chandigarh regularly on vehicles fit enough to take the rough with the smooth on dirt tracks, dry river beds and hillocks."
He pointed out that the members of Gerrari Offroaders club include businessmen, two doctors, two lawyers and one dentist.
Gurmeet said they are a close-knit group in which families knew one another.
"We prefer not to allow entry of unknown persons in our club, since we take along family members, including women, too during our off-roadings."
Asked how they took off and formed the club, his teammate Kabir, 34, a businessman like Gurmeet, said: "There were only seven to eight of us in the beginning. We did off-roading for around two years in 2006-07 before we formed our own club -- Gerrari Offroaders -- in 2009."
Gurmeet was the overall champion at the Rain Forest Challenge, an off-roader event held in Goa in 2016 on the lines of RFC event in Malaysia, while Kabir came third. Gurmeet is also a champion off-roader of the Malaysian RFC in the Diesel Vehicle category.
Asked about the money they spend on off-roading, Kabir quipped: "Hun te jaeb vich kuch nahi hai (I have empty pockets now)."
"Each of our vehicles costs around Rs 12 lakh to Rs 15 lakh to make them capable of tackling the inhospitable terrain," he said.
These include independent suspensions, commercial winches and broad tyres, among several other attachments and fittings.
As for cost, Kabir echoed Naveen's remarks: "Off-roading may be costly but it's a passion."
So, for off-roaders, the motto is simple: You don't weigh a life-long passion for something against the money spent.
# Tajinder Bains was in Ropar at the invitation of JK Tyre.