More from Motoring

Two vehicles named after the desert… in the desert’ — now that’s a kickass story for the travel special issue, right? A Ducati DesertX with its local guide, the Mahindra Thar in the arid wasteland where few beasts and even fewer men ventured, made up for a great location, too. But it’s easier said than done, right? Yet, every year, a bunch of brave men and women with motorcycles, buggies and trucks face the desert for the most gruelling rally on the planet — the Dakar.

Anyway, the answer I was seeking through this story was — why the desert? And I got the answer the hard way. Looking at both the vehicles, I was certain that this is going to be an easy job. The DesertX’s design, reminiscent of the old Cagiva Elefant, assured that there was nothing that could stand in its way. It is a big motorcycle, but surprisingly not intimidating to look at. Perhaps, it’s those googly eyes that give the bike that innocent look, at least to my eyes. Yet, the traffic ahead always seemed scared and gave way. Was it because the bike was taller than most cars on the road? Or was it because the DesertX had a butch friend right behind it?

If only Mahindra too gave DRLs a la the DesertX

I don’t know what’s the deal with the Thar, but all through the trip, people had either respect or fear in their eyes when they saw this SUV. Or sometimes, a combination of both. For me, the 1200-km ride to the desert was a breeze, even with the temperatures soaring above 40-degrees. And while I thought Kurt and Kaizad were having a relaxing drive, every time we stopped, they seemed more exhausted than me. The Thar’s noisy cabin and the not-so-comfortable seats topped the list of why the Thar wasn’t the best option for a long road trip. My complaint all this while on the DesertX? Why can’t we have something like the Autobahn here? Staying within the speed limits made it more fuel efficient than the Triumph Scrambler 400X, but come on, there was so much more that the Testastretta 11° engine wanted to show me, and I could feel it.

The ‘Trip Master’ mode put my mind into rally mode

Anyway, our mission was reaching and venturing into the desert. As we left civilisation behind, the temperature and the tension were rising. A quick stop after we ventured off the tarmac to drop the air pressure of the tyres and adjust the suspension of the DesertX to handle what lay ahead. All Kurt had to do was turn off the traction control while I engaged the ‘Rally’ mode on the DesertX with the power mode on ‘Full’, ABS at the rear switched off, traction control at its least intrusive setting and so was the engine braking. Looks tedious, no? But it was so much fun knowing that I could tune everything to my liking depending on the ride I am setting off on. And we left for the desert.

Making full use of the opportunity

We were in the middle of nowhere, headed to the dunes, and finally I had the chance to explore the full potential of the engine without worrying about a jaywalker or a cow; 108 bhp and 9.4 kgm aren’t really fear-instilling figures especially when the bike weighs around 230 kg, but boy it is so much fun. The Thar wasn’t far behind, with its 1.5-litre engine with over three times the torque of the Ducati easily getting it through the loose stuff.

The DesertX’s lineage goes all the way to the Paris-Dakar rallies

As we ventured deeper, the terrain started to change. The small stones and firm ground were now left behind and we were now going over the desert sand. Of course, the sudden change in the surface was a bit unnerving and at times, the sandy rooster tail that the DesertX made may have caused some troubles to the Thar. All I had to do was dial down the power to the ‘Mid’ mode, and we were good to go. What was surprising for me was how nimble and well balanced the Ducati was. It is not top heavy which takes away half the problems associated with big ADVs and the 21/18-inch setup ensured that we ploughed through the soft terrain… until we couldn’t.

It was at this point they knew… they were in *deep* trouble

As we hit the dunes, the Ducati, though sliding, made it quite deep into the desert, and went in deep too. The Thar was a few turns behind, so I quickly hopped off the bike to warn them that we were probably in ‘deep trouble’. But it’s the Thar, right? What’s the worst that could happen? Well, it turned out that we should have dropped more tyre pressure, and since the surface was loose, the Thar sunk, too. Thus began the process of digging the sand around the tyres of the Thar and piling some wild shrubs for the rear wheels to get some traction. We were losing light and stuck in the middle of nowhere with no network. Perfect plot for a survival movie, too. And while we were plotting our way to get the Thar out, a shadow emerged from the top of the dune. A long haired, skinny fellow wearing nothing but a pair of shorts. Yup, no footwear or any headgear. After seeing our plight, he straightaway jumped into action and helped us get the Thar out. Soon after, it was the DesertX. And with that, our ordeal ended. Like Moses, he offered us to guide through the desert onto the other side, and after we politely declined, he walked up the dune and disappeared into the desert.

This barren wilderness tested us and the vehicles to an extent we had never imagined

After a quick hydration break, we turned back and made it to the first village just before dusk. And the answer to the question — why the desert? Couldn’t have been more clearer. Yes, we couldn’t make it to the oasis that we planned to go to, but through the ride, this barren wilderness tested us and the vehicles to an extent we had never imagined. And at the end of it, all of us came out strong. After all, the DesertX’s lineage goes all the way to the Paris-Dakar rallies of the ’70s and the ’80s, while the ancestors of the Thar still rule the dunes. And I think now I understand what makes those Dakar fanatics click. It’s that test of grit and perseverance of men and machines and the hunger and desire to see it through. How did I get to this conclusion? Well, I intend to come back here once again, better prepared, and get past the dunes, and meet the strange man again.