Just the thought of traveling through this South Indian State conjures up images of stunning backwaters, epic roads, coconut palms, fabulous food, mind blowing beaches and well, tropical beauty at its best!
Feast your eyes !
Malabar Calling – A stunning Kettuvalam Houseboat at cruise on a typical lagoon.
“These refreshing vistas are what greeted me as I took a stop at Bekal, in Northern Kerala. After having ridden my steed (the Kawasaki Versys 650) through Goa, then Mangalore (Karnataka) and finally into Kerala, I was happy to have covered over a thousand kilometers. What’s more is that I was now well and truly in Malabar Country. A place known for its food, culture, temples, forts, beaches, resort hotels and of course – the serene backwaters of the Arabian Sea.
A sunset cruise over the (yet) noncommercial backwaters of Nileshwar is so nourishing for the soul, one needs to experience it to believe it. A two day drive or ride from Mumbai or Pune or a day’s hop from Bangalore, Nileshwar is your surest way of sampling the Kettuvalam houseboats and Kerala Culture whilst being spared the madness of usual Kerala hot spots which are known to be overflowing with tourists at most times.
As one rides up to the backwaters over idyllic little bridges and through lush coconut groves, you come across a dozen or so houseboat operators dotted along the inner waters of Nileshwar and around.
Queen of the water!
Take your pick, most these boats are similar in look and feel, however we suggest you pick Lotus Houseboats or Bekal Ripples as your cruise of choice. Their vessels are good and make for a better nautical experience.
The boats have onboard kitchens, bedrooms with air-conditioning and open dining spaces fit for a family, couples or even a group of friends. Prices range from $50 to $1000 depending on the length of your cruise.
Cruise choices range from six-hour day cruises to short two-hour sunset cruises and you can even stay aboard these vessels overnight as they make their way, at leisure, from Nileshwar to Valliaparamba.
Sunset Hues – Serene waters of the Kerala Lagoons.
When you ride hard, you must eat well. In this part of India, food is sublime. From seafood to the choicest meats, even vegetarian selections, prepared with tongue tingling spices fit for royalty – it’s a real treat here!
Pardon my lack of Instagram professionalism as I conveniently excused myself from shooting images of my food. In the moment, I preferred pouncing on the plates over pulling out the lenses 😀
Instead, here’s a look at where we stayed.
Taj Bekal Resort and Spa – epic accommodation!
Kerala is home to some of the most idyllic Hotel Resorts and Spa Retreats in India. Taj Bekal, our anchor-point on this motorcycle ride, was the perfect home away from home.
Genuinely, what a place to spend the better part of a week. Taking a stroll under lush coconut palms, spending an afternoon at Asia’s largest Spa (really!), taking a moonlit raft ride on the (in-premises) river, sampling food at all four restaurants, spending time at the beach and in the fabulously put together rooms – we did everything this place had to offer.
Taj Bekal Beachfront!
At Taj Bekal, I’ve stumbled upon my new stress-buster getaway itinerary: Take a flight to Mangalore, get the hotel to drive me to Bekal, spend three blissful nights here and then take a flight back to the grind!
Just being at Bekal eases the senses, surrounds you with soothing shades of green and blue as the sea breeze and brown sand take turns tickling you head to toe. It really is my go-to beach holiday now!
Bekal – Stress buster of sorts!
Now then, with the Arabian Sea and the leisurely Lagoons of Bekal behind me, I was in the mood for some good motorcycling. I now set my target as Chikmagalur, in Karnataka.
After what I had just experienced in Kerala, I didn’t expect too much to see on my way inland. Boy was I wrong, motorcycling in India is truly something to write home about!
Riding away from the coast and into the Western Ghat Mountain range in South Western India, I was left dumbfounded by what I saw on my way.
Zipping through the Western Ghats on the Kawasaki Versys 650!
Kudremukh National Park, this is a protected part of the Western Ghat Mountain range in the state of Karnataka, India.
With just a single, exquisitely laid, super smooth and curvaceous road cutting through, Kudremukh has to be one of the most heavenly roads to ride on in India.
Kudremukh Peak & National Park visible in the distance, as seen from Mullayangiri.
Crossing over the Western Ghat Mountains, the roads now cut through lush Tea Gardens and Coffee plantations. The weather was now noticeably cooler and the roads were empty as can be!
The smooth hum of my motorcycle was the perfect companion as we took turn after turn into the overwhelming green surrounds of District Chikmagalur.
Lush Plantations of Chikmagalur!
Chikmagalur is the birthplace of coffee in India. Legend has it that a Sufi Saint on his way back from pilgrimage to Mecca, carried a few raw coffee beans as he transited through Yemen.
Those few beans are what started it all, as far as Coffee plantation in this region goes. Fascinating!
As you climb down from the Western Ghat Mountains, you hit Chikmagalur Town in the foothills. It’s almost as if Chikmagalur is cradled by the mighty Ghats, sitting pretty at a height of 3500 ft.
I made my way through the town, on one side was the semi-urban hustle and on the other, the mammoth mountain of Mullayangiri – the highest mountain peak in the state of Karnataka (6000 ft).
Riding to the top of Mullayangiri was my next target. It had been a while since I had ridden a motorcycle above 5000 ft in Nepal and Ladakh. I wondered how far up the mountain one could reach with the Versys 650.
On top of the world!! (Well, just Karnataka really.)
The Kawasaki Versys 650 – Atop Mullayanagiri – The Highest Mountain Peak of Karnataka, India.
Getting to the top of this mountain was relatively easy. Although the extremely narrow road with tight hairpins and vehicles moving in both directions really got the blood flowing!
Just a couple clicks short of the top, the road vanishes completely. Hereon only 4×4 jeeps hired by tourist groups take on the last little bit of the climb as it is completely off-road. Well, Jeeps and motorcycles 😉
There should be a paved road all the way soon enough but for now, it was a two kilometer long off road track with steep fall-offs on one side and the mountain on the other! Like I said, it got the blood flowing 😛
Road to Mullayanagiri!
From the thick sea breeze at Bekal to the thin air atop Karnataka’s highest peak, this had been a journey of sorts. The number of different terrains I had seen on this short 2000 kilometer ride was really something.
As I rode back towards Chikmagalur town, I loaded up on the famed filter coffee and bought myself a couple kilos of beans. You need to try the blends from here, you’ll forget about the crap we drink in our cities!
I really do mean that. At the Estate run shops in Chikmagalur, you can get customized coffee blends as per your preferences. Might I add, buying freshly blended Coffee here is extremely affordable.
Charged up on coffee, it was time to head home.
What a journey it had been – seven days, over two thousand kilometers, great food, stunning scenery, fabulous roads and so much coffee. This trip ended up being everything I’d imagined it would be and more.
Safe to say, I’m already planning another trip down South. There’s just so much more to see and experience in South India!
Until next time, I’m Nipun Srivastava, Vrooming off!”
Wow, we at The Nirvana Team can’t wait to see where Nipun head’s next and which vehicle he chooses!
We thank Taj Hotels for their exceptional support and impeccable service along the way, their Hotels and Resorts make the perfect pit stops for motorcycle touring in South India.
The Kawasaki India Versys 650 performed like a total champ on this journey, as expected. Great performance on and off the road, fully loaded and even two-up. An absolute value for money motorcycle for India!
Do tell us what you think of this photo-story by Photographer Nipun Srivastava, would you like to see more stories like this in the future? Comment down below!
In this article, we’ll briefly talk (and walk) you through the Alpinestars Toucan Motorcycling Boots in India.
Our review will help you understand whether this is the pair of adventure boots you should go for!
The Alpinestars Toucan Motorcycle Boots!
Adventure motorcycling in India is fast catching up. Manufacturers are rushing to our shores with their machines, trying to bank any spare penny that the Indian tourer may have to invest in their products. Well, motorcycles aside, what often gets talked about is quality riding gear to go with these adventure machines.
A good helmet, a great riding jacket, good pair of gloves and a functional yet hardy pair of boots which will get you through thick and thin – that’s what’s on any true rider’s gear list. Well at least that’s the idea, anyway.
Here in India, buying quality riding gear takes a little doing. Very few places to test out the big brands, check the look and feel etc. If premium gear is what one is after, in all probability one will have to wing the sizing and bet ones money on a leap of faith while ordering these pieces.
This time, we bring to you the Alpinestars Toucan Adventure Touring Boot.
A boot we’ve lusted after for a while. A boot that’s almost mystical in its concept and a boot we’ve got our hands on recently! They say it can take anything any tourer worth their salt can throw at it. So does this thing really match expectations in India? Read on.
The Toucan is a premium motorcycle touring boot and costs a hair under INR 30000/-, which includes a 41% import duty. The boots aim to incorporate features of Alpinestars’ top of the line dirt-riding boots and safety aspects from the years worth of research and experience they have gained in creating riding gear for all types of motorcycling.
All that means little if these boots don’t keep a rider’s feet cool, dry and most importantly – safe while out on the Indian road (or off it!).
Studio images for the Alpinestars Toucan Boots, shot at our in-house studio at TheNirvanaTeam HQ!
Over to our lead Photographer and resident adventurer, Nipun Srivastava, who is actually using the Alpinestars Toucan Adventure Boot currently:-
“”Damn, this thing feels stiff.”
When you first put on the Toucan Boots, you’re gonna panic. They feel extremely stiff, offer limited movement and make your heart sink. Putting these boots on for the first time made me feel like it was a waste of 30 grand. I probably wouldn’t be able to ride the bike with the foot freedom I was used to anymore. I even considered not riding with these boots at all, yes!
Once I calmed my disappointment however, I read the owner’s manual. There it was, the manual clearly states that the boot will be quite stiff when you first start using it and will loosen to fit aptly in due time. Alpinestars even advises one not to size up if the boot fits snug when new.
Walk in the boots. Keep walking and flexing the boots to get used to them and let the boots adjust to your feet. The Toucan is a big boot and may be a tad overwhelming initially but bear with it. After a while of walking the boot, I got on to the motorcycle and took it for a ride.
Leaving town with the Toucans!
The gear shifts were tougher to make now. Braking no longer remained a casual flick of the foot, it now had to be a more conscious effort. Riding with this boot takes some getting used to.
Here are the usage aspects broken down for you:
Was I comfortable? – Yes.
Was the fit right? – Yes
Were my feet hot? – No
Were my feet sweating? – Very slightly.
Were the gearshifts easy? – No, especially at the start, since the boot is new and stiff it takes quite an effort to get the gears to shift when you need them. It does become easy as one keeps riding though.
Was rear braking easy? – No, I had to alter my braking style and be conscious of the amount of weight I put on the brake pedal. Since the boot is heavier than the ones I was used to (SMXs), usual force applied seemed too much. I got used to it eventually.
Are the boots easy to wear? – Absolutely, the boots are a breeze to wear and take off. The aluminum arrowhead buckles make the boot very easy to use.
Can I walk with the boots on? – Yes, it gets easier with every step.
Can I hike/trek with the boots on? – Hell no.
Are the Toucans waterproof? – Yes, you’ll be amazed. The Gore-Tex membrane keeps all water out 100%!
Are the boots prone to slipping on wet surfaces? – It is possible to slip in these boots. Do not take a chance.
Are the boots easy to live with?
Big boots seldom are but the Toucans do the job they were meant to do very well. So taking that into consideration, yes, the Toucan is easy to live with.
Nipun’s Gear Setup:
Alpinestars Toucan Boots, SX-1 Knee Guards, Apex all-weather gloves and the Air Jacket – a perfect harmony!
You will buy this boot only if you’re in search for the best that’s out there for your feet. It cost us just under INR 30,000/- to import it to India from Germany, with a 41% import duty included. So, it does cost a pretty penny. If you’re still interested, you probably intend on doing some great travel with your motorcycle. After getting into these boots, you’re going to want to ride far and ride hard.
With the Toucans on and adapted to your feet, you can ride far and long. Comfortable cruising on the highway is a pleasure as there is lesser need for rider inputs. On the trails too the boot manages to support ones feet very well. Should you have a brush with the dirt, rest assured that the Toucan will perform well. Adventure riding is where the toucan shines beautifully.
I spent long, hot and sweaty days riding with the Toucan here in India and I have no negatives to report. It performed very well on the road. When I took it off-road and onto some tricky trails, the Toucan supported my feet and calves as I stood up to negotiate ruts and mounds. They have a solid feel when you put your feet down next to the motorcycle and make you feel well protected. The Alpinestars Toucan Adventure boot is value for your money despite the premium price tag.”
Give it dirt, give it dust, give it mud or splashes of water while you tease your comfort zone exploring new horizons – the Toucan will thrive.
Then, just clean up and head out again!
Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. All views represented are personal opinions of the writer based on his experience with the product showcased.
Product: Alpinestars Toucan Motorcycling Boots.
Photography for this piece has been delivered by our Lead Photographer – Nipun Srivastava and assistant photographer Kaustubh Khare.
Model: Our resident adventurer, Nipun Srivastava.
Vehicle: The Versys 650 ABS.
In this article, we’ll briefly talk (and walk) you through the New 2017 Arai Tour X-4 Adventure Helmet in India.
Our review will help you understand whether this is the helmet you should go for!
Adventure Ready – Arai Tour X4 ADV Helmet
As part of our jobs here at TheNirvanaTeam, we often head out to lesser explored parts of the Indian countryside. “Recces”, as we like to call our photography and trail finding expeditions, sometimes expose our team to conditions less than adequate for a “safe” and comfortable experience. As they say, no great story ever starts with the words “it all went smoothly”.
Given the risks we take to get our clients the shots and images they deserve, our boys and girls deserve the very best of motoring protection out there when exposed to the elements. We pride ourselves on using the best equipment to get that epic shot every time and that’s the same philosophy we like to follow for the vehicles and gear that we use for our job.
Helmet Colourway – Route White
Over to our lead Photographer and resident adventurer, Nipun Srivastava, who is actually using the Arai Tour X4 (XD4) currently:-
“”Jesus, you want me to pay close to a thousand dollars for a helmet?! You must be crazy.”
The Arai Tour X4 ADV touring helmet costs exactly INR 57000/- here in India. That’s a lot of money, a hell of a lot. One can by a brand new scooter for that much cash or maybe go on a short luxury holiday even. Is there anything that justifies spending so much on a helmet? That’s the question to ask, I think.
There are helmets and there are helmets and then there are Arai Helmets. What’s so special?
Well, everything. Arai does everything humanly and scientifically possible to get us the lids we deserve. The impression one gets is that every freakin’ stone was turned before asking you to shell out the better part of a months take home for a lid that is so expensive, one may want to store it in a hermetically sealed container. At least that’s the treatment our Tour X-4 got when it landed up at our studio, flying in (first class, we assume) straight from Arai HQ, Netherlands.
Studio images for the Arai Tour X4, shot at our in-house studio at TheNirvanaTeam HQ!
Arai only has one dealer in India. Moreover, there is no place where one can go, try out, have a look and then buy a lid of ones choice here in India. So, we’re more or less buying Arai products off of hear say or online reviews and in the rare case, having seen one a friend uses. This is something which should change, Arai, at least create one Pro Shop in India?
I met a couple of big shot looking riders once and saw them flaunt their Arai lids around like it was made of some special material. Showoffs. But that did get me thinking and I researched Arai and what they do. This was almost a decade ago. It’s taken almost a decade of touring and motorcycling for me to finally get my hands on an Arai Helmet. So as far as I’m concerned, each Arai is a saga. Less a fantastic piece of motoring gear, more a fantastical entity that every enthusiast must enjoy at least once for their type of motoring usage.
Right from the start, my Tour X4 fit me like a glove. I was lucky that the helmet fit me perfectly and I didn’t need to fiddle with the peel away cheek pads for a better fit. The clear visor let me comfortably wear my Aviators inside while being closed and the air vents (on the visor) did their job very well in keeping the top of my head cool even at the peak of the Indian Summer. Right from our first ride with the Tour X4, the climate was very hot and humid. More over, we did the better part of our ride close to noon, when the temperatures were tickling the tropical 40 degrees. Add to that, we were riding to the coast (humidity for the win! Not.) .
To the West Coast!
So, the Tour X4 had its job cut out for. Keep my head cool, don’t let it get too sweaty, keep noise low at high speeds and do not buffet in the wind.
Arai Tour X4 / X.D 4 Performance:
Ventilation: Very good. Kept me cool throughout the ride, didn’t feel the need to get it off my head at every stop.
Dealing with sweat: The Tour X4 is good here too but only just. Ultimately, with the Sun directly overhead, I needed to open the visor.
Noise: Good. You will hear the wind at high speeds but it’s very manageable.
High Speed Dynamics: Sadly here, the Tour X4 is prone to buffeting in the wind at high speeds (with the peak on). Mind you, this happened even though we had a windscreen on our test motorcycle.
Visor Behaviour: Very good. Wide vision. Good clarity and very low on distortion. Locks down firmly. On-visor air intakes seal the deal for tourers.
Weight: 1620 gms.
Safety Ratings: ECE | SNELL
Emergency Release Tabs: Yes.
Accessories: Pinlock screen comes included in the box.
Looks: It looks very good. The paint finish is fantastic and the myriad colourways will satisfy everyone. Although, Arai charges extra for the smarter schemes.
Overall: I’ll cut this helmet a very good chit. It does everything a 50-50 on-road off-road helmet should do and does it very well.
A feature rich and premium helmet!
The new Tour x4 feels like a solid high quality piece of gear in your hand. No loose trim, nothing hanging out anywhere and immaculate paint schemes all around. Even the moisture ‘wicking’ inner fabric is soft enough for rugged use. The double D ring fasteners are relatively easy to use with just enough space to loop the strap through and finally button it down. Buttoning down the strap ensures no flapping in the wind or at higher speed. So the attention to detail and build quality on this Arai is truly extraordinary.
Where living with the helmet is concerned, it’s not too difficult. As we mentioned, Arai has just one dealer in India but they do a good job of suggesting the right sizing etc and are open to questions. Moreover, ordering replacement parts (like the inner liner, visors etc) should be relatively easy in the long run. What that means is, you don’t need to be over protective about the helmet. Use it like you would any other piece of good riding gear, store it relatively well and it should last. Arai recommends using the helmet for 5 years and then replacing it, which seems reasonable.
A premium helmet that’s easy to live with, in India!
The Arai Tour X4 Adventure Helmet is the way to go if you’re used to this kind of thing. If you’re an adventure tourer worth your salt and often put yourself in situations where you may get lost without a road, you should consider this Arai. You know that Indian motorcycling conditions are very challenging. Our extreme traffic scenarios, bad road surfaces and unpredictable conditions demand that we get ourselves the best in personnel protection we can afford. There are only a few helmets that make the cut for on-road & off-road touring and the Arai Tour X4 sits at the top.
On the other hand, if you’re an occasional motorcycle adventurer looking for a premium lid, there are options like KLIM’s Krios or AGV’s AX 8 (DS) which are good and hurt the wallet less.
Even if you’re not used to the moto-x shape of this helmet, Arai has done everything they could to make the helmet behave like a regular helmet. If you’re new to ADV riding and don’t mind shelling out the dough, this is a very good bet.
The competition: AGV’s AX-8 DS EVO, ICON’s Variant, KLIM’s Krios, SHOEI’s Hornet X2 and the likes.
The competitors come with similar issues, not many dealers, nowhere to test these lids out in India and sizing is a big fat $500 guess (at least).
Finally then, is the Arai Tour X4 price justified?
The answer – Yes, if you value the research and development it takes to develop these top of the line products.
When you buy an Arai, inside, you know you’re getting the best that the world has to offer. Quality seldom comes cheap.”
— Nipun Srivastava
There it is then, If you are confused between what’s good and what’s arguably the best, go for the Arai Tour X 4 (XD4).
We see the Tour X4 as very good adventure touring helmet which can protect you as far as your wit will take you.
So head out and blaze trails.
Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. All views represented are personal opinions of the writer based on his experience with the product showcased.
Product: Arai Tour X4 Adventure Helmet. Also known as the X-D4 in the American Markets.
Photography for this piece has been delivered by our Lead Photographer – Nipun Srivastava.
Model: Our resident adventurer, Nipun Srivastava.
Vehicle: The Versys 650 ABS.
We would like to thank Kaustubh Khare Photography and Vaishali Chandan for assisting on shoot.
Note: Mounting any helmet on rear view mirror stalks may harm the inner linings of the helmet.
One thing we love about our job is that it always feels like a vacation. Recently, our resident photographer landed up at a destination so beautiful, in a car so cool, he had to bring out the big guns!
Check out the view!
Nashik, in Maharashtra, is an Indian city tuned mostly towards religious tourism and the occasional trek. In recent years though, this city has taken on a unique personality. One, that has truly intrigued and amazed the entire country and the world!
Nashik is home to India’s most popular Winery – Sula Vineyards. Just outside the city limits stand the stately Vineyards. An expanse ripe with enthusiasm, technique and a unique taste for the good life – that’s the Sula vibe. Right then, we struck a chord with the place.
Arriving in style!
We drove from Pune to Nashik in the striking Mercedes Benz GLA. A car we chose for its unique form and laudable capability. Right from the get-go, the GLA 200 CDI took on the challenge of the Indian road with solid gusto. Traditionally, Mercedes Benz cars occupy a luxury oriented placement in the Indian market. Touring in the GLA however, we felt brand Mercedes Benz was now venturing into territory not just for the chauffeur driven CEO but also for the one who likes to take charge of the wheel and steer into the good life, head-on.
Head into the Indian countryside and one is greeted with boundless beauty albeit coupled tastefully with the occasional bad road. A place not ideal for soft, sexy and luxurious cars, surely. It is here that the Mercedes Benz GLA, with its rugged disposition, throws down the gauntlet in the face of this fact. Roads, good or bad, are easily traveled by this mid sized GLAdiator of sorts. The GLA also excels in quenching the thirst for trailblazing across the countryside. All this while keeping the driver cocooned in familiar luxury. It is by far the best suited Benz for the aspirational Indian.
All about the GLAm!
Talking aspirations, the Sula winery was born out of sheer passion and a great attitude. CEO Rajeev Samant took what little he had, poured his heart into his work and gave rise to a truly global wine brand. The creation of Sula has brought about a wine revolution in India. Growing at a healthy pace and gaining popularity by the minute, Sula’s Wines have captured the attention of most curious travelers and wine connoisseurs alike.
Taste the Sula Life!
Attention is something the GLA grabs by the ton as well. The GLA’s road presence is something which needs to be felt to be believed. This luxury SUV gives India the pomp of a three pointed star, the elegance of a luxury tourer and the go-almost-anywhere attitude! The GLA rivals the Audi Q3 and the BMW X1 when we look at price points. The Mercedes Benz GLA looks stunning from every angle, something that its rivals struggle to do even on the best of days.
The GLA is big enough to command the road and small enough to even be called compact! On the motorway, the GLA drove flawlessly across hundreds of kilometers that we threw at it. Eventually the roads ran out and we were doing trails towards Nashik and this is where the GLA came into its own. We weren’t worried about ground clearance, we knew there was enough power and all doubts about the GLA’s capabilities evaporated as we circumvented traffic jams on the Pune – Nashik Highway by driving through tricky village paths & broken roads!
We did not push the GLA beyond the broken road however. When driving a luxury car of this form, it isn’t always the best course of action trying to do high articulation maneuvers. That’s simply not what the GLA is about. A 7 speed dual clutch gearbox mated to a 4-pot diesel motor churning out 135 bhp provides effortless on-road performance on the new GLA 200 CDI. The diesel engine does create some noise outside and on the inside as well but it’s not something which affects the overall drive experience. Space is tight on the inside, making the GLA in essence a two person tourer.
Two of us, with our luggage and camera equipment traveled very comfortably in the GLA. We fell in love with the fantastic driver and spotter seats in the car, these seats make long drives an absolute dream! The unmissable sport mode makes easy pickings of sharp mountain curves and the suspension which is specially tuned for India (owing to the increased ride height) does well to keep the GLA centered and the occupants charged up ;).
Ideal for India!
On a drive which ends at a location as stunning as the Sula Vineyards, we had to go all-in. We reached Sula and were greeted by their brand managers, Nirvana was given a one-on-one tour of the Vineyard and the manufacturing facility. Not to forget the tasting of 10 most popular wines from Sula!
Sunset at Sula!
A visit to Sula can be an all encompassing experience. Soléil, the restaurant, serves Indo-French Cuisine at the vineyard and ‘Beyond’ is a luxury hotel managed by Sula for its patrons. They also undertake tours of the winery for a small fee which includes a quick wine tasting as well. If chilling out is all you plan to do, you can head to the cafe overlooking the Vineyard for some amazing sunsets and snacks.
The Nirvana Favorite – Chenin Blanc Reserve.
We’re no wine boffins but we do have our favorites! On our scales, the Chenin Blanc Reserve and the Late Harvest Chenin Blanc take the top spots! Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Shiraz and Merlot are a few more among the varieties produced at Sula. If you are someone with a genuine thirst for travel and love a unique experience, a visit to these Vineyards is a must-do. It is one of the most unique weekend experiences one can undertake.
In it to win it!
Pushing the realms of possibility and chasing perfection relentlessly are traits both Sula & Mercedes Benz embody. Our boy Nipun Srivastava cut short his vacation and took on the task of showcasing both the car and the destination, single-handedly. This, because we value true originality, class and quality. Any such endeavour inspires us to do more and way better than ever before. We thank Sula Vineyards for their exemplary hospitality.
Motoring and alcohol do not mix, let’s be clear.
Here at Nirvana we practice the highest norms of motoring safety. We adore the vehicles we drive and use, behooving us to do our job responsibly.
Do share our Sula story if you liked it! In our bid to encourage motoring conversations further, we’d like you to comment below and tell us what you think.
We’d love to know how our readers satisfy their cravings for the road! Cheers!
Lex Talionis! – A long term update on the Mahindra Thar!
We’ve spent an adventurous four years with this mean and mod-friendly machine! So before we let you through to our original story on the Thar, here’s a quick look at the major modifications on our daily driver!
Mahindra Customisation: Snorkel, Midnight Edition Front and Rear Bumpers: Inspire confidence while fording and enhance maneuverability / aesthetics.
Bimbra 4×4: Heavy Duty Rock Sliders, Fiber reinforced Hard Top (V2), Aluminum Roof Rails: Protection from rocks underneath and the Hard Top takes cabin comfort and security to the next level.
Hella: Front Auxiliary Halogen Lamps (Comet 500 Black Magic): Used as DRLs and driving aid.
Onella: Rear Auxiliary LED Lamps: Rear driving aid and campsite illumination.
Aurora LED: Front LED Bar (Off-Road): Off-road path-finding.
Cooper Tires: Discoverer STT Pro 31″ Mud Terrain Tires on 15″ Steel Wheels: Improved off-road capability, increased stability on road, the trade off – an audible ‘humm’ while at speed, reduced top end.
Mopar: Wrangler Hood Latches: Aesthetics primarily, eliminates squeaky noises made by stock metal bonnet Latches.
DampMat: Thermo-Acoustic Insulation: Reduced cabin noise and heat by 50%. Improved life inside cabin (and air-con efficiency) immensely.
ARMORO: Custom Spare Wheel Cover: Adds attitude and improves overall aesthetics, protects spare rubber from elements.
Built not Bought!
Each modification/add-on mentioned above has been made after careful research and due scrutiny of each available option in the category. The custom accessories market in India is steadily growing and so are the options that are natively available for enthusiasts to use on their individual rigs.
Now, back to our original story on the Mahindra Thar!
The Jeep Life!
Those who follow our work will know we did a quick review of the Mahindra Thar some time ago. The Thar is an SUV which carries the tag of a Jeep in India. People who drive these brutes are often from a different school of thought altogether. These men and women, like most, value comfort, style, ease of handling and most of all practicality. With all these in the bag though, there is still something missing. The chase for this missing element is what makes people buy a Jeep.
A jeep is not practical, it isn’t comfortable, the handling on these machines is appalling and as for styling – it hasn’t changed for the last 7 decades. So then, what is it? What makes one buy a Jeep? Nirvana set out to unravel this mystery in the best way there is!
We cleared our schedule, packed up as much stuff as we could, stuffed it into a Mahindra Thar and then drove off in tandem with the rising Sun. For the first few kilometers, we battled the blistering cold as the Thar warmed up. The cabin heater takes its own time to wake up and the canvas-ish soft top roof was not helping things either. Eventually though we did find some semblance of temperature inside the cabin. The drive had now begun. We were now officially giving chase to the element, that one thing which makes one go out and buy a jeep.
Barreling through the cold morning winds, we’d defog the windscreen manually (with a cloth) every few minutes. Irritating at first, it is something a Jeeper gets used to very quickly. Much like the bumpy ride one has to deal with even on smooth highway roads. The rear end of the Thar sits on an antique leaf spring suspension setup making it jump over every little lump of tar on the Indian road. Safe to say, the ride is not something to write home about. Even with the fully independent pot hole eating front suspension, there is only so much this Jeep can offer.
Highway Crusin’ – Indside Story!
The 2.5 Litre turbo-diesel does tend to impress when given the beans on the highway. Sluggish at first but given time, the Thar holds its own on the highway. For what is essentially a box on wheels, the Mahindra Thar is a gem on smooth straight roads. On mountain roads however, curve after curve, one has to calibrate to the comfort zone of this Jeep. The driver learns to read the road for potential bumps and it’s his/her skill which decides how smooth or unnerving the ride will be.
Barring a rudimentary seat-belt, there is nothing between the passenger/pedestrian and certain loss of limb. Oh, maybe the less than adequate brakes might soften the nudge a little. And then there is the price tag; eight and a half lakhs on the road (Pune). Phew! So where does all that money go? Clearly the interiors (or the lack of them) is not something which eats up the budget.
As we found out, the Borg&Warner 4×4 transfer case mated to the 2.5 turbo is where the money’s at. It is the off-road capability of this Jeep that costs. Off-road loyalists in India will probably want to discount the Thar’s ability when things get a little too technical (Compared to a traditional solid-axle). Not to say this jeep is bad when taken off the road. We found the stock Thar to be adequately endowed for someone looking to break into the world of Indian jeeping. Having said that, we were still miles away from discovering the magic element (and our destination!).
I can go anywhere!
We had driven a few hundred kilometers by now. Over highways and in the curves, we’d found our rhythm with the Thar; then something funny happened.
As we got used to the Thar’s antics, she took on an almost endearing personality. Like a human being, even with all its limitations, the Thar kept moving. Eating miles and sipping diesel, she got us to our destination – Our holy grail – Hedvi.
Holy grail – Hedvi!
Despite all the niggles, we had fallen for the Mahindra Thar! Every time we looked, we couldn’t take our eyes off it! On a beach, out trailblazing in the wilderness or even on the city street, the Thar cuts a very crisp figure. And gosh is it attractive! Driving down the streets, everyone from young boys and girls to middle aged couples and even a few Army and Police personnel will give you the thumbs up.
The Thar almost always becomes the conversation piece because truth is, the Jeep (as a concept) has seen it all. Over the past century, in all corners of the world and in every walk of life this vehicle in all its forms has proven its mettle beyond doubt. Starting from the military, through utility and going all the way till recreation, the Jeep can do everything.
The compromise in comfort and luxury, we feel, is fair in return for the capabilities and downright uniqueness. Safety on the other hand is something Mahindra & Mahindra still need to work on for the Thar.
Finally though we’d cracked it; we now knew why one buys a jeep. Read on.
Travel till land’s end!
Romance is rare, charm is even rarer and class, well that’s almost extinct. There is a reason why a charming, secure and confident man makes any woman swoon. The reason is romance. Any man who is secure in himself and confident about his abilities probably knows how to woo a woman. He could walk onto her turf with his charm and the only thing a lady will do is welcome him. No matter how uncomfortable it is to be together, no matter how unpractical the love is and regardless of the cost, if the romance is alive – the love will flourish.
And that is it ladies and gentlemen. The romance of a lifestyle is what attracts enthusiasts to jeeps like bees to honey. It’s the romance of doing things differently, standing unaffected by the way the ‘herd’ looks at living and going where few bother to look which sets true blue Jeepers apart. Living with a Jeep is not for those corrupted by comfort!
The virile lifestyle!
Comfort zones become a thing of the past with a jeep. A well kitted out vehicle and with a strong skill set on tap, anyone can become an explorer. In fact, we love the romance of Jeeping so much, we’ve bought one! The vehicle you see in the pictures is a bone stock* Mahindra Thar from our very own Nirvana stable!
Expect a lot more travel and Jeeping stories hereon out! Also, in our bid to encourage motoring conversations further, we’d like you to comment below and tell us what you think. We’d love to know how our readers satisfy their cravings for the road! Cheers!
For more Jeeping photography click on The Jeep Life!
Every motorcycle ride is a collection of small stories. Experiences, bundled up into fond memories for a lifetime.
Nepal is an enigma. When thinking about this country, what comes to mind are the mighty Himalayas and heroic feats of men and women who have set foot on some of the tallest mountains in the world. There’s more to Nepal than just mountaineering though.
Adventure in Nepal is a way of life. Once here, the ideal ingredients for adrenaline gushing, heart rate increasing and mind altering travel are found in every corner. It was time we took the Nirvana tread to Nepal!
Nepal is a neighbour to India and a mystery to everyone who hasn’t been to this country of concoctions. One of the smallest countries in the world is a window into some of the the biggest mountain ranges in the world. Not to mention the downright dumbfounding natural beauty that is routine here.
Breathtaking landscapes at every turn.
For this rumble through the mountains Team Nirvana would like to thank the Firelords Royal Enfield Owners’ Club and its members who we rode with. Motorcycling is a different ballgame when it comes to international travel. There’s a lot of boring stuff involved before one can actually get to the ‘two wheels moving the soul’ part. Paperwork, permits, hotel bookings and (when you’re riding Royal Enfield bikes) mechanic finding are just some of the things we had to put in place before we left home.
Making plans for such trips is very exciting, mostly because in the heart every biker knows, nothing ever goes to plan. It’s when things do go wrong, that the motorcycling life lessons begin their hallowed teachings.
Distances are small in the mountains but it’s the intensity of roads and conditions that pose the real challenge here. Nepal just about manages to have a road network. It also has some of the worst roads (paths/tracks) we’ve ever ridden on. On our 17 day journey through this country, we rode on everything that this terrain could throw at us.
Ridin’ through a landslide!
On what we thought would be a short sprint from one destination to another, we came across a five kilometer stretch where one entire face of a mountain had slipped into the valley below. A landslide. Five kilometers of track took two hours to cover on our aging Enfields. Because of the toll that two hour stretch took on our bikes (and us!), our entire schedule went out of whack. This is when our motorcycle ride truly started with all its intensity. This is the charm of Nepal and its terrain, nothing is ever what you expect yet, everything is beautiful.
We learned pretty quickly that a ‘good road’ in Nepal is merely a dirt track all the way to one’s destination. If to our surprise we found good tarmac, we worshiped it with both our wheels! The value of smooth roads is understood only when constant off-roading becomes an everyday routine. Sheer tenacity and the ability to take it slow come in handy on endless rocky sections of the roads here. Beyond every challenging road section though, lay the best prize of them all, unhindered beauty.
Reverberating to the sounds of our thumping engines were the stunning Himalayan valleys through which we rode all across this country.
The Capital of Nepal, Kathmandu is hard core. The traffic here is MAD! The pollution is literally sky high and the dust, oh god the dust is everywhere!
Nothing could have prepared us for the onslaught that was Kathmandu. KTM is a concoction of sorts with its touristy yet formal ethos. Formal mainly because of the host of embassies present here, security is tight. Roaming the streets of Kathmandu, one can find adventurers and tourists of many nationalities. A melting pot, not of cultures but of people – in pursuit of their next big experience.
Kathmandu is a gateway into Nepal. A crash course in how to get around in the rest of the country. Hotels here are generally soft on the pocket, memorabilia on the other hand is not, we got ripped off a lot here! Evenings are lively in KTM and the cuisine too is varied and up to the mark. No matter where you’re from, you will find your food here.
The people of Kathmandu are slightly different from the rest of Nepal (we say this largely because of our hotel manager & shop keepers who we encountered). Although they treat everyone the same, when it comes to money, one needs to be careful. The streets are safe and most importantly, fuel is available 24/7.
Boudhnath Stupa – Kathmandu
We, as usual, made the mistake of trying to do too much in time that was better suited to explore rather than endure. Here, we discovered another trait of the mountains.
No matter how much one tries to hurry, the mountains will slow you down. Someone somewhere has rightly said, “you never cross the Himalayas, these mountains merely let you through”. We had a motorcycle issue on the day we rode out of Kathmandu. Although we did reach our destination for the day, it wasn’t before we’d crossed an entire landslide. This stretch took a lot from us mentally, our machines were fine though.
Never underestimate the rigours of mountain motorcycling, ever. We realised here, that even trying to anticipate what the road ahead would bring was futile. Instead, it was best that we slept well, ate well and rode hard.
Photography on this motorcycle road trip was kept to an absolute minimum. We only shot when we had the energy and will to do it. Many a times, we let million dollar scenes pass by just because motorcycling was our first priority. It had to be, for us to keep to our schedule, we couldn’t spare a moot minute. Lesson learnt.
We were now making our way across mainland Nepal. Riding through the lush countryside, we were met with beauty beyond comprehension. The toil we had been through was worth every minute. The views were overwhelming!
Goa of Nepal! Pokhra!
The beach town vibe of Pokhra is inescapable. Chilled out people, good music and great food made Pokhra our favourite place to ditch the motorbikes (for once!) and plonk ourselves for some R&R.
Nestled within the Annapurna valley, Pokhra is where everyone comes to start their journey into the Annapurna mountain range. These are treks which, according to your taste, can stretch from one day to about 20 days. Safe to say, we were not up for THAT much walking, we love our bikes too much! 😛
Instead we chose to sit back, relax and wake up freakishly early to watch the first light fall on the Annapurna Mountain Range.
Watching the first rays of Sunlight fall on these mountains was such a gripping experience for all of us that we hardly even spoke to each other while watching the Sun rise.
It was a very cold morning and we were all very sleepy but as soon as the light-show began, it was like mountain magic. We just sat there in the cold wind, sipping one chai after another, looking.
And that was that. Fifteen days had gone by without us even thinking about going back home. Yet, we had to turn the handle, twist the throttle and push back into India. Nepal as an experience was over. Or was it?
On our way back from Pokhra to Lumbini, we rode our bikes on the most spectacular mountain roads of the entire trip! More than a hundred kilometers of silk-smooth roads, twisting through the Himalayan foothills, it was like Nepal had saved the best for last. This was the cherry on the icing for our motoring heartbeats. We were a happy bunch by the end of this ride.
Secretly, we were all in love with Nepal and its antics. Here, some met their limits, others pushed theirs and for some it was just another day on the road to Nirvana :).
We are yet to have our fill of this wonderful country. It is our promise, we will go back.
“The kiss of the mountain air is everlasting.”
Motorcycles & Mountains!
Check out our video from this motorcycle trip!
Road trips, to us, are the best way to break the ice between a vehicle and the people who use it. Much like it is for strangers travelling together. Here at Nirvana, we like to believe that vehicles, regardless of the number of wheels, have personalities too. With the Mahindra Xylo, we were on the verge of finding out what motoring could mean if one let go of stereotypes and just put pedal to the metal.
The day before our trip, as the Mahindra Xylo arrived, we were a tad surprised with the space inside. The initial drive made us feel like everything was where it needed to be in the vehicle. Power, space, air conditioning, stability and that all important 3rd row of seats. We would be putting the Xylo to the ‘Nirvana Travel Test’ so obviously we had no back up vehicle to lug our stuff separately.
Let’s go that way!
Five boys, seven days and loads of camera things, we set out to conquer the Indian countryside in our Xylo. We must be honest, an ‘MUV’ is probably not the first choice of vehicle for a bunch of young boys who’d want to have a bit of fun on a road trip. Through our photography, that was the very mindset we were out to change!
There were two major aims of our week long trip. We were to photograph the vehicle and also experience life with the Mahindra Xylo H9. H9 being the most well equipped ‘top end’ version.
Our first destination was the beach town of Murud Janjira. A 170 kilometer drive saw us there well in time for the sunset and a quick bite. On the short drive here, the Xylo behaved like a silent companion, nonchalantly going about its business of turning wheels and getting us to the town.
Shooting big vehicles such as the Xylo can be a tricky proposition. We had to think and shoot, constantly reworking frames to get shots worthy of the Nirvana name. We wrapped up our first sunset shoot. Taking some time to relax and absorb the beauty that was Murud Janjira, with the Xylo by our side. The vehicle had performed well on her first day. We were now excited to see the rest of the trip unfold!
Spontaneity equals fun, always!
The whole premise of this road trip was spontaneity. Everything would be decided on the go. Be it the next destination, the next photographic angle or even what/where the team would eat, we were flying freestyle all the way!
Early next morning, we forgot to wake up.
It happens, too much prep and no relaxation before hitting the road can lead to this. Good sleep is most important on any road trip. Good sleep leads to good fun, we think.
Finally, around 10 AM and with everyone on the breakfast table, we bounced ideas off each other. It was important we did that, 5 heads and no calibration can lead to a lot of chaos with the lens. Having decided we would let our quest for exploration guide our shoot, we hit the road destination unknown! Driving through interiors of the Konkan Coast, it was inevitable that we hit the famous National Highway 17. The smooth and bendy roads of this highway were a good test run for the Xylo. Not to forget the five boys inside!
We drove about 200 kilometers on this day, finally finding ourselves in a quaint and almost completely secluded beach village, Hedvi.
If you haven’t guessed it yet, the Nirvana team loves beaches. We believe some of the greatest driving roads in the world run along the coasts and it’s no different in India. Another reason maybe that we love shooting images in those dreamy golden hours :). We had timed our arrival perfectly. Hedvi welcomed us with the perfect sunset vistas, not to forget the perfect beach driving opportunity. Until now we had driven the Xylo on good roads, bad roads, straight roads and bendy roads but now it was time to have some fun on the beach!
The New Mahindra Xylo: Practically Brilliant!
The stereotype of boring MUVs does not apply to this vehicle. The New Xylo is a very amusing car. Right from the voice enabled commands to the mind bending amount of space inside, the Xylo surpasses all expectations. To delve deeper, lugging all our camera equipment along with the team that makes it all work is no easy task but the Xylo was toe for toe with every challenge we could throw at it. We’re not shy of acknowledging the elephant in the room either, a car this big has to have monumental body roll right? Wrong!
The new Xylo with its comfort spec suspension once again had us snoozing in our seats as we munched those curvy coastal miles. Trust us when we say this, a hard working team loves a vehicle that takes care of its passengers over long distances regardless of the road conditions. Rumbling under the hood was the Mahindra’s flagship M-Hawk engine. We really enjoyed putting the 120 horses to work on the Indian highways, taking turns to drive the vehicle all throughout the Mahindra Xylo Mad Dash. We were impressed.
Boys will be boys and who doesn’t like making a splash in water?! As the Sun set over the Arabian Sea, we pulled up our socks and washed the behemoth off of the salt water from all that driving and splashing in the sea (basics!).
It is imperative that we mention more about the Hedvi village. Hedvi is something else, it is solace, freedom and fun all rolled into one exquisite ballad of beauty. We’ve always been in love with the simple and rustic charm of this place. The beach here is absolutely untouched by civilization and the village brings the same ‘middle of nowhere’ feeling into any stay at this place. Especially since there is no cellphone network here, time spent here is exclusively private. Which is something that helped us get in touch with the vehicle we were shooting even more.
Evening under the stars!
At Hedvi, the Nirvana Team had spent all its time interacting one-on-one with the Xylo. The climate here was so humid that we spent an entire afternoon napping inside the Xylo, you know, taking advantage of that exceptional air conditioning system. Night fell and we were out again, we realized that it’s the perfect vehicle to go camping with buddies. Oodles of space for camping gear and everything else one might need!
We hit the road early next morning. Initially deciding to stick to the coast as long as we could, in the Xylo, we explored a little bit of the Konkan (coast) one usually misses out on. We even took a short ferry ride (with the Xylo!) to get ourselves across a river. As the day progressed, we took turns suggesting our next possible destination. In the end, we needed the map to figure out where it is we could actually go in the time we had. As soon as the road map of India unfolded, Lead Photographer Nipun Srivastava exclaimed – Hampi!
The moment Hampi was mentioned, we took off! Hitting the National Highway Number 4 a little after lunch and then soon getting off it to head towards the prehistoric temple town that is Hampi, we were on a roll with our Xylo! We reached Hampi late in the night, a drive that was not just beautiful but also equally intense. We had spent an entire day travelling in the Xylo. To be honest, none of us were too tired so we treated ourselves to some well deserved pints of beer :D.
Hampi is a village about 850 kilometers from Mumbai, close to the town of Hospet in the South Indian state of Karnataka. This place is a true wonder of nature. Views of the landscape here are full of boulder hills in various sizes and shapes. Hampi is a site located within the ruins of the Vijayanagar Empire. It is older than the medieval city of Vijayanagara and is still of much religious importance. Hampi is home to the Virupaksha Temple – the main center of pilgrimage here and dedicated to Lord Shiva. On the banks of The Tungabhadra river which flows through Karnataka into Andhra Pradesh, Hampi is not just a religious stop for the Indian traveler but is also a place of wonder and amazement to the foreign tourist. Hampi to us was the perfect opportunity to photograph the Xylo in truly unique surroundings.
The Mad Dash team at Hampi!
Amidst the ruins our team of photographers had a ball shooting the new Xylo! We drove from one ruin to another and explored the unique architecture and rock–cut structures and boy did we have the ‘time of our lives’! On one hand, temples of the Vijayanagar Empire poke ones spiritual inner self and on the other the awesome expanse of ruins spread as far as the eyes can see make one wonder, how on earth did they manage to build this wonderland!
The Nirvana Team spent two days amidst the striking structures of Hampi. Six amazing days of travel, motoring and unparalleled fun were to be followed by one last Mad Dash across the states of Karnataka and Maharashtra to get us back home to Pune. Pack up – load up – rev up – kind of a theme now for us and the kind of work we do around here.
The Xylo MUV is regarded by most as just a people carrier and nothing more. Understandable, as it feels like one’s private cave on the road – it’s that huge. When Mahindra & Mahindra called us though, we were forced to look at the whole idea of the Xylo differently. As is the case with every vehicle we shoot/test, the can of worms opens first. Once that’s been dealt with, we head out with the vehicle to see if we were right.
Take a trip with the brand new Xylo!
The mood inside the Xylo on our drive back was surreal. Each doubt we had about the super-MUV had been quashed by the intense trip we’d taken in this car. So much so, we were even talking about getting one for the Nirvana Garage. Yes, the Xylo is that good! Turns out that our preconceived notions about the Xylo were exactly that, preconceived. Talking about personalities again, we think the Xylo knows where it stands in the ‘looks’ department. Like most underdogs though, it outperforms expectations and delivers on platter a lot more than one might imagine!
The Mahindra Xylo Mad Dash was conceptualized and executed by Nirvana exclusively for Mahindra & Mahindra.
Mumbai: (Client) Mahindra & Mahindra (Brand Xylo), for flying with us and for providing the vehicle.
Hedvi: Abhay Bhatkar, for the extremely personalized service to Team Nirvana.
Hampi: KSTDC Mayura Bhuwaneswari, for the best hotel deal in town!
Videos from the Mahindra Xylo Mad Dash!
‘The Best or Nothing’ says it all. The statement resonates so fiercely with our passion for creating experiential motoring images, that we push ourselves to the absolute limit every time. The moment we got the message from Germany, our planning began.
We were to deliver images that were clearly rooted in India. Routine as that may sound, fitting a car/vehicle into that bracket was always going to be a challenge. The list of possible destinations was endless. Right from the backwaters of Kerala to the mountain passes of Ladakh and even the seven sisters of the North east, we considered everything. After all, this was a unique opportunity. Through our photography, the world would lay its eyes on India.
Something still eluded us. It was the peak of the Indian Monsoon. Everywhere, the skies were grey and the earth a wet green. Then it struck us, we would have to outrun the Indian monsoon! We would head to Rajasthan!
The Desert State of India is home to the Thar Desert. A place we are very familiar with and if you know our work, it is a place we love to shoot at. The sound of the wind in the Desert carries with it stories of times past and as the sun beats down relentlessly each day, the sheer tenacity of the desert people comes to the fore. The odds were stacked against us though. The Desert was 1200 kilometers away, the rain was heavy and we had just enough time to make it all happen. Along the way, we were also to shoot at Vadodara for a separate brief.
Then came the question of the car itself. We were to shoot the new CLS and also the GL 63 AMG both and we had just about a week to make it all happen. Even though the weather was an obvious risk, The Nirvana Team was ready and we slotted ourselves into gear. We flew out to Vadodara where we were to collaborate with a local artist for 2 days. For Mercedes Benz, of course. This shoot was part of the ‘Homestory’ and artist profile for the St Moritz Art Masters, Switzerland.
Making a presence in Vadodara!
The Laxmi Vilas Palace at Baroda is an eternal icon of the city. In every mention of the City, the Palace features at the top. The question was – How do we get in?
We exercised all our contacts and then some more to at least get a word through to the palace authorities. The people at the palace were superbly kind to us and let us shoot on the grounds solely on our merit. The palace gates opened and we drove the mighty GL 63 AMG onto its August grounds! Rani ji, the reigning Queen of Vadodara also graced our shoot and met with us. We were truly honoured! On this day, even the Sun came out for a short while and we got a few shots worthy of the Mercedes Benz Badge.
Laxmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara.
As soon as the adrenaline of shooting at the Palace wore off, the realization of the start of the road trip set in. Experiential road trips are our forte but even then, each road trip shoot brings with it unique challenges. The Indian monsoon was still unrelenting. We were very low on sleep too, an average of just three hours a day. Then again, if the car you’re driving is more luxurious than a 5 Star hotel, who needs sleep? This is where the GL 63 AMG really came on song.
“Enough power to move the earth, while keeping one cocooned in luxury.” were lead photographer Nipun Srivastava’s actual words just after they hit the highways leading into Rajasthan.
GL 63 AMG – Grunt Central!
Whoa!! That’s the first thought one’s brain will have when you ram the pedal into the GL. You will be punched into your seat and then your world will change. As you hurtle forward, your ears will tingle to sounds of the V8 sitting under the hood. As the needle hits red, one pull of the paddle will usher in another delivery of power as if it was something the gods arranged for you to have. Crisp steering response and a not so heavy steering wheel make controlling the GL 63 AMG a pleasure.
By now, you’re in a trance. Eyes on the road, pedal to the metal and going hell for leather – that is the AMG experience. The handcrafted engine will follow your every command, in the GL 63 AMG, you are the Maharaja of the Indian road. When you’re coming, they will hear you and when you’re going they WILL look. That’s the reaction one gets on the roads.
The Indian Road:
Indian highways are notorious. Bad roads were the least of our concerns.
The Blue Hulk, as we had begun to call the mighty GL, was powered by a V8 Petrol Bi-Turbo engine. A high performance engine like that needs to be fed appropriately. Only a high octane diet would adequately satiate The Hulk’s appetite. Sadly though, out near the Desert, just finding a fuel station which sold petrol was a luxury. The fuel economy of just over 4 kilometers to a litre of fuel (when Nipun aka lead foot was at the wheel) was not helping things. On the secluded desert roads, we fueled up every opportunity we got!
Leaving the weather behind!
We covered the distance of 650 Kilometers from Baroda to Jaisalmer in record time. Stopping over at Barmer and at a few other places along the road as well. Driving across the landscape was such a rush that we forgot lunch! Improvisation was the answer – Bananas! We reached Jaisalmer as the moon rose over a now clear sky. Team Nirvana had finally outrun the Indian Monsoon. We love it when a plan comes together!
The Desert, The City: Jaisalmer.
This city and Nirvana go back a long way. One of our pet projects; Rooh – e – Rajasthan meaning ‘Spirit of the Desert’ has featured this superlative city. To us, Jaisalmer is like home.
To twist things a little, this time, we were not staying at the city per say. Team Nirvana and the mighty GL 63 AMG would be put up at a special place a little outside Jaisalmer. Super car – super hotel, you know. The luxurious surrounds of Hotel Suryagarh out in the Desert was to be our new playground and also our home base for the remainder of the shoot. As soon as we were in the city, we tanked up the Hulk and then our tummies as well. Shooting photographs on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster ;).
With full stomachs, we marched onto the Desert, knowing exactly where and how we were to shoot. This shoot started at 11pm and we shot in the dunes for a couple of hours. Not a soul around for miles, the only lighting we had for this mini shoot was the Moon and the GL 63 AMG itself.
Shooting in the moonlight!
After our initial fill of playing around in the sand under moonlight, we drove back to our (not so) humble abode.
A word about the hotel we stayed at: Suryagarh is a hotel which has little in common with the other places we’ve stayed at. In the middle of the arid desert life is difficult to say the least but if you’re at this hotel, everything is literally taken care of. We had spoken to them about our “plans” beforehand and they were most happy to oblige. Even before we reached, they knew what we needed and had it ready for us, customized to our liking. Amazing. It helps to have things sorted when on a photo shoot such as this. Kudos to Suryagarh!
The Suryagarh Courtyard
Nothing ever goes to plan. We were up early for the sunrise but the eastern skies over Jaisalmer were overcast with mist and remnants of the monsoon. It felt as if the skies themselves were telling us to take a break. For the first time in 6 days, the Nirvana team sat down for a proper breakfast. Breakfast is a luxury few can afford in the bets we make to shoot in the golden hours. One look at our work and the sun and its shades will tell you how much we love using just natural sunlight.
As the Sun rose, the skies cleared. We began our final recce and chalked out a rough plan of action. Over the next two days, we shot in the desert, at our hotel and of course the city of Jaisalmer itself.
For us, the two most important things are motoring and travel. These words continue to define our style of photography. Jaisalmer and its surroundings gives photographers like us the perfect play ground to make our mistakes, learn and then deliver – every time.
Not to forget, another word which defines our work is adventure. We love taking a risk or two with everything we do. Whether it is shooting without camera straps altogether or dangling out of an open top jeep to get that perfect rolling shot, we’re always pushing limits.
We wanted to explore the roads that turn off of the main highways here in the extreme western parts of India. These small and almost inconsequential roads are sometimes gateways into photo opportunities which one would never imagine out on the highways. Going ‘off the beaten track’ as they harp every time ;).
As we drove further into the desert on one of these inner roads we saw the real temperament of the elements here. The landscape in this part of Rajasthan is unpredictable, from hills to sand dunes to sand dunes the size of hills – one never knows what will pop out of the horizon. In the Thar Desert, sand has the unquestionable right of way.
Hell for leather – always!
Another side to Rajasthan’s beauty is the music here. This desert region is known for its folk and regional music and musicians. No evening is complete without a song or two from the repertoire of these tenured musicians. The tunes are mesmerizing and take one into bygone times when kings and queens reigned over this part of the world. It was a simple shot that popped up into our heads. Musicians + car + local architecture, simple.
Music & Motoring
As it happened, on that particular evening, the Super Moon had come out in all its glory. The moonlight and the clouds added just the right amount of drama into the frame, we think. This was also the last night of our week long shoot. Before the Sun rose again, we would be on our way back to Pune.
The journey is eternal.
The shoot had ended but the journey was a long way from being over. Not only did we have to drive our way back but like most journeys this was an experience which would continue in our minds for quite a while. The GL 63 AMG was the first super car we had ever shot, here in India and the way we do things, that was a big deal. We can hardly take credit for this shoot though. Yes, we shot the images but without the special support of our friends, acquaintances and team members none of this was possible. It was the people that we met who made it possible, we just made it happen :).
Germany: (Client) Mercedes Benz for their awesomeness.
Pune: Mercedes Benz India for the vehicle.
Vadodara: Benchmark Cars – local Mercedes Benz Dealer. Miss Vishwamohini Priyalak Bhatt, Miss Malvika Singh and her highness The Queen of Vadodara.
Jaisalmer: The Suryagarh Boys: Siddharth, Sunny, Rajesh, Asif and Kunal for taking every effort to make sure our shoot and stay goes smoothly!
Team Nirvana: Niranjan Tarphe for his support on shoot.
Well, the title should really be Shooting Car, since we’re gonna talk about just one motor. Mercedes Benz and theroadtonirvana.com have, through downright amazing photography, created a relationship unlike anything else we’ve been a part of. Continuing the same, we shot the C-Class earlier this year in all its glory, right here in Pune, India. Our Home!
We LOVE our motoring. What we love even more than that are vehicles which make magic happen. Both on the road and in front of the lens, there are some cars which truly take the cake. The 2013 Mercedes Benz C-Class is one such epic motor. Here we go!
Gift wrapped in a package of precise and confident design, the 250 CDI was delivered to us and we were told, it is your way or the highway. You know what though, “our way is the highway!”. You see, it’s all about analogies when it comes to motoring. Magic – is one such one-word analogy.
What is absolutely imperative for us before shooting any vehicle is the fact that there must be a connection between the photographer and the ride. That is, we need to take these beauties for a spin – a good old fashioned drive through the country. More often than not, triple digits and then some on the speedometer builds a connection of sorts between the vehicle and its driver. “I begin to trust the vehicle and that helps me feel right at home shooting these cars and bikes” says our lead Photog Nipun Srivastava. We agree!
Making that connection
We’re a little selfish in most our endeavors here at Nirvana. What we mean is, “motoring” is great but what use is motoring if one doesn’t travel?
You don’t just simply head out looking for shots, no. You head out looking for an experience, photography, just happens. That’s what we believe and that’s what helps us grow as photographers, travellers AND motoring enthusiasts!
Head out, chase the Sun.
Nipun drove the C-Class onto back roads which surround Pune city amidst the Western Ghaat hills of India. “How can you not have a sunset shot?” we thought just as we roared off on one of our signature short drives onto unknown roads.
Pune, incidentally is also the home of Mercedes Benz in India. The assembly plant for these cars is just a 30 minute drive away. It was mandatory for us to showcase the C – Class on the roads of our city. We made our way to Pune’s shopping street, the Mahatma Gandhi Road!
Like a boss.
Driving this C-Class Mercedes is a pleasure. The handling is damn crisp at high speeds which inspires confidence on the road. Then comes the interior which was pretty chic and gave us all the luxury we asked for with every touch. For a car of its class, in India the C-Class is slightly overpriced according to our experience. Still, no harm in dishing out dough for quality.
One shortcoming the C-Class shares with most its counterparts is the lack of adequate ground clearance for Indian roads, there’s just no way around that one. She drives smooth with a ten-on-ten automatic transmission but you do get flappy-paddle mode which takes a little getting used to. On the whole though, we would buy this baby. No grille or combination rings can outclass the three pointed star on Indian roads! Wink!
THE SPORT MODE: Yes, we did press that pretty button. The C-Class revs higher in Sport and other boring things change to give back a sharper, more fun ride.
After our mandatory road-tests were done, it was time for us to do what we do best – have fun with our cameras! We put in close to three hours scouting for and setting up a single shot and then we shot the star among stars! You won’t believe how awesome peanuts and diet coke taste out in the cold sitting beside self clicking cameras and a beautiful car. And then when the final shot comes out of processing, it just makes us swoooooooon!
Star among stars!
Shooting this car over three days was a fantastic experience for us. There are few things we value more than good vehicles, good places and good people. This shoot was right up there with some of our best over the past three years. Having said that, ladies and gentlemen, this is just the start. There’s a BIG Nirvana surprise coming soon! Hint: It loves flying!
A Masterclass in Quality, Mercedes Benz.
For all their awesomeness, we would like to thank Mercedes Benz Stuttgart, Mercedes Benz India for blessing us with the car and a BIG thank you to the master drivers who helped us navigate through each step of our insane shoot!
Until next time,