Welcome to wheels, Rajesh! You are a huge off-road enthusiast and founded the Desert Hawks Off-Road Community. Tell us what it is about tackling the beaten path that you enjoy so much?
First of all, it is a pleasure to be featured in the magazine, thank you for the opportunity!
Well, driving off-road is a challenge and no matter how experienced you are, you have to be at the top of your game and be prepared for anything. I guess I enjoy this aspect about it the most, to test myself and push myself further every time.
With the ability to tackle difficult terrain with my Jeep and get to places where you wonder if anybody has ever been also really appeals to me.
I was a speed freak and motor head ever since my childhood back home in India. I guess I got this from my dad. I learnt how to drive in a Premier owned by my grandfather — who was also a motor enthusiast — by the time I was just 6 years old! Racing and rallying was my passion and when I came to Dubai 19 years ago, I saw a world of 4x4’s playing on the dunes and I was so excited by this.
In 2004 I bought my first Jeep — a 1997 Wrangler with a manual transmission and my off-road journey started and I have never looked back since.
It has made you a far better driver too, right?
For sure, the experiences and challenges you face in every drive makes you a better, more mature and seasoned professional driver and that makes me proud.
Also, I love sharing the skills that I have learnt with others, I find this very rewarding. In fact, this is what made me form this group and as a bonus, I have formed deep friendships with people from all walks of life. I also love the camaraderie that we have.
What are your favourite off-roading spots in the UAE?
In my time here I have discovered so many but my favourites are Badayer and Al Faya and I love to drive towards the Al Ain and Abu Dhabi side of Sweihan and I just wish Liwa was a bit closer to Dubai.
It is off-road season now — what kind of events does your club have planned?
We have our regular Thursday night / Friday morning and Saturday afternoon drives planned which the more experienced drivers really enjoy, also the GPS challenge competitions for group members and we also have overnight camping events, family fun drives, wadi and mountain exploring in the northern region of the UAE and we usually end the drives with good food and movie nights for families and children.
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That sounds like fun and you have the perfect vehicle for the job — a 1987 Wrangler YJ; tell us about it…
I actually got her from one of the scrapyards in Sharjah. It cost me Dh3,000 and it wasn’t in very good condition at all. It took over a year to get her in the shape she is now and I am proud to say that I did all of the work on it myself. I nearly bought a Toyota Land Cruiser but the Jeep won me over.
The thrill I get when I drive it — I am sure no other brand or vehicle can replicate that. I am a proud Jeeper! I have had her for about eight years and I love to drive her any time of the day and night. I cannot describe how much fun it is to drive her naked... by that I mean without the roof, doors and windshield which makes her naked! The next one I got was the TJ, then JK and then I got my JL recently. I would love a CJ next.
With a Jeep, there is no place that I cannot reach and although other brands can go fast, us Jeepers can go everywhere!
How often do you drive it and tell us about the bulletproof engine…
In winter, she is my daily driver but I put her away in the summer to protect her from the harsh weather. She is 31 years old now and so I have to show her some respect!
She is still running the stock 4.2-litre straight inline six-cylinder mated to a five-speed manual and this has proven to be one of the best drivetrains I have experienced.
I have customized it a little; it has a 2.5in lift kit with long travel shocks and it rides on 315 tyres on 15in rims and this helps her to cope with the rough stuff. I wish to keep her as stock as possible but I may re-gear the differential.
You like to lock the doors, even though it doesn’t have a full roof…
Yes, and this always gets me some funny looks! Once, while off-roading with some friends, a bunch of guys were busy observing me as I went through my usual routine of locking the doors I could hear them laughing. I knew that they were going to play a prank on me — and as soon I walked away from my Jeep, they jumped in through the roof! We all saw the funny side of that!
And you are always getting offers for it too, right?
Not a day goes by without someone asking me if it is for sale and the answer is always the same — “no way, not for sale!”. I also own an S Class and a FJ Cruiser but the Jeeps are my favourite however my dream is a custom built two-door Merc G-Wagen.
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