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Safari gets hospitality on wheels

As the demand for safari tours increases among tourists, it becomes necessary for hoteliers to pay extra care when choosing the right vehicle, in order to cater to the needs of travellers. Deepak Tiwari explores various aspects of specifications related to safari such as modifications, security and limitations of the vehicles used.

Thursday, April 12, 2012, 17:30 Hrs  [IST]


Indian hotels who provide safari tours normally use Maruti Gypsy because it is light in weight and has powerful engine. For jungle safari, jeeps manufactured by Tata Motors and Mahindra Motors are recommended for the Indian road condition. A petrol vehicle of more than ten years and a diesel vehicle of more than five years is not allowed for jungle safaris in India. The forest department allows only six people at a time to be seated excluding the driver and the guide. Other vehicles that are normally used for jungle safari across the world are Force Motors Gurkha 4x4 SUV with 90 horse power engine, Tata Xenon from Tata Motors with hard top or soft top with carrier, which has 130 horse power engine, Mahindra XUV500, Nissan X-trail and Mitsubishi Montero.

Jungle safari vehicles are mostly jeeps or vehicles with wide glasses as they allow a very view. Also, these vehicles suffer a lot of wear and tear due to non-existent and bad roads. Vehicles require high level of maintenance as compared to the vehicle used to pick up guests from airports. A lot of modification takes place to make a vehicle a safe drive for safaris. Rajan Eklahare, Owner, The Jungle Resort Amba, said, “The vehicle that is used for a pick-up can be any vehicle such as Innova or a normal car but the vehicle used for a safari needs to be a 4x4 vehicle. In our vehicles, the suspension is a little raised and we have added a snorkel air intake. We have also put rock sliders on the under carriage for protection.”

Safety of travellers
A Jungle safari holiday is one of the most exciting things but it puts travellers right against nature, close to wild animals. The safety of a traveller and the vehicle is the biggest responsibility of the driver, as he is the only person who has a strong understanding of the area. A jungle safari can turn into a life time experience if appropriate precaution and care is taken. Eklahare added, “Our drivers are trained to maintain a slow drive so that travellers can enjoy the surrounding natural beauty. We have at least two of our staff in every vehicle. We have basic first aid kit in all the vehicles. Technical equipments that we carry are mobile sets and loud speakers for emergencies.”

It is also important to train tourists about the surrounding conditions that exist in the forest. Overlander India, a company providing desert safari are experienced off-roaders. They have a self drive program that accompanies guests and ask them to follow instructions.  Ajit Rana, Co-owner, Overlander India, said,  “We analyse the off-roading capabilities of the guest and then cover terrain that he will be able to negotiate without any risk or danger. We do not permit drinking and driving, racing or reckless driving and the guests have to follow our lead vehicle. We are familiar with the area and the terrain and know where we can and cannot go.” In order to ensure overall security, Overlander India puts a roll cage inside the vehicle so that the occupants are protected in case of any overturning or accident. Also, there is a fire extinguisher, and a handy first aid kit. One of the vehicles carries an extensive first aid kit and equipment needed to pull the vehicle out in case it gets stuck in sand or mud.

120412_ss_2.jpgModifications in vehicles
Jungle roads are very muddy and uneven, which makes it very unsuitable for a smooth drive. It is very necessary for a company to modify their vehicle as per the road conditions in the jungle.  Guido Bothe, Director, Chinkara Motors Pvt Ltd gave an idea about the kind of modifications that need to be done for jungle and desert safari. He said, “For jungle safari, side portion of the vehicle should have an external role cage to avoid any kind of injury. Vehicle should have a straight plate under the engine to protect the gear box and suspension. A mix of mud and rock tyres is a must for jungle safari.” Apart from this basic modification it is important to carry other equipments as well. It is also good to have a very high frequency (VHF) radio set-up for an emergency. Normally Channel 16 of such set-up is best to ask for help. GPS unit and a compass in hand is also an essential item. Each vehicle  should have atleast two extra tyres. For Desert Safari slightly wider sand and mud tyres are used, which are specifically designed to use in sandy roads.  It consists of a smooth tyre core that has a series of large rubber cups attached to it. Uday Rana, Co-owner, Overlander India spoke in detail about the specific modifications needed, “We use Maruti gypsy that are modified as per the desert patterns of Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, and Barmer desert circuit of Rajasthan. These are power vehicle, light in weight compared to Mahindra Jeep, with wider tyres and sand protector under the vehicle. Mechanical devices are installed on front bumpers to pull travellers in case of any emergency. Other equipment that we carry along are tool-kit, sand-track, a set of tow rope and bungee cord.

Advantages and limitations

These open vehicles give tourists an opportunity to experience the thrill of watching wild animals  from a very short distance. But there are certain limitations as well because such modified vehicles are not allowed on the roads by regional transport offices. So, these vehicles cannot be used  on daily basis on city roads. Although they have good power in the lower gears, the top speed is limited for highway driving. The suspension is also stiffer for off-roading, which makes city and highway driving a little bumpy.

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