Dust, jeeps and a splendid landscape

November 27, 2022

More than a hundred cars faced off at the seventh annual Thal Jeep Rally in almost a dozen categories over two days of action-packed off-roading

Dust, jeeps and a splendid landscape


he seventh annual Thal Jeep Rally kicked off in the desert near Changa Manga on November 17. More than a hundred cars faced off in almost a dozen categories over two days of action-packed off-roading. Competitions in sports like kabaddi, javelin throw and tent pigging as well as cultural activities including musical performances accompanied the jeep races. Hundreds of participants and more than a thousand spectators attended the event.

The Tourism Development Corporation of Punjab (TDCP) organises this jeep rally annually. Much like the Cholistan jeep rally, it is being noticed and has attracted international attention. The event facilitates a unique tourist activity and provides a platform for a niche subculture of dedicated motor enthusiasts. The approximately 190-kilometre track for the rally lies mostly in Muzaffargarh and Layyah districts in south Punjab. On their way to their destination, the 115 drivers in the contest this year had to show up at 14 check posts. Arrangements were in place for a rescue should the need arise.

Some experienced drivers said that the track was very challenging this year. Nasir Magsi, a veteran rally driver and fan favourite, said the track was more demanding this year than it had been in the previous years. He said unusual rains this year had affected the dugout track and left it narrower. This made for more challenging curves and turns along Thal’s sand dunes and rough dirt cliffs.

Dust, jeeps and a splendid landscape

Some auto enthusiasts drawn to the event were more interested in the cars than the drivers. Modification geeks compared, evaluated and admired the characteristic desert rally modifications on many of the jeeps participating in the rally. Preparing the vehicles for the harsh conditions of the track requires installing intimidating-looking heavy grills for safety and pumping up the jeep’s suspension to raise the vehicle’s height. Many drivers also modify the engine to provide additional power for the race and compensate for the added weight. Many enthusiasts prepare modified jeeps to be driven by professional drivers on their behalf. More dedicated drivers hire professional teams to work on their vehicles.

Before these mechanical camels, adept at travelling the dusty and unpaved desert roads, enter the arena, their drivers come together to get to know one another and socialise. They also exchange racing tips and discuss the latest trends and share information about the conditions of the track and expected difficulties. They are and look like a close-knit fraternity. There were seven or eight women drivers in the rally this year. This included a father-daughter team where the father was the navigator, who helps the driver anticipate turns.

Dust, jeeps and a splendid landscape

Hundreds of enthusiasts arrived in droves to catch a glimpse of the roaring jeeps. The participants registered on site after arriving at Changa Manga on Day Zero. The organisers had previously informed them that the registration would be carried out in Multan but some participants insisted on registering at Changa Manga. Apparently they couldn’t wait to get out for reconnaissance. On the other hand, registration in Multan could have saved precious daylight in Changa Manga better spent with the jeeps on the track instead of parked on road sides while the owners completed the documentation.

Unlike a layman’s concept of a race where all the participants begin together and compete to reach the finish line first; in a jeep rally, participants take off one after the other, competing to complete the track in the shortest amount of time. The modified jeeps compete in the ‘prepared’ category and the rest in the ‘stock’ category.

On Day One, the participants competed in the qualifying round, where they had to drive over a three-kilometre section of the track. Raja Muhammad Saeed finished first in the qualifying round, completing the run in one minute and 34 seconds. Defending champion Zain Mahmood finished in second place. Nadir Magsi, the eventual winner, placed third in the qualifying round.

Dust, jeeps and a splendid landscape

The event also contributes to the region’s socio-economic development as the rally drivers and spectators patronise the hotels, shops and restaurants in the area.

One of the biggest challenges in the qualifying round was the worsening of the track as the round went on. In this type of race, there is an advantage to going first. The track gets harder and more challenging to drive on as the competition progresses. Jeeps driving over the track leave new ditches behind as they dig their way out of the pits and around rough curves.

In every round, the vehicles are divided into categories based on whether they are modified or not and their engine power. The unmodified ones competed in the ‘stock’ category on the first two days of the competition. Those with modified vehicles competed in the ‘prepared’ category the next day.

More than seventy jeeps raced in the stock category, which was the most popular event throughout Saturday. Four subcategories were created, with the modified and unmodified jeeps broken down into A, B, C and D categories based on engine power. Winners are announced for each of the categories. Falak finished first in 2 hours and 38.5 minutes in the C category.

The final on Sunday was a nail-biting climax. The 190-kilometre track was more than 60 times the length of the track for the qualifying round. 38 jeeps participated in the final round. These included two driven by women. It took most drivers more than two and a half hours to complete the track. Zain Mahmood, the reigning champion, was also in the competition to defend his title. However, most spectators considered Nadir Magsi and Sahibzada Sultan to be the favourites. In the end, Mir Nadir Magsi took it home in two hours, 10 minutes and 15 seconds, bagging the first prize. Close behind was Asif Fazal Chaudhry. Jafar Magsi finished third, finishing the track in two hours, 50 minutes and 16 seconds.

Several vehicles fall Vehicle number 102 overturned during the qualifying round. However, the driver, Muhammad Shoaib, was unhurt. Videos of the accident went viral on social media in a matter of minutes. Tipu Gurmani’s car, number 609, was in an accident that resulted in injuries to the driver. Many initially feared that he hadn’t survived the accident. Fortunately, he was mostly alright. The rally jeeps are fitted with custom-made metal cages surrounding the driver and passenger seats within the driving cabin. These contraptions, known as rolling cages, are designed to protect the driver and the navigator from being crushed if a vehicle tumbles off the track. A rescue team stationed along the track quickly reached the accident site and provided medical aid to the injured drivers.

A local fair coincides with the Thal jeep rally, adding to the festivity and entertains the spectators with cultural activities, including musical performances, dance performances, javelin throws and competitive horse racing, kabaddi and tent pegging. One such performance was a dance by school-age boys from Paharpur. Participants from more than 14 districts of south Punjab displayed their skills in these events. “We have to promote our cultural sports during the Thal Jeep Rally. That way, this rally will continue and will be executed in a better way in future,” said Ashraf Khan Rind, an MPA from Muzaffargarh, at the inauguration. The district administration organised kabaddi matches at the Changa Manga mound. The kabaddi match between Multan and Muzaffargarh was particularly close. Making good use of the home advantage, the latter won in the end with 30 points against the former’s 28.

There was a cultural mela at Chobara in Layyah district. At the mela, locals had set up shop offering handicrafts and souvenirs. The best merchants converted the heavy footfall attracted by the rally into numerous sales. Featuring a fireworks event, the cultural festivities impressed the drivers and spectators alike. Such activities also promote the area’s economy, with investment and demand for goods and services on the rise. Guest houses, hotels and other businesses have propped up in the area to cater to the tourists. Some owners, however, complained about the highly seasonal nature of business in the area. Still, they were grateful to the government for organising an event that brings a dependable influx of tourists to their district every year.

The event also contributes to the region’s socio-economic development. While rally drivers showcase their skills in the three-day event, the fans patronise the hotels, shops and restaurants in the area. This year, Pak Wheels was the official digital media partner for the event. However, their Youtube channel did not cover the event live.

The writer is a member of staff

Dust, jeeps and a splendid landscape