The vast sands of Thal desert echo roars of triumph
gainst a pale backdrop, the natural beauty of the Thal desert emerges with peelon, prosopis cineraria, curry and jujube trees. The picturesque setting was host most recently to the eighth edition of Thal Jeep Rally. The four-day spectacle has just concluded and the desert has returned to a state familiar to the Thalochars (Thal residents). The tents have been dismantled, colourful stalls have come down and food kiosks closed.
Characterised year round by a peaceful ambience, Thal witnesses a sense of adventure with the arrival of the jeep rally. Thalochars tend to cultivate a harmonious community spirit. The four-day rally is a clear break from the routine and a source of entertainment for the people.
“The rally attracts attention to the desert landscape of Thal. However, there is a noticeable silence when it comes to protecting the rich folklore and culture of the region. Little is said about the Thalochars and the challenges they face. Thal’s women, remarkably bold, liberal and hardworking, are seldom mentioned even though they have an equal and integral role in agriculture. Unlike women in some areas, these women traditionally wear no burqas, notes Prof Muzamil Hussein, an intellectual and writer based in Layyah.
Poet Musa Kalim, who hails from Kot Sultan, voices his concern: “The allotment of Thal lands to the elite has harmed the local people and jeopardised their traditions, literature and culture. Festive occasions like the Thal Jeep Rally should be harnessed to protect the culture and traditions of Thal,” he says.
For the eighth edition of the Thal Desert Jeep Rally a total of 95 vehicles raced between Head Muhammad Wala in Muzaffargarh and Layyah. This year, the Tourism Development Corporation, the Punjab, introduced new categories featuring women racers, bikers and horse riders.
Dina Patel, one of the participants, says the race track was significantly harder the previous year. “I learned a lot. Last year’s track required more skill. It has improved considerably. However, there is a need to improve the markings. Not every racer can afford high-tech navigators. The TDCP should work on improving track markings.”
Some racers mention the damaged sustained by several vehicles. They say several enthusiasts had been forced to withdraw from the competition. They say the rally track has no margin for error. Some of them plead for a slightly more forgiving and straightforward track which they say could attract a larger number of participants.
Even before the rally commenced, veteran racer Nadir Magsi voiced concern about the track. He was of the view that a less demanding track would make for more participants and ultimately more entertainment for the fans.
In the end, racer Taimur Khwaja emerged victorious in the prestigious A category. Shehryar Khan secured the first position in B category; Byrukh Mazari in C category; and Umar Iqbal Kanju in D category.
Among women racers, Salma Marwat secured the top spot in the prepared category. She completed the race in an impressive 1 hour, 31 minutes and 49 seconds. Dina Patel secured the second position, finishing in 1 hour, 33 minutes and 9 seconds. Syeda Rida Zainab clinched the third position, completing the distance in one hour 51 minutes and 14 seconds.
Taimur Khwaja displayed remarkable skill in completing the race in 2 hours, 50 minutes and 25 seconds. The third position was secured by Shiraz Qureshi, who completed the distance in 3 hours, 6 minutes and 46 seconds.
Zain Mehmood was recognised as the fastest racer in the stock category. He completed the 2.5 kilometre track in the qualifying round in an impressive one minute and 46.51 seconds. Muhammad Marwat claimed the top position in the category. Faisal Shadikhel was second in one minute and 48.93 seconds. Veteran Nadir Magsi finished in the third place with a time of one minute and 50.71 seconds. Unfortunately, he was unable to complete the race.
Syed Mohammad Marwat secured the top position in the stock category, covering the 2.5-kilometre track of the qualifying round in an impressive 2 minutes and 5.40 seconds. Zahib Jadoon claimed the second position, completing the qualifying round in 2 minutes and 5.53 seconds.
The prepared category and women’s races were held on November 12 as was the bike race.
In a conversation with The News On Sunday, TDCP General Manager (Operations) Wahid Arjamand Zia highlighted the organisation effort, particularly, the meticulous tagging and registration, technical inspections and medical check-ups.
In the A category of the stock vehicles race, Muhammad Marwat claimed the first position, completing the race in 2 hours, 28 minutes and 55 seconds. Zohaib Hasan secured the second position and Aqeel Ahmed finished in third place.
In the B category, Sultan Bahadur emerged victorious, covering the distance in 2 hours, 23 minutes and 17 seconds. Hasan took the second position, and Umar Younis secured third place.
Dawood Abbasi finished first in the stock C category with a time of 2 hours, 47 minutes and 3 seconds. Zubair Hayat claimed the second position, and Shahzad Satti finished in third place.
Jameel Ahmed covered the distance in 2 hours, 45 minutes, and 1 second to secure the first position in the stock D category. Falk Sher Baloch and Hasnain-ul Haq secured the second and third positions, respectively.
Ash’ar Iqbal Malik, the TDCP regional manager, highlighted the extraordinary security measures. He said security personnel were strategically deployed at every observation post along the 195 kilometres track. Army and police personnel were stationed to manage the traffic and separate routes were designated for the racers and the spectators to access the starting point. Traffic police, the Civil Defence Department and Scouts were also mobilised.
The writer is bureau chief of The News in Multan. He may be reached at email@example.com