Toyota off-road experience: Exploring the North East in a Hilux and Fortuner

Toyota Great 4x4 Expedition

A 5am flight to anywhere is a chore – one has to be at the airport by 3am and wake up even earlier, which leaves one with very little energy for the rest of the day. On the other hand, knowing that I was going to be driving a Toyota Hilux for the next two days on some gruelling off-road trails in Guwahati provided me with requisite doses of adrenaline and anticipation.

I arrived as fresh as one could be, and looked forward to getting my hands on the Hilux, but first, there was the briefing. In the midst of listening to our guides and event organisers expounding on the safest ways to drive in a convoy and off the beaten path, I noticed a large number of Toyotas coming into the parking lot. This was going to be a massive 28-car convoy, including the pace and sweep cars.

Toyota Great 4x4 Expedition
Two days of serious off-roading in the jungles of the North East is a treat.

Our first destination was the lovely PRP Valley, a rubber plantation that is also used as an adventure tourism spot not too far away from Guwahati. While it should have taken us about 45 minutes, driving in a convoy – especially when the route goes through cities, tolls and other narrow bits – does mean delays. Driving a Hilux on tarmac isn’t what I was here for, but the pickup didn’t mind too much.

The torquey 204hp, 2.8-litre diesel engine was able to close gaps in traffic with ease, and its massive size actually helps clear traffic in some instances. As we moved further away from the city, road conditions got worse, and the Hilux truly came into its own. While it may share its ladder-frame chassis with the Fortuner (along with the engine and 4WD gear), the pickup feels like a different animal, thanks to the ‘live’ rear axle and leaf-sprung suspension.

Toyota Great 4x4 Expedition
The Great 4x4 Expeditions are organised across India for Toyota customers and prospects alike.

On the trail, the pickup’s legendary vitality made itself known – our course was an average level one, meant to whet our appetite for the next day’s more gruelling trail. However, the Hilux made it feel like child’s play. It clambered over boulders, up and down gravel-filled slopes and waded through waist-deep water like this was its natural habitat.

Appetite properly whetted, I couldn’t wait for the next day’s adventure. We were up bright and early as we were to drive quite a bit further that day, on and off the road. The plan was to head to the Kharsati National Park, Meghalaya, where Toyota had set up a course that was said to be a trying one; it sure was for us, but not the Hilux.

Toyota Great 4x4 Expedition
It’s definitely more at home off-road than on it.

Whether we were traversing steep side inclines, deep ditches or massive rumblers, the pickup took it all with aplomb. Inside, while I was thrown around due to being precariously perched on two or three wheels, I couldn’t help but chortle with glee. I consider myself a veteran, having attended Mahindra’s Off-road Academy twice, and tested more than my fair share of SUVs, but this trail was gruelling. And yet, other than the departure angle playing spoilsport, the Hilux was absolutely sure-footed.

For perspective, I put one of the Fortuners to the test. The SUV felt nearly as bulletproof on the rough stuff, though back on the road, the Fortuner was easier to manoeuvre. Besides underlining just how tough and reliable Toyotas are, the event provided an opportunity to indulge in the lifestyle that is almost demanded by such vehicles. They’re meant to take you to places few have been, and bring you back, keeping you thrilled and comfortable at all times.

Toyota Great 4x4 Expedition
Unfortunately, this modded Hilux was for display only.

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