Picture this: you’re zipping around the bare mountains of Central Asia and your car breaks down. There’s pretty much nobody else out there, unless you count a few sheep and shrew grazing nearby for company. Your car belongs to the previous century and you discover that somebody pulled one on you by replacing your tool kit with, say, a bag of apricots. While this situation might sound like a nightmare most of us would be glad to wake up from, it is quite likely to come alive for an enthusiastic troupe of four techies from Bangalore, who think it has ‘epic adventure’ written all over it.
Siby Matthew, Rejoy John, Allwyn Kent and Vinesh T.V. have become the first participants from India to enter the Mongol Rally, the popular annual event that involves over teams from different countries driving 10,000 miles from London to Ulan Bataar in Mongolia. Inaugurated in 2004 by a London-based company called The Adventurists, the rally has grown from strength to strength, with participation going up from six to over 160 teams in just three years. Since 2007, they’ve been closing the number of entries at 200.
Our foursome, hailing from Kerala, found each other at college in Calicut a decade ago. A shared love for travel has brought them really close, right up to the point of cuddling in a car to survive intense cold in Ladakh. “The only thing that has kept our sanity intact is the affinity we have to keep moving in general,” they say on their website. And in a play on their nomadic intentions for this road-trip, they’ve named themselves the Genghis Khan East India Company.
“In 2010, when Kent heard about the Mongol Rally while he was on assignment in Europe, we immediately wanted to do it. We never thought twice about it,” says Matthew. So after enlisting, the first thing they did was buy their car — an 8-year-old 1,000 cc Nissan Micra that has already clocked 70,000 miles. The rally is not about comfort, which is why the rules require a car not less than two years and not more than 10 years old for the trip.
The participants are also free to chart their own route, which they must complete within 45 days to be allowed access into Mongolia. The GKEIC will be crossing 17 national borders, stopping at France, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Uzbekistan, Russia and Bisk, among others, for which they’ve acquired six separate visas.
All participants of the Mongol Rally are expected to raise a minimum of £1,000, of which half will go to the Lotus Children’s Centre Charitable Trust in Mongolia and the rest to a charity of the participants’ choice.
What with the world shrinking into our mobile phones and the elaborate mapping that has resulted in no part of the world left inaccessible, The Adventurists decided they need to find more exciting, even dangerous, ways of traversing the world and beating the boredom. But the conscientious bunch feels that as long as they’re using the planet for their entertainment, they must also give back to it. Thus the Mongol Rally also has people all geared up for a cause.
This year, all participants are expected to raise a minimum of £1,000, of which half will go to the Lotus Children’s Centre Charitable Trust in Mongolia and the rest to a charity of the participants’ choice. “So far, we’ve managed to raise £150, mostly through individual donations,” says Matthew. They will also be leaving their car behind. But what if they do not manage to complete the fundraising task? Matthew would rather not think about those consequences, quite sure they’ll be able to meet the mark.
So what’s so challenging about a cross-country drive, you ask? Apparently, everything from the vehicle to the route could throw up obstacles. “Sure, it’s not a race, so we don’t have to worry about reaching there first. But then, the borders we have to cross might be problematic because even though they are aware of the rally, they are not used to Asian faces. Then there’s our car — we don’t have any provision for maintenance on the way and people have been stranded for days on end in the past. Finally, there’s a number of cultures and languages we’ll have to negotiate with on our way,” explains Matthew.
But the roads, he feels, wouldn’t be a problem, despite what one hears about the difficult terrain around Mongolia and Russia. “We have ample training for that — anybody driving on Indian roads would be able to cruise a decrepit old car on the moon too,” he jokes. They feel they’re well-prepared for this journey of their lives, which begins on 14 July. Ultimately, they hope to collect many stories and memories along the way, and inspire their jaded contemporaries to take some risks.
Visit the official website: http://www.theadventurists.com/the-adventures/mongol-rally
Facebook Fanpage: Support the team from (Bangalore) India! http://www.facebook.com/CharityDriveLondonToMongolia
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