New Delhi: The CII-MEA SAARC Car Rally is passing through all SAARC countries, crisscrossing between India and SAARC nations. With 30 Tata Safaris on the road, it has received warm response from local people who attired in traditional costumes line up on both sides of the road to cheer and welcome rallyists as they drive through.
The rally commenced on 15 March and will end 15 April. Flagged off in Bangladesh it moved onto Assam and Bhutan. Presently in Nepal it gets back to India in Uttaranchal before proceeding to Pakistan, entering through Wagah border and moving to Lahore and Taxila before reverting to Amritsar and proceeding towards Rajasthan and Mumbai. From Mumbai it gets to Colombo by ship/air and heads towards Maldives for the finale. Business meetings are coinciding with it. The timing is perfect for the Saarc Summit is being held in Delhi on 2 April and the rally would be in the capital on 1 April.
On the 10th day of the rally, participants let go of their cars and enjoyed rides of a different nature. They first indulged in an informal boat race in the scenic Pokhara lake before hopping on to the cable car en route to Kathmandu.
The previous day was hectic, with the convoy covering more than 650 km in more than 18 hours on the road. Their journey was tracked through local television channels in Nepal with consensus being on “the need to have many such goodwill gestures that bonded countries (especially those that shared borders) together.”
Backdrop of Annapurna and Sahayadri mountain ranges provided a spectacular backdrop as the boat race had swimmers and non swimmers safely bundled up in boats. The spirit of competition was healthy and there was much fanfare as Maldives was cheered for coming first, followed by India.
A dare devilry act at Pokhara by paratroopers on mountain peaks served as the finale. Nepal government is celebrating 2007 as the Visit Pokhara Year and the stop by the Saarc Car Rally was the vantage point where a beautiful sunrise could be seen.
A ride on Nepal’s only cable car, at a facility situated at a distance of 105 km from Kathmandu provided a wonderful up and down journey near the famous Manakamana temple at the banks of the Trishuli river.
The bottom station of the facility rises to a height of 258m while the highest point reaches 1,302m. The temple is located atop a ridge overlooking river valleys of Trishuli and Marshyangdi. The cable ride which is a 2.8 km-long journey on either side provides views of deep valleys, terraced fields and Manaslu-Himalchuli and Annapurna ranges.
As the caravan moved closer to Kathmandu, it was escorted by an impressive line up of Volswagen Beetle cars. They accompanied the rallyists from the national capital’s boundary as it made its way through Kathmandu’s circuitous streets. The cars initially had to contend with heavy oncoming traffic on outskirts of the city but once the convoy entered Kathmandu,traffic was diverted, to give rallyists ‘elbow room’.
At a rousing send off at Guwahati, just prior to the rallyists entering Nepal, there was a state level function where Chief Minister of Assam, Shri Tarun Gogoi thanked the PM for taking up the suggestion of having a car rally at the Dhaka SAARC Summit and for including Guwahati in the itinerary, even if it involved taking a detour.
According to him, “This is indicative of the important role that the north-east can play in greater trade and cultural connectivity with the neighbouring SAARC countries of Bhutan and Bangladesh”.
Cultural friendship that uses sports, local folk media, art and traditional customs can cement diplomatic relations. The SAARC rally is a good opportunity that allows countries to share their natural wealth and resources in the field of infrastructure, tourism, education, defence and industry.