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ASEAN-India Car Rally 2012 Coverage

28 Mahindra XUV 500s are traversing across 9 countries, covering a total distance of 8000 kilometres and spreading the message of solidarity. Catch all the live action from the 2012 ASEAN-India Car Rally.

On the occasion of the 20th commemorative year of India-ASEAN relations, the 2nd edition of the ASEAN-India Car Rally was formally flagged off from Yogyakarta, Indonesia on 27th November and will wind its way through 8 of the 10 ASEAN countries before finally ending in New Delhi. However, since there is no road that connects Indonesia to Singapore, the rally begins from Singapore.

Day 1: Singapore to Ipoh (Malaysia)

28 Mahindra XUVs were lined up at the Marina Bay Formula One Circuit for the flag off on 28th November. Hundreds of people, including children waving flags, cheered as Singapore foreign minister K Shanmugan flagged off the rally.

Here begins the epic journey of 28 Mahindra XUVs carrying politicians, diplomats, movie stars, journalists, rally enthusiasts and laymen, covering a total distance of 8000 kilometres in 20 days.

ASEAN Rally being flagged-off from SingaporeThe ASEAN-India Car Rally being flagged-off from Singapore.

Escorted by police, the convoy hit the stunning streets of the Lion City. The policemen stopped the traffic at every junction, giving the convoy complete right of way and helping us reach the Singapore-Malaysian border in less than 45 minutes. The organizers did a commendable job of making the border crossing seamless and by 11.30 am, the convoy entered Malaysia amid a colourful welcome ceremony at Johor Baharu. Take a look at the beautiful cultural events at the welcome ceremony in the video below.

Rally welcomed to MalaysiaThe ASEAN Rally being welcomed to Malaysia at Johor Bahru.

After the ceremony, the convoy gathered pace along the motorway that tore though luxuriant palm plantations. As the rally progressed and the kaleidoscope of colours accompanied, the atmosphere suddenly turned gloomy and it started pouring heavily. But the rain failed to dampen the spirits of the 124 participants, as they made their way into the Putrajaya Square for a ceremonial flag-off by the Prime Minister. Following is a video of the cultural programme performed there.

ASEAN Rally: Cultural Show at Putrajaya SquareASEAN Rally receives a warm welcome at PMO office at Putrajaya Square with cultural shows.

Today, what swept me away was the commitment the Malaysian Police displayed while escorting the rally. With utmost dedication and scrupulousness, they escorted us on their superbikes all the way to Ipoh, making way for us even amid bumper to bumper traffic. Here’s a big salute to you all, officers!

Go to page 2 for Day 2 updates >>

Day 2: Ipoh to Hat Yai

Ipoh city woke up to a chilly, wet Thursday morning after heavy rains the previous night. Even after a long and strenuous Day 1, the participants assembled near their cars at 7 am for flag off. The XUV 500s soon hit the highway and gathered pace. We had to keep an average speed of around 140 km/h, yet the XUVs were smooth and poised.

By the time we crossed the Malaysian border and entered Thailand, the rally had already covered more than 1000 kilometers and drivers from all 10 countries had tamed the Indian cheetah completely.

Take a look at the warm welcome the rally received at Bukit Kayu Hitam border:

ASEAN Rally entering ThailandASEAN Car Rally leaving Malaysia and entering Thailand

It was just 50 kms drive from the border to Thursday’s halt at Hat Yai. We reached the hotel at 3.30 in the evening and everyone was desperate to hit the sack. Since there was a gala evening arranged by the Thailand government, we had a quick nap and left for the International Convention Center. While we were all standing amazed and overwhelmed by the Thai hospitality, a lot of people started gathering around one of the snack kiosks. Pretty Thai women were making khao kriab pak mo or sweet dumplings from the pot's mouth there. What bowled me over was not the taste of it, but the way it is made. Here’s the video and see it for yourself.

Making of Khao Kriab Pak MohMaking of Khao Kriab Pak Moh, dumplings from the pot's mouth.

The dinner followed by cultural programmes and different forms of Thai classical dance. From Serng Krapo to Nora dance, everything was staged and what a rich ensemble of colours it was! The epitome of grace exhibited by the dancers flushed away all the tiredness of long drives.  Watch highlights below

Thai Classical DancingWatch different forms of Thai classical dance presented for the ASEAN rally participants

Day 3 updates on Page 3>>

Day 3: Hat Yai to Phuket

It’s a bright sunny morning in Hat Yai and the convoy is already out on the highway towards Phuket. Unlike the monotonous highways of Malaysia, the picturesque winding roads in Thailand are more fun to drive along. 

Reaching closer to Krabi, limestone cliffs started sprouting at the horizon. As we drew closer, the limestone karst in the background of dramatic sky looked like a Chinese painting. Sadly, electric posts and cables on both sides of the road all along the way desecrate the spellbinding beauty and make photography impossible.

Lunch was arranged at a restaurant with a unique name – Cabbages and Condoms. You heard it right; and what you see is what you get there. You can eat the former for sure but the latter, hmm… that’s a personal choice. Well, these guys are promoting a campaign to spread awareness about HIV and AIDS, by distributing condoms for free and hence the name. After all, the Indonesian food was awesome and that’s all what mattered to us then.
A typical Thai house

The evening at Phuket was made special by the Ministry of External affairs with Kathak and Sitar performance and Indian dinner that made the Indian participants miss home badly. Thai girls performed Hindi numbers as a gesture of Thailand’s friendship with India.Watch the video

Indian numbers by Thai girlsThai girls performing Hindi numbers at a reception for ASEAN rally.

The function ended with Thai and Indian national anthems. Listening to our Jana Gana Mana on a foreign soil kindles the patriot in you and certainly gives you goose bumps. Saare jahan se achha… Hindustan hamara…how true!

Day 4 on page 4>>

Day 4: Phuket to Bangkok

Bracing ourselves for the longest drive in 20 days, we assembled for flag-off at 6 am. We are covering 850 odd kilometers from Phuket to Bangkok today. After an early breakfast and refueling, the convoy headed toward Bangkok at a fast pace, with the Thailand highway Patrol clearing the traffic for us.

Since it was a long, tedious drive without much action, I kept looking around to find out what’s unique with this country. And yes, there are some very interesting things in Thailand that catch your attention at the first sight. You might have already seen some of these, yet it’s worth taking a look at what I have put together in the following photo gallery. Click on the image to view.

Hmm... I’m kind of enjoying this VIP treatment we are getting during the rally. There are as many as 10 police cars and rescue vans along with an ambulance to ensure the smooth sailing of the rally. One of the cars had a flat tyre today and would you believe there were two police cars, one rescue van and two service cars attending to it? Thai hospitality is legendary across the world, but the way they are treating us… it’s something that can only be experienced, not described.
As we entered the city limits, Bangkok Metropolitan Police took over the escort duties. Well-sculpted men wearing smart, tight uniforms and doing the rounds in BMW 5 Series! They don't demand respect - it comes naturally.

Day 5: Bangkok

It’s a day off today, a chance to catch up on the laundry, a number of participants have gone shopping, and in the car park, team Mahindra is attending to running repairs. The cultural programme and gala dinner hosted by Indian ambassador to Thailand, Anil Wadhwa, have been cancelled as the state will be in mourning the demise of former Prime Minister IK Gujral.

However, we made a quick visit to the Grand Palace in Bangkok. The official residence of the Kings of Siam (and later Thailand) since 1782, the Grand Palace is the epitome of Thai Wat, which means monastery or temple. The essential element in Wat architecture is Chofah, a decorative ornament that adorns the top at the end of Wat and palaces roof. It resembles a tall thin bird and looks hornlike. The Chofah is generally believed to represent the mythical creature Garuda, half bird and half man, who is the vehicle of the Hindu god Vishnu. Resplendent with Chofah, the palace’s asymmetry and eclectic styles come courtesy of its organic development, with additions and rebuilding being made by successive reigning kings over 200 years of history. Take a virtual tour of the palace along with the ASEAN rally participants.

Day 6 on page 5 >>

Day 6: Bangkok to Siem Reap

On the fifth day in Thailand, we are bidding goodbye to the country, and of course with a heavy heart. The Thai government, Indian Embassy, the Royal Thai Police, our guides… all of them did a heartwarming job of hosting the rally in the country. However, the rally will be re-entering Thailand from Laos, so we waved at each other with the promise of meeting again, soon.

ASEAN Rally entering CambodiaThe ASEAN car cally crossing Thailand boarder and entering Cambodia.

As I had mentioned earlier, border crossing is such a seamless process, thanks to the tremendous efforts that went into organizing the rally. After a very brief welcome ceremony, we entered the Kingdom of Cambodia. There was a sea of school children waving flags to welcome us to their country. In Cambodia, vehicles drive on the right hand side and it took a while for the rallyists to get used to driving a right hand car on the right hand side.

A straight road that runs across sprawling paddy fields led us to Siem Reap. The name Siem Reap means the 'Flat Defeat of Siam' — today’s Thailand — and refers to the centuries-old conflict between the Siamese and Khmer peoples. You may not be familiar with the name Siem Reap, but there’s no one who hasn’t heard of Angkor Wat. Yes, Siem Reap is home for Angkor Wat and many other magnificent temples.

Day 7: Visit to Angkor Wat

Today is one of the most memorable days in the rally as we are visiting the temples of Siem Reap and the gorgeous Angkor Wat. Historically, India-Cambodia relations come courtesy of Hindu and Buddhist religious and cultural influences, emanating out of India in the 4th-6th century AD, to various parts of South-East Asia. The pervading influence of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Indian architecture, is borne out by the structures at Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Baphuon, and other religious and historical sites in Cambodia. Also, the Government of India agreed to preserve Angkor Wat temple when the Government of Cambodia appealed, between 1986 and 1993 and spent around four million dollars during this conservation.
After visiting , Angkor Thomand  Bayon temples, we reached Angkor Wat cng lined up the XUV 500s in front of the main entrance for a photo shoot. It was indeed a feast for the eyes to see 28 XUV 500s lined up in front of the splendid Angkor Wat.

It was blazing hot at Angkor Wat but we persevered. The 500-acre Angkor Wat is one of the largest religious monuments in the world and stands as an eternal testimony of the architectural glory of the Khmer Empire.  I’ll describe the majesty of this boulder strewn structure in another blog and for now, let’s take a look at the photographs of Angkor Wat and continue this exciting drive.

Go to page 6 for Day 8 >>Day 8: Siem Reap to Phnom Penh

The beautiful Cambodia is truly a photographer’s delight. As the convoy started rolling towards the capital city Phnom Penh across plush green paddy fields with isolated palm trees here and there, photographers in the group were clueless of what to click because no camera is capable of completely capturing the beauty of the Cambodian countryside. You need not necessarily be a shutterbug; random clicks can get you incredible photographs.

Here's a video of the Cambodian folk dance staged at Siem Reap.

Cambodian folk danceTake a look at the Cambodian cultural extravaganza

Almost 3000 kilometres into the rally, the convoy finally hit a fairly long patch of unpaved roads. Despite the loose gravel, the convoy didn’t slow down, thanks to the impressive ride quality of the XUV 500. At a fast pace the convoy left a trail of dust behind, which looked absolutely stunning under the bright sun and blue sky.

By late evening we reached Phnom Penh. Located on the banks of the Mekong River, the city has been the national capital since French colonization of Cambodia. The Indian Embassy in Cambodia had arranged a cultural event at the Chaktomuk Hall. An amalgamation of traditional dance forms from across India, it was a moment that made every Indian participant proud. Following are the highlights of the show.

Proud moments for Indians in CambodiaAn amalgamation of Indian culture in Cambodia as part of the ASEAN rally

Day 9: Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City

In Cambodia, the convoy was never let alone.  Not that the rally is always escorted by police and rescue team, but ever since we crossed the Cambodian border, there were hundreds of thousands of school children standing at both sides of the road, waving flags and cheering for the rally. We extended our hands and touched the li’l fingers, planting a smile on the cute small faces.
The XUVs have seen highways, winding uphill roads, dirt roads and now it’s going to cross a river by ferry. Traveling between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City, you need to cross the Mekong river by ferry since there’s no bridge connecting the highway, one needs to depend on ferry but of course, it’s an exciting experience. Here’s a time-lapse video of the convoy crossing the river.

ASEAN rally convoy crossing Mekong river by ferryASEAN rally convoy crossing Mekong river by ferry

We have been experimenting with food ever since the rally was flagged off but today everyone was shocked to see fried tarantula spiders and fried crickets for lunch. You’ve heard it right. Fried tarantulas are a delicacy is the Cambodian town of Skuon. Well, it might be creepy for some and interesting for others, but there was nothing stopping from Mr. Ejji Umamahesh in the Indian team from scarfing down couple of them. Ejji is a foodie and dares to eat anything that moves. He explained to us how to eat a spider, which inspired some of us and there weren’t many fried tarantulas left over.
The rally entered Vietnam with a warm welcome at the Moc Bai border. Pretty girls in their traditional Vietnamese robe welcomed us with lotus flowers. There was a swarm of superbikes awaiting us to escort the rally to Ho Chi Minh City. Following them, we reached the beautiful city and Christmas spirit had already lit up the city. The rallyists paid respect to Ho Chi Minh, the great liberator of Vietnam, and proceeded to Laos next day morning. It was a very short, but never-forgettable stay in Vietnam, thanks to the charm of Ho Chi Minh City and the hospitality its people extended. Take a look at the Vietnam leg in pictures below.
Day 10: Ho Chi Minh City to Pakse (Laos)

It was a one-off experience to have breakfast in Vietnam, Lunch in Cambodia and dinner in Laos today. The rally left Vietnam early in the morning, re-entered Cambodia before halting at Pakse in Laos. Laos is the land of Champak flowers. The national flower of Laos, Champak’s smell filled the air as we crossed the border around 7.30 at night. We received a traditional welcome at the border with Champak garlands. Perhaps the only country in the Southeast Asia that’s not familiar to many, Laos is land of untouched beauty and ancient wonders.

To be continued…

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