A motley group of adventure enthusiasts rolled into Dhaka Saturday evening in a convoy of twenty cars on the first leg of a historic journey that would take them all the way from Kolkata to Kunming.
The stated purpose of this journey is to build new bonds and forge friendships in a region bound by geography but riven by geopolitics.
At the very least, it attempts to restore road connectivity in the four countries of the region — Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar (BCIM) — driving through a disused trans-Asian roadway that used to ferry people and merchandise before the Second World War. Once this road becomes usable, trade and people to people exchange is expected to follow.
A hail of confetti and floral arches greeted the BCIM Car Rally 2013, comprising a total of 75 participants from all the participating countries.
The Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in Dhaka, where the reception had been organised, rang out with Nazrul geeti and ceremonial band beats. If the reception accorded to the rally is any indication, it might even lead to renewed bonds of friendship between the countries of this region. Whether it will actually deliver on the promise of new road connectivity in the region anytime soon is anybody’s guess, considering the chequered history of a similar road connectivity project, the Asian Highway.
Flagged off by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the rally had left Kolkata on Friday afternoon and reached Jessore the same evening, through the Petropole land border, 84 km away. Bangladesh had pulled out all stops to ensure smooth passage along the way. It seemed that the entire district administration had been mobilised to provide escort and security to the participants.
The magnificent tree-lined road from Kolkata to Jessore was hogged by the twenty SUVs that roared through villages and towns.
Whether the crowds that turned up to cheer and wave did so for want of better entertainment or there was genuine interest in the message of the rally is difficult to determine. But turn out they did, in droves.
Rallying for a cause
Rallying appears to be a new form of sport to promote all kinds of causes ever since the first car rally rolled out of Monte Carlo in 1911. There was an Asean Car Rally in December last year and there have been many such before it, but what is special about the BCIM rally is that finally Bangladesh has come on board this time, after some persuasion.
In fact, it has taken six years for the rally to materialise ever since the idea was first mooted in 2006 by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to New Delhi. While the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has been primarily responsible for turning a vision into reality, it has also received generous support, inter alia, from India’s Ministry of External Affairs and Tata Motors, which provided the ten vehicles driven by the Indian and Bangladeshi teams.
The rallyists themselves are a motley group spanning diverse professions, age groups and interests. Three young film actors from Myanmar bring the glamour quotient to the rally, changing frequently from rally uniform to designer clothes and accessories. A mountaineer from China and civil servants from Bangladesh, apart from a big posse of mediapersons from all the four countries, constitute the rallyists.
Autocar, the rally professionals with their crackling radios and cryptic instructions, attend to the nitty-gritty such as herding the cars into a single convoy, keeping time and schedules, attending to breakdowns and refuelling.etc. This team had undertaken a road survey in February last year to assess the road condition. Their ham radios fitted into each car constantly crackles with barked instructions interspersed with jokes.
There are cameras galore clicking away at every face along the way, every tree and paddy field, although the scenery so far is all too familiar. Heads and long lenses pop out of sun roofs of the SUVs in the convoy.The convoy will leave for Sylhet on Sunday.
Through the next 12 days, the rally will chart its path through Silchar, Imphal, Moreh, Tamu, Kalay, Mandalay, Ruili, Tengchang, Dali and end in Kunming on the fifth of March.