March 3, 2013

BCIM Car Rally 2013 - My way or the express highway

After a late-night entry in China, we were pleasantly surprised when the control car announced that we don't have an early start the next day. Well, we couldn't have asked for anything better. Even if not having an early start means starting the day at 8.30, we were happy with whatever we were getting.
The day started with a healthy breakfast to keep us up for a long drive to Tengchong. More than the long drive, the concern was driving on express highway! Rules we were told to keep in mind were:

1. No stopping on the highway
2. Speed limit is 120kmph
3. Minimum speed limit is 40kmph
4. Have fun!

...And we were off on our first drive in China, and what a drive it turned out to be! From the moment we started in Ruili, we were welcomed with beautiful sidewalks, smooth tarmac roads, 6 lane highways - quite a relief for the cars as well as the teams in them. During the drive to Tengchong, we crossed miles of tobacco and sunflower fields. What a beautiful sight! The pilot car led us out of the city in no time.

Our first break came about 4 hours later, where we had lunch and proceeded to cover the pending 2 hours of journey. By 4, we were in the second city in China - Tengchong.

To brief you about this town- Tengchong’s location on the merchant route has let it witness the rise, growth and fall of the trade in Chinese history. Once blurred on the average tourist’s maps, Tengchong has regained importance. The volcano park, which has had active volcanic eruptions in the past 500 years, the hot water springs and Beihai wetland, or marsh are quickly gaining attention as tourist attractions. Add to it the Yunfeng mountain, that resembles a bamboo shoot towering towards the sky- and you have a county that is beautified with natural features.
By now, we had crossed beautiful sights, grand highways and driven at an average speed of 140kmph and were going farther away from the sea level; we were told drive to Dali will be at 6000ft. above sea level. Time for some ear-popping.

March 2, 2013

BCIM Car Rally 2013 - Myanmar to China

Right after the cultural programme in Mandalay, we headed straight to our beds for some much-needed sleep. As the alarm buzzed after 5 hours, we knew it was time to head to the final destination - China! It's always a great feeling when you know you are reaching your destination. In this case, as cliched as it may sound, we were happy that we were approaching China but sad at the same time, because that meant our rally would come to an end. The last 7 days had been adventurous, fun, exhausting yet strangely satisfying. By then we'd already crossed 3 international borders, driven more than 1700kms, seen some unforgettable sights and met some very interesting people on the rally - from mountaineers to actors to diplomats.

Next morning started early, as always, and the convoy made its way on clear and long roads through Myanmar towards the Ruili border, connecting Myanmar and China. The run of the day was approximately 360kms; we kept a buffer 2 hours and arrived at our destination by 7pm. By then the sun had set but there it was, the final country on the BCIM Car Rally - China. We could see neon hoardings with CHINA DUTY FREE written on it. A strange sense of achievement kicked in when we all realized we had actually driven down to China from India! But before we entered the country, we had something even bigger waiting for us- a human tunnel formed by Myanmarese to wish us luck and farewell. What an amazingly warm bunch of people they'd been!

The immigration officers approached each car and handed over temporary Chinese number plates as they welcomed us to their country. Officers on duty guided the convoy into China, towards the parking and lead us to the immigration centre. 5 minutes in, we were stamped into the country. Nihao China! Ruili Administrative heads welcomed the participants and congratulated the convoy on making it through. We walked down to the dinner convention near-by, where all of us got our medical check-ups and also got instructed about the traffic rules in China. By then we knew driving in China was going to be different from the previous 3 countries. 

We were ready for it, ready for the last drive.

March 1, 2013

BCIM Car Rally 2013 - Myanmar

As the army's pilot car drove aside after leading us for 6 long hours, we knew we had reached the border. Our run in India had come to an end, and what a run it had been! From 500 metres ahead, we could see the border.
The India - Myanmar border in Manipur is connected by a bridge, half of it in India and other half in Myanmar. One vehicle at a time, we crossed over to Myanmar, the third country on this epic rally. Excitement levels rose as the Myanmar team welcomed all the participants on the radio.

Just a few kilometres in, we spotted beautiful pagodas. As we went along on long and straight stretches, the people of Myanmar continued to wave out to us. We were delighted to see the enthusiasm of the locals. We made our way to the town of Ka Lay later in the day; our arrival was followed by a cultural show and dinner. But before we called it a day, Htet Htet decided to sing for us. None of us could resist despite the exhaustion, and we all got on stage to shake a leg to the music.

By now, we had all become accustomed to sleeping late and waking up early, and next day was no different. The night before, we were given a heads up about the rough stretch from Ka Lay to Mandalay; we, of course, thought it would be as rough as our previous off-road experience. However, it turned out to be quite a fun terrain to drive on, with straight stretches, no tarmac and hill inclines up to 45%. Quite an adrenaline rush!
Half way through the stretch we came to a tea break at a small village, where the group was surrounded by local villagers. Why? One of them spotted Kaung Khant and Aye Myat Thu, the two actors from Myanmar. Well, that had been the story everywhere we went in Myanmar. Villagers were star struck. Later, we continued our drive to Mandalay, where our welcome was grand! The local administration had put together a reception with cultural performances and dinner. Just what we needed after a long day of driving!

This was our second and also the last day in Myanmar, and next day was the border-crossing to China. Myanmar had kept us awestruck with its natural beauty, unmatched warmth of people and amazing food. We all knew we are going to miss the place.