February 27, 2013

BCIM Car Rally 2013 - Home Coming

Our 3 days in Bangladesh have come to an end, but what that also meant was we'd be entering home, India. After an hour long drive, we reached the border. And there it was, across 'no man's land' - India. But before we could enter our home country, the Bangladeshis showed one last gesture of hospitality, dancing with the participants by the border. This was possibly the first time people from Bangladesh, China, India and Myanmar were present at the Bangladesh - India border together and dancing! Did we just notice history in the making? I believe, we did.

The dance only acted as a catalyst to our already charged up mood! We could see children lined up, chanting and waving the BCIM flags. But there was something none of us could see from the other side or would have even anticipated; A heroic welcome! We hopped into our cars, slowly began accelerating towards India, waving and greeting kids on either side of the road. 100 meters in, we noticed what's referred to as a "Human Tunnel"! 4 rows of people lined up to meet us, to greet us and welcome us all. 4 days in, we had seen great reception in Bangladesh however, this was something that took us all by surprise. We were then lead to the reception area, where people lined up to click photos with the participants and the cars. We made our way to the dining hall, had some lunch and moved on towards the cultural programme stage.

Unlike previous cultural programmes, this was different. Why? Because these kids had one dance performance on each form of Indian dance form. Our feet were already tapping, all we needed was just one call invite and all of us would have been on the stage to join the kids for the dance. Did the invite come? Yes! Team members from Myanmar, China and India started dancing with the Bhangra dance group, the Rajasthani group and the Maharashtrian group. We knew our stay in India will be eventful to say the least.

Stay tuned for the next post. We witnessed the "real" rock and roll on our way to Imphal.

February 26, 2013

BCIM Car Rally 2013, Day 4 - Thank you Bangladesh

Hospitality may vary from country to country and culture to culture, but the essence of hospitality remains the same – “Make your guest feel at home”. And “feel at home”, we did. Today was our last day in Bangladesh, the very first country we crossed on this car rally. We covered about 600kms through Bangladesh:

         Border – Jessore: 70 KMs
         Jessore – Dhaka: 230 KMs
         Dhaka – Sylhet : 240 KMs
         Sylhet – Border: 60 KMs

But I have to say, none of realized where these 600 KMs went by, from Border crossing to hustle-bustle of Dhaka, from long deserted stretches to night driving, Bangladesh had a lot to offer! We started our day around 8.30 in the morning to head for the Indian-Bangladesh border, that’s when mixed feelings started developing. We knew we will be touching home ground in sometime but that’s when we realized our stay in Bangladesh is coming to an end. Some of us might not get to visit this country again. Starting from Car #1 till #20, everyone took their turns over the radio to extend heartfelt appreciation and gratitude to the Bangladeshi Govt., Local Authorities and of course, the very warm people of Bangladesh. Team Leader of the Bangladeshi Team extended a special invitation to each member to visit the country again.

There were certain moments in the last 3 days that all of us on this rally will remember throughout our lifetime. It started with crossing the border; for many of us on board, it was the first time we drove through a national border. Next one on the list has to be the visit to the National Martyr’s Memorial near Dhaka; all of us were taken aback by the history, beauty and architecture of the memorial. But, there was one incident that made everyone aboard respect Bangladesh’s hospitality. One of the Indian participants of the rally shared with everyone on the radio that her forefather’s homeland was a small town in Bangladesh that the rally would be crossing (from the outskirts) on the way to Sylhet. With deep sentiments attached, her relatives back in India had requested her to collect a handful of soil from her homeland; the Bangladeshi Team Leader informed everyone once we reached the outskirts of the town. The convoy was made to pull over to allow the participant collect a handful of soil for her to take back. And as rightly announced by the Control Car, “nothing like knowing your roots”.

It was the moment after this when a senior Bangladeshi official aboard announced that the Govt. will be sending a pack of soil from the participant’s forefather’s home via a diplomatic bag once she’s reached back in Kolkata; a gesture that can’t be expressed in words. Fostering friendship, indeed.

So our journey in Bangladesh comes to an end. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Bangladesh on behalf of the entire convoy. Thank you!

As I write this blog post, I’m back in my hotel in Silchar, Assam, nicely tucked-in and planning to catch some good night sleep before an 11 hour drive to Imphal tomorrow. But does that mean coming back home was uneventful? You have no idea what we witnessed today. Stay tuned for the next blog post, after today Home Coming will never be the same for us. More on it soon..

The journey continues…

February 25, 2013

BCIM Car Rally 2013 - Day 3 - Miles to go before WE sleep...

Nothing makes you feel better than getting something you've been yearning for a while, and this is what happened with us too! Day 3 of the BCIM car rally started later than usual because of the local strike, this meant none of us had to wake up at 5 in the morning. When the control car (car #1) made the announcement on the radio that we'll be leaving later in the day as opposed to early morning, the sheer joy on everyone's face was a sight!

About 3.30 in the afternoon, the convoy had started lining up outside the hotel after a much needed long night sleep and a great meal. 20 minutes in, the radio announced: "Alright guys, convoy's rolling" and we set out towards the 3rd destination on our epic 3000 km road trip, to Sylhet in Bangladesh. 

Sylhet is about 230 Kms from Dhaka in the north eastern region of Bangladesh, and is situated near the Sheola border - India. The City is located on the northern bank of the Surma River and is surrounded by the Jaintia, Khasi and Tripura hills.

The Dhaka Police yet again gave us a pilot and made sure the convoy rolls out smoothly from the city, and 60 minutess in, we had already crossed the Dhaka border. On our way out, we crossed the Secretariat, University and many major spots in Dhaka. The first quick stop came in when we discovered the local district administration dignitaries and officials of Narshindi had planned a welcome reception. We all love surprises now, don't we? ... And the convoy continued..

After 100 Kms of drive, we came to a scheduled halt for a tea break in Brahmanbaria , where we were received by the Army's Bagpiper band. The fatigue levels dropped. Some caffeine and sandwiches were all we needed to get us rolling. By the time it was tea break, the sun had already set and we were driving in pitch dark. It was quite a sight seeing 20 cars with their hazard and head lights on, moving in a straight line. 

Tomorrow our journey in Bangladesh will come to an end. Let me take this opportunity to thank Bangladesh, on behalf of the entire BCIM Car Rally team, for a very warm hospitality. You made us feel at home. 

As I write this blog post, we are bout 70 Kms away from Sylhet. As per programme, a cultural reception awaits us at the hotel. We're positive that will take our fatigue completely away. More on this in tomorrow's blog.

Miles to go before WE sleep...

February 24, 2013

BCIM Car Rally 2013 - Day 2 - Dhaka Time

Day 2 of the BCIM Car Rally started at 7:30am and our destination for the day was Dhaka which was 230km away from Jesoore. Dhaka is the both the capital and largest city of Bangladesh. Geographically speaking, it is located in the center of the country and is served by the port of Narayanganj. It is a city that is rich in history and culture and it is known internationally as 'the City of Mosques and Muslin'. No trip to Bangladesh is complete without first visiting Dhaka. 
En route Dhaka we had to cross the river Padma via Ferry. The Padma river is the main distributary of the Ganges and it enters Bangladesh from India near Chapai Nababganj. This was the only Ferry ride of the entire trip from Kolkata to Kunming, which made it all the more special and exciting. 

Throughout our travel the warmth and humanity in the people was very clear from the way school kids lined up on the road holding the flag of Bangladesh and people from villages came up to us with snacks and handing out flowers. 

Bangladesh definitely feels like home. The first stop for the day was the National Martyrs Memorial at 1:30pm. Although it was a long drive and everyone was tired, the beauty of the memorial enamored us. The monument is composed of 7 isosceles triangular pyramid shaped structures, with the middle one being the tallest. 
Convoy lined up in front of the monument

All the 4 country leaders namely Mr. Cheng Yunchuan, Mr. Mohammad Delwar Hossain, Mr. Sunil Misra and Mr. Ne Win paid their tributes at the memorial. This was followed by a delicious lunch and 33km of travel towards Dhaka. 

Heavy traffic welcomed us as we entered Dhaka but the police were cooperative and kind enough to guide us through the busy streets towards the Banganandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Memorial Museum. This is the house of the Father of the Nation of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. We were also made to cross the National Parliament Premises. The architecture of the monument was breathe taking.

Our last stop for the day was the Bangabandhu International Conference Center, where the Minister of Communications welcomed us. The warm welcome was followed by a cultural show where poems of Rabindranath Tagore were recited. The team leader of the Indian team, Mr. Sunil Misra beautifully highlighted the fact on how the BCIM Car Rally is all about fostering friendship among the BCIM nations as the participants of the rally were already singing songs and sharing jokes in less than 2 days. 
We then left for the hotel where the Minister had hosted a lovely dinner along with some nice music by the pool side. The BCIM Car Rally participants would like to thank the Hon'ble Minister for being such a welcoming host. 

February 23, 2013

BCIM Car Rally 2013 - Day 1 - The Flag-Off

The first day of the much awaited first edition of the BCIM Car Rally from Kolkata to Kunming was truly amazing. A day before the rally was scheduled to begin, we arrived in Kolkata and checked into our hotel. The excitement began to build as BCIM Car Rally t-shirts and badges were already being distributed. All the team members present were then given a small brief on what was in store for them for the next few days, which was followed by a press conference.
Pre-Event Press Conference

JS, PD with team member from Bangladesh

Joint Secretary Public Diplomacy Division, Ms. Riva G Das along with key organizers presented mementos to the rally participants, which was followed by dinner.

On Day 1, everyone was waiting to get into their cars and hit the road. We were at the venue by around 10:30am, and the cars were all lined up ready for a 12 day journey across 4 countries. The opening remarks were given by Mr. Chandrajit Banerjee (Director General, CII). We were then addressed by Mr. K S Jamestin, Mr Adi Godrej and Shri Madan Mitra. We were also addressed by Smt Mamta Banerjee (Hon'ble Chief Minister of West Bengal) and the vote of thanks was provided by Mr R K Agrawal. Finally, the moment we had all been waiting for, the Flag Off, was scheduled for 13:45pm.


The BCIM Car Rally drove towards the border of Bangladesh, which was 70kms away from the venue, where we received a warm welcome. This was followed by a 40km drive to the destination for the day, Jessore. We got to witness a beautiful cultural programme put together by the students from Jessore, followed by a delicious Bangladeshi dinner.

India - Bangladesh - The Petrapole Border

After a long fun filed day of travelling, we called it a night and went back to our hotel rooms, looking forward to the next day's travel to the capital city of Bangladesh, Dhaka.