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‘No country of snake charmers’


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Manisha Mishra, Anubha Verma and Pooja Sharma talk gears, no fears at Mumbai meet. Pic/Anurag Ahire

Three women, Manisha Mishra, Anubha Verma and Pooja Sharma, are on the last leg of preparations for a journey and adventure of a lifetime – competing in the ‘Mongol Rally: Poles of Inconvenience 2023*.

The Mongol Rally is an annual competition, it was disbanded for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is back on the motor rally map. ‘The Mongol Rally-Poles of Inconvenience* begins on July 7 from Prague (Czech Republic) and ends on August 30, the route entails driving across at least 30,000 km in Europe.

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The women were in Mumbai for a flag off over the past weekend. Their rally vehicle, a Tata Punch car was flagged off, ready to be shipped to London in UK. “Our car goes first, the vehicle will take 22 days approximately to reach London,” said the women at the Western India Automobile Association (WIAA) office at the Indian Merchants Chamber (IMC) building in Churchgate on Sunday morning. There was a ceremonial flag off for the car, amidst a shower of selfies, mountains of good wishes and one for the album pictures. The rallyists were also in Mumbai for paperwork and technicalities ahead of their
big day.

Poles goals

The ladies, all driving aficionados, are revved up for the challenge. Manisha is from Delhi, while Anubha is from Noida and Pooja from Gurgaon. “Together, we know we make a really good team,” they said enthusiastically.

As preparations were on for the grand car send off in the compound of the IMC building and a number of supporters and family milled around, the competitors stated, “the nearly two-month rally route entails driving across at least 30,000 km in Europe, and there are some route tweaks because of the Ukraine-Russia war and land border closures along the usual route, but we finish in Prague (Czech Republic).” A website states that the finish line is positioned in Ulan-Ude, just outside Mongolia but the finish line for this rally is under review because of the war and closures.

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The vehicle has to be under 1200 CC and this in an “unsupported rally”. The women said, “we will be carrying a few car spare parts and learning some basic car repairs in the roughly one month now that we have till we leave for the rally.”

The drivers are also carrying a tent, then at times, they may also need to sleep in the car, and have fitted a carrier atop it to carry the spare parts. “Otherwise, it is just three of us, who will be taking turns of course, driving and navigating through the most exciting, challenging and diverse terrain. That is why the rally is dubbed Poles of Inconvenience, where we collect points according to the difficulty and challenges of the route,”
they explained.

Caution cool

As a ‘teaser* to the rally, simply whetting their driving appetite for the tougher tests to come, the ladies had driven from Delhi to Mumbai for the paperwork and flag off in the city. They call themselves “conservative drivers” and added, “reckless speeding does not make you a good driver. We are sending a message that caution is cool, lives are precious and wrong side driving imperils all, driver, passenger, and those on the road,” signed off the women as bugles rent the air and riders on Harleys and other two wheelers roared their bikes ahead of the rally car, as the ceremonial flag off took place.

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Viveck Goenka, president, WIAA, who was present at the event was evocative as he said, “This is such an efficient and energetic team. India should see more such spirited women. They are making the country proud.” The president believed stereotypes should be confined to the dustbin of history or in this case, hiss-tory as he said, “We have to go out and show the world we are not a country of snake charmers!”

Nitin Dossa, chairman WIAA said, “I wish the three of them well, and have full confidence in their ability. I just want them to drive safe and hope they do not drive at night, take good rest and be fresh to start driving in the mornings,” as the women made a powerful statement about empowerment and agency, proving that to set women free one needs to give them wings – and in this case, wheels too.

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