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All the way to Darjeeling in auto rickshaws

A unique rally featuring auto-rickshaws will be flagged off from Kochi today



ADVENTURE CAPITAL Jitendra J. Shah is assisting the organisers of the Rickshaw Run

Following in the footsteps of the legendary adventurers who have visited Kerala since times immemorial, are these modern global travellers. These new versions of daredevils vie with one another to device contemporary forms of adventurous activities. One of them, and a popular one at that, is the Rally. And one unusual rally, organised by the U.K-based organisation `The League of Adventurists International' (LAI) is all set to kick off from Kochi today. This rally will feature the ubiquitous auto-rickshaw.

Less boring world

LAI, which believes in the philosophy of `making the world less boring,' has already carved an enviable niche for itself by organising the Mongol Rally for the last three years, an activity which has, they state, led the British parliament to name them as the `best publicity for British Mongolian interests.' The Mongol Rally is an experience in adventure with participants driving cheaply acquired used cars over a distance of 8,000 miles from London to Ulan Bator.

This time the adventure travel company is bringing 75 foreign nationals from `seven different countries' to Kochi to take part in what they term the `ultimate in adventure tourism in India.' The Rickshaw Run will have `thirty-four teams, each with a petrol auto-rickshaw of a mere 150 cc.' These teams, the organisers say, will pit themselves against what they call the unknown, magical and wild, right from the ocean to the mountains at 7,000 feet of the sub-continent and this without any support teams. The rally, which will begin in Kochi will terminate at the hill station of Darjeeling in West Bengal.

This near 2,000-mile adventure will be flagged off on the morning of the December 28 with festivities at the Sri Cochin Gujarati Sports Club, near the Jain temple in Mattancherry.

Kochi start

Offering sidelights to the Rickshaw Run is Jitendra J. Shah of Kochi who is assisting the organisers with the event here. Jithu, as he likes to call himself, drives an auto-rickshaw and has been taking passengers and tourists around in his vehicle since 1996. He narrates the genesis of his involvement with the event by recalling that he had the opportunity to meet one of the organisers in February when they hired his rickshaw to take them around Kochi for a couple of days. This led to their mooting the idea of the rally and to further meetings and discussions with the likes of Thomas Morgan, the Managing Director of LAI, and more recently with Dan Wedgewood and also Niraj Lama of Darjeeling who were here to finalise the details of the event. Jithu was requested to help find a suitable ground for the flagging-off ceremonies and he made arrangements with the Gujarati community here to allow the rallyists to use the community's ground near the Jain temple for the purpose. Brand new auto-rickshaws have been procured from Kochi, says Jithu. Since the LAI aims to combine adventure with charity, participants in all their rallies have to raise money and a portion of this goes to charity work in the country where the event is held. For the Rickshaw Run, among other things, funds have been raised and they will be handed over to an India-based NGO, which is monitored by Mercy Corps, an International NGO. The auto-rickshaws used by the rallyists will be donated to poor auto-rickshaw drivers in Darjeeling. The participants also plan to play a game of cricket with the local people at the grounds where the rally is to be flagged-off.

PRATIMA ASHER

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