The journey finally begins. The ASEAN Car Rally was flagged off today from Singapore’s F1 pit lane at 0930hrs. The flag-off had the usual team of important people making important speeches, including Adi Godrej. But it was clearly the children, apart from the participants, who seemed to be the most enthusiastic about 31 colourfully stickered XUVs travelling 8000km across eight countries, before returning to India via Manipur.
How do you co-ordinate and control 31 cars on the move? The answer is radios, one in each car, that let us all talk to one another. What is basically a tool of communication soon turned into a Tower of Babel, Facebook and FM radio station rolled into one, as 120 people sang, joked, flirted and pulled each other’s leg to pass the time. The Philippine team’s rendition of ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ had everyone in splits.
The Malaysian border at Johore is just about 40km from Singapore, where there was a cultural festival held to welcome the ASEAN Car Rally. I am told that this is just one amongst many of the official and cultural programmes waiting for us on this trip. And guess what – by the end of the day, we had attended three of them. The second programme was at Puttrajaya, the federal administrative centre of Malaysia, and the final one over dinner at Ipoh, our stop for the first night. Just one more word about Puttrajaya – beautiful. I only wish it wasn’t raining so we could have taken some nice pictures of the place.
The roads in Malaysia were wide and straight for the most part. We had a posse of police cars blasting us past rush-hour traffic. In fact, the Malaysian bike cops are amazing riders and it’s fascinating to behold how these smartly attired men and women waltz their way through traffic on their big bikes. You can clearly see that these policemen are highly trained bikers; there’s a lesson for India from its ASEAN partner.
We got stretches of heavy rain, which made driving quite challenging in the evening. I needed all my focus and concentration to keep my three passengers and me safely on the road.
After dinner and another cultural programme, speeches and refuelling the cars, we finally reached our hotel at Ipoh past ten. We had covered nearly 650km today. While the participants trudged off to their rooms, the service crew and mechanics got down to work, ironing out the niggles in the cars. Faulty tyre warning lights seemed to be the flavour of the day. Tomorrow we say goodbye to Malaysia and say hello to Thailand.