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THE EPIGRAPH OF EJJI’S NEW BLOG!!

My first website was http://www.ejji.4t.com . Reason, I was 40 years young when I made it. It was at age 40 that I also quit working/ business, (read money making!), life.

A fascinating journey of bohemian living, complimented with logic shattering decisions, life threatening journeys, and memorable liaisons, took me to age 60.

By this time, my server decided to rename the website URL. My original web site became www. ejji.mysite.com . I had no control over the name change and subsequent URL migration. This blog has very interesting topics on which I have written and opined on. I do not say that what I have said is correct. They are my views. I suppose I am allowed my own views, even if they do not gel with what you may agree with.

Then at age 60, I started my blog ejji6t.wordpress.com . Personally some of the best blogs of mine are on it. Having taken the clear and confirmed view to continue doing exactly what I have always been doing at age 40, I had quite a ball, reaching 60 on the fast lane of life. Sadly, many of my friends had in this period fallen by the wayside, some clinically dead, others dead by thought and action.

Now at age 69, (bloody hell, at one time you reach a figure that reminds you of  “memorable liaisons” mentioned earlier.  So 69 can be a number, noun or verb!!!), I have a  follow up blog ejji7t.wordpress.com  . I will touch 70 in a few days. To me age is just a number. Take a look at this blog. 

THE PEACE DRIVE – CELEBRATING 150 YEARS OF THE MAHATMA

February 18 at 5:59 PM ·

THE PEACE DRIVE – CELEBRATING 150 YEARS OF THE MAHATMA is a car rally being run from India to Myanmar through Bangladesh by Global Overlanders , based in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha, India. It is being conducted under the aegis of The Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, Government of India. All vehicles are supplied by Mahindra Adventure with service and technical support.

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Bhargav Patel has given me a set of pictures that I have uploaded on Google Drive. Click to see Bhargav Patel Pictures

I have always written my blogs. But now, my partner in this rally, senior sports journalist Anand Philar, has written a series of posts for his Facebook page, which he has allowed me to take and share! So here I am, re-publishing Anand’s well-written posts with his professional photographs.

EJJI’S GUEST OF HONOR:

My guest of honor on the India Leg of THE PEACE RALLY- CELEBRATING 150 YEARS OF THE MAHATMA, Mr. V. Kalyanam, Personal Secretary to Mahatma Gandhi, a friend of my family and Shyamala Ejji ‘s family for many years. It was my privilege to drive him and his daughter Malini Kalyanam all over India and hear anecdotes about Gandhi from the man who perhaps knew him best.


Read about V. Kalyanam.

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Anand Philar

February 16 at 9:14 PM · 

In Kolkata to join the car Rally to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and also part of the Road Safety program organized by the Union Ministry of Transport. Curated by the Kalinga Motor Sports Club, the Rally was flagged off from Delhi on Feb 4, and will culminate in Yangon, Myanmar after passing through Bangladesh. Mahindra have provided Scorpio vehicles for the drive. Looking forward to a wonderful 10 days. Early start tomorrow!

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Anand Philar 

February 18 at 5:59 PM · 

Sunday, Feb 17, was a very long day as the car rally organized to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and also as part of Road Safety campaign, run by the Union Ministry for Road Transport and Highways, and actively supported by the Ministry for External Affairs, was flagged-off from Kolkata yesterday (Sunday). It took a while for our convoy of 10 Mahindra Adventure Scorpios to reach the border with Bangladesh at Petrapole as we battled our way through some heavy traffic and congested towns on the Asia Highway 1 or AH1 for short, that stretches from Tokyo, Japan to Europe covering 20,557 Kms (as per Wiki info). The border crossing was a piece of cake, thanks to all the spadework done by the organizers, Kalinga Motor Sports Club, and the Ministries involved. We were welcomed by the Bangladesh officials with bouquets and refreshments. After a group photo session followed by immigration clearance, we resumed our journey to our destination of the day, Dhaka. Fortunately, we had a Police escort all the way and it proved to be of immense help as the convoy was accorded the privilege of “right of way” – yes, a VIP treatment!! The road from the border to Jessore was rather bumpy with repair works in progress along the way. From Jessore, we picked up pace. Well into our journey, we searched in vain for dhabas/resorts/restaurants for a lunch halt. So, it was only much after 4 pm that we found a restaurant where we pounced ferociously on some tasty offerings like a pride of starving lions! Post-lunch, we were in for another long drive that included ferry crossing the Padma river. As we entered the outskirts of Dhaka, our pace dropped dramatically with miles of dense traffic that would make commuting in Bengaluru during peak hours a breeze!!! Thanks again to our Police escort vehicle with flashing lights on its roof that we managed to cut through the congestion by any means at our disposal. The local traffic police, alerted in advance of the convoy of a dozen vehicles, helped us through and finally, we arrived at the well-appointed Kurmitola Golf Club, our home for the next two nights. By then, midnight was fast approaching and we had just enough time for dinner (preceded by quick lubrication of thirsty throats!) and dive into a welcoming bed. Today (Monday) is a relatively light day with a reception at the Indian High Commission in the afternoon with an early flag-off tomorrow (Tuesday). All pics from my camera phone, so pls excuse the quality / resolution.

Anand Philar

February 19 at 8:15 PM 

A memorable start for the week in Dhaka as we attended a splendidly organised reception at the Indian High Commission on Monday (Feb 18) afternoon, marked by a couple of speeches from the dignitaries, including the Acting High Commissioner of India Dr Adarsh Swaika, followed by rendition of Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite songs by and the inmates of various Gandhi ashrams in Bangladesh. With the audience too singing along, it was highly emotional afternoon. The cultural show was followed by refreshments that included local savouries and Indian snacks. The function put us all in good heart ahead of Tuesday morning’s 150 Kms drive to Agartala where we halted for the night at the State guest house. The drive from Dhaka to Agartala was slow-paced due to heavy traffic, but again, the police escort ensured a “right of way” for the convoy of Mahindra Adventure Scorpio SUVs taking part in the rally to commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary and also part of the Road Safety programme initiated by the Union Ministry for Road Transport and Highways in conjunction with the Ministry of External Affairs. The border crossing at Akhaura where we re-entered India, was quick and hassle-free, thanks to the advance work done by Kalinga Motor Sports Club, the organisers of the rally. A welcoming reception, presided by Smt Santana Chakma, Minister for SW & SE, Govt of Tripura, awaited us. We were received with bouquets and served refreshments followed by a group photo session with the Minister. It was stirring to meet some of our brave BSF personnel who obliged us by posing for photographs. The immigration and custom formalities were completed swiftly and we then drove into Agartala for a night halt ahead of the drive to Silchar tomorrow (Wednesday) on our next leg of the journey which will culminate in Yangon, Myanmar, on Feb 24.

 


Anand Philar 

February 21 at 1:13 AM · 

As I was driving for much of the day, not many pics today. But first things first! If you want a very adventurous drive, then do the 286 Kms Agartala-Silchar “road” and I will guarantee, you will have a fill of everything – bad roads (to put it mildly), dust, traffic jams and what have you!! We had a 12-hour drive today, departing Agartala at 9 am with Smt Santana Chakma, Minister for SW & SE, Govt of Tripura, flagging us off and arriving in Silchar at 9.30 pm. Through all that, the resourceful Kalinga Motor Sports Club boys ensured that the convoy of 10 sturdy Mahindra Adventure Scorpios made it through safely to complete another leg of the rally to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The Union Ministry for Road Transport and Highways, and the Ministry of External Affairs deserve all the plaudits for the smooth running of the event which was flagged off at Raj Ghat, Delhi, on Feb 4 and will conclude on Feb 24th at Yangon, Myanmar. The drive itself was memorable for more reasons than just the drive itself (for those freaks like who wouldn’t mind the task of not just trying to find a bit of tarmac, but also negotiating the heavy traffic right through. Barely two hours into our drive today, we halted at Ambassa town where the local government officials received the convey and offered refreshments. Honestly, I was stumped by the hospitality that the Tripura government extended. Refreshed by the break, we proceeded and had our next halt at about 2 pm in another town where a sumptuous lunch was organised at the circuit house. We then resumed journey to Silchar, some 200 Kms away, around 3 pm, and in all my years of driving, I have never come across more treacherous road conditions, not just in terms of moon-size craters, but also traffic that simply numbed my mind. I became a bigger fan of the Scorpio that survived all that was thrown at it. Anyway, we braved all those obstacles and once, some of the participants got down from the cars to direct the convoy through a major jam, donning the role of traffic wardens!! And so, the Orbit Hotel in Silchar was a welcome sight for our tired but happy bunch. Yes of course, we did not waste much time to quench our “thirst”, within minutes of checking in. The next leg takes us to Imphal and we are geared up for another round of tough drive.

Anand Philar 

February 22 at 11:42 PM · 

Dateline Kalewa (Mayanmar): So, finally, we arrived in Myanmar to a rousing reception on either side of the border, after traversing over 500 Kms over two days from Silchar with an overnight halt in Imphal. Our car had an issue with the clutch assembly at Silchar and so, the convoy went ahead to Imphal while I hung around the Mahindra Service Centre in Silchar for nearly six hours before the car was road worthy. After that, it was a flatout drive to Imphal, trying to catch up with the convoy. I was treated to some fancy driving along the curvy ghat roads by local ace “CK” as we arrived in Imphal around 9.30 pm, just 90 minutes behind the convoy! The Silchar-Imphal section is worth the drive with sharp curves flowing into one another besides plenty of road works on. I was totally “out” on reaching Imphal and turned in early after a quick bite and so, no FB post last night. This morning (Friday, Feb 23), we were flagged-off by Manipur CM Biren Singh and escorted to Moreh for the border crossing into Myanmar. Just before the crossing, we were treated to another sumptuous lunch by the local Tamil Sangam, complete with sambar and rasam (of course, curds too!). At Moreh crossing, the 43 Assam Rifles feted us even as the immigration and customs processes were underway simultaneously! For me, it was emotional to interact with the bravehearts like Col. Sumit Sood, the commander of the border forces. We were even treated to some music by the Assam Rifles band!! We then crossed the bride into Myanmar where another reception committee awaited us for another round of tea and snacks before rolling into Kalewa for our night halt. It took a while to get used to driving on the right hand side of the road, but with a police escort leading us along, the drive was a breeze with the convoy, as before, given the right of way through the towns. A feature of the drive was the many bridges, said to be built by the British during the World War II period that we had to negotiate as the sun dipped behind the tall mountains. A brief break for a cuppa gave us a taste of the hospitality of Myanmar people who greeted us with warmth. So, on to Mandalay tomorrow (Saturday, Feb 23) before the final push to our destination Yangon on Sunday, Feb 24. For sure, another long day awaits us on the morrow, but nobody is complaining!!!


Anand Philar 

February 23 at 10:31 PM · 

Dateline Mandalay (Mayanmar): After another long day, we finally made it to Mandalay, one of the most historic cities in Myanmar and the country’s second largest after Yangon, the capital, where we will be heading on Sunday for the final leg of the 7,250 Kms rally which began in New Delhi on Feb 4. Saturday morning began on a splendid note as we were given a colourful send-off by local dancers at Hotel Majesty in Kalewa. Then began the drive to Mandalay that required crossing of three towering mountains. Driving on the winding ghat roads provided us some great vistas of the mountain ranges with a blueish hue that reminded me of the Nilgiris back home. We had a lunch stop and got a taste of the local cuisine, though I was a bit cautious, especially since not being a foodie. Opted for the “boring” daal-rice combo with a dash of greens. Back on the road, the weather turned warmer as we got off the mountains and into the plains made fertile by the many rivers. As we entered Mandalay, well after dark, we were treated to some spectacular scenes of a city bathed in lights with its many pagodas standing tall and proud on the banks of the famous Irrawaddy river. A word about the traffic in Myanmar – far more disciplined than in India with people patiently awaiting their turn to move and not jostling or cutting lanes as seen back home. On arrival at Hotel Magic in Mandalay, we were again received with great warmth with garlands and huge smiles, something that we witnessed all along our drive in this beautiful country. A formal dinner, hosted by the Indian Consulate, Mandalay, was a fitting finale to the day. A 6 am start for Sunday as we cover 625 Kms to Yangon where the journey, got up by the Union Ministry for Road Transport and Highways along with Ministry of External Affairs and the Kalinga Motor Sports Club, concludes with another formal reception.

Anand Philar 

February 24 at 11:24 PM · 

Dateline Yangon (Myanmar): As they say, all good things come to an end, and so did the motor rally to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi at the former capital city Yangon today. One must congratulate the Union Ministry for Road Transport and Highways, the Ministry of External Affairs and the Kalinga Motor Sports Club for organising and conducting the 7,250 Kms long Rally that lasted all of three weeks, beginning in New Delhi on Feb 4. The Rally also was an effort to spread the message of Road Safety and honestly, Myanmar does not need to be lectured on the subject. Through the long drive today, all of 625 Kms from Mandalay to Yangon, I noticed hardly any traffic violation on the expressway that alternated between four and six lanes, and straight as an arrow, much like the backroads in Australia. The local vehicles followed lane discipline, adhering to the speed limits (100 Kmph) and in the towns, the drivers exercised great patience while respecting other road users, something that Indians can learn from. En route, we did a small detour to take in the sights of Naypyidaw, the custom-built capital city of “modern Myanmar” with its massive, 10-lane (16 lanes in one section!) roads and of course the famous Uppatasanti Pagoda. Besides the Pagoda, the highlight was the “white elephant”. For me, it was a “first” to see albino elephants. Thereafter, the convoy of 10 Mahindra Adventure Scorpio vehicles maintained a good pace to arrive in Yangon in time for the “flag-in”, followed by a programme by the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Ashram, Yangon. Overall, it was a wonderful way to end the long journey even as the dignitaries stressed the need and importance of further developing the friendly relationship between India and Myanmar. Some of the participants completed the full journey that took them through Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal, Bangladesh, Assam, Manipur and Myanmar, tracing the footsteps of the Mahatma. And finally, a bit thank you to Kalinga Motor Sports Club for the excellent arrangements, especially handling the mind-numbing logistics of travel, stay and itinerary. It was an expedition that I will remember with great pleasure and take back happy memories.

Anand Philar 

February 25 at 5:12 PM · 

Dateline Yangon (Myanmar): It seemed pre-ordained that I fall in love with Myanmar, a country of gentle people with a perpetual smile and a welcoming heart. Though the disparity between the haves and have-nots was as apparent as in any other country on this planet, you can’t miss the beauty of the country with its Pagodas, rivers and the mountains up north. Politeness is a by-word here in Myanmar and more significantly, the discipline. Yangon is a busy city and the traffic snarls can be quite frustrating. Yet, hardly anyone uses the horn and they patiently wait for one’s turn to move without jumping lanes. For me, coming from Bengaluru, with its notorious traffic and an ever-growing vehicle population, particularly the two-wheelers, it was a soothing experience to move about this morning for a brief tour of the city on my last day in Myanmar. The visit to Shwedagon Pagoda was an incredible experience and left us awestruck with its grandeur despite the fact that the main stupa was hidden behind scaffolding due to maintenance work. To quote from Wikipedia – “The Shwedagon Pagoda, officially named Shwedagon Zedi Daw and also known as the Great Dagon Pagoda and the Golden Pagoda, is a gilded stupa located in Yangon, Myanmar. The 326-foot-tall pagoda is situated on Singuttara Hill, to the west of Kandawgyi Lake, and dominates the Yangon skyline.” The hot weather finally got to me and after a hearty lunch at the Padonmar, scurried back to the cooler climes of my hotel room and prepare for the flight back home tomorrow via Bangkok. Another early start for sure!!

Here are my stories

H.R.H. SHRI JEET SINGHJI, ABCD, AT HOME:

His Royal Highness Sri Jeet Singhji, ABCD (Alcoholic Beverages Consumer Doctorate) being served by ordinary mortals in the rally, Shyamala Ejji, Bhamini Shankar and Arun Bhatia.

EXOTIC FOODS ON THE RALLY:

Fried Chicken Arse in Manipur and Myanmar!!!!!!! Yes! See the printed menu card! What we call Fried Bishop’s Nose in other places.

Fried Dog Meat and minced & spiced dog meat stuffed in dog’s intestine and fried (courtesy my friend Anjali Salai Elangbam in the India Myanmar border town Moreh, Manipur), with Smirnoff Vodka and Mandalay Rum (bottled like Johnnie Walker Red Label!) in Imphal, Manipur, with CK and Netrajit.

STRANGE BUSH MEAT NOTICE:

A strange notice in a restaurant in Myanmar! But I love wild life. They taste good!

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HIGH TECH TONSURE:

Grooming with a tonsure at the high tech saloon in Kurmitola Golf Club, Dhaka. A seven star facility Gold Club, the saloon charged me 100 takas which is around INR 80/-. Unbelievable!

THE HELMET DHABA:

A nice story, though a few weeks late. On the Peace Car Rally, India leg, we chanced upon this unique place. It was a pit stop for refreshments, the Bihar police had arranged. It was at the famous “HELMET DHABA” on National Highway 22 in Bihar.

Read about the Helmet Dhaba courtesy the internet:

‘Helmet dhaba’, along with delicious dishes, the lessons of road safety, get a gift.

In Vaishali district of Bihar, helmet Dhaba, where with the delicious dishes, gives you knowledge of the rules of road safety law. This dhaba in itself offers a gift to its customers.
Vaishali [Shailesh Kumar]. Helmet Dhaba, do not shout after the name. It is not a helmet shop but a roadside dhaba, but its style of function is slightly different from the dhabas. With recipes, this unique dhaba is working in the area of ​​Road Safety. In this Dhaba, employment has been given to people whose relatives have lost their lives in road accidents. There is a plan to start an ambulance service soon.
Free helmet to one each week
Helmut Dhaba, in Goral on the Hajipur-Muzaffarpur NH-22, is making drivers and bike riders about Road Safety. Road Safety slogans have been printed on flex sheets on the walls of dhaba. Every week a draw from a coupon gets a lucky winner, an ISI marked helmet for a bike driver.
A coupon is given to the customer who spends 50 rupees or more in Helmet Dhaba. The draw is drawn every Wednesday.  Remote customers are sent to the helmets by courier.
Draw-out notice
Based on the name-address and mobile number entered on the coupon, information is given on the phone as soon as a draw is done. Police, government and National Highway officers are called in as guests to draw the lucky winner.
Inspiration to open such a Helmet Dhaba
Dhaba’s operator Sanjay Kumar has been associated with Road Safety Wing of the Highways Ministry since 2007. Many times there have been campaigns for road safety without any government help.
Indeed a unique dhaba doing excellent public service.
TRAFFIC CONTROL, SECURITY & BEING BURIED UNDER FLOWERS ON THE HIGHWAYS IN INDIA:
Showered and buried by flowers by organizations welcoming us on highways during the India leg! High level security- we had never seen so many armed persons all over the place when we stopped. Superb traffic regulation for the rally.
Traffic was stopped for our rally to pass unhindered. Sometimes, the traffic was stopped at two points separated by a long distance on two different sides of the double lane highway, with dividers in the middle of the highway. The police pilot vehicle used to guide us swiftly on the wrong side of the road, from one point where the traffic is stopped on the left side, up to the point where the traffic was stopped on the right side! And when we passed the stalled vehicles, it was many kilometers long on each side. The security was something to be seen to be believed. The entire rally was encircled by armed personnel whenever we had to stop anywhere. It was surreal! Wonderful arrangements had been made by the state governments all over India for this very important car rally. And, at every welcome stop, we were showered with flowers and at times, there was no place in the car to store the flowers that were being showered on us and in through the windows! See the pics.

AT MOTIHARI, EAST CHAMPARAN, BIHAR.

The Champaran Satyagraha of 1917 was the first Satyagraha movement inspired by Gandhi and a major revolt in the Indian Independence Movement. It was a farmer’s uprising that took place in Champaran district of BiharIndia during the British colonial period. The farmers were protesting against to grow opium with barely any payment for it.

But it was “Champaran Satyagrah” which gave a worldwide recognition to this place. Two eminent personality related to Motihari are Mahatama Gandhi and George Orwell. One was well renowned for his pretty lethal weapon “AHIMSA” (non violence), where as other used his pen against social injustice and totalitarianism.

In the Gandhi Museum, in Motihari, we were surprised to find the picture of G.A. Natesan, Shyamala Ejji’s grandfather, who hosted Gandhi when he first came to Chennai, then known as Madras. Gandhi continued to always stay in Natesan’s house whenever he visited Madras, till 1947. Shyamala Ejji had presented all the rally participants with copies of two photographs. One Gandhi with Natesan (what you see below), and another a photo of the letter Gandhi had written to Natesan. We found the same photograph of Gandhi and Natesan at the museum, and took pictures with Shyamala and Ejji in front of it. Take a look at the picture.

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Gandhi visited Madras for the first time on 17/04/1915. He was the guest of G.A.Natesan. A commemorative postal cover and stamp was released on 17/04/2015 to mark the centenary. Picture below has Gandhi and Kasturba with Muhammed Yakub Hasan and G. A. Natesan during the first visit.

VISIT TO THE BAGAN TOWER AT OLD BAGAN, MYANMAR

The Peace Rally participants at the Bagan Viewing Tower, at Old Bagan, Myanmar. Nann Myint or the Bagan tower has been open to public since April 2005. The tower is located at the eastern part of Bagan archaeological site. A huge 5 stars resort has been built at the bottom of the tower.

Nann Myint means “The high palace” in Myanmar. Nann Myint Viewing Tower is the ideal one stop viewpoint for visitors to Bagan to see the wonders of over 2000 ancient architectural temples and monuments of the 11th to 13th century.

The tower has a height of 60 metres. The tower has a total of 13 levels. At the first floor, there is a small galleria with souvenir shop. The first 2 levels are meeting rooms, from level 5 to 7 are the offices rooms, from level 11 to 13 are the viewing rooms. There are also restaurants at the top levels.

About 2000 visitors can enjoy the panoramic view of Bagan from the Nann Myint Tower. The entrance fees are 10 USD per pax.

The basic construction of the Viewing Tower is concrete and steel reinforced combined with Myanmar 10 traditional arts.

 

 

Tom Butcher of Baku City Circuit, Azerbaijan Formula One Grand Prix.

Watch an interesting capsule on my friend Tom Butcher, Head of Venue Delivery and Facilities Management at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku. A gentleman par excellence and a friend of the tallest order, he was kind enough to arrange a visit to the Baku City Circuit for Hormazd Sorabjee and me when we were there for the India Russia Friendship Motor Rally 2018. Tom Butcher

INDIA RUSSIA FRIENDSHIP MOTOR RALLY 2018 (Contd.)

5th May 2018, Saturday

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The Friendship Rally was flagged off by Their Excellencies of Azerbaijan and India accompanied by dignitaries from Iran from Hotel Homa in Tehran for the border crossing at Astara. The team members were on their wheels by 0700 hrs to roll for the Iran Azerbaijan International border at Astara.

The distance to the border was 493 km, hence reaching customs check point during the time when the border is open was not possible. There was a detour in the schedule and a night halt was arranged at Hotel Espinas International in Astara, Iran, instead of the scheduled overnite stop at Lankaran as prepared in the itinerary.

6th  May 2018, Sunday

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The name of the border towns, Astara, is the same in both countries. Good thing about this border is that you literally walk from one town into the other. No need to find transport to the border, just get to Astara, and walk across to the other Astara.

Necessary documentation for vehicles and participant to cross the Iran border took a long 4 hour time and finally 18 vehicles with all the Indian and Russian participants crossed over to the Azerbaijan side of the Astara border. A rivulet with a steel girder bridge is the crossing and the border between these two countries. On either side of the bridge, the security staff in 2 different uniforms symbolized the difference!

Crossing over to Azerbaijan warranted similar border crossing formalities. However the ATA Carnet De passage was not valid in Azerbaijan and we had to purchase a transit permit for all vehicles @20 USD each. The passport control for all 36 participants along with temporary transit permit took quite some time and the time the process was over it was already 1400 hrs.

Azer entry

Members of AAF – Azerbaijan Automobile Federation and officials from the Indian Embassy escorted the ‘kafila’ from the Azerbaijan customs gate for the lunch spot at Lankaran. At Lankaran the team was welcomed by His Excellency Mr. Sanjay Rana, the Ambassador of India in Azerbaijan.

The convoy rolled into Lankaran on the Caspian Sea coast for lunch  at the Qafqaz Sahil Hotel‎. After lunch the convoy moved on.

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The escorts arranged by AAF, paved the way for the convoy through a new road that was opened for the first time to reach the most beautiful city in the western Caspian region – Baku, capital of Azerbaijan.

 

The flag off for Baku was carried out by the Governor of Lankaran Province, the Indian Ambassador His Excellency Mr. Sanjay Rana, and the public of Lankaran city. School and college children and the public at large gave a memorable send off to the team. The media was there in full.

 

The warm welcome by the Azeri public at the Heder Aliyev Center in Baku was overwhelming. The building by itself is a masterpiece of architecture, considered one of the best buildings on the face of the earth.

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The Heydar Aliyev Center is a 57,500 m2 (619,000 sq ft) building complex in Baku, Azerbaijan, designed by Iraqi-British architect Dame Zaha Mohammad Hadid and noted for its distinctive architecture and flowing, curved style that eschews sharp angles. The center is named after Heydar Aliyev, the first secretary of Soviet Azerbaijan from 1969 to 1982, and president of Azerbaijan Republic from October 1993 to October 2003. The offices of the AZERBAIJAN AUTOMOBILE FEDERATION are housed in this iconic building. It features never before used advances in every aspect of building construction and interiors.

The landmark world famous building Heydar Aliyev Center provided the best possible location and backdrop for the arrival of the convoy in Baku, the fantastically modern city and capital of Azerbaijan.

The rally rolled on the Formula One track inside the city to reach Heyder Aliyev Centre, Baku, for a 2-night stop. We were accorded a warm welcome by the Secretary General Mr. Anar Sukhurov and other dignitaries from AAF.

7th May, 2018, Monday

The AAF organised a conducted tour of the Baku City. The rally cars now rolled with the national flags of India and Azerbaijan fluttering on each vehicle to the “Ateshgah – Fire Temple of Baku”, which in other words rekindles the trade connection between India and this part of the world.

8th May 2018, Tuesday

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The field was all set for a grand flag off at the Heyder Aliyev Center, the head quarters of Azerbaijan Automobile Federation (AAF). Young people with Azerbaijan flags and AAF flags in their hands had gathered to do a grand send off to the messengers of goodwill and friendship.

The dignitaries from Indian and Russian Embassies, leading citizens of Baku, important personages from the India community in Baku, United National Executives and the President of AAF Mr. Anar Alakbarov were also present for the flag off ceremony.

AZERBAIJAN-RUSSIAN FEDERATION BORDER CROSSINGS

Soon after the ceremony the ‘kafila’ was escorted to the border by the Azeri Traffic Police and the AAF officials wading through the busy traffic of Baku to the border crossing station at Samur. Exit at the Azerbaijan border was not a lengthy affair. We were allowed to crossover to the Russian Samur where we had the advance team waiting with details already provided to the Customs and Border Control.

As ATA Carnet was not accepted by the Customs Authority a special documentation was done at the border crossing that took quite some time and we were released by 4pm to see Brigadier Deepak Mehra the Military Attaché from the Indian Mission waiting at the border post along with people from the city of Derbent, Capital of‎ ‎Republic of Dagestan.

We were escorted to the lunch spot which was hosted by Derbent Town Council and the Mayor and later taken for a guided tour to the ancient fort of Derbent. To our surprise we were welcomed by the people of Derbent old city with their musicians and dancers. The beat of Russian drums and rhythm of the artistes enthralled all the participants and made them engrossed in the rich traditional dance music of Russia.

Later we were taken to The Citadel, Ancient City and Fortress Buildings of Derbent. These were part of the northern lines of the Sasanian Persian Empire, which extended east and west of the Caspian Sea. The fortification is built in stone. It consists of two parallel walls that form a barrier from the seashore up to the mountain. The town of Derbent was built between these two walls, and has retained part of its medieval fabric. The site continued to be of great strategic importance until the 19th century.

After the visit the ‘kefala’ rolled off to Makhachkala for the night halt at Hotel 1001 Nights.

9th May 2018, Wednesday

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As usual the entire team was ready on time to proceed for the next destination at Astrakhan not knowing that dignitaries of the Dagestan Province were waiting for a warm send off. We were welcomed by the dignitaries with another set of traditional folk artistes from this particular region. The people present had a large crowd of Indian and other foreign students. These students come to Makhachkala to pursue higher studies. The event was flagged of by the dignitaries from Dagestan Province. We were given another traditional Russian welcome by the Dagestan women wearing their traditional attire, with salt and bread welcome at our lunch spot that bordered two provinces.

The ‘Kefala’ speeded through some off road to reach its next destination before it became dark. The drive between Makhachkala and Astrakhan was thrilling as much of it was through the deserts of Russia. We were able to see wild double humped Bactrian camels.

 

The arrival at Azimuth Hotel in Astrakhan was again a traditional salt and bread Russian welcome. Dignitaries from the Astrakhan region and the senior hotel management staff were present to receive the friendship rally participants.

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Astrakhan hotel

The Azimuth Hotel in Astrakhan, was one of the best locations on the entire rally. Just on the banks of the mighty Volga River, walking distance from the historic Astrakhan Kremlin and Lenin Square. The location of the hotel and the settings were perfect for some of the best photographs of the rally vehicles.

10th May 2018, Thursday

It was also the Victory Day Eve when we arrived. Everyone was wearing A St. George’s Ribbon.

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The ribbon of Saint George (also known as Saint George’s ribbon and the Georgian ribbon is a widely recognized symbol of remembrance of the Soviet people who fought in the Great Patriotic War, WWII. The ribbon consists of a black and orange bicolour pattern, with three black and two orange stripes. It appears as a component of many high military decorations awarded by the Russian Empire, and the current Russian Federation. The stripes signify the fire and fog of war. While the symbol is primarily related to WWII, it has recently become more associated with Russian nationalism. The symbol was promoted by the post-soviet Russian state as a way to unify people and remember and respect those that fought.

The next morning was the Soviet Victory Day. We were invited by the dignitaries of Astrakhan to watch the Victory Day celebration at the Lenin Square. A separate enclosure had been made by the city administration at a vantage point for the participants of the rally to watch the world famous Victory Day Parade. The event started at 10 am with the show of Russian military strength with music and fanfare. The rear of the parade was very touching to see hundreds of family members carrying their beloved picture on placards who had lost their lives in World War II. This part was a silent march that spoke in million words, “why must it happen at all”!

I had the pleasure of meeting a 97 year old war veteran whose photograph I have posted here. The Red Shirt Brigade is a school and college group, who undergo simple civil defense training as part of their education.

The participants spent the free time of the day visiting The Lenin Square, the Astrakhan Kremlin and Peter the Great Statue on the Volga Promenade.

In the evening a stunning display of fireworks marked the Victory DEay celebrations. The rally cars and participants were at the best vantage point to see the fireworks.

Building all over Astrakhan were lit up in celebration of Victory Day.

After the fireworks, Victory Day was celebrated by a party hosted in his room by Ejji K. Umamahesh, the liquid spirits smoothing to heighten the celebrations!

11th May 2018, Tuesday

The rally was flagged off by the Mayor of Astrakhan from the front of Hotel Azimuth with the River Volga in the background.

The drive to Volgograd 422 km passes through exquisite scenery and pristine forests and greenery. We arrived in Volgograd in the late evening and were welcomed by the City Administration with music and dance on the promenade in front of the Volga River bank.

We were then given a conducted tour of “The Museum Panorama The Battle of Stalingrad”. We checked into the Hotel Park Inn By Radisson, just across the historical Volgograd Railway Station that is supposed to have changed hands thirteen times during World War Two.

 

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12th May, 2018, Wednesday

The next morning the entire convoy was driven to the world Mamayev Kurgan the biggest monument that has ever been built in memory of WWII soldiers. There are 200 steps up to the top the same as the number of days that the Battle of Stalingrad lasted.

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Volgograd is the sister city of Chennai in India. These are the mementos made for the occasion when the sister city tag was bestowed in 1967.

With a formal flag off from the mascot of Volgograd, the rally’s destination should have been Moscow which is 970 km away, quite a distance for a non-stop run. So necessarily we had to take a night halt at the University town of Veronezh. The rally checked into Benefit Plaza Congress for the night. It was badly destroyed in 1943, but has been rebuilt beautifully. It is also a major center of higher education in Central Russia.

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13th May, 2018, Thursday

After an unofficial start from the hotel, the destination for the day was Moscow a distance of 525 km. On very good roads, the rally moved at a constant pace and arrived at Sparrow Hill the landmark spot in Moscow to a rousing welcome. A Hindu pandit was at hand to bless all rally participants with a traditional tilak.

Sparrow

The local administration and police took the convoy through the crowded streets of Moscow to Azimuth Olympic Hotel. This hotel built for the Moscow Olympics also houses the Jai Hind Indian Restaurant, owned by Mr. Kasi Viswanathan and his brother Mr. Vijaya Subramanian. These two brothers were very popular in Moscow and were exclusively service providers to the Indian Embassy there. All the Indian participants who hungered for Indian food were very happy. The hotel is at a very good location and the participants.

14th May, 2018, Friday

This was a major site seeing day. Red Square, the Kremlin and the Churches and other famous monuments were visited. Some participants, who were keen to go on their own, did so.

There was a dinner hosted at the India House by His Excellency the Indian Ambassador to Russia Mr. Pankaj Saran. Many leading industrialists, businessmen, members of the Indian community and other high ranking diplomats graced the occasion.

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MEETING MAYA PAVLOVNA ZIMINA

I had the pleasure of meeting the celebrated archaeological expedition leader and famous author of books on archaeology, Maya Pavlovna Zimina (Майя Зимина), who headed the summer archaeological expeditions in Russia, courtsey Mikhail Batkhan, Vladimir Kezling. Maya gave me an autographed book of hers! Pictures of my visit to Maya’s home attached.

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15th May, 2018, Saturday

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The drive from Moscow to St. Petersburg started from Azimuth Hotel. The distance to Azimuth Hotel in St. Petersburg is 705 km. The distance between 2 major towns is also a bit wide. So we had to plan our tea, lunch stops very carefully. By the time we reached St. Petersburg it was late evening but still there was enough sunshine for a small victory celebration in the hotel car park. We checked into Azimuth Hotel, St. Petersburg.

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St. Petersburg Leg 1 a

This beautiful city captured the fascination of all the participants who did not hesitate to go out on their own the moment they had freshened up. Our Russian participant Vladimir Kezling acted a sour tour leader and took us all for a night walk to see the beautifully let up buildings of St. Petersburg and also the opening of the bridges that is a major attraction here.

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Many of the participants of the Russia leg had left for their homes by this morning. A new set of participants who will be driving on Leg 3, now christened the INSTC Friendship Motor Rally, had arrived.  What is INSTC? Why the new name?

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International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) is India’s answer to China’s “One Belt One Road” Project. Added to this the port of Chabahar in Iran is being built with India’s assistance. So are major highway projects in Iran as also up-gradation and new tracks for the Iran railways are being done by India.

The primary objective of the NSTC project is to reduce costs in terms of time and money over the traditional route currently being used. Analysts predict by having improved transport connectivity between Russia, Central Asia, Iran and India their respective bilateral trade volumes will increase. A study conducted by the ‘Federation of Freight Forwarders’ Associations in India (FFFAI) http://www.fffai.org found the route is, “30% cheaper and 40% shorter than the current traditional route”. Analysts predict the corridor is likely to increase trade connectivity between major cities such as Mumbai, Moscow, Tehran, Baku, Bandar Abbas, Astrakhan, Bandar Anzali etc.

A visit to the Bay of Finland was arranged taking along the rally cars.

In the evening a cruise on the river was arranged to see the sights of St. Petersburg.