India Insight

The Mongol Rally: Europe and Ukraine

The Mongol Rally started on July 24 at the Goodwood Motor Circuit near London. Spirits were high as 350 cars formed a procession and drove a lap around the circuit before setting off on the long road for Mongolia.

Pia Gadkari during the Mongol RallyFrom the start we planned to drive across Europe as quickly as possible, knowing the poor roads, the intense heat and the vast distances in Central Asia would be the most testing part of the trip.

By day four of the rally, we had reached the western border of Ukraine. Along the way via Bruges, Nurnberg, Prague and Krakow the small fields and rolling hills of Western Europe had given way to a blaze of sunflower fields yawning towards the horizon under a big, bright blue sky — the inspiration behind the Ukrainian national flag.

In Ukraine, our rally experience shifted gear. We now had to contend with all signs in Cyrillic script and a formidable language barrier since nobody in our team spoke a word of Russian. The road quality deteriorated sharply. Ukraine has no major highways and as we progressed east the potholes became so large and frequent that it was hard to average more than 20 mph at times.

This did, however, give us the chance to explore the country roads and towns. We discovered provincial towns such as Dnipropetrovsk and Donetsk were in severe disrepair with creaking Soviet-era infrastructure and housing.

All set for the Mongol Rally

The League of Adventurists, a UK company that organises extreme travel expeditions, will launch its annual off-road motor adventure: The Mongol Rally on July 24.

This annual scramble from London to Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia attracts adventure travellers from around the world.

Each team drives over 9,000 miles – a third of the way around the world – to raise money for a group of charities and undertake a unique journey through the heart of Asia.

Xinjiang – the spreading arc of instability

China’s troubled Xinjiang region shares borders with eight countries, which is perhaps one reason President Hu Jintao dropped out of the G8 summit to head home, underscoring the seriousness of the situation and the need to quickly bring the vast oil-rich region under control.

Xinjiang touches Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, besides the Tibet Autonomous Region.

China, as this piece for the Council on Foreign Relations points out, has long been concerned that these states on its periphery both in central and south Asia may be tempted to back a separatist movement in Xinjiang because of the Uighurs’ cultural ties to its neighbours.