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India-ASEAN car rally sparks Paris-Dakar-sized dreams

India-ASEAN car rally sparks Paris-Dakar-sized dreams

Three significant initiatives are already on the agenda as spin-offs from the

ground-breaking India-Asean car rally which traversed Cambodia and ended in

Indonesia on December 11 after travelling 8,000 kilometers through nine

countries.

The Cambodian Government has invited the Indian Government to

begin direct flights to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh. The possibility of a full-scale

international competitive rally similar to the Paris-Dakar is being

investigated. As well, a Federation of Asean Motorsports is to be formed to

promote the development of motor sport in the region.

Both Indian

Ambassador P.K. Kapur and Cambodian Secretary of State for Tourism Thong Khon

are enthusiastic about the social and economic growth likely to arise from the

rally.

"We are creating history because this is the first time that

countries of this region have collectively crossed borders freely in cars. It

will help to open up closer social, cultural and economic contact between our

countries. Nothing like this has ever happened before. The co-operation has been

extraordinary," said Ambassador Kapur.

"There are currently 5 million

ASEAN outbound tourists annually. The WTO forecasts that by 2020, there will be

50 million outbound Indian tourists and 100 million Chinese tourists travelling

internationally. This year the Ministry estimates 50,000 Chinese and 8,000

Indian tourists will visit Cambodia and this will continue to increase annually.

Calcutta is only 2-3 hours flight away so we believe it is time for direct air

links," added Khon

He said the rally event had exposed Cambodia to the

Indian market and other ASEAN countries, as well as hundreds of millions of TV

viewers world-wide. He said the rally would also pave the way for tourist car

and bus travel through Asean countries.

The rally commission chairman,

Rajat Mazurnde, when asked at a mid-rally press conference in Phnom Penh whether

he envisaged something like the Paris-Dakar rally being planned, replied: "I did

not have the courage to try this at the first go because I did only one route

survey and you need at least 5-10 surveys to make it a competitive stage rally.

But whatever we wanted, it was given. We had helicopters throughout the Indian

and Myanmar sectors, ambulatory medical services, police and military support

and so on. We have to study this possibility in much more detail."

Rajat

said TV exposure had been significant: "Seeing is believing. Many people did not

believe that a four-wheeler could go from India 8,000 km through these beautiful

countries. Video coverage is being beamed live to 700 million people in Europe

through our satellite tracking systems and I have had many calls from viewers.

Every evening the satellite bands we use send out 15 minutes of edited feed to

small satellites accessible to the Discovery Channel, Star Sports, ESPN and

other national channels. People have been saying they didn't know there were

wild elephants in Cambodia. We are tourism ambassadors; we are spreading the

message that Cambodia is a beautiful country."

Asked what specific

benefits there could be for Cambodia from the rally, he said: "My wife saw the

rally on TV and said she and her friend would fly over to meet us at Siem Reap.

Then I got a phone call this morning to say 11 of them are coming. She said if

they'd known earlier they could have organized their own distinct groups to

follow the rally, by air. Cambodian art, culture and marriage clothing is very

similar to India. We were surprised to see the weddings being conducted at

Angkor Wat. The ceremonies are much more colorful than in India. A lot of people

will come here from India."

Some Cambodian schools received direct

benefits. Because the convoy got ahead of schedule due to an efficient border

crossing from Vietnam, and the ferry crossing at Neak Loeung en route to Phnom

Penh, they stopped for tea and snacks at Hun Sen Kampong Phnom secondary school

in Leuk Daek district, Kandal province.

"A warm reception was hastily

arranged at only 15 minutes notice, and as a result a spontaneous collection was

made on the spot of the rally participants which allowed us to donate $1,200 to

this school to purchase an electricity generator for lights and fans," said

Kapur

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