It is the stuff dreams are made of – zooming off on a road trip in a high-end vehicle from Coimbatore to London. When three women – Meenakshi Arvind from Coimbatore, Mookambika Rathinam from Pollachi, and Priya Rajpal from Mumbai – wanted to live this dream, it made big news, at least in this side of Tamil Nadu. But despite the aura around such a feat, there have been moments of despair when the women wanted to give it all up.
Their aim: to complete a 70-day drive covering 24 countries to commemorate 70 years of Indian Independence. The drive ‘XPD 2470’ will also promote the cause ‘Rotary India Literacy Mission’ that aims to achieve total literacy and quality education.
Starting from Coimbatore in India, XPD 2470 will travel through Myanmar, China, Kyrgzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Austria, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, and will end at London in the United Kingdom on June 5. The XPDians will fly back home from London.
The first leg will begin in Coimbatore on March 26. The following leg, in Puducherry, will be flagged off by Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi, while the last leg in India will be flagged off from Imphal in Manipur by its Governor Najma Heptulla. Promoting the cause of literacy, the three XPDians will also honour women such as Rajshree Pathy, Neerja Malik, Usha Uthup, and Mary Kom, for symbolising women empowerment.
Though the three women made news as early as in December 2016, this publicity did not help much in them realising the dream of driving 24,000 km across continents. After six months of knocking on several doors and promotions on social media, what they have today is a Hexa from Tata Motors (that has to be returned after the trip), support from Rotary Texcity and Aakruthi, and a few local sponsorships that amount to Rs. 20 lakh. The total cost works out to over Rs. 60 lakh, without the Guinness attempt.
The XPDians had to forego their Guinness attempt because that worked out to another Rs. 10 lakh for the required process and infrastructure. Though disappointed about it, they dismiss it off with a “maybe next time”.
Other than the actual travel costs of spending for fuel, stay, maintenance of vehicle, toll taxes, the trio had to pay for their International Driver Permit, 11 visas, air tickets from London to India, and miscellany such as travel agents and packed food. The car, after use, will be shipped back from London at a cost of Rs. 5.5 lakh.
While it is true that the women are disappointed with the response they got in terms of sponsors and there have been times when they wanted to give it all up and return to normal life, they did not do that.
“We have tried to cut costs wherever possible and with the backing of our families we are going ahead. It has been a difficult journey so far without the expected sponsorship support and all the permissions and approvals that had to be obtained, but we are doing this for the challenge,” says Meenakshi.
There are several other challenges too on the way. Some roads cannot be travelled without a guide. A route in Krygzstan of 180 km can be crossed in not less than seven hours because of the rubble. Vehicles in Uzbekistan run on propane, and diesel is sold in black. Some tolls do not allow passage of medicines, while in China each and every item will be scanned. The number of kilometres to be travelled on border crossing days has been kept to a minimum for these reasons. In Russia, vehicles have to be clean. One has to carry a breath-analyzer during the drives in France.
Meenakshi – 45, Mookambika – 38, and Priya – 55, have undergone a two-day training on the mechanics of the vehicle before driving it down from the Pune plant of Tata. The women are carrying lot of instant food such as rice mixes, pickle and a stove for exigencies, and also because Meenakshi is a vegetarian.
According to Mookambika, such international road trips normally have a crew that travels in a separate vehicle. But in their case, it is just a case of three women and a car.
Despite the exhaustion of having to do too many things as the D-day nears, the excitement and impatience to zoom away into their dream is evident on their faces. In the midst of all this the focus from the cause has not wavered. They have already collected more than Rs. 1 lakh for ‘Asha Kiran’ project of the ‘Rotary India Literacy Mission’. They plan to collect a currency note from every place they visit to add to the kitty. They will be distributing brochures, flyers and also talking to people on the significance of literacy.
Their Tata Hexa is just back from the garage after a makeover with stickers and logos. The women are excited and waiting to load the car with the essentials they would need for the drive.
Follow the journey of these women on their Facebook page xpd2470. They wouldn’t mind some cheering on these pages or enroute their drive.