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Mongolian Madness

Mongolian Madness By Sasan Nazer and Parthiv Rishi (1993-1998) – You are exhausted having already driven for 12 hours today (but have only covered 120 miles such is the condition of the dirt tracks). Darkness and cold are quickly setting in. You're alone somewhere in the middle of the Gobi Desert in a small three-door hatchback that is falling to pieces.

The last sight of civilisation was about an hour’s drive away and the nearest town, your campsite for the night, is still another 80 miles away. Unfortunately, a fast flowing river is blocking your progress. Your old school friend is in the passenger seat and succinctly sets out the only two options: "Camp here and maybe someone who can tow us across will pass by in the morning, or just gun it straight through and pray we don’t get stuck or flood the engine". This is just one of many daily dilemmas we faced on The Mongol Rally - an annual adventure which involves taking a small, underpowered car your grandma would be too embarrassed to be seen in and driving it over 10,000 miles from England to the capital of Mongolia.

The Rally is totally unsupported - if you're in trouble, you're on your own! There is no specified route either (you just have to get you and your car to Mongolia) so to add to the challenge, we planned on trying to pass through as many countries as we could – we just had to make sure we had the right visas!

On 23 July 2011, we set off from Goodwood Racing Circuit in what would be our new home for the forthcoming six weeks - a ten-year old 1.3 litre Hyundai Accent that had already done over 85,000 miles. Despite our best intentions to learn everything about car maintenance, by the time we set off we were still not confident about changing tyres let alone knowing what to do if something seriously went wrong. But with a 20 quid Argos toolbox and a Haynes manual we nevertheless set off.

Initial progress through Western Europe and the Balkans was good and eventful - including one panicked evening in Dubrovnik where we managed to lose our car (it had been towed!) and a day where we ending up driving through five borders and five countries. We managed to take in some great scenery on the Adriatic (particularly Croatia and Montenegro) before arriving in Istanbul within a week.

As we left the comfort of Europe, border crossings became trickier, with long delays, light-fingered customs officials and expensive visas and car insurance requirements. Our policy of British stubbornness in the face of corrupt border guards and police paid off in the end as our total “bribe” count for the trip came to an impressive total of two Snickers bars and a tennis ball (considerably less than the much coveted US dollars that many other teams ended up dishing out!). Driving conditions also slowly deteriorated and by the time we left Turkey became so bad that we both needed to concentrate all of the time – no rest for the passenger as he not only needed to read the indecipherable signs but also had to be on the lookout for suicidal local drivers, even more suicidal pedestrians, dozy livestock and potholes.

On entering Iran our presence became much more of a novelty to locals and, the constant police stops aside, we found the hospitality as breathtaking as some of the landscape and scenery. A very different side of the country we read of in the press. Getting into Turkmenistan was expensive and humbling but rolling into the white marble and gold covered capital, Ashgabat, you soon realise how far from home you’ve come. The locals (unlike the officials) were, as ever, very hospitable and we ended up staying a night with a random family whom we had only just met (the mother made a cracking breakfast!). Interestingly, they had an LG flat screen in the living room but still used a hole in the ground toilet and old pages from a diary as toilet paper – different priorities I guess! Driving along the ancient Silk Route traversing the contrasting desert and mountainous landscapes in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and passing through the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand were a clear highlight of the trip.

After 5 weeks we approached the business end of the trip. The relief we felt at completing our last border crossing – from Russia into our 22ndcountry, Mongolia – was immense (it only took 6 hours - which was about 20 hours less than many other teams!). This joy was short lived, however, as any remnants of a road abruptly ended the moment we entered Mongolia. The last week of the Rally involved driving across desert and mountains over sharp rocks and boulders, sand, mud (and most worrying of all) through several rivers under the watchful eyes of soaring eagles and dozing camels, to get to the Mongolian capital, Ulaan Baatar. As we powered through, we passed teams stranded across the country – their vehicles unable to withstand the harshness of the Mongolian terrain - broken axles, destroyed radiators, flooded engines, shredded tyres! Morale was high though as we camped with teams on the desert and steppe under a blanket of millions of stars each night. Although we didn’t get to wash for two weeks (!!) it didn’t matter as everything was covered in layers of dust and sand anyway.

After 6 gruelling weeks in a car most of you wouldn't even risk taking on the North Circular (which we bought for £950 from an ad we found in Autotrader), we finally arrived at the finish line in Ulaan Baatar. We had driven 10,600 miles through 22 countries to get there (and we didn’t even get one puncture)! An amazing and unforgettable experience.

With thanks to the OMs for their support and the support of all our friends and family in helping us raise around £6,500 for Macmillan Cancer Support and the Christina Noble Children's Foundation.

The countries we drove through were France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Republic of Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Mongolia

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