Three women from two continents are to trade their gas-guzzlers for motorised rickshaws and race 1,900 kilometres across Southern India to raise money for charity. Vanessa Jackson, from Sharjah, will be representing the UAE in the two-week race, which begins on July 30.
Her sister Kath Chapman, from Britain, and their friend Sue Underwood, from Doha, are due to join her behind the wheel, with proceeds destined for the Railway Children charity organisation, which reunites homeless children with their families and helps recovering drug addicts. "We won't be able to drive as fast as we do in Sharjah," joked Ms Jackson, who has had a Land Rover for more than 20 years. "But, the quick reactions we need here will definitely be a bonus."
Ms Jackson arrived in the UAE as a toddler - her father has been here since the 1950s - and can remember the day her childhood home in the old Bur Dubai souq was first connected with electricity. "I've been in rickshaws before but I have never driven one," she said. "It must be like a scooter or a quad [bike]. When we entered we were desperately looking for a rickshaw so we could learn how to drive it, and how the engine works so we would be able to fix it, but this hasn't been possible."
The organisers of the 60-rickshaw race, Chennai Event Management Services, lease the vehicles to participants for a refundable 900 (Dh4,000) deposit. "We get a crash course the day before the race starts on how to drive a rickshaw, so we better be quick learners," Ms Jackson said. Temperatures are expected to be around 25°C during the race, which takes drivers through hills, valleys and beaches, "cruising thought the most exotic and scenic places in the whole Indian countryside", according to the event's website.
The Mumbai Xpress route starts at Chennai, a city well-known for its car manufacturing industry, then on through Bangalore, Mysore, Mangalore, Pune and several other towns before arriving in Mumbai. The course covers four states traversing India's perilous and pot-holed motorways. "I am a complete wimp when it comes to driving, in any country," said Ms Underwood, who previously lived in Sharjah. "I also think that there are some interesting rules on the road in India, but maybe you could say the same for Qatar or Sharjah."
So far, the trio have raised more than Dh13,500 and are hoping to bring in much more. David Maidment, chairman of Railway Children, launched the foundation in 1993 after a business trip to Mumbai. His experience in the city, where he witnessed the plight of the many street children at the main railway terminal, left him moved, with the sight of a seven-year-old girl beating herself to elicit sympathy and money a particularly haunting memory.
"It is a worthwhile cause, and it is good to give back to the country that is hopefully going to give me an unforgettable experience," said Ms Chapman. "I think the experience of driving in Sharjah will certainly have helped, given the volume and speed at which people drive in the emirate." To sponsor the women, visit www.justgiving.com/sue-underwood.