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Three wheels, one long adventure

A pair of Dubai tour operators are organising an international "rickshaw race" through Sri Lanka, and they want UAE residents to come along for the ride.

ABU DHABI // When it comes to negotiating Sri Lanka's mountains, jungles, tea plantations and dry zones, a rickety autorickshaw hardly seems the ideal mode of transport. But to two Dubai tour operators, the tiny, motorised cabs offer adventure on three wheels. Juan Paredes and Julian Carnall, both employees at Emirates Airline, are the thrill-seekers behind the 2009 Lanka Challenge - a 10-day autorickshaw race that pits 25 international teams against one another across more than 1,200km of terrain in the South Asian island.

The journey is sure to be arduous, as the vehicles can only trundle along at a maximum of 50kph. But, Mr Paredes, 26, said: "This is not meant to be like your average package tour or backpacking holiday." Mr Carnall, 25, who helps arrange tours for Arabian Adventures in Dubai, added: "Yes, you're going to get dirty. It's not a high-speed thing, but you're going to be on the road for up to 10 hours a day. Maybe you'll get in trouble or break down; maybe it'll be smooth sailing. Either way it'll be an adventure."

Small, culturally based challenges also punctuate certain legs of the game. It might be a mad dash into a tea factory to retrieve a particular box from a local or a hike up the frescoed Sigiriya Lion's rock to find an envelope containing the next task. There is an important social contribution, too. Ten per cent of every team's entry fees will go towards helping refugees from the recent civil war in Sri Lanka as well as a charity supporting the country's indigenous Botakanda tribe.

Teams are each asked to raise Dh1,800-Dh2,200 (US$500-$600) and may also donate to a charity of their choice. Two teams have already registered - a UAE squad made up of Australians and a team from the UK. Organisers say they have 25 rickshaws waiting at the Negambo lagoon and room for 50 to 60 tourists to enter the race from September 5 to 15. All the escapades will be recorded by a documentary film crew.

Mr Paredes, who is Colombian, said he and Mr Carnall, from Kenya, hatched the idea for the rickshaw race after growing dismayed by negative images of Sri Lanka as a conflict-ridden region in recent news. For more information, visit www.lankachallenge.com mkwong@thenational.ae

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