The CEMS Blog

The official blog of Chennai Event Management Services

Mumbai Xpress Winner’s Jacket To Be Auctioned for Charity Funds August 31, 2009

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Designers requested proceeds be donated to Aseema

barkha n sonzalThe designers of the Mumbai Xpress Rickshaw Challenge Winner’s Jackets, Barkha-N-Sonzal, have requested that the funds produced from the auctioning of the extra winner’s jacket be donated to Aseema, an education center for street and underprivileged children.

The third annual Mumbai Xpress Rickshaw Challenge, an event producedMumbai Express logoby Chennai Event Management Services that had 27 international participants driving autorickshaws from Chennai to Mumbai, flagged down for the year in Mumbai on August 13th. The winners of the event, based on a point total for a series of accomplished tasks, charity donations, and team and organizer nominations, was the Nigel Manzil team, comprised of two gentlemen from the UK, Paul Haran and Harry Hanscomb.

Mumbai Xpress World ChampionsPaul and Harry became the Mumbai Xpress Rickshaw Challenge World Champions and each received an extremely unique trophy, complimentary entrance into the 2010 Caucasian Challenge (another event from Chennai Event Management Services), and a designer jacket from Barkha-N-Sonzal. Because the Mumbai Xpress had a participating team of three members, three designer jackets were initially made. However, as only a two-person team won, an extra jacket remained.

By request of the Barkha-N-Sonzal, the jacket will be auctioned off on eBay and proceeds will be donated to Aseema.

Barkha and Sonzal, two women from South Mumbai and the namesakes of their company, design traditional and Western-style clothing and accessories exclusively for men. Despite their new label, Barkha-N-Sonzal has designed clothing for many celebrities, including pianist Richard Clayderman, Rahul Sharma, and several Bollywood icons.

aseemaAseema, an award-winning education center designed to provide underprivileged children with a nurturing and stimulating educational environment, will use the funds raised by the auction for a variety of efforts that will invariably support their mission.


From Budapest, Hungary to Yerevan, Armenia: The 2009 Caucasian Challenge has begun! August 28, 2009

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caucasianchallenge logo

budapestToday, the 2009 Caucasian Challenge kicked off in Budapest, embarking on a 7,000 kilometer, 2 week journey that is taking 37 participants from at least 5 different countries to Yerevan, Armenia via the known and unknown roads of Eastern Europe. As a “drive anything” rally, vehicles in the event include everything from an ex-Bundeswehr military Unimog converted into a comfy mobile home to modern 4WD off road vehicles. A unique addition to the event is the Kübelwagen, Volkwagen’s military vehicle. As it is a CEMS event, the 7,000 kilometer adventure will be just as much about getting there as it will be about the challenges and charity efforts along the way.

Between the possible mine fields and the advanced geocaching projects thatcc8 the participants and organizers are hyped up to do, the Caucasian Challenge also offers a more serene, scenic experience as it will travel the high peaks of the Greater Caucasus and the breathtaking canyons of the Lesser Caucasus. The route (which passes through Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, and Armenia) has been changed from last year’s, offering more off road experiences and thus, more unique and “untouched” landscapes and scenery.  Attila, the lead organizer of the Caucasian Challenge, says it will be an event of  “more gravel roads, more camping, more navigational challenges, and more adventure.”


Like most CEMS events, these are different kinds of tours for different kinds of tourists. It’s not just about viewing a particular area, but also about exploring it to an intense extent, and part of that exploration comes in the form of charity initiatives. For this year’s Caucasian Challenge, participants will be visiting and supporting the waif children’s home in Stepanakert, a home for abandoned children of the area. By working with the director of the children’s home along with a representative of a local NGO, a list of items has been produced for the participants that include a variety of needed and wanted goods for the home and for the children. Fundamentally, the goal is to leave a positive impact, to make the daily lives of these children easier, more enjoyable, and filled with more opportunity.

Stay tuned to the CEMS blog for more information about the Caucasian Challenge and its progress and check with the Caucasian Challenge blog as well for frequent updates.

Good luck, participants!


“Insane in India, and loving every bit of it” by Sharell Cook August 22, 2009

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The following article was written for by Sharell Cook, a travel writer for India and a participant of the 2009 Mumbai Xpress.


My flight to Chennai, where the Mumbai XpressSharell CookRickshaw Challenge would be starting from, was delayed nearly an hour. This gave me plenty of time to think about what the next couple of weeks, participating in the Rickshaw Challenge, might bring.

I felt totally unprepared. Even more troublesome, couldn’t help fearing what I’d suspected for quite a while — India had finally sent me insane. What other explanation could there be for me agreeing to take part in an event that’s billed as a rally for the “clinically insane”?  An event that would require me and my team mate to drive an auto rickshaw for 13 days, over 1,900 kilometers and through four states, from Chennai to Mumbai.

I first heard about the Rickshaw Challenge when I was contacted by the organiser, Chennai Event Management Services, to write a promotional piece about it. At the time, little did I know that not long after, a message would arrive in my inbox inviting me to actually participate in the event.

Despite living in India for over three years, I hadn’t been game enough to drive a car, let alone an auto rickshaw that I didn’t know how to operate. What’s more, as little as 30 minutes spent in one of those noisy three-wheeled contraptions was enough to irritate my ears and turn my hair into a knotted mess. How would I cope with 13 days in one? I had absolutely no idea. All I knew was that the opportunity was too hilarious and extraordinary to turn down.

The air was hot and thick with humidity in Chennai, as all 27 Mumbai Xpress Rickshaw Challenge participants assembled at the grounds of St Mary’s College Campus to learn how to drive our auto rickshaws. We were a group of strangers from eight different countries, all united by our pursuit of adventure.

We quickly realised we were in for one crazy adventure. For four hours, the college grounds were treated like an obstacle course as we dodged swings, slides, other pieces of children’s play equipment — and of course, each other! Auto rickshaws revved, shuddered, spluttered, stalled, and yes, even broke down. I struggled to come to terms with the fact that the accelerator was located on the rickshaw’s handlebar. Every time I gripped the handlebar, the rickshaw dangerously surged forward.

Just when I felt like I’d gained some control over my rickshaw, I was struck with the very sobering realisation, which up until then had managed to remain buried in my mind — I would have to drive it in traffic tomorrow!

India’s roads are often narrow and filled with potholes, but it’s the traffic that’s the biggest hazard. It consists of all types, from trucks to bullock carts, and it approaches haphazardly and randomly from all directions. There are obstacles, such as the renowned cows on the road, which require dodging as well.

I soon came to acknowledge why Indian drivers honk their horns so much. It’s not merely a safety measure, more so it’s an outlet for the frustrations resulting from inconsiderate motorists and lack of traffic rules. Within just three days, I’d honked the horn more times than I had in my previous 17 years of driving. And I showed no signs of relenting!

The 13 teams in the Rickshaw Challenge eagerly set off from Chennai with great anticipation. The thrill of the unknown was heightened by the organiser’s resounding warning — our rickshaws would have frequent mechanical problems. We could solve these ourselves, if we could find local mechanics, or call the support crew.

Not wanting to leave anything to chance, many teams armed themselves with satellite navigation devices to help find their way along India’s roads. I, on the other hand, preferred to do as the Indians do, and ask someone. This wasn’t particularly productive when I asked the hotel staff for the best route out of Chennai. “Your driver will know”, they advised me. “But I am the driver,” I exclaimed, to looks of amusement and dismay.

I didn’t have to wait long for the first mechanical issue to arise. It happened the second time the rickshaw was refuelled. Around 500 metres from the petrol pump, the rickshaw mysteriously spluttered, lost power, and stalled. Auto rickshaws run on a combination of petrol and oil, which I soon learned has to be properly mixed to prevent the motor becoming flooded with oil. My rickshaw liked its fuel to be extremely well mixed, and regularly reminded me of this by refusing to start after refuelling.

It readily became apparent that it was better to refuel and break down in cities than on highways. Willing helpers (plus the usual crowd of onlookers) appeared out of nowhere, and shops with spare parts were close by.

On the second day, the rickshaw ran out of petrol on the highway leading to Bangalore. A careless thing to let happen, you might be thinking. However, in a vehicle that doesn’t have a petrol gauge, it’s not so easily prevented. My team mate set off to try and get fuel. He returned to find me happily munching on a two-rupee masala guava.

Usually, my biggest annoyance in India is that it’s so difficult to be alone anywhere. However, on this occasion, I was grateful for the constant stream of passersby. The guava vendor only spoke Tamil, but I got the impression that upon seeing the garlands hanging from the rickshaw and me, he thought I’d just gotten married.

Life on the road developed into an exhausting routine of 6:00 am alarms, and all day spent driving. Nevertheless, the exhaustion was overridden by a rousing sense of wonderment over India’s ever changing kaleidoscope of scenery, and the unpredictable incidents that the day would bring. What curious sights would I see along the roads? Would the rickshaw break down again and where? Would we get pulled over by the police again? Would people give us incorrect directions, again making us lost? And when would we see the last of the rickshaw rattling potholes? Every day was a gripping new quest.

Encounters with policemen were frequent in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The most amusing of these took place when myself, and a number of other teams, simultaneously converged on a swanky new highway leading out of Bangalore to Mysore — a highway lined with signs prominently announcing that auto rickshaws were prohibited. Two heavily laden police vans swiftly arrived on the scene, and insisted that we take an alternative route.

Yet, most police encounters were due to curiosity about my purpose in driving a brightly painted rickshaw. These interactions required a convincing and authoritative stance on my part, so that I didn’t have to hand over monetary incentives to be able to continue my jaunt. Fortunately, upon finding out that a large component of the Rickshaw Challenge is charity related, the policemen were quite obliging.

The Rickshaw Challenge supports a charity by the name of Round Table India. I found it heartening to be given the opportunity to visit a number of their projects along the way, including schools for underprivileged children and a workshop for handicapped women.

However, my biggest source of fascination during the trip was the diverse spectacle of traffic that paraded along the roads. Bullock carts were a common sight, as were people carrying bundles of goods on their heads, and farmers herding animals.

As I approached Mysore, I noticed a huge mound of coconut shells on the side of the road. Looking back after passing it, I was surprised to see an auto rickshaw precariously buried beneath it. I headed over for a closer inspection, and a man leaped up from underneath the pile. “Photo, photo”, he eagerly requested, while informing me that he and his two companions had come 120 kilometers to deliver the goods in Mysore. It had taken them one day to reach there, and would take them one day to return.

On the outskirts of Mangalore, I encountered another captivating scene — two sadhus, and an elephant with a trunk painted as bright as their saffron robes. The elephant’s name was Lucky. The trio were heading north on foot, on a pilgrimage to the 2010 Kumbh Mela in Haridwar, one of the sadhus revealed to me. I held out some money. The elephant grabbed it with his trunk, and then raised it auspiciously.

The reactions of auto rickshaw drivers entertained me as well. I’m not likely to forget the rickshaw driver who pulled up alongside me and challenged me to a race, or the auto rickshaw drivers in Mumbai who smiled at the sight of my rickshaw. “Accha lagta hai?” (Looking good?), I asked one as we queued up at the traffic lights. He smiled even more, and wobbled his head enthusiastically in response.

As the end of the Mumbai Xpress Rickshaw Challenge became closer, so too did the teams. We were bonded together by our shared challenges, accomplishments, and memories. Each night at our new destination, we looked forward to hearing everyone’s stories about what incidents had happened along the way.

Looking back over the two weeks of the Mumbai Xpress Rickshaw Challenge, I’m so glad that I took the opportunity to prove that I am “clinically insane”. It was an exuberant and unforgettable experience, which sadly seems all too much like an outlandish dream now. Still, I feel empowered that I achieved something so astonishing. And best of all, my confidence in my capability to live in India has grown so much as a result.


Mumbai Xpress Finish Line Video

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Arriving at the J.W. Marriott of Mumbai in a convoy on the very last meters of the 2009 Mumbai Xpress. Video by team Mystery Machine.


Trans Sahara Rally Offers “Africa in the Raw” for Amateur Adventurers August 19, 2009

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TSR_LogoAn 18 day coast-to-coast trek will send travelers on a 6,000 kilometer journey starting at the Mediterranean Sea and heading straight through the heart of the Sahara all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. This trek is the Trans Sahara Rally, a minimal assistance motor rally for people who are not afraid of a little dirt. TSR image 4

The Trans Sahara Rally, which is set to kick off on March 14, 2010 from Tunis, Tunisia is absolutely unique in every way. Not since the Paris-Dakar rally of the late ’70s has this out-of-the-way route been used for a motorsport event of this scope. The rally is designed for participants to get in touch with the raw mysteries of Africa and to experience all the continent has to offer in a very intimate way.TSR image 2

Participants will travel through utterly remote regions of northern Africa, exploring places off the beaten track, like the expansive Sahara of Algeria, the breathtaking Savannas of Niger, and the remarkable national parks of Benin. The rally will conclude on the pristine beaches of Grand Popo at the Bight of Benin.TSR image

Teams from all over the world will drive their own vehicles along the route that event organizers have scouted. The rally is a “drive anything” event, in which participants can drive anything that can take a good beating – the route doesn’t always follow the smoothest road available.TSR image 3

The event is organized by Chennai Event Management Services, a group of seasoned experts in large scale motor rallies. CEMS organizes similar events across Europe, Asia and Africa, including the 4-event Rickshaw Challenge, the epic East European adventure of the Caucasian Challenge, and the crazy African project, Bus Number 7. Unlike the Rickshaw Challenge events, CEMS will not act as a tour guide in the Trans Sahara Rally – there will be no lead car to follow, no support vehicles, mechanics, or translators to help people out of snags. Organizers have scouted the route of the rally in advance and will point teams in the right direction and cheer them on. The adventure, however, is in how each of the teams will rely on their own endurance, ingenuity, and luck to find their way to the finish line.TSR image 5

The Trans Sahara Rally is part expedition, and part competition. By signing up for the competition category, participants will be given tasks to complete along the way, worth a certain number of points that event organizers will keep track of.  Don’t expect a speed race, however. Tasks range from geocaching challenges to test of skill and navigation.TSR pic

Participants in the Trans Sahara Rally may also sign up in the Touring category, forgoing the competition aspects of the event but still able to see Africa in all its glory. Like all CEMS events, the Trans Sahara Rally includes a charity element. This involves giving back to the local communities encountered along the route. CEMS has teamed up with local charity organizations to find out how and where help is most needed throughout the Sahara and the Sahel Belt. Specific charity information will follow.

The winning team of the Trans Sahara Rally will receive free entrance for two to the 2011 Mumbai Xpress Rickshaw Challenge, a nearly 2,000 kilometer, 2 week autorickshaw event that starts in Chennai and ends in Mumbai.

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The Trans Sahara Rally is an extraordinary 2 week motor rally through the least-visited regions of North and Western Africa. For more information on registering as a participant or advertising as a sponsor, please contact

Trans Sahara Rally Route

Trans Sahara Rally Route


Congratulations, Harry and Paul of Nigel Manzil! August 18, 2009

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photo from Paul Haran

photo from Paul Haran

The 2009 Mumbai Xpress was a fantastic success! Though we really miss Los Pacos, the teams that made it to Mumbai did so in style, with class, and in the spirit of humor and cleverness that I found to be absolutely priceless. Between the official challenges, the unofficial challenges, the charity bonuses, and the nominations for the win from other teams and organizers alike, I am happy to announce that Harry Hanscomb and Paul Haran of team Nigel Manzil are the 2009 Mumbai Xpress World Champions with a total score of 1,200 points! Well done, gentlemen!

The points were close in Mumbai between the Historic Racing and Nigel Manzil teams. Historic Racing, theAaron and Nigel Manzil team of Edit Mekler and Gabor Nemeth of Hungary, were return champions, having won the Caucasian Challenge in 2008. With a score of 925 in challenges alone (versus Nigel Manzil’s challenge score of 880), it looked like Historic Racing was going to take the win. But because of Nigel Manzil’s charity contributions of over Rs. 1 lakh (over 100,000 rupees) to Round Table India combined with 4 team nominations and 1 organizer nomination, Nigel Manzil won the event by just over 100 points.

photo from Paul Haran

photo from Paul Haran

Paul and Harry won a variety of prizes, including two fantastic custom-made jacket-vests by Barkha ‘N’ Sonzal, an incredible World Championship trophy, and free entry into the 2010 Caucasian Challenge! Congratulations, Nigel Manzil! We look forward to seeing you again next year!


Special Thank Yous from the Mumbai Xpress August 15, 2009

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The Mumbai Xpress was a fantastic success with 25 people making it over 1,900 kilometers in 12 rickshaws with surprisingly less than 50 breakdowns throughout 14 days! Congratulations, again, to the participants of this extraordinary event, and to everyone who contributed to its success.

Particularly, I would like to especially thank some contributors to the Mumbai Xpress besides the participants themselves.

rti_logoRound Table India, a charity organization focused on their “Freedom Through Education” initiative, made incredible contributions to the Mumbai Xpress. From providing flag-off locations to school tours, introducing us to local celebrities to the students themselves, it is with certainty that I say the Mumbai Xpress would not have been successful or nearly as enjoyable without the efforts of Round Table India. Here at CEMS, we would like to especially extend our gratitude to the tables of Chennai, Vellore, Bangalore, and Pune. Letting us and the participants of the Mumbai Xpress get such an awesome and up-close view of these incredible projects built memories that will last lifetimes, and contributions that will change them. Thank you, Round Table India, for all of your hard work and dedication to the Mumbai Xpress. You are an incredible organization.

barkha n sonzal Barkha N Sonzal contributed to the Mumbai Xpress by designing the intricately-made winner’s jackets worn by Harry and Paul of team Nigel Manzil, World Champions of the 2009 Mumbai Xpress. Barkha and Sonzal, the namesakes of their company, are two very talented women who specialize in creating clothing for men to make them “look regal, classy and elegant.” They design traditional and western wear like bundhgalas, sherwanis, suits, jodhpuris, etc,  prêt as well as couture and even all kinds of accessories  for men ranging from jewellery, belts, wallets, etc. We thank them for making such fantastic jackets for the Mumbai Xpress winners, jackets that are sure to be noticed!

jacket frontRCback

Thank you, also, to the several hotels that accommodated our crazy group throughout the event. Special thanks to the J.W. Marriott of Mumbai and the Country Inn and Suites of Chennai. What amazing service and facilities those two hotels have. Thank you for your hospitality and wonderful accommodations.

COUNTRY INNS & SUITESdarling residency

paivista mysore

taj logo


regal logo
ravi kiran

comfort_inn_logojwmarriott mumbaiTo everyone else who made the event a success, including members of the press, photographers, organizers, and spectators: THANK YOU!