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Manisha Mishra Tata 1mg

Adventure On Wheels

Manisha Mishra, Vice President, Tata 1mg, talks to Tata Review about participating in one of the most gruelling rallies in the world — the Mongol Rally

February 2024     |     987 words     |     4-minute read

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In a world where people seek predictability, Manisha Mishra often chooses to challenge the boundaries of her comfort zone and discover the extraordinary.

Ms Mishra, who is a Vice President at Tata 1mg, was recently part of India’s first women’s team to participate in the 2023 Mongol Rally – Poles of Inconvenience. The intercontinental rally is entirely unsupported — teams are not provided any backup. And participants aren’t competing to be the first or to clock the fastest time. Success lies in crossing the finish line.

The rally kicked off in the UK, and while the 86 participating teams chose their own route, they were expected to cover 16,000 to 20,000km. Ms Mishra’s team set out to cover 30 countries and 30,000km, and ended up successfully covering 33 countries and 31,019km — more than half the Earth’s circumference, in a Tata Punch! She talks to us about her expedition.

How did you hear about the rally?

I was chatting one night with my friend Pooja Sharma during the pandemic, and she mentioned the rally. I found it interesting and said we would go if we survived the pandemic. I then told my school friend Anubha Verma about it, and she was also interested. That’s how the Desi Wander Women came together.

What was it like to cross the finish line?

It feels surreal. It is unbelievable that we accomplished our goal! We started and ended the rally at St James’ Court, the Taj hotel in London, which hosted us for three nights. The rally traditionally ends in Mongolia, but because of geopolitical reasons it ended in Prague this time. The organisers let participants choose their start and end points. So, we considered London our finish line because we used the rally to attempt a feat for the Limca Book of Records — three Indian women driving a less than 1200cc car for more than 30,000km across 30 countries.

How did you choose your car for the rally?

The rules said we had to drive a car under 1200cc. When we put out the call for sponsorship, Tata Motors offered us the Tata Punch. It was fabulous throughout the rally. We had zero breakdowns, which is unheard of! None of us knew even basic car maintenance, so Tata Motors trained us before the rally, and provided all the spares and modified the roof for an extra stepney. But we never needed to use it — we didn’t have to change a tyre even once! 

Did you know that cars actually have a passport? It’s called Carnet de Passages en Douane (CPD) and we had to get one for the Punch.

“We considered London our finish line because we used the rally to attempt a feat for the Limca Book of Records — three Indian women driving a less than 1200cc car for more than 30,000km across 30 countries.” 

What were some challenges you faced?

Our first challenge occurred even before we started. We shipped the car from Mumbai to London. It was arriving a few days before the start date (July 8). But ships aren’t always on time. So, we were really anxious. The ship was delayed and the car arrived on July 5, just in the nick of time! Another challenge was the driving. Rules in the UK are almost the same as India, but Europe is different — they drive on the right-hand side of the road. We had to reverse all the rules in our minds. It was challenging. Initially, we were driving at 30km/hr!

Can you share a funny or interesting anecdote?

There was one that had us laughing in hindsight. We were driving in Europe and it was very hot. The air conditioning was on, but some bags were in direct sunlight. Suddenly there was a ‘pop’ and something exploded! Our eyes started watering and we had breathing problems. A pepper spray, kept inside a bag, had exploded because of the heat! We pulled over and aired the car. The one thing we had kept for our safety exploded and scared us! Then there was our four-hour stint at the Turkish border explaining why we were insane enough to bring a car from India, why we were crossing so many borders and what a CPD was!

People often flagged us down to talk to us. Many Indians were curious, seeing a Tata car and a Delhi number plate. They would video call their family saying, ‘Look we found a car from India!’.

Was there a bucket list destination you visited?

We made our dream of staying in a Tuscan vineyard come true. Vineyards are insanely expensive and we had to be judicious with expenses as it was all sponsored. So, we asked a few if they could host us. Castello di Ama replied with an invitation! It was the most memorable part of the trip. I was also excited to visit Georgia and had an amazing time driving on the Transfagarasan Highway in Romania. It has 80 hairpin bends! But it was very safe to navigate and the Punch was very stable on the bends.

You were travelling for three months. How did that work out?

Everyone at home was really supportive, including my young son. Video calls definitely helped. My support system at work, including our Co-founder and CEO, Prashant Tandon, was very encouraging. This helped me focus and not worry about what was happening at home or at work.

What was a life-changing aspect of the rally?

I learnt the value of focusing on one aspect of your life to help it blossom. While in Italy, we were told to look out for shooting stars as it was the San Lorenzo period. But we hadn’t spotted any and it seemed a myth to us. The owner of our villa told us that we needed to set aside time to just look at the sky, like the Italians do. So that night we did just that and I spotted six stars in three hours!

—Kermin Bhot

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