The 3rd Great Himalayan Volkswagen Beetle Rally 2003

Features Issue 19 Aug, 2010
Text by Siddharth Lama

May 10th 2003 was a sunny Saturday morning as 38 Volkswagen Beetles (also referred to as bugs) and around twenty Enfield motorcycles gathered at the  Birendra International Convention Center in Baneshwor. The beetle owners were there for an event that they have come to look forward to, and the motorcycle riders, having formed a club of their own, were there to participate in the fun. Being traditonally a grand day for bugs, every beetle looked scrubbed and shiny for what was essentially their fashion parade. It was clear that every owner had taken some care to put on a decent show.

The theme this year was ‘Peace, Women and Health’, reflecting the main work of the three organizations that organized the rally: The Maya Foundation, Shanti Shanti Sangh, and the Ganesh Foundation.  (See box, page 36.) In keeping with the theme, the most elaborately decorated vehicle this year was a maroon bug belonging to Shantu, the beetle mechanic for many of the beetles present that day. His bug carried on its roof an entire stupa with a message for peace - and this peace-promoting bug went on to win the best-decorated vehicle prize in this rally!

His Excellency Rudiger Lemp, German Ambassador to Nepal, inaugurated the rally this year, and was even sporting enough to roller blade over the concrete driveway of the BICC complex to do it.

Beetles represent an era of nostalgia, as do Enfield Bullets, and both have a die-hard following. So, it was quite appropriate that this year the beetle rally should be complemented by a phalanx of Bullet riders, who ranged from grungy students to diplomats – indistinguishable in their biking gear – riding as friends.

The bikers opened the rally.  At ten thirty in the morning, about twenty 350cc and 500cc engines roared to life and the motorcycles poured out of the gates, their riders all basking in the warmth of the Bullet fraternity. Banking left out of the gates of the BICC complex, they were off to Nagarkot in a throaty roar of engines. As their sound faded, the chugging of the waiting beetles became audible and passengers and drivers, beaming in the special delight it is to ride in a beetle, began pulling out in an orderly fashion after the bullets. There was also a backup bus to carry folks that wanted to participate in the rally, but could not find a place on the already packed beetles and motorcycles. Thus despite the flurry of the start, nobody was left behind, save for a forlorn white Volkswagen hatchback from a bygone era with a “For Sale” notice stuck to its side.

The crowded stretch between the airport and Bhaktapur city had most of the rally participants strung out quite a bit, but venturing out into the more rural settings of the road leading to Nagarkot, most of the beetles got back into formation. It was a quaint picture of orderliness, with a row of beetles in a colorful procession, chugging along in unison. Everyone seemed eager to get out of the city and before long, the vehicles began the climb up the hill to Nagarkot.

The beetles coming up the hill were a heartwarming sight to see as the they gamely chugged their way up the winding road. Colorful, full of smiling people, cute as buttons, the entourage had locals on the wayside pausing from their daily lives to look on in curiosity, and then smile at what is a pretty sight in any place in the world. Children were especially delighted and many dropped whatever they were doing to run up to the road with squeals of delight and laughter at the sight of the beetles.

Of course, as is traditional in a gathering of vintage vehicles, there are always a few breakdowns. Along the way there were two vehicles beside the road with their engine covers open and the owners milling around, but both claimed that they were merely ‘airing’ their car engines and that it was not a breakdown. True to their claims, both cars were seen at the finishing point, though three others of the original 38 did fall along the way.

The end point of the rally was the Club Himalaya resort, a rather nice piece of property perched on a hill straddling Nagarkot. The motorcycles arrived early and were parked in orderly rows with their owners basking in biker camaraderie. The beetles arrived later, mostly together, and quickly filled up the parking lot of the hotel. It was a cheerful sight and owners were photographing their vehicles, exchanging stories and getting to know fellow beetle owners. Beetles and bullets mixed in the early afternoon sun and after a measure of time, having savored the feeling of having made it to the finishing point and in good time, the crowd eventually drifted off to the Rani Ban area of the resort where there was lunch for all.

Pretty soon the chow line extended so far that some of those at the end were heard to comment that they expected to reach by dinner! However, they did not have to wait so long. Thanks to the quick service of the hotel staff, all of the 200 odd participants were eventually fed and watered (some watered quite a bit!). Hunger and thirst satiated, the prizewinners for the rally were then announced. The prize for the best-decorated car of course went to the stupa bug, with the green bug with Mithila artwork on it bagging second. The third prize went to a white beetle decorated like a chicken. There was even a prize for the oldest bike.

Anne of the Shanti Foundation announced the names of the winners and delighted winners came up to receive anything from two nights’ stay at the Trek-o-Tel Hotel in Pokhara to dinners for a couple at restaurants around town. Various establishments, including Shangri-La Hotel, BICC and others sponsored all of the prizes.

This year, Shanti Shanti Sangh and the Maya Foundation joined the Ganesh Foundation in putting on the rally.  Susan Fowlds, who organized the previous two rallies, says that through the last rally, the foundation was able to raise 2,00,000 NRs for the Ganesh Foundation, which provides cleft lip/plate surgical correction for Nepalese. This year Shanti Shanti Sangh and the Maya Foundation came aboard to help organize the rally, as the logistics were too great for just one organization to handle.

The funds raised came from corporate sponsorships and personal contributions - amounting to 3,00,000 NRs after costs this year. This amount was split evenly between the three charities.  According to Anne, the amount of 1,00,000 NRs raised for the Maya Foundation would cover the cost of around 10 to 12 uterus prolapse corrections.

All three organizers felt that despite all the work involved getting this ride organized, the effort was worth it not just for the funds raised, but for the fact that a lot of awareness was generated about the issues these organizations were addressing.

The day extended into evening and as a chill wind blew in from the west, the participants drifted back to their vehicles and made their way back home after a satisfying day of riding and meeting friends - as well as making new ones! All for a cause - or three!!