Road to London #2 – A Unique Attempt

I am writing to request your thoughts, comments, blessings, cooperation and support in an extraordinary adventure that I plan to undertake…

…that of self-driving a distance of 20,000 kms from Mumbai to London, over 68 days through 16 countries and 100+ cities!

…that of chaperoning my 9-year old grand daughter along with my 63-year old wife through a long, once-in-a-lifetime journey covering off-beaten tracks, rugged mountains, deserts and sand dunes, dense forests and snow, high altitudes, heritage sites, highways and cities!

Before you say more about risk and raise concerns (and thank you for that!), please rest assured that this is not my first endeavour into adventure (my close family will attest to that!). I have been an adventure-thrill seeker through my life, especially after the age of 45

  • At the age of 70, in 2015, I self-drove 8+ days through Iceland’s rough and risky terrains, with my wife and then 7-year old granddaughter. This included some glacier walking as well as snow mobil-ing.
  • At 65, I organised a group of 90 pilgrims to Kailash-Mansarovar for a charitable purpose. It is a journey many dream to accomplish at least once in their lifetime. It is also considered extremely difficult and life threatening.
  • In 2009, my wife and I were the first Indians to land at 90° North and float on a sheet of ice. There is nothing to it’s north and that spot on earth has no longitude, no time-zone.  It was all to experience the place where the Sun and the Moon rise and set, only once a year!  We were on the only nuclear powered vessel capable of navigating to this place.
  • We also challenged ourselves to participate in the ritualistic “polar plunge”. Not stating the obvious, but this act is considered (silly and) fatal if one stays in for more than a few seconds.
  • In 2008, at 63, Mr. Peter Hillary, Edmund Hillary’s son personally inspired me to take the Mt. Everest Base Camp trek, considered demanding and deathly. I trekked with only one sherpa for company (i.e. it was not an organized group tour).
  • In 2005-06, my wife and I also travelled and trekked through all of South America (including staying in the dense Amazon forests) and set foot on Antarctica, where the most common inhabitants are penguins and the temperature of -30°
  • In 2004, my wife and I climbed to an altitude of over 19,000 feet to perform the Mt. Kailash parikrama (at ages 60 and 51). This was without any guided help!
  • 25+ years ago, in 1988, I drove my family from Mumbai to the top of Badrinath temple (now in Uttarakhand) in a Honda Civic. This was 5,500+ kms of heart-throbbingly bad roads – especially for a stick shift, sedan! (If you are aware of the Indian road conditions today, just imagine what they were almost all those years ago!)
  • A little before that, in 1987, my wife and I drove from Oslo through the broken roads of Nordkap to experience Norway’s Midnight Sun.

This is a glimpse of the many thrilling, exciting and hair-raising adventures I have been lucky to be a part of, but I would refrain myself from getting nostalgic here! After all, over the years I have travelled to 55+ countries whilst my wife has visited 43.

Academically, I am a qualified Chartered Accountant as well as a Cost Accountant.  However, I have been a first generation entrepreneur for most of my life. In 1986, I quit my (then) 18-year old professional career in the Middle East to come back to India and start on my own.

My learnings in life – personal and professional as well as my travel experiences and expeditions are (slowly, but steadily) being documented on my blog (please write to me if you want to get updates on e-mail).

In fact, I plan to capture my upcoming “driving expedition” on a day-to-day basis, perhaps even on a real time basis (using a GoPro camera).  Our expedition will cut across India, West to East, crossing about 10 states including Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar, Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur.  Once we cross India, we will pass through Bhutan, Myanmar, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, and finally the UK.    It will be the rarest of rare travels – not to mention the various challenges we will face driving through such varied landscape.  This event is expected to create a record in Limca Book of Records and possibly be a Guinness World Record too (I am in conversation with them on this front.)

However, more importantly, this road adventure is personally very dear to me because I intend to spread a personal message that “age is no bar if your mind is determined and your body taken care of”; That, if one keeps themselves fit, age cannot hold you from extra-ordinary feats – be it a child of 9 years, a grandmother at 63 or a grandfather at 72.

Over the past few years, I have seen and read about kids and adults living their life more as an obligation, coupled with neglect of their health. People have almost forgotten to “live” their life…not realising that in the end, it is not the years in your life that matter, but the life in the years!

It goes without saying that such an adventure involves a lot of planning and budgeting, and as such, we are looking for “like-minded” individuals or organisations who believe in our belief and are keen to participate and partner with us; or if you know someone who would be interested. If you are, please do write to me at the below details and I would be happy to sit down and share additional details. Your assistance and cooperation will help create awareness as well as generate interest, curiosity and perhaps inspire others!

I am hoping that with your support we will be able to spread the message to an even wider audience! The flag off is currently scheduled from Mumbai at 1000 hours on 24 March 2017, when we embark on this journey, hopefully able to create an extra-ordinary story and memory! You are most welcome to come and join the celebration and wish me luck!!


Badri Baldawa

Cell: +91 987 000 1177


Road to London #1 – Another World Record For Me?

I am excited!

I am privileged to have a life partner who has always been with me – from social responsibilities to simple dinners out to super adventures like a trek around Mt. Kailash, a cruise to South Pole, a driving trip through Iceland and lots more.  Together we established the record of being the first Indians to land at North Pole (i.e. 90° North) in 2009.

Of late, Pushpa’s knees have not been able to cope with the strain that trekking brings.  But painful knees cannot keep thrill and excitement at bay.  So I thought, till such time she is able to convince her knees to support her for treks, let us go for driving trips.

It is not unusual for me to take driving trips within the country, like the one I am about to set off for next week – 2,500 kms into South India and back. This is an endurance test drive for something coming up soon!

Our next adventure is a 60-day driving trip from Mumbai to London – 14 countries, 18,000 kms and 9 months of preparation.

It is a route that takes you to West by first going East. We will start with cutting across the Indian states of MP, UP, West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, Nagaland and Manipur.  This will lead us to Myanmar.  We would then drive through China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia (right up to Moscow), Belarus, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and finally the UK.

As you can imagine, the journey will be through off-beat tracks, rugged mountains, deserts and sand dunes, dense forests and snow passes, high altitudes and heritage sites, and of course some highways and city drives.  We will cross iron bridges in Myanmar as well as pass through the silk route in Central Asia. Believe it or not, we are looking forward to the various challenges we will face driving through such varied landscape.

This might just be a World Record – the senior most person (72 years) to make this journey (Waiting for confirmation from Limca Records®).

Just wanted to share my excitement with you!

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra

Drive Through Iceland 11: Natural Spas and Lagoons

In continuation of earlier blog DTI 10: Snow Mobile, James Bond Style

There were various beautiful lava rock formations. These rock formations also formed large caves, as large as an acre each.  Asphalt pillars were also seen here.  They were the by-product of lava flow during eruptions.  Though they were natural, it looked as if they were carved out of a large rocks.

It was then time for us to visit the Skogar waterfall.  It is known for the enormous force of the water. We climbed about half a kilometer on a steep mountain adjacent to the waterfall, to watch the source of waterfall.  It was cold and raining, but it did not stop us from trekking.

We stayed over night in a guest house owned by Mr. Uxi who was a very popular chef in one of the five star hotels in the Capital.  We enjoyed our stay there and so also the vegetarian breakfast he cooked specially for us.

Hberagardi Hot Springs 2015-08-13B

Hberagardi Natural Hot Springs

More natural wonders were to follow.  There is a specific hot spring belt running from Keflavik airport and it cuts across the country.  Geysers and spots where boiling water bubbles out, is common on this belt. On the penultimate day, it was time for us to visit a small town Hveragerdi, a town with countless natural hot water springs.    We could see smoke coming out of the hot springs all over the hill town.  They were just a few yards away from each other.  I guess some of the private houses had natural hot springs in their own backyard.

We climbed half the mountain to see the various hot springs.  At the top of the mountain there was a natural hot spring lagoon.  However the weather turned adverse with sub-zero temperatures, wind and rain, we did not go up to the lagoon.

We were in the coastal area which was created by lava flows.The lava had even extended to the coastal area of the country by 5 kilometers.  We drove through volcano eruptions through the trip.  While we were passing through the lava land, there were heavy dusty storms.  The wind was so strong that I found it difficult to control the steering wheel.  I guess the lighter vehicles would not have stood to that storm and would have flown away.


Lava fields, Iceland

Lava sand, lava eruptions and lava mountains – it is not an exaggeration to say that this is what makes Iceland.

These were completely isolated kachhaa roads.  There were occasions when we felt we have lost the way.  I started suspecting the accuracy of the GPS as we were left at a location surrounded by lava mountains and dusty winds with no one in sight. It was a great relief when we finally reached the main road leading us to Blue Lagoon, the last of our stops.

Blue Lagoon is the master of luxurious spas.  It is a lagoon, a large, open water body flowing from natural hot springs.  The pool water was a lovely, uniform marine blue.  The water was warm and at some places, even warmer.  We reserved this site as the last point of our tour.  After a hectic week around Iceland, these were well-deserved relaxing few hours.

Blue Lagoon 3B

Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Nishi, our 8-year old granddaughter was an entertainer and inspiration in all the activities, whether it was trekking on rough terrains, climbing the mountains, entering hot water springs in freezing temperature, glacier walking or snow mobiling.  It was good we had a child like her with us, to keep the child in us alive.

In earlier years, when I imagined about Iceland, I expected to see ice and snow all around; it was Iceland after all!  However, that’s not the case. I wonder whether a few more eruptions would make ‘Iceland’ into ‘Lavaland’.

Our wonderful trip had come to a close. A rich, fulfilling week later, we returned the vehicle and were at the airport to catch our flight back.

Experienced and Written By: Badri Baldawa

Edited By : Meeta Kabra

Drive Through Iceland 10: Snow Mobile, James Bond Style

                                        In continuation of earlier blog DTI 9: Icebergs and Glacier Walk

While planning my Iceland itinerary, I surely wanted to visit Katla volcano glacier as well as experience the snow mobile thrill.  the earlier night’s 125 kilometer drive Westward, day 6 was the most exciting day of the trip for me.

Snow Mobiling is not commonly available in the world.   Out of the available ones, Iceland is supposed to be the best of all.  This is where many famous films like  the Bond film and others were shot.

Various sources had mentioned that advance booking is a must for snow mobiling. We booked ourselves for snow-mobiling, the earlier day and the earliest slot available was at 12.30 PM.

When we reached the booking office, I learnt that, for snow mobiling,  we would be taken to a glacier top.   I expected that.  But what I did not expect was that the concerned glacier in this case would be the one formed on the top of Katla Volcano. This is one of most scenic and romantic glaciers in the world.  That was where I wanted it to be.  Some times lady luck works in your favor too! Two of my ambitions were to come true in one stroke!

Snow Mobiling on Katla

Snow Mobiling on Katla Glacier

Snow Mobiling

Snow Mobiling

We had a special one-piece-gear covering us from top to bottom, heavy gloves, boots and helmet.  It felt like we were astronauts in space suits.

A special mountain vehicle took us to the top of Katla glacier and we were soon seated in snowmobiles!

Snowmobiles are two-seater bikes. They don’t have enclosures on the sides or the top.  It has two skis in the front and two wheels at rear.   For most of the fun time, Pushpa and I drover together with her sitting behind.  Nishi shared another with the instructor.

We drove like James Bond for 2 hours and 20 kilometers on Katla Glacier! Ascending and descending, driving on a uneven snow surface, curving right and left, set the heartbeats ablaze!

It was difficult to accept that we were on the top of Katla glacier, formed by 2010-11 volcano eruption.   We were not just standing, we were snow mobiling like in action movies.  Surely a first for me. For a pause, when we were standing in the center of the glacier, it gave a different sort of fear when the instructor told us that as per the seismographic studies, the land and ice below us was expected to explode again any day now!

After snow mobiling, we had enough time to visit Dyrholaey. Puffins, the beautiful birds are found at Dyrholaey coastal area in South Iceland. Puffins, the lovely seabirds are synonymous with Iceland. They are normally seen for 3 months till mid-July. Though it was off season, there were thousands of them flying across.  They were either enjoying floating in the cold seawater or gossiping on a pinnacle like stone formation.


Puffin – Pic from Google

Nishi was quite excited about the puffins.  She wanted a closer look.    But I still wanted to try if we could find anything closer than we had at Dyrholaey. The next day we went to two other places where Puffins were known to be sighted.  At the sea coast of Vik, we found Puffins flying around the mountain. Some of them flew together  in hundreds, as if to show their camaraderie.  Some were in a bow and arrow formation!

Black Sand Beaches, Vik, Iceland

Black Sand Beaches, Vik

Our hunt, to see the puffins from a closer angle, continued.  15 kilometers further down we visited another place where the birds were known to be closer.  They were resting in groups on the mountain reefs.

Then we understood that the puffins can be sighted only from a small distance and  cannot be watched from as close a distance as the penguins we saw in Antarctica, South Pole.

Vik coastal area is also famous for its black sand beaches, again an outcome of volcanic eruptions.


To be contd……………

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra

Drive Through Iceland 9: Icebergs & Glacier Walk

In continuation of earlier blog DTI: 8: Lava Mountains………

We woke up to a drive of about 70 kilometers to the east to reach Skaftafell where the much looked forward to glacier walk was to start.  However, we could get a spot only in the tour that started at 2 PM.

Jokulson Iceberg23Not known for sitting at one place, we used the time to drive 60 kilometers, further to the east to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. The icebergs were in various forms and shapes. They reminded us of our visit to Antarctica (South Pole) and  North Pole-Alaska, USA.

The Jokulsarlon icebergs are an outcome of drops from Vatnajokul, the largest glacier in Jokulson Iceberg 12the country.  There were hundreds of small and large icebergs happily floating in a lagoon formed between the glacier and the Atlantic ocean. Most of the icebergs were twinkling and blue. The blue hue meant they had been  compressed for long; the twinkling indicated their urge to break free from the long burden of compression.  They were slowly drifting to their destiny, the ocean, just a few hundred meters away.

We watched the icebergs for a couple of hours, as long as we had before the glacier walk tour.

Glacier Walk - Nishi

Glacier Walk – Nishi

As luck would have it, there was some confusion.  We were left behind.  The bus carrying the group had left about 5 minutes ago. The organisers were good enough to concede to our request and arranged for another bus to get us to the group.  Our walk was on Virkisjökull glacier around Skaftafel.  We hired special protective shoes, crampons, ice axe and metal hats.  During the glacier walk, the guide went into details of how glaciers formed and dissolved.

The glacier was a fantastic introduction to the unique, enthralling world of ice, traversing the spectacular but easy tracks of the Virkisjökull glacier. We started with a short walk along the glacier valley where we were told about the features of the retreating paths of glaciers and their surroundings.

After the short walk in the valley, we approached the Virkisjökull glacier. We strapped on the crampons and started climbing the icy slopes.  The ice axe was handy in case we slip. Nishi was given a protective harness too.  On the way, we witnessed the incredible ice formations and small ice crevasses. We were told that the glaciers reshape continuously and their looks change week after week. We reached the awe-inspiring ice fall. It was a spectacular view. The ice fell hundreds of meters off the mountain-top and flowed down, as if in slow motion, towards the ocean. The journey of the glaciers to the ocean never completes in full form as global warming continues to melt the snow on its way.

We were at Eyjafjallajökull region.  It is the volcanic eruption which caused enormous disruption to air travel a few years ago. From 14–20 April 2010, the eruption threw ash and smoke clouds to 8 kilometers up in the air.  It led to a complete closure of commercial air traffic in 20 European countries for 6 days.  It affected about 10 million travellers.  It created the highest level of air travel disruption since the Second World War.  The disruption within Iceland continued till May 2010 and was officially declared over, only in October 2010, when snow on the glacier stopped melting.

In Iceland, there have been regular eruptions, thereafter. Of late, a group of well-placed observers have warned the world about the possibility of a next major volcanic eruption in Iceland in 2015.  Even the Government cautions visitors of the possibilities of volcanic eruptions while we are there.


To be contd…………...

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra

Drive Through Iceland 5: Teething Troubles


Lava Land

Lava Land – Iceland

This is In continuation of earlier blog DTI 4: Fun begins

Wife and child in the car, navigation not working, phone disabled, hectic first-day schedule which started at 3 AM with a flight from London, no international roaming on my Indian phone.   To top it off, we were all hungry too.  We were stuck.  It was a terrible beginning.  I didn’t feel as smart as I did a few hours ago!

We were to have lunch in the capital city.  But this navigation failure upset our plans.  I thought of my son, Anand, who had told me to hire a car navigator irrespective of maps on apps.  But I thought it a waste and unnecessary. I looked for a branch of the car rental company to hire a navigator.  But itthere was none closeby.

At last, I could see an Icelander who seemed in a rush to get into his car and leave.  I almost  forcibly held him back and explained my problem!

Fortunately, he was helpful.  He volunteered to escort us till we got out of the complicated city roads. We had to drop the lunch plan and just follow the guy till wherever he desired to take us.   He left us at access point to route 1.  I was already in an isolated lava land.  Fine, what now?

Good, a ray of hope!  There…. I could see a  fast-food counters attached to the gas station.  Atleast one problem in sight of getting resolved.  While my two ladies had a bite, I went to the young store-owner and explained my SIM-troubles to him. He tried his best to start the card, but could not.   He was SIM card vendor too!  As a last resort, I asked to buy a new SIM.  He said, “Hold on.” He spoke to the Simminn help center in Icelandic for about 5 minutes and returned my phone saying, “there you go.”

It was an unusual smile.  Was he asking me to to go away since he had other customers waiting for him?  He hadn’t behaved like a rude person. After a glance at my worried face, he took the phone back and asked, “where you going next?”  He set the Google map for my next destination and said, “Did you activate the card by speaking to the company?  It was not activated”. I could not believe that my cell screen showing an active google map!

Being wiser now, for safety,  I wanted to buy another SIM card. But the vendor refused. He smiled to say, “I guarantee, you will have no problem with the SIM you have”.  What then was the problem earlier?

The label on the SIM card packet instructed to send a message to the service provider in order to activate it.  What they meant was you had to call them and give them a message by talking to them, and not just send a SMS.  You had to know the local language for it.

The  vendor at the airport was too busy and excused himself by saying “it is simple, just fix the card and it will start working”.  It did start, but for a trial few minutes to allow for an activation call.  When the first navigation route showed up, I thought it was activated, based on the SMS I sent them. I am the smartest, you know now!  Or is it silliest?

Nishi says, " I am fine"

Nishi expressing I am enjoying

While we went through this frustration for a few hours, I was worried that Nishi who was new to such problems might regret having joined us, on the very first day. When I expressed my regret for this inconvenience, she responded, something like saying “I am fine.  Nana, please don’t worry about me.  I am enjoying every moment.”

To be contd…………...

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra

Drive Through Iceland 6: Of Geysers and Waterfalls

This is In continuation of earlier blog DTI 5: Teething Troubles

Iceland 65% of Population in Red marked area (Courtesy-Amazing maps)

Iceland 65% of Population in Red marked area (Courtesy-Amazing maps)

Once out of the capital city, roads were completely isolated. Iceland is a sparsely populated country.  2.2 lakh people out of the 3.2, stay in the capital.  The rest are spread across an area of 1 lakh sq km. Get that? The population density is 1 person per 1 sq km. To put that in perspective, Mumbai’s population density is 30,000 per sq km!

Though there were just two-lane roads, an average speed of 90km/hr was easy. Lava fields spread on either side as far as the eyes could see. It was a pleasure to drive on highways and the main routes alike.  But, most of the time I drove on gravel roads – single roads with a lot of loose sand.

Iceland Driving5The information on the Internet had scared me into believing that driving in Iceland would be a tough task.  But I tell you; none of these were as bad as the roads leading to remote villages in India or even post-monsoon city roads!   As long as one does not venture on ‘F’ highland roads or if one sticks to driving on metal and gravel roads, even a medium size  regular vehicle is good enough.  These roads are like a highway drive for those of us used to driving on Indian roads.

As we lost quite a few hours resolving the GPS problem, we had to skip a volcano mountain on the way.   We reached Thingvellir National Park.  This is where the world’s first parliament started in 930AD.  Though there are just a symbolic benches on a brownish rock platborm at the site now, parlliament day is celebrated here every year.

Thingvellir, Iceland. World's first Parliament (Rock platform)

Thingvellir, Iceland. World’s first Parliament (Rock platform)

Thingvellir is also a geological wonder in the world.  There are tall natural-rock walls of the two continents.  One was the edge of American continent and the other was that of Euroasia.   There are tectonic plates of two continents – America and Europe – which could be seen at once.  We were walking in between the two walls.   Iceland is probably the only place above sea level where two major tectonic plates can be seen.

Tectonic Rift of two continents - America and Europe

Tectonic Rift of two continents – America and Europe

They have been drifting away from each other by half an inch every year. The boundaries of these plates are zones of tectonic activity, where volcanic eruptions tend to occur.

After a drive of another 60km to the East, we saw a large smoke-like jet blowing up at a distance of 8-10km.  It subsided in less than a minute.  We wondered if that was the geyser we were looking for.  After about 5 minutes, another jet erupted and settled. Yes, it was the world famous Strokkur Geysir.

Strokkur Geysir, Iceland - Throwing Boiling Water 35-40ft High, every 5-10 minutes

Strokkur Geysir, Iceland

The word ‘geyser’ seems to be derived from this Geysir at Strokkur.  It is a unique natural fountain in the world. The underground pressure is so high that at a frequency of 5-10 minutes, the geyser gushes boiling hot water to a height of 40 to 60 feet.  This has been constant for decades. There were many smaller natural geysers all around.  They were unfenced and we could walk around unrestrictedly. Ofcourse we had to keep ourselves away to ensure that we do get caught under the hot boiling water gushed out of the geysers.

I would have liked to watch  Strokkur Geysir for hours.  However, we forced ourselves to leave as we were looking forward to proceed to another beauty spot on the face of Iceland, Gulfoss waterfall

By evening it began to get cold. Iceland has sub-polar, oceanic climate.  It has cold winters and cool summers.  It was the month of August which is their peak summer.  At the peak of their summer, the temperature was near freezing point,  – 2 to 7degC!  It rains and shines alternating every 2-3 days.  We carried normal, warm as well as waterproof clothes with us.   At places, it was terribly windy, strong enough to blow away our car into one of the lava valleys.

Our next target was to visit Gulfoss waterfalls.  I read a lot about the beauty of Gulfoss, which was supposedly not too far from Strokkur.  We were disappointed when a professional guide at Strokkur told us that there was no waterfall, whatsoever, in the vicinity.

We took a U-turn.  But then I recollected that I had certainly seen pictures and read about the presence of Gulfoss waterfall in that area. I checked my notes. A little tinkering with Google maps confirmed the presence of a waterfall in that area.  We DSC04884 followed the map and after a drive of about 10-12km, suddenly, we spotted a beautiful site to our right, a wide spread gushing waterfall – the panoramic Gulfoss waterfall.  The rushing water dropped and flowed from one stage to another, in 3 stages.

It is difficult to describe its beauty.  It could be compared to that of Niagara in Canada/USA and Iguassu waterfalls in Brazil/Argentina!

After a satisfactory, even if hectic first day, we drove about 70 kilometers to reach our destination for the night by 7 PM. Though isolated, it was a nice, large, well-designed compact room – a double bed, a bunker bed and a fully equipped kitchen.

Had we returned from Strokkur directly without visiting Gulfoss waterfall, we would have missed a wonderful spot! Notes and planning for the win!

                                                                                                     To be contd……………

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra

Drive Through Iceland 2: Pre-planning

This is in continuation of earlier Blog: DTI:1:Setup………….

The planning for the big trip began!  The research convinced me that an Iceland trip needed proper planning, even better than planning a trip to all available parks in Orlando.

As usual, I didn’t opt for package tours with travel agents.  I wanted to learn about the country on my own. Its geography, specialities and then plan the trip as per my interests. From the reviews and research, I noted each major and minor point that I should be careful about while travelling in Iceland.  This, not only saved my time and money, but I now also knew my options in case of an emergency.

I made a list of interesting places after looking up photos and information on each site.  The list was long. I flagged the selected places on Google map.  A rough estimate looked like I would need at least 15 days to cover it all.  However, 50% could be covered in 4 days, 75% in 8 days and about 85% 10-11 days.

I picked a balanced “8-days”. I would miss some waterfalls, glaciers and the like but would be able to visit similar features elsewhere in my trip.  To avoid criss-cross travelling,  I would have to stay at a different place on each of the 7 nights.

Hotels were few and far between.  And for sure, very expensive.  At best, there were 3-star hotels at some places.   Rooms with attached bath were about INR 25 to 40 thousand a night!  Guest houses were clean, comfortable and relatively economical at about 15 to 20 thousand Rupees per night.   Most of the hotels and guest houses on our route offered only “shared bath”.

While selecting accommodation, another thing I looked for was “rooms with breakfast included” as it would be difficult to get right breakfast on the roadside particularly when driving on highland remote roads.

We wanted attached bathrooms which were few in the first place, and the ones that existed were already booked.  Out of these, those with “breakfast included” narrowed down the availability further.

At an additional 10-15% offered rooms with free cancellation.  I started booking whatever best was available on the day as per my planned route. At the same time, I made a list of better hotels in the area. Every day since then, I would check for fresh vacancies (due to any cancellations) and book better hotels when available.  I did this practically every day for over a month.

We would be staying in remote places on five out of seven nights. For these 5 places, I made 28 cancellations and re-bookings!  I had to, for better accommodation!  Every change meant a change in my route and itinerary. Finally, I froze the plan just a week before I left.

There were many local agencies that provided tour plans. But, I always enjoy the thrill of driving myself, on routes that interested me the most.   I realised I would not be able to reach some of the highlands, if I rented a 2-wheel drive. So, I went for a 4-wheel drive. Many local set-ups offered vehicles at much lower prices, but I wanted to go with a known brand in car rentals, so that the vehicles are reliable while driving on mountains, crossing rivers and passing through rough lava fields.  I selected Thrifty as that seemed the most popular amongst the International car rental agencies in Iceland.

I felt reasonably comfortable to take on the trip.

To be contd...

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra

Drive Through Iceland 1: Setup

I recently had a very exciting and educative driving trip to Iceland. There is many a thing I want to share. I will be publishing my experience in a series. Here is the first in this series – how it all came about.

Jokulson Icerberg4

Why Iceland?

On 6 May 2015 I was set to leave for Trek to Annapoorna Base Camp in Nepalese Himalayan range.  Air ticket, insurance, expenses all paid.  As usual, my baggage was ready duly packed a month in advance!  Never mind, though, my family members make a joke out of it!  All items on my checklist ticked.  Only a thorough recheck a day before leaving, was pending.

About 10 days to go, my enthusiasm and excitement was at its peak for this trek. On 25 April 2015, post lunch, as I switched on the TV, “Severe earth-quake in Nepal” was the breaking news banner.  Most unfortunate.  News followed that the earthquake was of severe intensity and some of the villages around the mountain I was to trek had completely got devastated. Rescue operations were on.  Incoming commercial flights were closed. Tourism in Nepal came to a standstill.  My trekking trip got cancelled.  My efforts to visit Nepal to join the rescue and aid operations did not get positive response.

I did not unpack my bag; it was still intact lying near the life-size window at my bedroom.  Every time I looked at the bag, I was asking myself, is there any interesting place I could go to?.

Just around that time, Seema, my daughter in UK was insisting that Nishi, my grand daughter, had holidays and Pushpa and me should stay with them for a few weeks.  I initially resisted as I felt it would be a stay without much of action!  Then I was reminded that it was over 2 years since I had seen Nishi.    Oh! there was a reason that I should visit UK.  Before I could think further about it, my son Anand, booked most comfortable tickets for us for 4 weeks stay in UK.   But I kept thinking, ha!  staying for 4 weeks without adventure?  Not entirely convincing!  Surely it could be better!

For me, leisure travel means not just relaxing in premium hotels or at home.  There has to be some unusual action or adventure; a stay in a mountain tent or a hut, in near freezing temperature or something where action is primary, comfort is secondary and food is tertiary. To keep myself fresh, I needed to have at least one such trip a year.

I reactivated all travel related ‘blocked’ email ids and started looking at these ‘junk’ emails, in case they have some suitable place to venture out.  One of the junk emails was tempting – a 4wd driving trip to Iceland in Nov 2015.

In Iceland, there have been regular lava eruptions.  From internet browsing, I realised that due to its volcanic origin, Iceland has features like gushing geysers, ice glaciers, snow-capped mountains, volcano craters, lava eruptions, natural hot water springs, sea shores, black sand beaches and staggering waterfalls – all these natural phenomenon at a very close proximity to each other,

Iceland sounded like an interesting and unusual place; different from the 50+ countries I‘ve visited.

Iceland is close to UK, just a 3-hour flight from London, “why not take off a week for Iceland out of my 4-week stay UK-trip?”  Also, August was supposed to be a good time to visit Iceland. But then, this would defeat the purpose of staying with Nishi. I wondered if Nishi would be travel with us to Iceland. I thought Nishi was a little too sophisticated to make a trip that could get uncomfortable. All of 8 years, little Nishi makes her own decisions.  When Seema checked with her, Nishi responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes”.  That’s it!

Decided.  Go out for UK for a month, sneak out time for Iceland!

To continue ———–Blog DTI:2: Pre-Planning

Experienced and Written By: Badri Baldawa

Edited By : Meeta Kabra

When Nargis and Indira Gandhi Rescued Me!

Way back in 1984, I had to visit Cyprus to negotiate some business deals. Cyprus was very competitive for import of products like detergent, edible oils, paper reams etc in bulk, repack them in consumer packs and export them to European and Middle Eastern countries. Most of the manufacturing units were located around Larnaca and Limassol, on its South Coast.

I had to stay there over a weekend.   I was alone.  All commercial offices were closed.  I had nothing to do.  On the Saturday, I hired a car from Hertz.   I went for a beautiful drive to the popular historical places over the south coastal stretch of about 150 km from Limassol to Pephos and back.

After my Saturday drive, I was relaxing in the Hotel lounge and was wondering what I’d do the next day.  Just then, I found a pamphlet in the hotel rack with details of a drive to Mountain Troodas.  The mountain base was at a distance of 45 km and thereafter a steep climb of 6,500 ft.  From the base, it was about a 10 km road to the top of the ice-capped mountain.  It was winter season and was snowing almost every day on the mountain.

Unfortunately the mountain was closed except to those who took it up by foot and had a skiing permit.

Immediately, I wanted to rent a car to drive to the top of mountain Troodas as far as I could.    The car tyres had to have snow chains.  The chains provide grip while driving on snow and keeps the car from skidding.   The car rental company informed me that driving on the mountain was not permitted during winter beyond 2-3km.  Only skiers with permits could climb during that season.  Hertz refused to rent a car to me.  I tried Avis and they refused too.

I wasn’t going to give up, of course.   I decided to drive as far as permitted even if I had to return from the first security gate.  For that distance, I presumed I didn’t need the tyre snow-chains.  I did not go to Hertz or Avis.  I went to a local car rental company and hired a car.  I did not ask for the snow-chains.

I kept the car at the hotel over the night and made an early start on Sunday.  It took me about 45 minutes to reach the base.  I started driving up.  After about 3km, I reached the security post and the gate was open!  There was no guard either.  Maybe, the security did not expect any vehicle to come at that hour in winter!

I had the option to wait there or return.  I had underestimated how cold it would be.  I was not appropriately equipped to face 0-5 deg temperature.  I had just one a formal coat, a jacket, thick socks, woolen gloves and formal leather shoes.  For me, a change from warm weather to snow was an excitement.

There appeared to be no restrictions to go up.  I decided to go further up.  The mountain was covered completely with snow .  There was a thin layer of fresh snow on the road.  It was just thin flakes initially to about a couple of inches or so as I went up.

Slowly and steadily I drove further about 3-4 kms when I heard a car sounding a horn behind me.  I could see it was a security jeep.  I could see in my rear view mirror that they were signaling me to take my vehicle slightly to the left so that they could overtake.  But the road was narrow and covered with snow.  I could not take the risk of giving them enough space to overtake me. Moreover, it was not safe to stop the vehicle on that skidding slope.  After about half a km, there was a spot created for overtaking, where the road was slightly wider and flat.  The security asked me to stop.  I took my car to the side and halted.

They interrogated me severely with several security-related questions.  There were three gentlemen in the jeep, one of them was wearing a military uniform.  They asked me to show the permit to drive up the mountain.  I told them that I was not aware of the need for a permit.

To the question if I hadn’t read the sign at the security gate, I said it was snowing and hence could not notice it.  They said I was silly to have come to that height in a small vehicle without any snow chain and on and on.

Troodas, Cyprus

The car heater was not effective. I told them that I would answer all their questions, but I was shivering and needed a warm place and a hot drink, before I collapse.    The chief security officer ordered me to leave my vehicle there and join him in his vehicle.  I was sure they would investigate further as we were moving further up.

He: Passport?

Me: In Hotel

He: Which country?

Me: India

His colleague busted loudly: “Aaah!  You, from Mother India Nargis and Indira Gandhi!  Joker Raj Kapoor!”  There was a broad smile on his face.  He grasped my hand and continued, “We are friends! We like India.  We love Indians”.

I let out a big sigh of relief, bigger than his smile!  What happened thereafter was very exciting.

After a drive of another half a kilometer, he took me to a small hall.   It was isolated.  There was no one there except a lady sweeping the floor.  It was a coffee shop for the skiers.  They would normally come after 11 am and it was not even 9 am.  My fingers were swollen to the size of my greater toe due to the cold.  There was a fireplace at the center of the restaurant which kept the room warm. Gradually, I stopped shivering.  The coffee house was not yet ready to serve hot beverages.

The Cypriot took me out to his jeep, poured a cup of hot coffee from his flask and said ‘warm up’.  He probably could see a broad smile on my face. As both of us finished our coffee, he asked, “Now what do you want to do?  Stay here for a while or go down right away”.

I said “Neither.  I want to go up. Up further”.  He said something in their local language to his colleague, probably telling him, “This is a mad guy”.  He said, “Even the vehicles with chains cannot go up.  Roads are covered with 3 to 4 feet of snow and in fact it is difficult to trace the road under the snow.   My colleague will take you back to your car” and he left me with him to attend to something else.

I thanked him and asked the person with me, “Are you from security too?”

He: “No, I am the engineer in charge. I maintain the cable line and the satellite tower at the top of the Troodas mountain”.

I asked him, “If there is a problem with the cables at a higher level right now, how would you go?”

He: I have a special 4-wheel drive vehicle.  A dumper truck with snowplows clears the road and my vehicle follows it.   It is a slow process and takes hours to clear even one kilometer.”

Me: “Then I will sit in your vehicle and go with you.  If you can please take me up!”

He gave a friendly stare at me. I reminded him, “Nargeesh, Indeeraa Gyandhi”.  He started laughing and said. “Ok. The mountain peak is about 3 kilometers from here.  I think in this weather, I would be able to take you up about 1.5km.”  “Thank you” I said.

He made a couple of calls, called for the dumper to clear the snow.  It was like a bulldozer.  Within 30 minutes, the bulldozer started clearing the road and our vehicle followed.  After a couple of hours and climb of about one and a half km,

He: “Now we should go back”.

Me: “No, we should go further up”.

He: “How far?”

Me: “Right till the satellite tower”

He stared at me and said, “Nargeesh, Indeeraa Gyandhi.  Ok my friend we will go up, risky though”.  It was snowing and we continued.  After about two more hours I reached the top of Troodas mountain, the top of Cyprus.   There was a small one-room structure with some sophisticated machines and a tall tower at the peak. I walked, jumped and slided for about half an hour.

Cyprus Mountain

Dumper Clearing snow ahead of our car

When we started returning, the cleared road now had a thick layer of fresh snow.   The dumper ahead cleared the way and we returned to the spot where I left my little car.  It did not take long to return.  By then, it was already around 4pm.   We had a coffee at the coffee house and then he escorted me to the car.  I reversed the direction of the car to return.  “A lazy day converted to a complete thrill!”

When I was about to leave in my car bidding him good bye, my Cypriot friend said, “remember 3 things.

  • One, engage your car in 2nd gear and do not change the gear till you reach the base.

  • Two, do not apply brake when your car is on snow.

  • Three and most important, you will not go up again now.

Nargeesh, Indeeraa Gyandhi”

It is over 30 years, I still follow these lessons while driving down on slopes.  I am sure this will help when I drive in Iceland next fortnight!

Experienced and Written By: Badri Baldawa

Edited By : Meeta Kabra