Road To London # 9 – My Brave Bachchus

In continuation of earlier blog RTL # 8 – The Influential Hidden Character

The route I planned for my route within India, from Mumbai to Imphal would pass through places of historical and religious importance, national parks and sanctuaries, entertainment centers and caves, toy trains and ropeways etc.  These are the places which would be of special interest to children.  We would also be embracing through some of the most beautiful places in the world.  Any one passing through these would develop a special relation with nature.

Generally the inbuilt dangers of adventure travel are hyped.  They are projected as much more dangerous than they actually are.  This discourages youngsters to take such trips.

One of my grandchildren Nishi was with us in the 9-day Iceland driving trip.  Inspite of

all the known fears, Nishi joined us for Iceland.  During problematic situations there, Nishi proved to be the calmest and bravest amongst the three of us.  Any problem we had, whether it was on top of a lava or an ice mountain, mobiling on glacier, running around huge waterfalls, she smilingly enjoyed facing them, as if she was playing a new game. I realised during that trip that kids are in fact, more mature in handling problems!  I was wondering if I could create some interest in such travels in the youngsters of our family.

I have four grandchildren.  One is just 3 years old and the other three are in the 9-14 age range.   I thought it would be great if the children joined the journey.  It would be a life-time experience for them at such a young age.

I sent a message to my children, inviting any one grandchild to join us.

Yes, “any one” was for a good reason. The travel is scheduled at exam season. Naturally they hesitated.  We got “no” as an answer from all of them. Never mind!

After a week or so, Nishi and her parents, Nilesh and Seema, probably re-thought about the opportunity. They asked if it was too late to for Nishi to join us, subject to her permissions from her school.

Nishi lives in Chelmsford, Essex, UK.   Her school authorities were extremely excited about the experience she would get in this trip!  They were thrilled in an instant and granted her special permission. The Head of Academics wrote, “What a fantastic experience (it would be)! Nishi’s teachers are aware that she will be absent and nearer the time I will liaise with them in order to ensure work is provided for Nishi whilst she is away…..We very much look forward to hearing all about Nishi’s travels when she returns!”.  Fantastic!  What a positive approach and support from the school! Nishi confirmed to take the journey with us.

Once I had the confirmation from Nishi, I added a few places en-route which would be of special interest to her.  But I did not extend beyond 21 days. I deleted some of the places of lesser importance.  I revised my itinerary.  Probably, by now it has had 10+ revisions.  I back-calculated and provisionally fixed 26th March 2017 as the day for departure from Mumbai.

Thereafter my other grand daughter Ruhi, settled in Pune, also expressed her interest to

join us.  We reconsidered, if we could accommodate her too.  But, then we had to be practical.  It was a long journey.  We weren’t comfortable with the idea of more than three persons + luggage to survive for that duration, in one car!  Pushpa and I are in our 60s and 70s.  Managing ourselves and our health itself is a good enough challenge!  We could manage one child.  Managing two children and their health could potentially become difficult on a long journey. Against our own wishes, we had to restrict to one child only.

A week after, I sought the blessings of our Guruji, Jagathguru Sri Sridharacharyaji of Ayodhya.  I explained our plans.  He called back to say that I should change the date of departure.    I could not have shortened the number of days as it was already hectic.  Nor did I want to miss any of the selected places.  Undoubtedly, leaving a day or two earlier would provide a slight relief to the itinerary.  Guruji therefore, fixed the flag off time as 10 am on Friday, 24th March 2017 as auspicious!

So it is now 23 days of travel from West to East of India, before we cross Indian borders.

That is not all,,,,,, abhi picture baaki hai!

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra

  To be continued …………………

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


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 8: Lava Mountains

                                                In continuation of earlier blog DTI 7: Tough Day Ahead……

Day 3 and we made an early start at 7 AM.  We reached the garage at 8.25 AM where the technician was fixing another tyre.  He was up and working at 7AM, on an Sunday morning!  He took us up next and we were all set in 25 minutes.  He had to leave to attend to another car stuck in a river stream about 30 kilometers away.  Thank God, the tyre hadn’t torn or split. Else, it would have meant another 300 kilometers to find a new tyre.

Hekla Volcano

Hekla Volcano

On the way, we passed by Hekla again, a beautiful, curvy, snow-clad lava mountain.  It looked like a large ship turned upside down.  It stretched for about 25 kilometers and was high enough to be noticed from a distance of 50 kilometers.

Hekla erupts every 10 years and last erupted in January 2010. The Icelandik Government allows visitors to climb to the top.  But they also warn travellers of an imminent eruption. After a point where an extremely rough F road ends, Hekla volcano top can be trekked – an 18 kilometer trek over the mountain and glacier, to get to the top.

At the beginning of the day, with one flat wheel, I could not have risked driving on that road.   We had to skip this trek and had to satisfy ourselves by watching it from the base.

We got to Seljalandsfoss in time to catch the mountain bus for Thorsmork, one of the most popular visitor site in the interiors.  This place could be reached either by a full fledge powerful 4wd like a Landcruiser or by special mountain bus.  The mountain bus has tyres that are as tall as me – certainly more than 5.5 feet and has a ground clearance of over 2.5 feet.

Pushpa-Nishi at Katla Volcano base

Lagoon 5-6 years back – Now lava land as in pic

On the way, we could see the place that was popular, about 5-6 years ago for its lagoons surrounded by snow.  The volcanic eruptions had thrown out huge burning stones, which formed large mountains.  The lava exposed to the cold temperature on the top formed ice glaciers.  The water at the base of the mountain, now has lava sand and stones.

It was a wise decision to have taken the mountain bus to Thorsmork as there were quite a few unbridged deep river crossings on the way.

Two kilometer climb to the top of the mountain at Thormork led us to a beautiful view of multiple glaciers around us. It was like a mini Kala Pathar, located near Mt Everest base camp, where one could see snow-clad mountains all around you.  We could see 3 ice glaciers, next to each other, making for a panorama of about 180 degrees.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall3After the visit to Thormork, it was time for Seljalandsfoss waterfall, a giant fall that drops at least 250 feet, from the top of a cave.  The cave can be reached at about half the height of the waterfall. A climb to the cave took us behind the waterfall. We repeatedly circled around the waterfall and the point at which the water hits the floor with great force.  As you can imagine, the circles were superb fun.

This waterfall became Nishi’s favorite.   On our way back, we had to pass by this waterfall again.  Nishi made sure that we trekked around the waterfall a couple more times.

140 kilometers later, we reached our night halt. We slept with the excitement of a glacier walk that lay ahead the next day.

To be contd……………

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra

Drive Through Iceland 7: Tough Day Ahead

In continuation of earlier blog DTI 6: Of Geysers and Waterfalls…

The second day, was expected to be the most challenging day of our trip.  We started at 7 AM, our first stop was at Haifoss Waterfall, the second highest waterfall in Europe. On the way there, to our right was the world famous Hekla Volcano mountain and ice glacier.  A site of beauty.  After a drive of about 60 kilometers we drove from the gravel road on to a highland ‘F’road. We were actually driving on lava land.  There were no mountains in sight and we wondered how there could be a waterfall in the area.

After another 8 kilometers we could hear it!  The Haifoss waterfall appeared just out of nowhere.  We were standing at the top of a mountain from where the fall begins and could see water dropping about 1300 feet down into the deep valley with roaring noise.  There was a sister fall next to it, flowing down stylishly through the mountain rocks.

We started early as it was bound to be a long day.  At 8am, there were no other guests and hence had an exclusive time at the falls.  It was biting cold and after spending about half an hour in the company of the waterfall, we moved back to the main road.

We proceeded from there to the most awaited Landmannalaugar, famous for its hot-water spring lagoon and sight of mountain peaks.  It is also a popular starting and destination point for treks to surrounding volcanic mountains.   To get there we had to drive through some adventurous stretches; going up mountains through very rough ‘F’ highland roads. I ensured that I was in a group of 1 or 2 other vehicles while driving towards Landmannalur.

The directions given on the roads were confusing.  Even the navigator could not pickup the right road.  After many misses, we finally got on to the right route.  Routes, prefixed with the letter “F” were the trickiest and most risky ones. By law, only 4-wheel-drive cars were permitted on F routes.  Most F-routes involved crossing unbridged rivers.  The drive could be cutting through bonnet-deep, fast-flowing river streams. It is, of course, as thrilling as ever!

However, if the vehicle got stuck or had a breakdown in the midst of river crossings…well the adventure would get only better!  Here are the samples from Google:

Iceland Driving8 Iceland Driving3  Iceland Driving7Iceland Driving6

But we did not face any of these.  We had a different problem altogether.

Landmannalaugar barely had any facilities. Even a quick, hot coffee was not in sight.  It was bitterly cold, and there was a strong breeze.  To top it off, there were light showers, meaning extremely cold rain drops. To enter the hot water natural spring lagoon, we had to change our clothes.  There were no enclosed areas to facilitate changing.  It had to be done in the open – men and women in the same space.

At first, we hesitated to enter the lagoon in such conditions.  But then, if others can do it, why couldn’t we?  even though the temperature was close to 0, once we entered the hot water lagoon, the experience and pleasure was beyond description.

Landmannalaugar Hot Springs

Landmannalaugar Hot Springs

After a couple of hours, as we drove away from Landmannalaugar, the weather was pretty much the same – maybe with a stronger and colder breeze.  We were afraid of being blown away with the strong wind. And right there, of course, we had a flat tyre!

The luggage from the trunk had to be dumped on the seats for if it was kept out, it’d fly away with the wind.  The gloves, ear caps, thick jacket were not good enough to protect from the cold.  I had no option but to continue as is.  It had to be done before it began to get dark as it would be extremely difficult to drive on that road after sunset.  Having emptied the trunk, and taken the car jack out, I was unable to fix the jack because half the tyre had sunk into the soft lava soil.

There was no way to lift the car to change the wheel.  The tyre change looked difficult – almost impossible.   Time to get nervous? I silently started chanting a prayer to Lord Salasar Hanumanji.  Just then, I could see a car coming from behind.  There was a Swedish family in that car.  A couple in their 60s and their young son, maybe about 25.   They got off to help me out.  They lifted the car a little.  But as I tried to set the jack, the jack itself sank in the soft lava soil under the vehicle!  Oh! A terrible mess!

My grandaughter, Nishi came out of the car and was enjoying the mess.  It was fun for her and the unfriendly weather had no effect on her.   She tried to help with moving and rearranging the accessories.  Brave, understanding and cool-tempered, she was.

Neither the Swedish family nor I, could find a solution.  Once again, I sought the help of Lord Sankat Mochan.

Just then, a mountain bus passed by.  He was on his way back after dropping his clients to Landmannalur.  He had no passengers in his bus and halted to understand our problem.  He saw the jack sunk in the soil.  He went to his bus and brought a flat wooden plank of about 2 feet by 6 inches.  He put it over the soil, placed the jack on the plank and lifted the car up.  In no time, the tyre was replaced by the stepney and we resolved the problem for the time being. In that heavy breeze, I could not even lift the flat tyre back to the trunk.  The family and the bus driver not only helped me place the tyre bag, they also put my luggage back in the trunk. Moreover, they left even before I could thank them enough.

God sent help indeed.  Thank you Hanumanji.

I wish I was stable enough to take the pictures of the car at that time!

All through the night I was stressed  about finding someone who could fix the tyre. I called a few garages from the place we stayed at. Ultimately, the rental car company found a garage in Hella, a town that was 150 kilometers away.  They agreed to fix the wheel, if I got there before next day 8.30 in the morning! There was no real choice.

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 4: Fun Begins!

Map of Iceland

Map of Iceland

This is In continuation of earlier blog DTI 3 Understanding the Logistics……….

Rental for a car navigator was $140 for a week. Online reviews said that Simminn telecom’s SIM card would be reliable even on mountain tops, valleys and glaciers. So, I skipped the independent car navigator and purchased a SIM card with 1GB data and 500 free calls for US$ 25.  I fixed the SIM card in the extra phone I had. The label on the pack instructed me to send a message to the company to activate it.  I sent the SMS and the navigation started working for my first stop, Reykjavik, the capital city.

Equipped with car, guided by the sim navigation, snacks and provisions duly stacked up, everything was turning out as per plan. I am smart – I thought!

Reykjavik is popular for its night life and pubs.

Hallgrimska Church, Iceland

Hallgrimska Church, Iceland

Since, our focus was to explore the exceptional geographical sites, we skipped the entertainment events in the capital. Instead, we used our time to drive through the city roads.  We visited Church Hallgrímskirkja, also the tallest building in the city.This Church has fascinating shapes and forms.  The church features a mechanical pipe organ system standing at an 50 feet high and weighing all of 25 tons.  This is driven by 4 manuals and 5275 pipes, all designed to reproduce powerful notes capable of filling the huge and holy space with a range of tones.

Pipe organ in cathedral

Pipe organ in Cathedral

India, where even the remotest of roads have enough people strolling by eager to guide passers-by, the roads in this city were deserted. We did not know where we were, let alone know which direction to move towards. I grew restless for many a reason.

I had an idea! A solution seemed plausible. Though it might be expensive,  I could use my other phone which had my Indian SIM card.  I switched it on.  ‘No service’ it showed!  How silly of me! I forgot to activate international roaming for the card. Oh wait! My wife had her phone with an Indian SIM.   ‘No service’ either.   Obviously, even if it was her phone, it would not work without international roaming activated.  Every time I leave India, I get our phones activated for international roaming.  But I had missed on doing it this time! What a blunder. We were lost.

The fun had truly begun.

To be contd……………

Written : Badri Baldawa

Edited  : Meeta Kabra