It is time, once again, to leave the comforts of home, and venture into the hills. On the first of May, 2018, Pushpa and I will be going to the Rockies in Canada, and Yellowstone National Park, in the USA on a solo self-drive. We will be travelling with our two grandchildren, Arsh and Ruhi, who will be 16 and 14 respectively on the day of our departure. I hope to share everything from planning to execution, including pictures of the best-looking snow capped mountains (apart from the Himalayas, which always hold a special place in my heart), frozen lakes, glaciers, high rising geysers, hot sulphur springs, and wild animals in their natural habitats. Stay tuned for further updates.
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
Right from the beginning, we knew that driving to London through the Western borders would mean going through Pakistan and Afghanistan, which might not be the safest route. The Himalayan mountain range on the North and oceans on the South rule out those routes. That left only the Eastern route through China. There are roads linking from Nepal and North-Eastern parts of the Indian border, but entry is restricted only for the Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrimage. Thus we had to cross China, some parts of the old USSR, now countries like Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, certain European countries before we reach United Kingdom. This is a drive of about 45 days from the time we cross the Indian border. This itinerary was considered as almost final for the tour.
Myanmar is a country I have been wanting to visit for long. I heard of it as Burmah where Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose founded the Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army) to fight for independence. The ruling military junta changed its name from Burma to Myanmar in 1989.
However there was an update that though the entry point in Myanmar is safe, the exit point, Muse was not very peaceful. Therefore the route to China had to be changed. The best practical alternative was to drive to Thailand, cut across Laos and then enter China. This added two countries to the itinerary and increased the overseas travel from 45 to 47 days and the number of countries from 14 to 16.
We need to drive for a fortnight to cross the Chinese territory and reach Kyrgyzstan. I was very happy when I realised our next destination country was Uzbekistan. It would give us an opportunity to visit Tashkent where our former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri breathed his last. From there on to Kazhakstan before we touch the border of Russia.
As per the original plans we planned to enter Belarus through the Kurgan border from Moscow. It
was not possible to get vehicle permits for Belarus from Russia. In October 2016, the Belarus–Russia border was closed to foreigners. Therefore, the itinerary had to be re-routed again. Instead of entering through Belarus, we would now drive further north and enter European Union through Latvia and Lithuania. The onward drive thereafter is easy through Czechoslovakia, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France and finally to The United Kingdom. Once we enter UK at its South East, we would drive to London. This revision added two more days to the itinerary.
However this created another technical problem. If we left the Indian border as per original schedule on 16 April 2017, we reach the China border on a Sunday. The border is closed on Sundays. Hence the departure from India was postponed to 17 April 2017.
All these changes made the total countries visited from the original 15 to 18 (excluding Bhutan). The total number of overseas driving days increased from 45 to 49. Add to that the 23 days drive to reach the Indian border. The total duration of the tour now is at a total of 72 days!
The action begins in less than 10 days on 24th March 2017. We would love to see you all cheer us when we leave at a small flag-off event. Please do come!
Written : Badri Baldawa
Edited : Meeta Kabra
To Be Continued ………….
“Pushpa, there is this road-trip, self-drive to London from India. It is about two and a half months long. Should we?” I called Pushpa within moments of getting an email to the effect on 20th May 2016. She was on a train from Rishikesh.
“Yes! Let’s do it!” she said without waiting even for a second. A green signal from my better half and I was confident of convincing other members of my family. Within a few minutes I gave our provisional confirmation to join the expedition – “Road to London”.
As I confirmed, I wondered if this was a hasty decision. My memories reeled me back.
Over fifty five years ago, near my native town Bellary, the Tungabhadra dam was inaugurated. Anyone who visited the site came back only with praises. I too wanted to visit the place. I was school-going child back then. My mother gave me Rs. 5 for the trip. Bus or train was unaffordable. I convinced some friends to pedal the total distance of 130 kilometers on rented bicycles. To make the trip affordable, we decided to ride “double seat”.
Since the load of two people would be difficult to take through, the person at the back had to help peddle along with the main rider – two legs pedalling on each side! If anyone was tired of pedalling or plays smart and say he was tired, he would have the comfort of sitting on the front pipe and get exemption from pedalling – a smart punishment we thought to have the bottom hurt by the pipe. It was two days full of fun! It was a thrilling to try to do the unexpected! It was a challenge! And I was crazy to accept and face the challenge!
Later in life, my wife and I wanted to watch the midnight Sun and fulfil my childhood dream. I figured that it could be best watched from Nordkapp (North Cape) in Norway. In 1983, I decided to reach Nordkapp on the midnight of 25 July. I reached Narvik from Oslo by a luxurious train. There was no regular public transport facility from Narvik to Nordkapp. But hey, I could enjoy driving that distance on an European road. By the standards of European roads, I could drive those 800km in say 8 or at the most 10 hours. I planned accordingly.
Those were the days when there were no internet or Google or GPS.
As I started driving from Narvik, I was surprised with the shocking road condition. It was all broken, narrow single, rugged, kutchha roads. It was inevitable, since most of the year those roads were covered with snow. I was determined to be punctual for my date with the midnight Sun. Not just that. I had my flight booking for my next flight from Oslo. I had to reach Nordkapp and return by the same road in time. I’d have to drive continuously for 46 hours without sleep or break. It was a thrill to reach on time to enjoy the best. It was a challenge! And I was crazy to accept and face the challenge!
A few years later, missing a train turned out for the best. We planned a Badrinath Char Dham Yatra. We were to travel by train upto Delhi and then engage a cab to complete the rest of the journey. Our shipment (business) was delayed by a day due to some objections raised by the Customs department. Despite having buffer time for contingencies, by the time the shipment was completed, we missed the train. It was difficult to get new reservations as this was peak travel season We decided to leave by car within the hour. Just five of us, Pushpa, our children and me. No driver. We drove right upto Badrinath temple via Rajasthan, a round trip of about 6,000 kilometers. We faced problems and we learnt how to resolve them.
On that journey, there was an incident that inspired me to start trekking. I will leave that incident for another time. After that trip, we started trekking to various places including Amarnath, Hemkund Saheb and Mt Kailash Parikrama. Meeting Peter Hillary, the son of Edmund Hillary inspired me to trek to Mt Everest.
Except Mt Everest, Pushpa and I trekked together. After 55, Pushpa developed a knee joint problem. It became difficult for her to undertake long and steep treks. Without her I did not feel like going for treks either. We switched over to driving expeditions instead of trekking. I had heard that driving in Iceland was extremely difficult and risky. We went for driving adventure with our granddaughter Nishi, Seema’s daughter in Iceland.
You see the pattern? Whenever I hear of a particularly difficult trip, I like to take up the challenge.
It is no surprise then, that the very idea of driving for over two months in unknown and diversified territories was something I’d want to do. Maybe that is why the impulse decision. I couldn’t control my excitement joined the “Drive to London” group, as if it would have slipped away if I had delayed confirmation for a few minutes!