– Why this craziness?
– What do you get? What the hell do you get?
– Isn’t it boring? Riding throughout the day, toiling yourself, just to reach from one place to another?
– Do you think it is the right age for you to get into this madness?
– People at this age are settling down, they give more attention to their career, their families, and you are thinking about roaming on the road? When you were young, you never seemed to have shown any interest for these adventures!
These questions confuse me, I fumble, I stammer, I can’t find a suitable answer. I don’t know how or what have turned me this way, but I only know that I have changed and changed a lot. I hear the call of late night highway. It pulls me like a big magnet. It calls me in my sleep, in my dreams. I could respond to the call only twice, so far. Soon that experience is also going to be a year old. Getting out is not so easy, especially when you have so many liabilities, so many responsibilities. But the ride should happen, sooner, or later. In that case why not make that a grand affair?
Some very distinctive news came into headlines last year – some friends or couples have travelled across the continent, to a different geography, on their cars. First I saw a news about a couple, who drove from Bangalore to Paris. My initial reaction was: is it really possible? It needs lots of thoughts and planning before embarking on a journey from Bangalore to Kashmir, and these guys have travelled, not one, not two, but at least nine to ten countries across different continents?
After the initial astonishment was over, the obvious second thought rippled through my mind. Is it really impossible? If the road exists, then there is no point of not making the trip. Yes, obstacles would be there, foreign rules, regulations, restrictions, but if one gathers all information and starts fully prepared, no obstacle is really an obstacle.
The dreams were taking shape, slowly but steadily, one droplet at a time. And then I got the next news. Three ladies from Delhi have driven to London in a Scorpio. It took them 95 days to cover 23800 odd kilometers, and the entire trip was driven single-handed by Nidhi Tiwari. I read all published interviews and articles on them and their trip, it all talked about two main things – one, yes, even girls can make world-tour on their own – the world is as much safe as much are Indian roads. And two, not only India, police in all countries are more or less the same – corrupt, greedy for money and they love to make foreigners their easy prey. Indian police are no exception.
First I read the news on the Facebook page of Mums and stories, in December 2015. And then I saw the article on Hindustan Times Delhi Sunday Brunch magazine.
Aim locked in, and I started doing lot more searches in google to gather more information about their trip – and the information were more than enough to knock me down. They have made an almost impossible thing possible. They have chosen a road least travelled.
I continued my research online. Mainly two three things are necessary to know to start with – how many days does it actually take, what is the expense level, and what preparations are required. I searched for one more information – who else have done such cross-continent expeditions.
Yes – I got one more traveller, in fact, two. Tushar and Pooja – this couple has driven all the way from London to Delhi, in 2010. They have documented all their preparations, arrangements and experiences thoroughly in their website – end to end – http://www.londondelhibyroad.com/. It’s a complete site full of their dreams and the story of its coming true.
Tushar and Pooja were not the only couple, in fact, in past few years there have been few more such expeditions. And crossing the continent on two- or four-wheelers is no newer to the world, there are such stories floating around since past few decades – yes, Indians were not much there in those stories, but now they are also hitting the road, crossing the continents. Couples, friends, or just co-travellers.
Tushar also should be contacted (in fact, I have just contacted him yesterday, and we’ll meet sometime in February), but firstly, they made the trip in reverse direction – from London to Delhi, and second, they did it in 2010. In the last 6 years the road conditions must have been changed in many places, some countries have changed their rules. The latest news can only be provided by these three ladies – Nidhi and her team.
To fulfill the dream, I needed answers to too many questions. Needed to contact Nidhi. But how? It’s really not a big deal nowadays, thanks to the Social Network. I soon found out that Nidhi has set up an organization called ‘Women Beyond Boundaries’ only last year and from their website it was actually a cakewalk to get Nidhi’s email id.
I was super excited when I got her reply confirming the meeting in January. I was spending time on preparing the questionnaire and getting myself ready for the Dayara-Bugyal trek.
Let me ask you, if you have to travel to UK from India – from Delhi to be precise, which route would you chose? To be even more precise, there are multiple route options available, which one would you pick?
The shortest route, of course, is through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia and Germany. Then you go to London via France or Belgium. Another modified route goes via north of Caspian Sea – Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia and then Europe. But the initial country names suggest how dangerous and risky that route can be. Travellers, therefore, do not choose this route. Although, “dangerous” and “risky” are mere relative terms in English. People avoid this route, but that doesn’t mean people haven’t explored this route. They have, but luck does not always favour the brave, and those journeys were done long back, when the Geo-political situation of these countries were different from today. It would be wise not to take this route, anyway.
What are the other options? Why not via our dear, dear Ladakh? The road along Pangong Tso takes you to Chushul, the coldest place in India. That is bang on the China border. The other side is Aksai-Chin, the most forbidden place in China for the foreigners. So, even if you have a Chinese visa, you would not be entitled to enter through this route.
The next possible route is through Nepal. Nepal-China-Kyrgyzstan-Kazakhstan-Russia-Europe. Tushar and Pooja came through this route in 2010. Though the entire Himalayas has to be crossed by its breadth, but when you have conquered Khardung La, not once, but twice – the rest of the Himalayas is not that much challenging!
But there’s a challenge, a big challenge. That challenge forced Nidhi and her team to abandon this route and take a longer route to reach Europe, probably the longest possible route. Last year’s devastating earthquake has made most of Nepal inaccessible, most of its transit roads are broken till now. So they chose the road less traveled, probably least traveled so far.
They started from Delhi and went till Manipur. From there, they entered Myanmar. Then turned north to China, then Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium, France – finally they entered UK. Almost twenty-four thousand kilometers. Ninety-five days. I can remember, when I finally gained control on my lower jaw, the first thought that came to my mind was – I have to do this, else I cannot die peacefully.
I started spending sleepless nights. In my dream the reflectors along the highway were flashing on my eyes. And I questions were growing in my mind. It’s a huge expense, how to arrange the money? I am a salaried person; will I get so many days’ leave? Who would arrange for so many countries’ visas? And who would tell me the questions that I need to ask, but they are not coming to my mind right now?
I called up Sumit next morning, Sumit Sharma, my co-traveller in Ladakh. He now lives in Pune. We probably had some telepathic connections. He told me that he had already gone through all the reports on them, and he is also dreaming about the same trip – on motorcycle.
On motorcycle! I didn’t expect he would utter my words, EXACTLY my words. So I started counting days. I HAVE to sit with Nidhi on January.
I contacted Nidhi on first week of January. Pat came her reply, let’s meet on 17th January. But luck was not on my side. I went down with viral infection. So I had to reschedule it for the next weekend – 23rd January.
The Café Coffee Day just in front of The Taj is a popular meeting place – I didn’t know that. So the exact location was also not known to me. Nidhi called me there at 2:00 pm. I started early. The full dress rehearsal of the 67th Republic day had just ended, the roads adjoining the India Gate had just opened, so had the traffic. I reached there at 1:30 pm, called up Nidhi and found out that she would be there in another 15-20 minutes. She told me to wait until she reaches there.
Not a problem. The sun was pleasant, after a long wait finally Delhi got its desired winter chill in the wind. Taj Hotel’s entry at one side, ITC Maurya is on the back of the CCD. The Republic Day chief guest would stay here, so the lane was fully covered by military personnel and Delhi Police.
I finally got the call from Nidhi at 2:20 pm. She asked me to come to Too Mikki Tapas instead. Not a problem either as it’s close to CCD. There she was, sitting at a corner. We exchanged initial pleasantries, and then our conversation started.
I started with narrating my dreams – that I wanted to cover the entire trip on my bike. Nidhi stopped me right there, “So what’s stopping you? Did you think I’d say, No it’s not possible? It is very much possible if you can make it. I would never say ‘impossible’.”
– But Finland is above the arctic circle. Wouldn’t that be too cold for riding?
Nidhi was still confident – it’s nowhere “too cold” for riding in the world. It all depends on how prepared you are. You have already ridden in extreme cold weather, so you know how to cover yourself. If it’s cold, you’d feel cold, but that’d not be a deterrent for riding bikes.
After a brief pause, she talked again, and why are you limiting your dream till London? London is not the end of the world! Ship your bike to further north – Iceland, Greenland. Or take it down to Africa. Cover that continent too – you know, the world is round.
True. The earth is round, there’s no limit. But something else is limited. I asked her next related question, about the leave. “You are the founder member of an institution, maybe getting a three-months leave was not a big problem for you, but how did your partners manage? I work in an IT company – I’m not sure how would I ask for such a long leave, or whether the management would grant me such a leave”.
Nidhi smiled, Samik – when a dream doesn’t let you sleep peacefully, you’d know automatically how to manage with your leave. Some leave the Organization and hit the road, others manage through some other way for it. It varies from Institution to Institution – so it’s a battle you’d have to fight yourself. I can say for my partners, their Organizations supported them, so they didn’t have to fight much.
– And what about the expense?
– yes. The expense is on the higher side. We all had to shell out 8 to 10 Lakh Rupees, each.
– Eight to Ten Lakh? What portion of it went from your own pocket? I know you got sponsors, but they must not have given you the full money?
Nidhi smiled again, No, of course not. You can think of sponsoring yourself if you have plenty of idle money in your bank. But otherwise, it’s not doable without sponsors. Yes, I did get sponsors, Ministry of External Affairs helped me a lot in getting visas from different countries – even after that I had to take loan to finance this tour. I am still paying off my debt.
I insisted, Still Nidhi, if you can give a break-up …
– See, the costliest part was getting visa and logistics in China and Myanmar. Car permit, local help and Visa – altogether it cost us around Three Lakh Rupees per head. For Myanmar, it was One Lakh to One Point Two Five per head.
– That means, four to five Lakh Rupees flat for these two countries!
– Exactly! So, if you can bypass these two countries by any means, you can save nearly half of your travel expense.
– Bypass? How?
– It’s easy. It would be easier because you’re planning on bike. Fly your bike to Kyrgyzstan. Fly yourself too, and start your journey from there. You’ll save one month of time and Four to Five Lakh Rupees straightaway. If you have leave balance in hand, you can think of exploring Greenland and Iceland too!
– What about the fuel?
– Not much. We spent Rupees One Lakh Ten Thousand in total for the fuels.
– Yes, INR.
– OK, what else?
– Another major expense is, Carnet. You would have to arrange for that.
I knew about Carnet. It’s basically a permit for my vehicle to take it to other countries. The Organization which gives Carnet, keeps a deposit of five times of my vehicle’s current value. The validity remains from 6 to 12 months. If my vehicle comes back to my home country within this validity period, I’ll get back the full amount, else it is forfeited. There is another option, where I deposit 25% of my vehicles current value, once I come back I get back half of it.
Nidhi was telling: For our case arranging the deposit money of the Scorpio was a big challenge. But for bike it won’t be a big amount. The main challenge would be getting the visas. Normally people fly from one country to another. They mention the arrival date accordingly while applying for the visa. But for our case, there was no fixed arrival date, as we did not know when we would arrive in which country. You are entering a country on your vehicle, by road, and exiting the same way – the embassies normally doesn’t want to grant visa in such cases. For us, the Ministry of External Affairs came as a big help. For every issue, they helped us in getting the Visas. It was not much trouble ultimately.
– Was this the reason of shipping back the car, instead of driving it back? To save the double expense on Visas?
– Exactly so.
– So, you were three. Still it was you who drove alone all the way. Why?
Nidhi shrugged, well, they were not much experienced drivers, they have just driven within the city limits. Driving across the countries was not their call. So I took the entire responsibility. I remember, when we were stuck at Myanmar for five days, they were thinking of going back to Delhi. I had to stop them to continue with me. See, you need to have a special sense to enjoy long drives, to live the thrill of crossing one country after another. My partners were not that material.
I smiled. True, I know such people, very closely. The thrill, the joy of driving day and night doesn’t touch them. It makes sense to only them, who have ever experienced the ecstasy, and loved it.
– Nidhi, I heard that one needs to be accompanied by a local person in China, as long as he/she is within Chinese territory?
– China, and Myanmar. Both the countries have rules, if you do not speak their language, you have to take a guide throughout your journey on their soil.
– But how’d that be possible in motorbike? We would have our luggage on the pillion.
– No worries. There are agencies. They club two or three such groups and provide one guide for them. The guide sits in one of the car, rest of them follow that car. That’s it. I’ll give you contact details when your plan materializes. You may have to wait for one or two days for the groups to gather, but people go like this. No other way. … I’ll be happy to help you if you really take this route. And if you fly your bike to Kyrgyzstan, then you would not have to think about these. Just take the Carnet and fly.
– Anything else that I should have asked you but have not asked so far?
– There are lot of things to know, lot of information to share. I can tell you more. We maintained some thumb rules. Per day budget of 35 USD, for our food, lodging and other expenses.
– Is USD accepted everywhere?
– We dealt with mainly two currencies. USD in Asia, and Euro in Europe. Of course there was GBP in UK, but USD is normally accepted anywhere.
– OK. What else?
– Follow the traffic rule. Whenever you enter a country, try to follow other vehicles for first one or two hundred kilometers. Then you will learn the rule of the land. For example, in Myanmar, you are not allowed to overtake a car until it gives you the indication. If you overtake without being allowed, police will catch you, and it will be a hefty penalty, because you are a foreigner. Police are corrupt in all countries. Bargaining is possible, but if you can lower the amount, don’t ask for a receipt.
We had a brief problem of right lane driving initially. Left lane driving was available only in India and UK. But for you guys, motorbikes do not have such problem, any lane is same for you. Just follow the proper lane.
– Are bikes allowed on all highways? For example, Autobahn in Germany?
Nidhi paused for a moment, then confessed, I really don’t know. Don’t remember if I had seen any two wheelers on Autobahn as well. But you can get that information from internet. In case bikes are not allowed in any specific road, there will be signage. Don’t ponder over those details right now.
– And the accommodation? I’m sure you didn’t book them earlier?
– Yes and no. Yes, I had booked; you have to show the booking vouchers for getting the visas. But I booked through booking.com in such a way – those were fully refundable on cancellation. I booked, showed the proof at the embassies, got the visa, then cancelled the bookings. I booked only after entering the destinations. I used to buy a data sim in each country – 4 GB or 5 GB data sim. That was sufficient for running the GPS, making voice calls at home, and looking for hotels online.
– This is indeed a useful information, Nidhi. Tell me one more thing. How difficult was it to get the sponsorship?
– Well, it was really tough. You just need to keep very low hope on that, until you have some strong connections. I sent letters and emails to all possible places. Got response from almost nowhere. The first positive response came from Mahindra First Choice Wheels. They helped me a lot in getting sponsors, they sponsored, and they also gave us this Scorpio. We had rounds of discussions, then they went ahead with us. Had they not responded, it would have not been possible for us to make this tour.
This made me worried. Getting the right sponsorship is one big challenge for such an expedition. I have to create my own story, sell it and convince each and every potential sponsor.
We chatted for some more time. Asked questions like, carrying medicines, carrying a walkie-talkie etc. etc. Nidhi showed me some saved screenshots from a Bengali newspaper, which took her interview few days back. I translated portions of that for her.
Finally, I bid goodbye, and she promised me to help in all possible manners in future to make my trip successful.
It came to my mind only after I reached home, that I was carrying a camera and I forgot to take her picture.
Dreams are taking shape now, slowly. Two major challenges now, arranging a leave for three months, and arranging for the finance. It may go up to Seven to Eight Lakh Rupees, it may be less than that. But I know for sure, I alone cannot fund it. I need help – help from all of you. In case I do not get any big sponsor, I may have to depend on crowd-sourcing.
Keeping the target for 2017, if I cannot get ready by that time, then 2018 for sure. I’ll create a separate website, I’ll provide regular updates there – route plan, logistics, sponsorship, visa status – and if I really can make this trip possible, I’ll gift you a fabulous travelogue – do I need to mention that separately?
I need help from all of you – who are reading my blog. I’ll soon finish the initial design of my website. If you have any contact, any connection with any Organization, Industrialist, Political leader – who may help me getting the fund and arranging the visas in any way, please let me know. Please connect him/her with me. The responsibility of convincing is upon me.