A drive from India to London in 49 days with a convoy of 13 cars, covering 18 countries sure feels adventurous and yet unachievable at the same time. However, travel enthusiasts and driving expedition organisers Tushar Agarwal and Sanjay Madan have achieved this seemingly impossible feat. Sharing their experience of their ‘‘Road to London 2017”, the duo, in conversation with Guardian 20, shared their experiences of a journey that was filled with challenges.
In total, 27 participants were on this expedition, and the organisers said that completing this epic journey was the most rewarding and exhilarating experience of their lives, adding that they are already looking forward to doing this all over again next year.
“Road to London 2017” journey kicked off from Imphal on 17 April and the atmosphere on flag-off day was electrifying. The trip was inaugurated by Deputy Chief Minister of Manipur, Yumnam Joykumar Singh, and President of Western Indian Automobile Association, Nitin Dossa.
The convoy drove through hilly terrains and gravel roads to reach Moreh, the last town on the Indian side, before crossing over to Myanmar, the first international border crossing of the expedition.
On the challenges faced during this journey, Agarwal said, “Driving through China and Central Asian countries was very challenging because of the linguistic barriers and because we spent half of our travel time driving through these countries. During the journey, there were days when we lost track of what day it was and what time zone we were in.” Also, crossing land borders was another difficult task.
He said, “Sometimes it took us almost eight hours to cross one border. Another challenge that we faced was the change in driving sides like, in Thailand it’s a left-hand drive, but once we entered Laos, it was right hand drive, and when you are on a cross-border expedition like this, you tend to get confused.”
The idea for this expedition was conceived in 2016 after Agarwal and Madan successfully completed “Road to Bangkok”, during which they led the first Indian expedition to drive from India all the way to Bangkok.
“Road to London 2017” was planned as the organisers saw how more and more Indian travellers now seem to be keen on taking the road less travelled and exploring the undiscovered parts of the world, in unconventional ways.
“However, nobody in India has ever presented an opportunity to allow people to go on for such long distances and on cross-border expeditions. We decided to launch the first expedition that will allow travellers from India to drive all the way to London,” said Agarwal.
For Agarwal, who has spent the last 10 years traveling to more than 70 countries, and driving in most of them, this journey started when he undertook his first big road trip from London to Delhi in 2010.
“That time I was working as a software engineer and was settled in the UK. While doing this trip, I felt such a high that it got me thinking if I could live this kind of life, I would be a happy man. This trip triggered the spark and I left my job and came back toIndia to build my life and career around organising and travelling with likeminded people,” he said.
For Madan, who is an active participant and official for all major Motor Rallies in India and a holder of 15 world records, the passion for such expeditions started while travelling around with his dad back in the day.
Recalling how he decided to take this up as a profession, Madan said, “I had already travelled a couple of month- long road trips across India even before I turned 15. But the trip that sparked my interest was when I drove from Delhi to Leh with my wife back in 2004 and came back via the Srinagar route. After that I started participating in rallies and motor sports, like the biggest motor rally in India in 2009. Post these experiences, there was no looking back and I started organising and leading expeditions.”
Agarwal said that Indians generally tend to think that such road trips are part of the American tradition. However, things here are changing as now more and more people are accepting this niche concept. He still has to do a lot of work to sometimes convince people who are new to the idea, asking them to at least experience a road trip once.
“Also, procuring permits and visas for multiple countries can sometimes get very time consuming and challenging, but that’s all a part of the job and our team has now become quite a pro at handling these situations without breaking into sweat,” he said on the challenges they face while organising such expeditions.
While it’s a common notion that mostly youngsters would take up such adventurous trips, most of the participants in their expedition, Madan said, were above the age bracket of 35 and are professionally well-settled.
“Taking 50-55 days off from their professional lives and spending six figures as participation fee is not easy for those who are still building a career. But we are planning to launch budget expeditions to cater to a wider audience and engage the younger lot with the idea of road trips in exotic destinations.”
Since a journey of this scale demands involvement of various departments and local teams from different countries, such expeditions are often costly.
“To execute this level of expedition, there are a number of factors that need to be taken care of, like special overland permits, permissions from authorities, international driving licenses, accommodations, escort vehicles, local experts, etc. Hence the prices are usually on the higher side,” said Madan.
On “Road to London 2017”, they were joined by a couple in their 70s, along with their 9-year-old granddaughter, driving all the way from Mumbai to London. Earlier, on their Alaska expedition in 2016, they were joined by a gentleman in his 80s from Mumbai, along with his daughter who was in her 50s. On the Lahaul and Spiti expedition in 2016, a couple from Maharashtra joined them who were in their 60s.
So, travel enthusiasts, who wish to take the long road, come from all age groups.
Talking about how it is emotionally draining to bid farewell to a convoy at the end of every journey, Agarwal said, “Every end is a new beginning. With every expedition, we add more members to our Adventures Overland family who depart with a promise to join us soon. We now have participants who have already joined us 4-5 times and are always in wait to join us on our next fixed departure.”
“When you are on road for so many days, it’s impossible to not form a bond. Even on this expedition, when we were close to completing the journey, while there was a sense of achievement but there was also an emotional aspect which was clearly felt by all participants, realising the travel, fun, night parties, beautiful experiences were soon coming to an end.
“After executing so many expeditions we know how bad it feels to say goodbye but this is what reality is and we have accepted it now. We always remain connected with our participants.”
Having completed this 49-day expedition, the duo is now planning to undertake longer duration expeditions. They are currently planning a “South America Expedición”, during which they will be driving across the South American continent, covering six countries over a span of almost two months.