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Road To London 2017

7 June, 17

A road trip all the way from India to London in 49 Days! Yes, that’s possible, because we are just back from one such epic road-trip, covering 18 countries, driving over 16,000 KM in a span of just 49 days.

“The road is there, it will always be there. You just have to decide when to take it.” Organized by Adventures Overland, 27 road-trip enthusiasts from all around the country and beyond embarked on a journey of a lifetime to experience the cultural diversity of the world, while driving on the Road to London.

The epic Road to London journey started off from Imphal on the glorious morning of 17th April 2017. The atmosphere on the Flag Off day was electrifying. There was no doubt that for every single participant, this journey was going to be the biggest and the most memorable journey of their lives. Road to London 2017 was Flagged Off by The Deputy Chief Minister of Manipur, Mr. Yumnam Joykumar Singh and The President of Western Indian Automobile Association, Mr. Nitin Dossa in Imphal. We drove through the hilly terrains and gravel roads to reached Moreh, the last town on India side before we crossed over to Myanmar. We had to spend 2 hours clearing customs and immigration on the Indian side but it was a unique experience to cross our first land border. Passports and Carnets stamped, the convoy slowly moved towards the Indo-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, the first international crossing on our epic journey. Half the bridge belongs to India and the other half to Myanmar. One by one, every single vehicle made its first international border crossing and we reached Myanmar, the 2nd country on our journey. The drive through the country roads of Myanmar had been warm, soothing, refreshing and stress free. Covered 70% by forest areas, it is not easy to find your way through Myanmar without having a local person to guide you.

One of the most exciting part while exiting Myanmar was visiting NayPyiTaw where we parked our convoy horizontally on the 16 lane expressway and made all the 13 cars drive parallel to each other for a few km. Next, we made our way towards the Myawaddy – Mae Sot border crossing. Once at border, the process stays quite the same. Once formalities were done, the convoy rolled on the Myanmar-Thailand friendship bridge. The first half of the bridge was on Myanmar side so we had to drive on the right side of the bridge, and as we reached the top, we had entered Thai territory so we switched sides and started driving on the left side of the bridge. We had reached Thailand, the third country on our list. Once we entered Thailand, the drive was a breeze towards Tak. The Tourism Authority of Thailand hosted a cultural dinner for all the participants. After spending an amazing time in Thailand, we were ready to drive little east and add another milestone in our journey, as we approached Laos, the fourth country in our expedition.

Within a week, we had crossed India, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos and entered China. China was the most difficult border crossing on our journey. Dealing with the local authorities, the army, the provincial governments and the motoring departments in China and getting all permits processed for 27 people was a complicated task. Entering China was one thing, but experiencing China was a whole different story. We had our longest stay in China, the 5th country on the Road To London. We covered 5500 km over 17 days, traversing from Southern China to North Western most part of this massive country. One thing that’s worth mentioning was the infrastructure. We were blown away by the futuristic highways, the sophisticated and modern tunnels, the never ending bridges, the thousands of pillars holding the tarmac above the valleys, the clever methods used to cut mountains to build straight roads and tunnels which would not slow you down, even when you are climbing up a steep hill.

We continued our journey north through Yunnan province and reached Kunming, the capital of Yunnan and from there, we continued north towards Xichang. It is here that we got a chance to visit the “Earth Forest”, a unique location where we got to witness clay and sand formations created over millions of years where people of the Yuanmou tribe used to live. Our journey continued and before we reached Chengdu, the largest Chinese city on our expedition, we made a quick stop to check out the Giant Buddha Statue at Leshan, which is the largest stone statue of Buddha in a sitting position in the world. From there on we continued our journey towards Chengdu. Here is a fun fact, Chengdu is home to 80% worlds’ population of Pandas! (There are still more people than Pandas in Chengdu, in case you are wondering). So it goes without saying that all the participants were excited to visit and say hi to Pandas. Throughout the journey, we enjoyed endless karaoke sessions with our singer participant – Priyanka Nishith Jois. We were sure that by the end of this trip, we will definitely learn how to sing a melody.

Driving through China was no less than a roller coaster! There are just too many places to visit in China to be done in one go, but we tried to cover the most we could over our two weeks stay. For a country with so many diverse cultures and landscapes, we didn’t stick to tried and tested Chinese destinations… instead we literally took the road less travelled and drove from Jinghong – Kunming – Xichang – Chengdu – Ruoergai – Xining – Jiyayuguan – Dunhuang – Hami – Turpan – Kuerle – Aksu – Kashgar. We hiked the Jiayuguan Great Wall, visited Magao Caves, witnessed the acclaimed Chinese dance drama Silk Road, Flower Rain, enjoyed Uygur, Mongolian, and Hui cuisines in Turpan, witnessed the steep mountain, craggy pinnacles, rugged cliffs, mysterious primitive forest and deep ravines at the Tianshan Grand Canyon, Aksu and more. As always, we can go on and on and on… about the change in weather and landscape, where we went from driving in -2 degrees and snow fall to driving in barren deserts and humid weather. China is a country that begs to be visited and revisited and we promised to be back again. While the road to London journey continued, but our journey through China came to an end.

Steering away on these roads is a pleasure that will never be lost on us, but it was time for another border crossing Kyrgyzstan. We have faced many challenges and concerns back in India when we used to tell people that we’ll be passing through the “stan” countries because of the stigma of danger attached to these areas. On top of that, the visa process for all the countries was so time consuming and difficult, but as they say, “No goal was ever met without a little sweat” and we were determined to travel all the way from India to London on a road trip.

After driving through Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, we wished people realize that there’s still an abundance of kind and loving people, even in these part of the world that is seen as dangerous and unsafe. One of the best things we did while in Uzbekistan was to board an express train from Tashkent to Samarkand. Samarkand is not only beautiful beyond comparison, it is also one of the oldest cities on this planet. The city itself was founded around the 7th century BC, making it even older than ancient Rome.

Being on a cross border road trip like this makes you realise that borders aren’t merely just a line on the map, but there’s much more to it. On the 31st day on this journey, we had planned to cover a distance of 594 km from Tashkent to Kyzylorda! But due to arduous and lengthy border crossing from Uzbekistan, we got delayed and had to spend the night at Turkestan, a small but ancient city in the Kazakh Desert! It took us almost 8 hours to finish formalities at the border. Once we entered Kazakhstan, the 8th country on our odyssey, what followed was endless days filled with driving. While on the road, we even got our hands on camel milk. Most of the participants being the adventurous types, it’s needless to say that we tried it and do you know how it tastes? Salty!

We drove from Turkestan to Aralsk (746 km) and from Aralsk to Aktobe (620 km)! Aktobe was our last city in Kazakhstan and is an industrial city. Then, it was time to enter the largest country in the world- Russia, the 9th country on our expedition! Thankfully, crossing Russian border was a cake walk, as the officers were friendly and quick, which made the whole border crossing process very simple. Beginning from dawn to dusk, we drove towards Samara, our first night stop after crossing the border into Russia. Samara is the 6th largest city of Russia and was an alluring, intriguing city that was a pleasure to explore. You cannot escape history while driving through Ex-Soviet countries or Russia! After driving and exploring Russia, it was time for another border crossing and entering the Schengen Area, which also meant that no more border crossings while driving through different countries until we reached the UK.

While we would have loved to extend our stay in Russia, but it was time to say “Dasvidaniya” to Russia and we continued our drive to Latvia, the 10th country on our expedition. We drove to the city of Rēzekne, often called the heart of Latgale in Latvia. It is also known as the city of seven hills. From Rēzekne, we drove to Vilnuis, which was a short drive but one that lead to entering another country i.e. Lithuania. We spent a leisurely day exploring Vilnius’s charming old town, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Europe’s largest baroque capital. Then we ended our short stay in the quirky town of Vilnius and the convoy headed to Warsaw in Poland, which happened to be the 12th country on our expedition.

The last one week was filled with excitement, the kind that makes you lose your sleep, as we were approaching our final destination – London with each passing day. The excitement shared by the participants and us, was almost palpable. We started the week’s drive from Warsaw, Poland to Prague, Czech Republic, and from there we drove to Brussels, Belgium while crossing Germany and Netherlands en-route. Once we arrived in Belgium, we literally lost our sleep, because we were so electrified. London was only 532 KM away. We made it to London by taking a ferry to cross the English Channel. We had finally completed the journey that once seemed like a “Herculean task”.

The journey that started with a bunch of strangers coming together and ended with bonds that would stay forever. This 49 days road trip offered the participants with unparalleled adventures and experiences.

Road To London 2017 was grand, but Road To London 2018 will be grander!