There is a charm about the cross-country road trips that makes it unspeakably desirable.
On Monday – April 16, we began our Road to London 2018 journey from Imphal, India. Our convoy of 15 cars was flagged off by Shri N. Biren Singh, Chief Minister of Manipur and Mr. Isra Stapanaseth, Director – Tourism Authority of Thailand, India. As we pulled out of the hotel amidst loud cheers, we knew that now there is no turning back.
Driving towards the Tamu-Moreh border was filled with excitement as we were crossing our first land border. From Imphal, Moreh border is around 75 km. After clearing Immigration and Customs, 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. En-route we even got a chance to celebrate Thingyan water festival, which is Burmese New Year Festival.
The drive through Myanmar was exhilarating! An escort Jeep in the front with blaring sirens escorting our 15 SUVs convoy was giving us a full VIP feel.
After having a good time in Myanmar, we packed our bags, loaded our cars and started driving towards the Myawaddy-Maesot border before reaching Thailand. What was really interesting was that while climbing up on the Myanmar-Thailand Friendship Bridge, we had to drive on the right side and while going down, we had to drive on the left side of the road as we were in Thai territory.
Things like these make cross-border expeditions more exciting. Once we entered Thailand, The Tourism Authority of Thailand had made special arrangements for us… from arranging interview with BBC Thailand to arranging special cultural programs along with Dinner, they extended warm hospitality towards all our participants. It’s no wonder that Thailand boasts of the largest arrival of tourists in the World!
It was time to add another milestone in our journey, as we approached Laos, the fourth country in our expedition. Laos is a land locked country, pristine, lush and densely forested. It lies untouched with negligible tourism unlike its neighbours. After a relaxing night stay in Laos, it was time for another border crossing. The Chinese take their visitors very seriously and there were many different formalities to complete, which included a physical test of both the vehicle as well as the driver before everyone was handed over their Chinese driving license and number plate for driving in China.
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 2018. We covered 5500 km over 17 days, traversing from Southern China to North Western most part of this massive country. 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 to Kashgar, which was our final destination in China. The landscape and weather constantly kept changing dramatically. At times we were driving through absolutely barren brown mountains. While at other times the landscape would suddenly become all green. We visited the Earth Forest, the Giant Buddha of Leshan (largest stone Buddha in sitting position in the world), Jiayuguan Great Wall, Giant Pandas in Chengdu, Mogao Caves, Gobi-desert and more during our 2 weeks long driving time in China.
As much as we enjoyed our time driving through China, exiting it was no less than a nightmare. It took us more around 12 hours at the China and Kyrgyzstan border to clear the immigration process. Due to the unexpected delays at the border crossing and reaching late at night, we were all a little disappointed as we missed the most scenic drive through the Pamir Glacier. Once we entered the ‘stan’ countries, it felt as if we have time travelled into the past and experiencing life as it was back in the days. After driving through Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, we wished people realize that there’s still an abundance of kind and loving people, even in these parts 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.
Driving in Kazakhstan is like no other experience in the world! As we left the border about a 100 kms of nothingness greeted us on both sides of the road!
While traveling through sometimes desolate but beautiful stan countries, it was time to enter the largest country in the world- Russia, the 9th country on our expedition! While the process at the Urilsk- Samara Border was quick and simple but as luck would have it, the servers were down, and we got stuck for a good 2.5 hours. But even after the tiring day, we all couldn’t help but marvel that we have arrived in Russia in our own vehicle.
Our time in Russia passed like a breeze as we drove from Samara, Penza and Moscow. Within a few days, it was time for the most awaited border crossing as we were entering the Schengen Area, which also meant that no more border crossings while driving through different countries until we reached the UK.
Driving and crossing borders in Europe was as easy as ABC. The road runs in a straight line for miles and miles and indeed it was a pleasure to drive through such a beautiful countryside during the expedition. We drove from Latvia – Lithuania – Poland – Prague, Czech Republic to Brussels, Belgium while crossing Germany and Netherlands en-route.
After spending days on the road, finally the last day of our trip had dawned. We were all excited to cross the English Channel and reach London in our own vehicle. The thought still feels surreal. The last leg of the journey was only 532 kms more. We drove in Belgium for another 200 kms till we reached Calais in France, where we were to dock the ferry for UK. Surprisingly border crossing at UK turned out to be the friendliest and fastest of all border crossing on this expedition. After reaching Dover, we drove another 150 KM to reach Westminster Bridge and took group photos with London eye in the background to be kept as a souvenir for years to come. It was time to celebrate the success of yet another successful completion of our Road to London expedition.