By Medha Joseph
With 2 SUV’s and 6 friends from Hyderabad to Marrakech was a journey that is once in a lifetime and a memorable one. We crossed 3 continents and 16 countries in 57 days, which was over 23,000 kms!!
In 2013, Sujal Patwardhan, Joe Joseph – my husband and I hatched a plan for a drive in June 2014. Our first jolt of reality was the money needed to travel on an Indian passport by road across continents. There was no way we could have put those funds together in 10 month’s time. The second challenge was to get 2 months off from work for Sujal and Joe.
It was hard for us to fathom the circumstances but to keep our spirits high we decided to take a trip from Hyderabad to Ladhak. We also, moved our plans from June 2014 to sometime in 2015. It was also a challenge to pursue Sujal and Joe’s boss for a holiday and plan their work for the next 12 months.
The biggest decision we took was to sell our house in Pune to be able to fund our trip!
On our trip to Ladhak, we met Chandrika, KC and Day from Hyderabad. We shared our crazy plans with them and they were more than happy to join us. KC bought a similar type of SUV in a month’s time and from then there was no looking back.
I took responsibility for research, paperwork and visas while Joe and KC were responsible for prepping the vehicles. Others were taking care of packing lists, sourcing items and equipment like bags, cameras, warm clothes, pop-up tents and portable toilets among other necessities. It was total team work and the adrenalin was pushing us to the D-day.
We had all our visas ready, the route was thoroughly researched and all border crossings were planned. 20 days to go! Then the Nepal earthquake happened. It was shocking. We soon found out that the epicentre of the quake was the border area we were scheduled to cross – Indian border into Nepal and then into Tibet.
We were clueless, we didn’t know what to do. We had no border to cross into China, which is the only route available to drive towards Europe from India by road. All the planning was going to be a waste. However, our friends and families supported us and encouraged us to make this trip. We had come far to not back down. Isn’t life about moving forward after all!
Sujal and I did some research and found a route from Myanmar. We could cross the border into China from Myanmar and take an alternate route to enter Central Asia. We had only 10 days at hand to get the Myanmar permits and visas done. Our trip depended on Myanmar permits. As per our planned dates, we would have to enter Chain at a particular date to be able to cross and exit within given time. The diversion through Myanmar had added extra 3000 kms to the journey, which forced us to begin our journey earlier than decided from Hyderabad.
We made it! We reached into Myanmar with all the permits in hand and drove to the Chinese border in 4 days. Once we entered China we were on track.
This epic journey truly changed our perspective. The language barrier, cultural differences, perceived knowledge about safety, food, water, driving conditions everything changed. It opened up our minds to know that people are just the same and always there to help you. We would stop by at local cafes and communicate in sign language to place our orders. We would makes various noises of animals to identify types of meat. Sing a few Bollywood songs to break the ice and the locals would flock around us. Many a times, these locals would notice that we are trying to find some address as the GPS would take us in circles. They would simply volunteer and drive in their vehicles to escort us to our desired location or hotel. Without expecting anything in return. All they wanted was a photo with us.
The time zone was another challenge. Every few days we would enter a new country and a different time zone. The body takes time to acclimatise. It impacts the travellers health and well being. Adjusting to 60 degrees celsius from 4 degrees celsius became an adventure in itself. Rain and high altitude driving can have a grave impact on the body and sometimes on the mind too. Our mental and physical capabilities were well tested and we realised that helping each other and having each others back was supreme.
Certain border crossings like Uzbekistan took 4 hours to complete all the formalities. It was a real test of our patience. It is hard to get diesel at fuel stations in Uzbekistan specially for passenger vehicles. Luckily, we learnt about this in advance so we carried extra cans of fuel and sometimes managed to bump some from lorry drivers passing on the highway.
All these challenges were easy to overcome because of the natural beauty, from snow capped mountains to dessert drives in Central Asia, mind blowing infrastructure in China, the vast plains and beautiful sunsets in Russia and the amazing highways in Europe and Morocco. It was all worth it.
This journey made Sujal Patwardhan and me to realise that time is short and there is so much to travel and absorb around the world. What could be better than bringing this experience and this joy of exploring places without any agenda to others. Instead of visiting touristy places, they could drive around unexplored places that are not mentioned on the internet or itineraries. They would have the unique opportunity to soak in those precious moments where unknown good willing people invite them to their homes to share a meal to simply honour their company.
These experiences are a treasure trove you create for a lifetime. It truly changes you as a person and your outlook. Its not about the destination, its all about the journey. This is how Embarq was born – to bring out the explorer in each of us!!