The dream of a drive from India to London germinated in my mind sometime in July-August 1997 when newspapers were awash with pieces on India celebrating her Golden Jubilee Year of Independence. I thought it appropriate for an Indian – that Indian being me - to travel between New Delhi and London to carry a letter of greeting from Atal Behari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister of India, to be delivered to Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister of UK. I was in a state of flux in the organization where I was working at the time, the Southern Railways in Chennai. Between September 1996 and June 1997 I was moved three times by a boss who wanted me to accept his suzerainty over me in typical feudal, or even colonial, style. I would have none of it, the untempered hot blood of youth still racing through the veins. The time was thus ripe to dream romantic journeys when the professional journey had encountered a few jagged road bumps. I remember spending many evenings after office in the decently lit bar of the Railway Club on Kothari Road jotting down possible routes – using a map, as Internet and Google Maps had not become as widespread or used as it is now – possible sponsors and even a packing list. The number of Old Monks that went down the hatch, along with the numerous packets of Wills Filter King that accompanied the thinking process, was disproportionately more than the pieces of paper I had at the end. The planning went on till mid-1998, when I surprisingly landed a deputation to Container Corporation of India. The dream and the few pieces of paper that were evidence of the crystallization of a dream got submerged in a deluge of work that greeted me in the new work environment. I thoroughly enjoyed the assignment and hence, any thought of taking a break from that did not enter my mind for the next couple of years.
The next travel dream spurted quite suddenly in the Millennium, when I tried to piece together a desire to travel to all the State Capitals of the Indian Union. I even named the proposed adventure “Capitalism”! Route planning was in an advanced stage when my mother fell ill and subsequently passed away. The emotional trauma, the mental fatigue and the physical blow as well as a sudden realization of “mortality” kept me distanced from ambitious travel plans. However, I made it a practice to take a couple of weeks off every year, and sometimes more frequently, to go off on backpacking trips on shoestring budgets. The destinations were mostly Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, aided by flying miles tickets of Air India.
Years rolled by. And then came the momentous decision to dust the old papers and revive the “Capitalism” dream. This time the planning process was limited to less than 4 weeks and more time was devoted to action. I estimated to travel 30,000 kilometers in 120 days. As it turned out, I covered the length and breadth of the country in 124 days between October 2010 and February 2011 travelling alone across 23,455 kilometers. The trip that covered all the State Capitals and Railway Headquarters earned me a Limca Book National Record in 2012. I also compiled my travel blogs into a book titled “Ek Swift Bharat Yatra – The Journey of a Railwayman Across India”, having used a borrowed Maruti Swift for the thoroughly enjoyable Indian Safari.
The minute I held the Limca certificate in my hands in January 2012 I was smitten by the travel bug to set more driving records. I first attempted a round trip between Kanyakumari and Leh in July 2012; then came the Coast to Coast and East West Expeditions in January and February 2013 and the piece de resistance – the Golden Quadrilateral Expedition in June 2013. Four expeditions in twelve months; all successful in setting new benchmarks and culminating in 7 certificates from the Limca Book of Records in December 2013. It was heady indeed, particularly because I was the first one to successfully attempt 4 solo expeditions in a year.
The dream of driving to London from India was reignited on the 11th of July 2012, when I was nearing Rohtang Pass near Manali. It was the first day of the drive from Leh to Kanyakumari, when I was attempting to set a new record for the North South Expedition. I was on a high having done almost double the distance of what I had planned for the day. As I was negotiating a sharp curve ahead of the Rohtang Pass I caught sight of the driver of an SUV, coming in the opposite direction, waving at me to stop. As we neared each other I stopped the car, rolled down the window and shook hands. Sanjay Madan said that he had followed my drive on Facebook and anticipated meeting me. The vibrant branding of the car had helped Madan identify me from a distance. He wished me luck and told me that he was with Tushar Aggarwal who had driven from London to Delhi over land. Wow! My heart thumped and I felt the fire that reignited a dormant dream. I even named it “From God’s Own Country to the United Kingdom”.
It takes only a moment for something to strike a chord in you and for it to occupy the apex position in your hierarchy of wants. And when that happens, you tend to think logically and work towards making that reality. That’s what happened with me on the 11th of July. The thought of a car journey to London from Cochin consumed most of the rest of the journey from Leh to Kanyakumari, which was completed in style with the last 1800 kilometers between Nagpur and Kanyakumari being done in 27 hours without rest en route. I started the planning process for the London drive in August 2012 and aimed to make the trip in the summer of 2013 – all by myself, of course; at least that’s the way it started.