A LIST of Challenges & Anticipation
1. Weather conditions - top the list of challenges. Travelling across Continents, especially with changing weather patterns world over, we could face conditions ranging from snow at high altitudes to dry weather in certain Central Asian countries. We anticipate good summer weather in Europe, with possibility of showers. Hence, we have to ensure proper and adequate clothing for protection for different weather conditions.
2. Slippage of dates - hotel bookings have been done all along the route with the exception of Kazakhstan and Ireland. In case of any hold up en route, for any reason, juggling the reservations could be a handful. We may even lose money, which we can ill afford.
3. Border crossings - border crossings in Nepal, China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Russia could be challenging; that’s what the internet research says. We have engaged guide/escort in China (necessary as per government regulations) and Kyrgyzstan to tide over the issue. A friend in Nepal has agreed to assist with the borders there. We do not anticipate any vexatious issues at the Schengen, UK and Irish borders. However, we may find it quite challenging getting the Carnet filled properly at all the borders.
4. Police interference - the law enforcers could be pesky in the Central Asian countries, according to research material. They could point out non-existent stickers, permissions, speed, etc to make a quick buck. This could mean delays, cash outflow and even rummaging of belongings. We understand that it would be best to play dumb and pass on small denomination currency notes to make quick getways from such situations.
5. High altitudes - the drive in Tibet, particularly from Zhangmu, the border with Nepal, to Lhasa goes through a high altitude route. Understand that similar is the case with the border between China and Kyrgyzstan. High altitude sickness brought on by rarefied air can be bothersome and at times fatal, if not dealt properly. We would be carrying medicines and oxygen cylinders to assist in smooth passage. We have even been advised not to bathe till we reach Lhasa, to conserve body heat! Have packed plenty of cologne to tackle that eventuality.
6. Fuel compatibility and availability - Octane levels will vary right across countries. The problem areas are expected to be China and Central Asian countries. Filters will bear the brunt. But I sincerely hope that it does not become a show stopper. The Endeavour is a gas guzzler – 6 kms to a litre. Moreover, China and Kazakhstan have large swathes without fuel stations, or so we are told. To tackle both the issues additional tanks for fuel storage are on board.
7. Proper accommodation/toilets - between China and Kazakhstan, where we will be spending over 3 weeks proper accommodation and toilets are listed as a problem area. A friend who travelled in China reported that he had to carry large quantities of coke just to make the toilets usable! With funds constraint we will not be able to afford that luxury. In the worst case scenario, we will take recourse to the tent and camping equipment that we are carrying, plus the bio-toilet.
8. Language issues - this is not limited to Asian countries. I am told that even tourist havens like Switzerland have major problems of communication in English. More than the communication I anticipate greater challenges with road signs and directions, which in most countries are bound to be in the local language. Kazakhstan and Russia could be the most problematic, for we have guides in China and Kyrgyzstan. There will be a lot of dependence on navigational software; hope it will guide us out of difficult areas.
9. Anti-social activity - this is a matter of real concern. It is most important that we stay in places that are safe and secure. The worries are that of vandalism, theft and damage.
10. Vehicle maintenance - since the journey will consume about 24,000 kms it is necessary to do at least 2 services along the way. In case of problems with the fuel we may have to do additional pit stops. As of now, I have logged to get the car serviced in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) and Amsterdam (Netherlands). Kairali Ford has given us adequate spare supplies to get the servicing done in any service station.
11. Driving on the ‘wrong side’ with the RHD vehicle - a major challenge. Once we get to China till we reach UK we have to drive the RHD as if it is a LHD. Unfortunately, we have not been able to ‘train’ for this. A sticker has been affixed at the rear of the car cautioning other road users about the RHD. The ‘practice’ ground will be China where some stretches along the route will test our skills and mindsets.
12. Getting used to discipline on the roads, particularly Western - disciplined road use that affords higher speeds is something that we have to get used to. Switching lanes wantonly, moving without signals, disrespect of pedestrians, not anticipating exits, etc are things that do not matter on our roads. These could lead to surprises and agony in other countries.
13. Dealing with multiple currencies - Navigating 27 countries becomes most challenging when it comes to dealing with local currency. Even where Euro rules the roost hotel websites clearly mention that only local currency is accepted. Keeping track of exchange rates will become crucial to ensure that one does not get shortchanged.
1. Varied cuisine - I am no foodie, but I look forward to trying out local cuisine that use local ingredients. What excites me is when the host explains the dishes and the way it is prepared.
2. Local brews - every place has its own traditional, home made brews. In many they claim that the ‘recipe’ is centuries old. Some are so potent that just a couple of tipples will knock you horizontal. Leveraging past experiences I now ask my host the after effects before the first sip reaches the lip. Also look forward to experiencing the varied beers of Europe.
3. Customs and traditions - even the way one greets and exchanges pleasantries vary dramatically across the globe. What is the ‘done thing’ in one place may be your undoing in another! Interesting, at times intriguing, customs, folklore and traditional tales add to the excitement of travel.
4. Human interfaces – I firmly believe that every opportunity to meet new people is His way of letting me interface with fellow souls that travel with me through time and space. I enjoy every such opportunity and sometimes even experience a déjà vu when I meet some of them; it is as if I have known them even through generations. Even certain places give me that feel; as if I have been there some time before.
5. Dress habits - how people clothe themselves is a combined reflection of weather, custom, religion and style. While traditional dressing has almost vanished in the western world, I look forward to studying this in the Central Asian countries.
6. Historical monuments - much of the places that we transit have been witness to millennia of human settlements. History is a thread of such settlement. What they created for their daily living, entertainment and preservation remain sentinels of the past for students of history; some fascinating, some wonders, some mysterious.
7. Nature’s beauty - what she carves with her elements are unparalleled. Every hour, every day is a new show. The scenes are so varied that what I experience need not be what you experience. The tapestries of nature are dynamic and free for all eyes to savor.
8. Guardian Angels - It is part of Christian belief that when you are born a guardian angel is ‘deployed’ to be by your side to guide you through life and its twists and turns. Every motoring journey I have had in the past four years have reinforced my belief in guardian angels. I have experienced their protection and guidance - they have made me pull back from the brink of imminent disaster and recover from almost impossible situations.
9. Indian communities and their stories - the vast Indian Diaspora spread through Continents is a rich source of experience. The way they have integrated into the local environment and yet preserved their distinctiveness, what they have imbibed and what they have imparted, their trials and their joys make us understand better different cultures and lands.
10. Sharing the Indian experience - the rest of the world has huge expectations from India and Indians. Therefore, when we travel we intend sharing our idea of India and what Indians stand for, particularly with foreign communities.
11. Overcoming challenges successfully - challenges, few described in the earlier part of this piece and many that we do not know about, have to be overcome to successfully conclude the journey in London. We can, prudently, anticipate some events, but many challenges have to be overcome with quick thinking and swift, yet decisive, action.
12. Setting another ‘first’ - the thrill of doing it ‘first’ may be the surfacing of something that is resident in the sub-conscious; as a school student, parents and teachers, at least for a while till they discovered they were wasting their breath (!), constantly drilled into my mind that my objective should be to come first. This is a journey that has elements of adventure, study and fulfillment of a passionate dream which, I hope, will beat new paths and enable many to tread them.