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Showing posts from May, 2015

Post Trip - 16 May 2015 - Oh, What an Odyssey!

The South East Asian Odyssey was planned in three months and executed over 77 days, covering 21635 kms. The odyssey took me through 9 countries, of which 8 were by car. The countries covered were India (8268 km – 17 days), Myanmar (3369 km – 11 days), Thailand (4744 km – 15 days), Lao DPR (2395 km – 9 days), Cambodia (688 kms – 3 days), Malaysia (2112 kms – 10 days), Singapore (59 kms – 4 days), Vietnam (0 km – 5 days), Indonesia (0km – 3 days). The Ford Endeavour, KL 29C 2131, consumed 2400 litres of diesel oil, with an average price of Rs. 51.50 across countries with mileage of 9 kms to a litre. 340 kms were covered per day, on an average, if the 64 driving days alone are factored in. Else, over the 77 days 280 kms were covered per day, on an average. 27 border crossings were done during the onward and return journeys, of which 25 were with the car. While the average cost of accommodation was Rs. 2000 per night, food and beverages cost Rs. 500 per day.
Cambodia was the only foreign c…

Day 77 - 15 May 2015 - Chennai to Cochin

Yes, this was the day when the expedition would end in Cochin. UPM Advertising has been a major force in ensuring visibility of the expedition at the flag off, on social media and among friends and relatives. Mary George and Phillip Cherian have been pillars of support for almost all my expeditions. And it is with them that the responsibility of organising a reception in Tyrex vested. Silently they worked on it and all that I had to do was to confirm the time of arrival into Cochin. After I reached Chennai I confirmed to Mary that I would reach Cochin at 5 pm on 15 May.
Yesterday I half thought of engaging a Ford service station to take a look at the car because the acceleration was almost capped at 100 kmph and the initial resistance was accompanied by increasing sounds! Even then I decided to push the machine to its limits. After all, my expeditions have been about “Pushing The Limits”. And I banked on the ‘soul’ understanding the importance of the occasion and coming to the party. I…

Day 76 - 14 May 2015 - In Chennai

The photoshoot in the morning in Marina Beach would happen only if it didn’t rain, Suzanne had said last night. Abraham had warned me to be at the location in time because Suzanne and Tushara would be there as the clock strikes, he was sure. With light to medium rain clouds gathering in the distant I forewent breakfast and reached the Gandhi Statue on Marine Drive a half hour before the appointed time. With the beach and the Police headquarters in the background, I was taking a few selfies when a police constable requested me to park the car parallel to the kerb. I had not realised that the length of the car would be an obstruction to through traffic during peak time. Watching the calm sea that morning I could not fathom the destruction that tsunami waves had caused there that fateful Christmas Eve.
Ashok Thomas, Tushara and the photographer arrived just when the sun shone brightly and the light was right for the photoshoot. Suzanne informed that she was on the way and that the shoot …

Day 75 - 13 May 2015 - Visakhapatnam to Chennai

It was time to leave the City of Destiny. Except for a few of my expeditions like North-South, East-West and that to London, Visakhapatnam always figured in the itinerary. The hospitality of Thulasi Ram and his family has been the prime reason for that. During this expedition Visakhapatnam had not originally figured in the return trip because of the Himalayan Expedition that was to be attempted immediately on conclusion of this one in Tezu, Arunachal Pradesh. However, the earthquake and aftershocks in Nepal changed all that. It was only ten days back that I redid the South East Asian itinerary to cut out the Himalayan Expedition. When the reroute was done I sought the assistance of Gopal Mohanty in Kolkata and Thulasi Ram in Visakhapatnam for accommodation in Guwahati, Malda, Kolkata and Visakhapatnam. It was standard operating procedure. No matter what, they were always there for me. Into this category fall KB Singh in Imphal, Moncy Thomas in Bangkok, Ajo David in Batam, Sreekanth Na…

Day 74 - 12 May 2015 - Kolkata to Visakhapatnam

I did not think I would survive the road journey this day to write this piece. It was a day on which I lurched from one ‘near death’ experience to another. I had no inkling of what was in store when I left the Garden Reach ORH just as the sky was lighting up with traces of a new dawn. The Vidya Sagar Setu Bridge looked lovely decked up in multi coloured lights. The Rs. 10 toll charge for the bridge must be the lowest anywhere in the world. Kolkata is still one of the cheapest cities to live in in India. Being fond of street food I ventured into a small eatery opposite the SER headquarters building last evening and had four chappatis and vegetable curry for Rs. 12! I was embarrassed to hand over a 500 rupee note, but the vendor returned change without hesitating even once!
The concrete road up to Balasore was treacherous since it has been excavated at intermittent intervals for repairs. Every km had at least two diversions. The road closures were unscientific; instead of closing off one…

Day 73 - 11 May 2015 - Malda to Kolkata

It had rained heavily overnight and the sky was still overcast when I loaded the luggage into the car; the quantum of soiled clothes started outweighing the fresh ones. I calculated that for the remainder of the trip I would need a couple of fresh t-shirts and socks. The rest were fine. The caretaker of the ORH gave me a flask full of hot water so that I could have some coffee on the way.
I was apprehensive about Google Maps showing me the way out of the town because of the experience on the way into it. I had hit a few dead ends before reaching the ORH. But, this morning, a repeat did not happen and I eased on to the NH 34. Despite it being early morning truck traffic was heavy; on the approach to the Farakka Barrage there was a huge hold up that took away more than 30 minutes. That’s when I decided to have a cup of hot coffee waiting for the congestion to clear up. The traffic across the barrage was being directed by paramilitary personnel, who were also in charge of guarding the bar…

Day 72 - 10 May 2015 - Maligaon to Malda

There are days when nothing goes right. This day was one such. Indications of it came early when the GPS directed me from the rest house to the General Manager’s house, instead of on to the main road. Then I hit the busy railway gate of Kamakhya railway station and remained there for 15 minutes, instead of taking the alternate route to avoid it. At that time I did not know that greater delays were to happen during the journey to Malda.
The drive to Malda would take me about 12 hours, I calculated, to cover over 650 km. I have done the stretch many times in the past, including the forward leg of this expedition. Road conditions as well as the heavy freight traffic slow down traffic. Hence, I marked a 5 am start and made the rest house charges last night itself. Of the two routes to Malda I chose the Bongaigaon-Alipurduar-Dalkola route. Driving was alright till I reached the outskirts of Dalkola and I was maintaining an average speed of 55 kmph.
Dalkola is a busy three way intersection. O…

Day 71 - 9 May 2015 - Imphal to Maligaon

This is my third visit to Manipur, the second in this expedition. Every time I come here I learn something new. Something that may not be known to most people living outside the state is that the Indian Flag and the Constitution are ‘outlawed’ in Manipur. The more than 30 underground outfits – UGs or local armies, as they are known – have made it ‘punishable’ to display the Indian Flag and to owe allegiance to the Indian Constitution. Therefore, the flag is flown or displayed only in government offices. Republic and Independence Day celebrations are not conducted in public. They are normally days of ‘bandh’. Flag hoisting is confined to army camps and high government offices. Singing the National Anthem is a criminal offence as per the diktat of the UGs. Extortion by the UGs is rampant in the guise of local ‘tax’ and protection money. Recently many schools in Imphal faced forced closure for over a week as the managements refused to yield to the demand of the UGs for school seats, that…

Day 70 - 8 May 2015 - Kalay to Imphal

The excitement of being so close to India, perhaps, kept me up from 3 am. On the forward leg my friend in Imphal, KB Singh, had made stay arrangements in the Moreh Trade Centre. This time I decided to go on to Imphal and requested him to meet Fr. Joseph, Director of St. Thomas Seminary in Imphal, and ask for a guest room in the seminary. He did that and confirmed the arrangements to me. The distance from Kalay to Tamu, the border town is less than 140 km and that from there to Imphal is just over 100 km. Factoring in the time required to process papers at the two borders, the last of the expedition, and the one hour time gain as I crossed into India I expected to be in Imphal by 1 pm IST.
I had not had dinner last night as I had decided to snack on a few things I had with me. The mental exhaustion had put me to bed early, but I paid the price of having to get up early too. Breakfast in the hotel was sparse, but I was hungry. With breakfast out of the way I requested Myint Hsuang, the g…

Day 69 - 7 May 2015 - Mandalay to Kalay

This stretch was done in two days when I travelled the first leg of the expedition from India. Doing it in a day would be a challenge, I knew, for the roads wound through mountains and were under repair in many places. To top it all, major part of the nearly 500 km is a single carriageway passing through villages and busy little cities. Monywa is about 150 km from Mandalay. From Monywa there are two routes to Kalay. The shorter one is 175 km and the longer route is 320 km. Thein insisted that we should take the longer route because the shorter route is frequented by heavy trucks that have churned up the mud road and made it unsuitable for movement of cars. Huge, spikey rocks damage the tyres, too. So, it was to be a long, slower drive of about 500 km this day.
As suggested by Thein, Myint Sang, Aye and I were ready to leave Mandalay Hotel by 5 am. Thein had stayed overnight in another hotel and could turn up only at a half past since taxis were scarce early in the morning. The early mo…

Day 68 - 6 May 2015 - Bago to Mandalay

In Myanmar distance is referred to in miles and speed in km! Therefore, Thein told me that while it would be 360 miles to Mandalay from Bago, the speed limit on the highway would range from 80 to 100 kmph. It was decided that we would leave the hotel after breakfast, which would be served at 7 am. Accordingly, I was in the lobby of the hotel after loading the luggage and sprucing up the car in time for breakfast, where I was joined by the rest. We were met by empty trays and plates in the buffet hall. Aye and Thein fuelled some action by reporting the matter to the reception and in a while a person came to the dining hall to enquire what I wanted. I asked for toasts and eggs. In the meanwhile a family of three also arrived in the dining hall. They too were surprised that items to break their fast were not on the table. However, in 15 minutes noodles, fried rice, fried eggs, toasts, cakes and bananas filled the buffet table. Instead of coffee I had helpings of an excellent cool lime an…

Day 67 - 5 May 2015 - Myawaddy to Bago

Till I crossed the Friendship Bridge over the Moei River to Myanmar I had been on a knife’s edge, so to say. Despite my best intentions and effort I had not been able to obtain vehicle insurance during the expedition except in Singapore, where it cost me an arm and a leg, and in Myanmar, where it was part of the tour agency’s responsibility. I tried to obtain insurance at the borders of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia. Either the insurance companies refused to insure a foreign registered car or they did not deal with vehicle insurance at all. It is very strange that medical insurance is issued in India for global coverage whereas the same is not done for a vehicle. When I travelled to London from India I was able to obtain vehicle insurance at the borders for Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Russia. Navo Tours, who coordinated the China leg of the journey, took responsibility for the insurance as well. At the Finnish border I got insurance for Schengen States as well as UK, for a prin…