What’s the Adventure?
Taking your Land Rover across Africa still makes a lot of sense if you seek out adventure by the bucketload, but venturing into Asia has not, in recent years, been so attractive.
Well, we can report that overlanding through Turkey and Iran, India and Nepal is fine now (Pakistan has its problems, but the hospitality offered by most people certainly isn’t one of them). Even long-forbidden Tibet is an option, with the ruling Chinese regime allowing a trickle of foreign vehicles to enter. So, overland routes across Asia are now possible.
Having crossed Africa via the Middle East, Egypt, Sudan, Kenya then south via Rwanda and Burundi, we shipped our much-modified 1983 One Ten with its 300Tdi engine from Durban in South Africa to Mumbai in India last year. Leaving the vehicle parked in Kathmandu, Nepal, for a few months enabled us to go back to work to replenish the coffers.
The slogan of the Indian tourist authorities is ‘visit Incredible India’ and this is about as accurate a statement as is possible. The sights, sounds, smells and vibrancy of the subcontinent stare you right in the face from day one.
Our Favourite Bit?
With stunning palaces, forts and fabulous mosques, there’s no shortage of places to drive. Head out into Rajasthan, south-west of the busy capital, Delhi, and you see the whimsical concoctions of the Maharajas’ exotic palaces; scruffy camels; amazingly colourful, industrious, friendly people; and an ongoing kaleidoscope of surprising sights to inspire.
Head north for the cool of the Himalayas or south for the heat of the tropical beaches. Going east, take in the holy Ganges at Varanasi and the hill station of Darjeeling for tea.
Driving in India is also incredible: you either hate it or you love it, sometimes both at once. Might is right here, with no quarter given by the trucks, buses or elephants. Rickshaws, scooters, bicycles and bullock carts may occasionally deem to move aside. There are supposed to be rules of the road, but the great thing is that no one obeys them. Anything goes. It can be fun, this mayhem, giving you the thrill of escaping (however temporary) the straitjacket of the western nanny state, far from the speed cameras and prowling patrol cars of the UK’s trunk roads.
Making it out alive
The final push to Lhasa rounded off the week in high style. Despite modernity having reached these once remote and alluring places, the spirit of old Lhasa remains: the simply stunning grandeur of the Potala Palace, the former residence of the Dalai Lamas; the mesmerising chants of the hordes of Tibetan pilgrims around the holiest temple, the Jokhang; the screeching vultures wheeling high in a crystal clear, dazzling blue sky; and the noise, smells and animations of the Tibetan traders in the Barkhor markets.
No one can forget the sight of the monastic cities of Ganden, Sera and Drepung, whose vast monk temple complexes still resonate to the tune of an era long past but never to be forgotten. The mysterious spiritual qualities of old Tibet remain on the high plains and mountains, where life remains harsh. Lhasa has changed, but which city hasn’t in this consumer-hungry, frenetic world?
Our journey to the UK continued via northern Tibet, Xinjiang, Kazakhstan,
The full story can be found in the November 2011 issue of LRO. Download a digital issue, or order a back issue by calling 01858 438884.