Latest News - July 30th

Over the past week I have had the Landcruiser checked over by my co-driver from our Great Tour of China trip in 2004, Chris Cooper, while it was being stored in New York State.

Chris has fitted the new Garmin navigator onto which I will download all the waypoints that John Brown has taken from the route survey. This will greatly reduce the amount of time it takes to set up the route on the Garmin. New brake front brake pads have been fitted The car needed a steering geometry check because of uneven wear on the front tyres which occurred whilst driving across the States. We've switched the front tyres to the rear to even up the wear. New bushes have been fitted to the rear anti-roll bar and hopefully the rattle from the offside rear handbrake mechanism has been sorted out.

Last Friday Chris drove the car down from Jim Taylor's garage, where the car has been stored for the past three months, to the US shipping company's warehouse next to Newark International Airport, New Jersey. The car will be shipped to Mumbai, India in the middle of August. The shipping time is about four weeks, giving us plenty of time for any delays, as the start of the Great Tour Of India is not until early October.

Finally, a great a big thank you to Jim and Leejun Taylor for their generosity in allowing me to store the car with them as well as their hospitality to Chris and for letting us to use their magnificent garage facilities to prepare the car.

I'll start posting to this site on a regular basis in September and on a daily basis once we leave the UK for India on October 3rd.

August 18th - Shipping from the US to Mumbai

The US shipping agent has just confirmed that the car will be shipped from Newark, New Jersey to Mumbai, leaving on August 22nd.

It will be nearly ten months since the car arrived in San Pedro, California last October for the Panamericana tour. Since then we have driven through Central America to the Panama Canal, then shipped the car back to California for our fantastic drive across the States from Los Angeles to New York. A lot of miles have been travelled and with the Indian tour less than two months away we are about to travel many more.

We have just heard that HERO 4x4xplore are planning their next tour, this time through South-East Asia starting in Singapore and finishing in Hong Kong. The tour is set to take place in February 2009.

September 16th - Landcruiser arrival in Mumbai

I've just looked on the Hapag Lloyd website to see when they are delivering my car to Mumbai. The container is scheduled for delivery to NHAVA SHEVA, the principal port of Mumbai, today. Let's hope that's correct! This coming Thursday it will be trucked from the port into the warehouse in central Mumbai.

With just over two weeks to go until we fly out, our final preparations are taking place. We have received from HERO a complete set of waypoints and tracks, via e-mail and these have now been downloaded onto my Garmin navigator, a total of over 400 waypoints and 18 tracks. This should make our navigation much easier as we travel around India. The Indian road maps are not particularly detailed, so having a route for the tour downloaded onto the Garmin will really help.

We've heard that the monsoon weather is late this year, so there is a good chance of heavy showers when we start the tour. I just hope it's not too bad and the monsoon ends quickly, as I really don't fancy driving through floods as we head off!

September 17th - Please send me your comments

I always like to hear from readers to my blogs, so please send me your comments by clicking onto the comment link at the bottom of each post. The blog has been set up so that I am automatically e-mailed when a reader posts a blog.

I look forward to reading what people think about our great adventure around the Sub-continent.

I've just added a map of India to the title page of the blog. The route is shown in black. As the space on the title page is limited, the small size of the map means you cannot read the names of the towns we are visiting, but hopefully it gives a good idea of the areas of India we are visiting.

September 19th - Container unloaded in Mumbai

Just checked the Hapag Lloyd website and at 01.20am this morning the container with my Landcruiser was unloaded from the ship. Now it is being trucked to the warehouse in downtown Mumbai for customs clearance and then for me to pick it up in two weeks time.

All I have to hope for is that everything I packed in the car in New York is still in it!

September 27th - T minus 6 and counting!

Less than a week until we fly out from London to Mumbai. There isn't much left to do other than pack our personal belongings. I'm taking a replacement rear light as one of the lights was broken whilst the car was in the States. Apart from that we have to hope that everything I packed into the car in New York is still in it when we collect it a week tomorrow.

I've been checking the weather in Mumbai and at the moment it is still quite wet. The end of the monsoon is apparently late this year. With temperatures in the thirties it will be quite a change from here.

I'll start posting photos as soon as we arrive.

October 2nd - Less than 24 hours to go

It is approaching nearly a year since we first decided to do the Indian tour. Now there is less than 24 hours to go before we fly out to Mumbai. The weather there appears to have improved and at the moment it's partly cloudy, a whole lot better than the rain of a few days ago. Delhi is scorching with temperatures of 100 degrees! Let's hope it has cooled down a bit by the time we get there in just over a week.

Chris Cooper who has been such a help in maintaining the car for me, has just sent me the picture below of the car in the garage in Gloversville, New York. As I said to him when I saw the photo, I hope the car has four wheels on it when I collect it in Mumbai!

October 3rd - Leaving London

It's great to have an evening flight as it leaves the whole day to finish all the things you need to do when you are going away for five weeks. I've packed away all my electronic goods: cameras, laptop, GPS, mobile phones and an external disc drive to back up all my video in case the camera fails on the trip. I hope I've thought of everything but now typing this at Heathrow waiting for the 21.50 BA flight to Mumbai, it's too late to do anything about it if something has been left behind.

An eight hour flight to Mumbai and we will arrive around midday. Hopefully I'll post my first photos tomorrow.

The adventure begins!

October 4th - Mumbai!

I forgot to mention in yesterday's postings that as we were boarding the plane in London we met up with friends from previous rallies: Roger and Sarah Lucas, Terence English, Pedro Roca and Angela Flaque from Barcelona.

After a very smooth flight of 8 hours we landed at Mumbai International airport at 11am. India is 4.5 hours in front of the UK during BST. Apparently the Indian time zone was set at GMT plus 5.5 hours at the time of Indian independence to differentiate India from Pakistan.

We arrived in glorious sunshine and a temperature of 30 degrees Celsius. A wait of forty minutes for our bags was the only delay of the journey. As we emerged into the sunshine the sign below welcomed us to Mumbai.

Our driver was waiting for us and we headed off for the hour's drive south to our hotel, the Taj Mahal which is next to The Gateway to India. What a drive it turned out to be. The Mumbai traffic is horrendous.

Cars jammed all the way from the airport to downtown Mumbai. Horns blasting at you all the time as cars and small three wheeler taxis pushed their way forward trying to swap lanes whenever they could. It reminded me very much of Chinese roads but without the thousands of bicycles. The drive took nearly twice as long as the driver said it would.

As we drove up to the hotel we saw for the first time The Gateway to India monument built in 1916 to celebrate the visit to India of George V and Queen Mary. It was from here in 1947 that the British finally left India after independence.

The Gateway taken from our 6th floor room in the hotel.

At the hotel reception we were given garlands of flowers and the hotel receptionist painted red dots on us. No doubt about it, we have arrived in India!

The afternoon was spent meeting old friends who were arriving from all over the world. Kenny and DeeAnne Croucher from El Paso, Texas, John and Elaine Chambers from London, Greg Stanley from Sussex and various members of the HERO team, including Joanne Brown.

The Taj Mahal Hotel, a symbol of the British Raj, built in the late 19th century.

Tomorrow we should collect our car, though with the customs computer down this afternoon, that may be delayed.

October 5th - Mumbai - A day of disappointment

We rose with the expectation that by this afternoon we would have picked up the car, sorted out all the jobs we needed to do on it and be ready for tomorrow's signing-in. Well, it didn't work out that way!

After several delays, due to customs clearance problems, the pick up time was put back from 1.30pm to 3.30pm and then finally 5.30pm. We went from one Mumbai dock gate to another trying to find where our cars were being released. The Indian agent who was helping with the customs clearance didn't seem to know and in the end we walked to the third port entrance gate and found some of the cars parked amongst a huge crowd milling around in the area in front of the gates. There was no security and the cars were left with their windows down and unlocked. Our car was not there, but then we saw it being towed out of the port. It turned out that the batteries were flat and it wouldn't start!

We had several attempts to jump start it using Bob Howells' Landcruiser, but to no avail. We couldn't leave the car by the gates, so it was towed by Bob to the main road, about 200 hundred yards away. The locals were very helpful and a repair man tried to start the car with batteries he had collected on his bicycle, but without success. In the end we decided we needed to buy new batteries and, leaving Wendy, Thelma and Mike Johnson with the car, Bob Howells drove me to a garage that the Indian agent had said sold batteries. When we got there they didn't have any! In desperation I called another one of the competitors, Richard Smith who also drove a Landcruiser, and he offered to lend me his batteries to get the car started and then drive to our hotel. So, leaving my flat batteries with the garage to re-charge, we headed to where Richard's car was parked. We unbolted the batteries and back to my car we went. Now it was getting dark and driving in Mumbai in the rush hour and in the dark is a pretty terrifying ordeal. Cars, bicycles, motorbikes, pedestrians, trucks and even children sleeping in the gutter at the edge of the road, makes driving very difficult and dangerous. Bob negotiated all these hazards magnificently and we soon arrived back at my car. A few minutes later the batteries were installed and the car started and we drove to the hotel and parked up for the night.

What a start to the tour! Tomorrow I will return Richard's batteries and hopefully buy two new ones. If I can't locate new batteries I'll try the re-charged batteries and hopefully they will get us going again.

After all these problems I was reluctant to go to the Bombay Gymkhana for a buffet supper which HERO had laid on for us all. In the end we went and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Tomorrow we sign on to the event and then we have the car checked over at a scrutineering session held at the hotel. I need to sort the battery problems out before I will be able to do that.

October 6th - Mumbai - Indian help and generosity

A quick post  to thank all those as Swastik Automobiles in Colaba, Mumbai who worked like Trojans to get me back on the road ready for the start of the tour tomorrow.

After signing-on at the Taj Mahal Hotel, I took a taxi to Colaba and was told that one of the batteries I had left with them was useless and the other was suspect. So it had to be two new batteries.

I took one of the guys from the workshops to the hotel car park, where we refitted Richard's batteries to his car and fitted the two new batteries to my car. I found out that the new batteries were slightly different from the Toyota ones and the brackets to hold them down needed altering. So, it was back to the workshops where the brackets were altered in a matter of minutes. One man welded new strapping onto each bracket and then a second man fitted and painted the brackets so they looked brand new! What service!

I couldn't leave without thanking them all, especially the proprietor, Jayesh Ruparel who is standing in the middle of the photo below. Thanks Jayesh for the fantastic service you, and all your staff, gave me. Hopefully we will see him when we finish at The Gateway to India on November 5th.

Well, our second day in Mumbai is coming to a close and sadly we have seen very little of this vast city. Apparently it is one of the largest cities in the world with over 15 million inhabitants. The whole day has been spent getting the car ready. We filled up with diesel at the great rate of 35 rupees per litre, which equates to about 40p/litre! We then bought a large quantity of bottled water and snacks to keep us going whilst we drive about 250 miles to Aurangabad.

This evening we had the final briefing from John Brown before the start tomorrow morning at 6.30am. We will all be flagged off from in front of the Gateway to India. Our adventure in India is about to start.

Finally to the man who posted a comment on the site, that he thought we had caught measles, I can only say he should read the text and not just look at the pictures!

October 7th - The Start from The Gateway to India and a 430 kms drive to Aurangabad

Well, the sending-off party held at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel had an added dimension after we had watched England beat Australia in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals. Much celebrating was done and we went to bed without knowing the result of the New Zealand v France match. So, when we rose at 5am for the 6.30am start, we were astonished to learn that France had won.

Returning to the little matter of the start of The Great Tour of India. The cars lined up in front of the Gateway to India as the dawn was breaking.

A shot of the car with our Tour of India car number (No.6)in the windscreen and the map of the route above the map of our Central American tour of last year.

Two Indian horn players gave shrill blasts as each car was waved away by John Brown.

We were sixth away at 6.36am. Our destination today was the town of Aurangabad, about 400 kms north-east of Mumbai.

Driving out of Mumbai you see some of the really terrible living conditions of the poor. Tarpaulins are the principle form of roofing and many seem to live in the open. It is all very depressing when you think how well we live in the West. This was our first real experience of driving on Indian roads and within half an hour we saw our first major accident. On the other side of the dual carriageway were the remains of a truck that had been hit head-on. There was virtually nothing left of the cab. We wondered how the accident had happened as there was no sign of any other vehicle involved in the collision. You learn very quickly that Indian driving is all about being aware of vehicles that come at you from every direction and the best way of keeping out of trouble is to continually blow your horn. Indians accept that a blow of the horn is a sign that you are coming through and they must give way. Ninety per cent of the time this works but you still get drivers who fail to heed the warning and drive at you as though you are not there! Time and again today I thought of our driving in China in 2004. It is very similar indeed.

As we headed east we drove through lush agricultural land. Most of the farming seemed to be done by farmers working their own land rather than big corporate farming. Only once or twice did I see large scale operations. About 30 kms before Aurangabad we stopped at one of the main attractions in the area, the Ellora Caves. These are Buddhist and Hindu temples carved out of solid rock.

They were constructed between the 5th and 11th century AD. Thirty four caves were constructed with some being four stories high. It was staggering to think that this was all done without machinery and just hammers and chisels. All the walls, ceilings and entrances are adorned with religious sculptures hewn out of the rock. As with most Indian tourist attractions you are pestered from the moment you get out of your car by people trying to sell you things. At first you just put up with it but you have to be very forceful to stop them from spoiling your enjoyment. Up to now we have never felt threatened by the crowds who come up to us, in fact everyone is very friendly and courteous. Two of the Macaque monkeys outside the caves.

We left the caves at about 3.30pm and drove the remaining 30 kms to our hotel. When we met up with the others on the tour everyone agreed it had been a very successful day.

October 8th - Aurangabad to Indore

As with all the one night stopovers, it's simply impossible to visit the town you are staying in as you arrive after a long day and then leave early the next morning. As a result we didn't have the time to see Aurangabad, which apparently is the centre for manufacturing Hindu prayer shawls. Our hotel Taj Regency was on the outskirts of the town. A five star hotel with a magnificent pool and gardens. They laid on a great buffet on the lawns, during which a cake was presented to Do and Els Meeus to celebrate their first wedding anniversary.

We left the hotel at 7.30am for a drive of just over 400 kms to the city of Indore, the motor manufacturing centre of India. I took the photo below of my navigator with Jingers our ace mechanic, who up to now I have not needed to call upon. Let's hope that continues.

Sadly, our first stop at the Ajanta Caves had to be cancelled as they are closed on a Monday. The caves are another of India's religious sites dating back more than a thousand years.

We drove on until we came to the hilltop fort, Asirgarth. As we arrived me met Tom and Rosalie Gatsonides who had been to the top and said it was a difficult and very narrow drive to the top. We decided to take photos from the bottom, one of which is below.

We then drove on to the Hindu temples at Omakareshwar where pilgrims bathe in the waters of the rivers that run in front of the temples.

A huge hydro-electric scheme has been built with a giant aqueduct taking the water through huge concrete canals for irrigation.

We finished the day arriving in Indore before dark, which was extremely fortunate as the driving on the road into Indore was the worst we have seen so far. Several horrendous truck accidents and at one point I was forced off the road by a lorry overtaking another coming up to the blind crest of a hill. Fortunately there was sufficient room on the side of the road for me to take evasive action.

October 9th - Indore to Udaipur

After the problems of driving on Indian roads, virtually everyone decided to have an early start so that the 400 kms drive to Udaipur would be completed well before dark. Also, tonight we are staying at one of the great hotels of the world, The Lake Palace Hotel and to see it properly you must be there before the sunsets.

The first 150 kms of the drive north from Indore were simply horrendous. The roads were diabolical with giant potholes everywhere. When you did have a decent section of tarmac you could not be certain that you wouldn't suddenly hit a pothole. We had one moment of pure India. There on the side of the road was an elephant with its rider (mahout?) and a man in a turban leading it along the road.

We stopped and I remembered that we had half a water melon left from the day before which I gave to the elephant who took it with its trunk and swallowed it whole! We took our photos and headed on for our first planned stop at a former maharajah's palace that had seen distinctly better times.

We had taken over four hours to do under half our trip so we were very relieved when the roads improved and we drove on good smooth tarmac roads with very few trucks. The next 200 kms took only 3 hours and we arrived in Udaipur at 3.30pm.

It is very difficult to describe how stunningly beautiful the Lake Palace Hotel is. It was built by a maharajah in the 18th century. The palace was built on a man made island and became a hotel in 1963.

I hope the photos give some idea of how beautiful the hotel is. In the evening we took a boat ride around the lake as the sunset. A fitting way to end another great day in India.

October 10th - Udaipur to Jodhpur

We decided to leave as late as possible to enjoy the early morning at the Lake Palace Hotel. Our suite was simply unbelievable. It included a whirlpool bath that had windows on three sides overlooking the lake! It was such a shame that we were only spending one night there. It has to be one of our top five hotels in the world. Another photo of this unbelievable hotel as we took the boat back to our car.

We left soon after 8am for the 325 kms drive to Jodhpur. We had decided to skip the optional off road section so that we could spend time at two places on the route. The first is the magnificent and awesome Kumbalgarh Fort and the second a Jains temple at Ranakpur. Both these sites were constructed in the 15th century.

The fort is perched on top of a hill, miles from any large town.

The walls extend for thirty-six kilometres! The place reminded me so much of the Great Wall of China. A view looking down on the walls.

We spent a couple of hours there, climbing to the very top from where the views across the Indian countryside were fantastic. It is difficult to comprehend the work that went into constructing such a huge fortification.

About 50 kms north we came to the marble temple of the Jains religion. The temple has 1,144 columns, all intricately carved, supporting its many domes.

Each dome is wonderfully carved on the inside.

The construction of the temple apparently took 60 years.

We then drove the 120 kms to Jodhpur, stopping on the way at a carpet weaving stall and buying a beautiful hand made carpet. A short-cut from the official route took us up the main highway due north and we arrived at the Umaid Bhawan Palace Hotel on the outskirts of Jodhpur around 4pm. The hotel recently made the headlines as the venue for Elizabeth Hurley's wedding. Our dinner this evening will be on the lawns where the wedding ceremony was held.