Once again we’re up early and away. There’s more than 300 kilometres to cover today in order for us to reach Delhi but, with a border crossing, some rough roads and the onslaught of Delhi to contend with, we need time to be on our side. Our trip leader Hans has already done a lot of the legwork the day before which means the border crossing is not as time consuming as it could be – about 2 hours rather that potentially the whole day. Thankfully, we’re not as laden as some, too!
As we wait at the border, there are numerous people coming through on foot, mostly from India into Nepal but some in the opposite direction. Some are carrying goods on their backs but many are crossing empty-handed, and some even barefoot. A few monkeys seemingly have little respect for the border, playing among the trees in no man’s land between Nepal and India, as well as on the roof of the building where our details are being scrutinised. Frustratingly, the humidity appears to be continuing to affect my camera. The auto-focus is going haywire so I have to revert to manual focus for every shot.
As we cross the border and go through Bambasa in India, our new guide Aki tells us we need three things to drive in India. “First, you need good brakes. Second, you need a good heart. And third, you need good luck.” That feels about right as I take to the wheel of Range Rover Hybrid Prototype 3. I cover just 50 kilometres but it’s a slow challenging stretch with rough roads, potholes everywhere and cars and bikes pushing in from all directions whilst we try to stay in convoy. The only respite comes when we stop at a crossing for a train.
After another driver change, I ask Paolo (one of the Italian journalists that I’m travelling with – an automotive journalist, so better qualified than me!) what he thinks of the car (out of earshot of any Land Rover staff) and he is suitably impressed saying that, despite it being a hybrid, it still offers everything you want from a Range Rover – luxury, comfort and safety – and yet it’s still powerful.
He also adds that the consumption is “great”. We’re averaging 23 miles per gallon – that might not sound so great but when you consider that we’re travelling on a road that’s littered with potholes and packed with traffic, and we’re fully laden. Officially, it’s capable of 44 miles per gallon. It’s very much stop-start but that’s where this hybrid very much comes into its own. Its regenerative braking system means that the battery re-charges when you brake (as well, I believe, when you simply come off the accelerator). There are 20 patents pending on the vehicle which gives you some idea of its impressive technical credentials.
With over 200 kilometres to go, we carry straight on in the direction of Rampur. The road is very straight and the potholes have thankfully become less frequent. There are still plenty of cyclists, motorbikes and horses and carts to negotiate, though, as well as the occasional herd of water buffalo. We hear over the radio controls that the photography/filming Land Rover in our convoy has a puncture. They’re at the back of the fleet because they’ve just filmed us going past, so the Workshop Discovery, with all the tools on board for a quick tyre change, turns around to give them assistance.
We’re able to keep in constant contact thanks to the communication between the vehicles and soon discover that they are back on the road and only 6 kilometres behind – a distance that is quickly closed as we struggle to find a petrol station that accepts credit cards. The hybrids are doing OK on the fuel consumption but the Discoverys in the convoy get through the fuel at a faster rate.
There’s no time to stop for lunch today – we need to press on in order that we don’t arrive too late to our final destination of Delhi. We see some interesting sights on the way – such as a family of five or six people, all on one motorbike – before reaching some wider and faster stretches of road. Dual carriageways would normally allow you to put your foot down, but you still need to have your wits about you – there’s a tractor pulling a cart carrying lots of wood out in the fast lane. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s travelling in the opposite direction, ignoring the flow of the rest of the traffic! This is a warning of things to come as we encounter regular bouts of oncoming traffic, even though they have a dual carriageway of their own. Many road users seems to have no sense of self-preservation and it’s a wonder we don’t see any accidents.
With just over 100 kilometres to go to Delhi, we cross the River Ganges. We’re getting really close now and the road gets better still. Straight stretches of smooth road, free from potholes, and even free of oncoming traffic. As we get nearer, there’s a full moon and a beautiful pink glow before darkness falls.
Perhaps unsurprisingly for the second most populous city in the world, it’s madness as we go into Delhi – negotiating tuk tuks in the dark, donkeys and carts, motorbikes and crazy car drivers. Each stall on a market to our left has a light, and it’s arguably better lit than the road we’re travelling on. Somehow we manage to stay in convoy which can only be achieved by closing any gaps in front of us as quickly as possible. To add to the chaos, there’s an ambulance trying to get through with a man laid out in the back, but it’s a real struggle for it to make any progress.
We pass a memorial to Gandhi and finally reach our destination: the Taj Palace Hotel. Security is tight – understandably so after the awful attacks on the Taj in Mumbai in 2008; the vehicles are inspected closely as we arrive, but this doesn’t detract from a very warm welcome. Reaching such a lovely hotel after such a long day is very welcome indeed, as is the wonderful dinner at the hotel’s Vietnamese restaurant, Blue Ginger. And rarely has a bed ever been quite so comfortable…
The Silk Road Trail 2013 is a 16,000 kilometre expedition across some of the world’s most challenging roads, passes and trails, and the final development drive for the new Range Rover Hybrid from Land Rover.
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