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Overlanders – A journey across cultures

 
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By Ryan Lee

“Okay convoy we will all be driving on the right side of the road, please be careful while overtaking and do not trust you co-driver.” – instructions on the in-car radios, as 20 Mahindra Adventure SUVs crossed over from India to Myanmar on Mahindra Adventure’s India Myanmar Thailand expedition a.k.a IMT – an overland self-driving expedition from India to Thailand, crossing two international borders by road. Driving a right hand drive car on the right…wrong side of the road, well that is how it all started.

Usually, for sane travellers, a trip like this would be part of a tour package with a fixed travel itinerary, flying into an out of places. Then again, we are all not sane. For some, a bit of adventure, with a pinch of living on the edge and a dollop of adrenaline is what travelling is all about. So, 50 of such adventure seeking enthusiasts were part of a one-of-its-kind endurance driving adventure from India to Thailand, a trip that was not only an experience of a lifetime, but a journey that will have stories to tell forever.  

Let me rewind a little, take you down Conversation Street to give you a sneak peak of all that went down, before the 20 car convoy rolled out of Guwahati on a 12 day journey across two countries covering over 3000km till Thailand. 

It took numerous brain storming sessions, discussions over lunch, umpteen phone calls before we took the first baby step of putting the plan on paper. A total of 6000km (divided in two legs), over 24 days, two border crossings, it was one hell of a task to put together. We opened bookings on our website and believe it or not, it took an hour for us to know the people accompanying us on Leg 1 from India to Bangkok. 

Work began immediately, this was not just another one of our expeditions, it was a mega event. Welcome emails, whatsapp groups, collection of documents, photographs, id proofs, insurances for vehicles and people, visas (two countries), deciding the menu, hotel bookings, finalising the route, pit stops along the way, getting the vehicles ready… and the list just went on and on. We had checklists that looked more like a this story that I am writing, but what the heck, it was all worth it and you will know why. 

So coming back to the radio chatter as we rolled out of Guwahati, we had 2 nights ahead of us in India before we crossed the border into Myanmar, with a night’s stay in the capital of Nagaland in Kohima and a night in Impahl in Manipur. The two days flew past and the participants were kicked to cross the border, while we secretly had our fingers crossed to make sure all goes well and it did. 

20 Mahindra Adventure SUVs crossed over into Myanmar without a hitch and we felt like kings, literally and figuratively (Rs 1 got us 20 Myanmar currency Khyat) so you can do the math. So driving a right hand drive car on the right side of the road, you would think we were off our rockers, but it was the norm in Myanmar. It took a while to get used to the awkwardness, but eventually everyone got used to it in no time. Thanks to the amazing traffic norms in the country, everyone literally drives off the road to give way, it is so surprising. Here in India we drive nose first, if we manage to get the nose of the car in, we have won that space and the right of way.  

We spent 6 days exploring Myanmar on 4 wheels and it was breathtaking. Myanmar is known to be a rather low income economy, but it sure did impress in every sphere from the infrastructure to the roads, the people, the culture and the food. Yes, they were single carriage roads, but they were smooth as a baby’s bottom for majority of the way and at a place called Naypyitaw, we were compensated for all kinds of bad roads. We had the freedom to drive on a 16-lane highway (each side). Yes, you hear that right, it was super fun. Just so you know, Naypyitaw is the ghost capital of Myanmar. This is because the city is built up completely with houses, wide roads everything, it is planned to the T with a new parliament house and all other government buildings, the only thing missing, is for people to start living there. Weird isn’t it? 

In the six days in Myanmar we stopped at Bagan, Kalay, Yangon, Mandalay and Mawlamyine before we crossed over into Thailand. The highlight of Myanmar apart from Yangon (which was exactly like Bombay, just a little more organised) were the pagodas and temples. Each pagoda including the biggest one in Myanmar Shwedagon Pagoda is all gold plated. I just could not fathom that, all gold plated. The smaller ones are painted, but most of the pagodas across the country are gold plated, it is amazing. Everyone went selfie crazy and my instagram feed was flooded with pagodas, but it was worth it.

Six days and we headed to Myawaddy for yet another border crossing. Here again the participants were thrilled to cross over into Thailand and head to Bangkok, we still had our fingers crossed. Just like a big fat Indian wedding, everything seems out of place, but eventually it all comes together and looks beautiful, well, that’s how I would describe the two border crossings. It went smoothly, people did not even have to wait much, we just drove through. 

Enter Thailand and we once again move to driving on the left side of the road. We were welcomed by traffic, but thankfully the police escort made sure we were on track and went through without a hitch. We had just one night in the famous Sukho Thai. The Sukho Thai historical park was a treat to watch before we rolled out towards Bangkok. 

This was the most anticipated drive of Leg 1. The participant’s energy levels were at a different high, no one wanted to stop to use the restroom, forget about lunch, everyone was raring to reach destination Bangkok and I wonder why? We all did make it to Bangkok safely and really quickly I must add for a convoy of 20 cars weaving through traffic at peak hours, reminded me of getting home from office. Nonetheless, we had an event-free eventful trip. 

The story does not end here though, the same cars now had to get serviced and up and ready for the next lot of participants to take them back from Bangkok to India. We were in Bangkok and we were on duty (I mean getting the cars up and running). After an exhausting three days, we handed over the vehicles, documents, rooming lists, vehicle lists and all the other formalities including emergency contacts along the way to our colleagues who were on Leg 2. With a day to spare before we flew out of Bangkok, I made a quick visit to the Bangkok Motor Show to stay true to my motoring blood. It was a boutique show and it was a treat for sure. 

All done we closed the chapter on Leg 1 and headed back home, with yet another feather in the cap, driving 3,000km across two borders (mind you, in case you are wondering, there are no water bodies involved, it is all in-land crossings) driving for 12 days we finally made sure all the brainstorming, whatsapp messages, emails, permissions were all worth it for everyone who embarked on Mahindra Adventure’s first India Myanmar Thailand expedition.

 
 
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