"Age is just a number."
Time and again, people have casually inserted this saying without fully grasping its implications. But the Baldawa couple, just lived the saying with their recent road trip from Mumbai to London.
Back in 2011, when the Baldawas were flying back to Mumbai from London, the scenery from the airplane window intrigued and challenged the adventurer inside Badri Baldawa. Mr. Baldawa started planning the epic road trip in May 2016, and after little over an year, he embarked on the 72-day-long journey with his 64-year-old wife and 10-year-old granddaughter. This trip from Mumbai to London, took them across 19 countries covering 22,000km.
Badri Baldawa is a steel exporter and chartered accountant by profession, and a serious roadtripper by heart. Over the decades he has hiked to one of Mount Everest's base camps (2008), driven from Mumbai to Badrinath on a pilgrimage, covered the length of Iceland by road (2015), witnessed the longest night of the year after a non-stop 46-hour drive to North Cape and has also taken a challenging cruise to Antarctica.
Badri Baldawa's passport has visa stamps from 65 countries, and Pushpa Baldawa has 55. But this particular road trip has left a lasting impression on the couple. The Hindu interviewed the Baldawas and discussed with them what it takes to plan and successfully complete a road trip such as this.
Before the journey even began, the couple started facing issues regarding what route they could take from Mumbai to London. After much speculation and consideration, they decided to go to Imphal and then make their way to London via Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, China and Russia.
“There was no other alternate route to drive to London from Mumbai: if I were to drive via Pakistan and Afghanistan, there was no guarantee that I would make it alive. We could not go north via Tibet either, as China would not allow it."
The Baldawas were not alone in their journey as they were joined by 12 other vehicles in Imphal; the group in total had 26 adults and one child. The group had connections with the Indian government, which ensured that wherever they spent the night, dinner was served at the Indian Embassy. The tourism ministry of Thailand even organised a cultural event for them.
After leaving Thailand, it took the Baldawas and others 16 days to cross the northwestern region of China. The terrain of northwest China posed a great challenge as the climate changed drastically within a span of four hours; the temperature dropping from 24 degree Celsius in Dunhang to a freezing zero degrees Celsius in Xining. But the challenge which they were prepared for, hostility of locals, took them by surprise.
“We went in with an assumption that people in China and Russia are tough and not too welcoming of outsiders, but we were welcomed everywhere."
Badri Baldawa and the group covered 400km every day and made sure that their driving time was not more than 12 hours as they wanted to stop adequately to observe the countries they were driving through. In the interview with The Hindu, Mr. Baldawa talks about the longest distance they covered in a single day; a whopping 930km from Warsaw to Brussels.
“On that day we had breakfast in Warsaw (Poland), lunch in Cologne (Germany), and dinner in Brussels (Belgium)."
Their journey through 19 countries, also opened the Baldawas' eyes to certain aspects, infrastructures and facilities around the world that have been lacking in India. They give the example of how the road network across the mountains of China surprised and helped them in keeping up with their daily plan.
“Across northeast India, the roads wind around hills. But there (in China) were high-speed highways that connected mountain tops, and long tunnels through the mountains too."
The couple has taken several road trips around the world, and the one from Mumbai to London strengthened their resolve to drive to places instead of directly flying to them. Mr. Baldawa firmly believes that it is on a road trip to a place that you get to observe the ground reality and cultures of the destination.
“When you fly into a place, almost everything is readily accessible and uniform, and so there is a disconnect. But when you drive, the experience of a place is more real in every way, revealing the essence of a place more accurately.”
Next on the agenda of the Baldawas is to share their travel stories with the world, especially with the up and coming travellers, who are exploring travel with a renewed fervour, and might find their tales inspirational. Their key message is, "Age is a number", and with a journey such as the one from Mumbai to London, they do complete justice to that.