Old hats amongst us must surely have heard of Bob Rupani - the ruddy rotund roaming auto journalist from the 1980s - and his travels (mainly in the Gypsy). Here's some tips (and an interview) from his side on planning a good road trip:
Read guide books: Start with my book (breaks into laughter). You should read up guide books before planning a trip to figure out the route.
Understand your driving capacity and pace it out: Every individual must judge how much he or she wants to and can drive. I know someone who recently went on a 60-day road trip and towards the end, most people in the group couldn't wait to get back. So think about how long you want to drive, how far you want to go and pace it out. That's the biggest advantage of a road trip, you have the freedom to do things your way.
Don't pre-book your accomodation: You can keep a list of hotels and contact numbers handy. But don't book a place to stay. Instead, if you come across a beautiful place, stop by. Years ago, on my way to Mount Abu I had stopped at a small shop for refreshments. Seeing my modified jeep, another man with a modified car approached me. We got talking and then he invited me to stay at his place in Mount Abu. Today he's a very close friend. He has taken up something I suggested to him and has started a regal village resort in the region. Had I booked my acommodation, none of this would have been possible.
Ask locals for information: When I visited Sanskar National Park in Panchmarhi this Christmas, the sky was overcast and I couldn't see anything. The resort owner suggested that I go to Alawar Fort in the evening. On our way up, it was dark and we saw nothing, but on our way down we saw half a dozen porcupines! It's the best sight ever. Porcupines are such a rare sight!
Bob's book is well researched, but places change. That's why even the Brits kept local khabar. For routes, I usually speak to bus drivers, because they ply the roads everyday.
Cabbies will point you to the best food: Those driving local taxis will tell you where to find the best batata wadas and other tasty tit-bits. Cabbies with tourist taxis will also know trends.
Road trips are not for the fussy: If you're used to getting things at a fixed time and have a rigid mindset, road trips are not for you. You have to expect the unexpected. If you can't get a full meal, be happy with an omlette. And landslides are part of life. Long ago, Adil Jal Darukhanawala and I got stuck in the Himalayan sandwich of Lahaul Spiti Valley as both exit routes were blocked due to landslides. Others would have wondered, what now? We stocked up for the stay, went fishing with villagers and enjoyed views of the Sutlej. Adil still tells me it was one his best trips. You have to take things in stride.
Go with an open mind, keep your plans flexible: If you're going to Agra to see the Taj, see the Taj. But if someone tells you about another place that is equally interesting, check it out too. During one of my visits, knowing that I enjoy wildlife, someone asked me to go to a lake about 80 km away, "it's not like Bharatpur, but you'll find a lot of migratory birds," he told me. And the sight was lovely. If you're careful about the basic things like not venturing out too late or avoiding something if it makes you uncomfortable, India is one of the safest places for road trips. Locals generally give you good inputs and advice. And if you're open and curious, you can keep discovering things.
And now the interview:
Bob Rupani talks about his racing days, road trips spanning over 15 lakh kilometers, stories of incredible India and new routes mapped out in his recently launched book, More Driving Holidays in India.
Even before your books on driving holidays, you were known for your road trips. How did it all start?
I was always fond of cars and motorsports. I willingly volunteered for the 1977 London-Sydney marathon(car) during school, and in the early 80s I began racing. Some routes were so beautiful, I’d think to myself “I have to come back here”. Speed and racing took me to rural India; I discovered our spectacular country and fell in love with the wildlife. Therefore, while most auto journalists would just test cars on the expressway, I took mine for long trips, wrote about my experiences and even drew maps on paper napkins. Soon auto companies approached me to take their cars for driving holidays.
Your travelogues are steeped in culture and history. Do you get all the information on-the-go?
I do some homework before travelling, and also explore places as I go, because it gives you a different insight into the place. That’s the freedom you get on road trips, you can explore at your own pace.
When revisiting routes, what changes do you see?Every place keeps evolving; some changes are good, others are not. I used to love Kanha National Park, but now shopping malls have sprung up just 300 m away. Road kills of wild animals seem to be increasing, but fortunately poaching has reduced in parks where it was rampant.
Earlier all dhabas had charpais, on which you could rest after meal (for Rs 5); very useful for truck drivers who travel long distances. But dirty plastic chairs and tables have taken over. Truck drivers tell me ‘“After mobiles have come in, we keep getting calls: Where are you? Leave fast”, so instead of ‘Will the food be good?’, drivers ask ‘How soon will the food arrive?’
Rural life is also changing. Villagers no more gather at baithaks to discuss news and events. Earlier if you stopped anywhere, even a shop, you were first offered a glass of water. Not anymore.
The village youth have no time and don’t care, even for directions I turn to old people, they will give you time and proper directions. On the positive side, you see more kids, including girls, going to school. Electricity, medical facilities are easily available at most places.
Has the advancement changed the way you pack?
Oh yes, earlier I would carry four jerry cans (25 ltrs each) because you didn’t always get safe drinking water. I also stocked cookies, chocolates, snacks...now available everywhere. Sometimes I carried bedsheets and bedcovers too, but hygiene levels have improved in most places.
What are the delights and disappointments of road trips in India?
Tourism in India brings revenue, but also disfigures peaceful and serene places. Near any monument, guides and vendors keep waving at you, and there’s litter all over. In other countries, monuments of far less significance are maintained and lit-up so well that they become very attractive. In comparison to the North, in the South, cars are kept sparkling clean, everything is.
Even the small idli shop is washed before opening. On the positive side, although discipline is missing, roads have really improved. We also have some of the world’s finest heritage hotels.
When I was going from Nandhera to Chail one afternoon, a landslide blocked the road. Villagers suggested an alternate route, but warned that I wouldn’t find food or water for miles. Knowing this, a forest guard insisted, “You can’t go without eating.” He took me to his hut and ensured that I ate before him. You won’t get this kind of treatment anywhere else in the world.
Have any new routes opened up?
20 or 25 years ago one had to be very well-equipped to go to Ladakh, it’s much easier now with organised camps and hotels. I’ve mentioned a route from Srinagar to Leh via Kargil in More Driving Holidays. Roads of Madhya Pradesh, which once ranked among the country’s worst, are much better. Previously a night stop was required when driving from Bhuj to Jaisalmer, but I recently reached in just 12 hours because the roads are so good. There are more in my book.
Tell us about some of your best experiences...
One of my most memorable trips was to Jim Corbett National Park. I read all his books and was staying at the Forest Resthouse in Kanda, where Corbett had stayed to hunt the man eater of Kanda. Just seeing what had changed and what had been retained was marvellous. Once, on the bad desert roads of Bikaner I had to slow down, but a camel cart went past my jeep. I was stunned. Pointing to the tyres he said, “These are aircraft wheels, we need them because the cart carries so many good. They can go over these roads much more easily.” Really, India is incredible, she throws up amazing surprises...
Are road trips for everyone?
If you’re used to getting things at a fixed time and have a rigid mindset, road trips are not for you. You have to expect the unexpected. If you can’t get a full meal, be happy with an omlet; and landslides are part of life. Years ago, Adil Jal Darukhanawala were stuck in the Himalayan sandwich of Lahaul Spiti Valley. Both the exits were blocked due to landslides. Others would have wondered, what now? We stocked up for the stay, went fishing with villagers and enjoyed views of the Sutlej. Adil still tells me it’s one his best trips. You have to take things in a stride.
How do you find the best food on such trips?
Talk to taxi drivers. The ones driving local cabs will tell you where to find the best batata wadas, and those with driving tourist taxis know the trends.
What’s on your bucket list?
The old road to Singapore via Burma and Thailand taken by Subhash Chandra Bose, and also the route from India to Europe via Pakistan and Afghanistan taken by Kishi Singh in the 60s. In the current scenario, it’s not possible. There’s a proposal to linking India to Singapore, Thailand, Combodia and some other countries for trade; I’d love to drive on it too.
Source: How to plan a good road trip- The Bob Rupani way | Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis