Voetspore Diary: Heading for India

After 13 Voetspore seasons, Johan Badenhorst has decided to take the popular television show in a completely new direction…

Where do you start? A new journey. A new expedition. A new television series. It is Voetspore No 13, and by now, surely it should merely be procedure. We have to be aware of the dos and don’ts. Of the pitfalls and challenges. But this time it is Voetspore on a different continent and a totally new scenario. This time we are heading to India. Voetspore has always been an African Affair. Ever since we started in 2000 with In die Voetspore van die Grotes, it was the African continent that demanded our attention. In 2015, we left the continent for the first time as we travelled to the island of Madagascar. But technically, Madagascar is still part of Africa.

This time it is off to another continent, to a country so big it is referred to as a subcontinent. Why India if there are so many options in the world? The decision was to look at the BRICS countries. BRICS is an association of five major emerging national economies which comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Even though these countries are our partners, we know relatively little about them. India is the one with the closest links to South Africa. The Indian community in South Africa, predominantly in KwaZulu-Natal, is the biggest Indian community outside India. There has been strong political and cultural ties between the two countries. It is claimed that the godfather of India, Mahatma Gandhi, discovered his political orientation in South Africa. It is here that he developed passive resistance: a technique of demonstrating opposition to a government’s activities simply by not co-operating with them.

Furthermore, when South Africa was re-introduced to the international world of cricket, it was to India that we went, when Clive Rice’s team played India at the massive Eden Gardens in Calcutta during the first Test after readmission. Yet, if you ask most South Africans what they know about India, they will refer to curry, cricket, Mother Teresa and Ghandi. Little else is known about the most populous democracy in the world with more than 1.2 billion people. With Voetspore in India we hope to give a more insightful glimpse into the fascinating country. To get to India with our vehicles is a bit more complicated than going to Namibia, Angola, Kenya or Ethiopia. Even more difficult than Madagascar. The vehicles need to be shipped. I was fortunate to get the services of a South African clearing and forwarding company, Megafreight.

They helped me get the paperwork in order. Carnet de Passage documents were issues by the trustworthy AA, declarations from Toyota SA, owners of the vehicles, in which it is stated that we are allowed to take the vehicles abroad, were obtained, and then it was all about the timing of the shipment and offloading and clearing the vehicles in the massive port of Mumbai. This time we are again driving Land Cruisers. We believe this to be the ultimate safari vehicle. But to add to the flair of travelling in India, we added two Royal Enfields: the iconic Indian motorbike. With these vehicles and bikes, we hope to circumnavigate India on a 17 000 km journey around the edges of the subcontinent. The qualities of the Cruisers are legendary. They are not the most fuel efficient, and also not the most comfort-able. But they are the most reliable. These qualities also apply, to a certain extent, to the Enfields. As famous as the bikes are for breaking down, so is India famous for having an Enfield repair shop – and someone with the knowledge of fixing the bikes – in almost every kilometre in India.

Riding them in India, especially into the Himalayas, is something that dreams are made of. We are fortunate to have Land Cruisers to back them up. Enfield was established in Britain in 1901. The Enfield Cycle Company is responsible for the design and original production of the Royal Enfield Bullet, the longest-lived motorcycle design in history. The Enfield Cycle Company began business making parts for the Enfield rifle. This legacy is reflected in the company logo, a cannon, and their motto, ‘Made like a Gun’. In 1955, Enfield Cycle Company partnered with Madras Motors in India to form Enfield of India, based in Chennai, and started assembling the 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle in Madras. Ever since, Royal Enfield has been the way to travel in India. Our plan is to start in Mumbai and to head south. We hope to avoid the Monsoon, the adverse weather conditions that bring severe heat and rain. The Monsoon hits India from the west and then moves across the country. We aim to stay in front of the system as long as possible.

The reason why we want to go to India in the summer is because we believe the highlight of the trip will be the Ladakh region in the Himalayas. This region, with countless mountain passes in excess of 5 000 metres above sea level, is only open for a small window in the summer. Our aim is to hit that window. But there is so much more to India than the Himalayas. There is the beautiful Kerala, the beaches at Goa, the temples at Hampi, the river dolphins at Vijayawada, the Konark Sun Temple, the southern Himalayas at Sikkim, the Ganges at Varanasi, the risqué temples at Khajuraho, the Taj Mahal at Agra, the enigmatic cities of Jaipur and Jodhpur and the desert of Rajasthan, to name but a few. These are all on our list for the journey of three months. India will, in no uncertain terms, present its challenges. The little experience that I got during a one-week fact-finding mission in the country convinced me that driving in India is not going to be easy. Road markings are merely cosmetic.

A road has as many lanes as is possible. If six vehicles can squeeze in next to each other on a two-lane highway, then it becomes a six-lane highway. The rule is that you are responsible for what happens in front of you. What happens behind you is not your concern. If you want to turn left, you turn left. Those behind you will give way. Not that they will not let you know of their presence by constantly hooting. Driving in India’s city is a cacophony of sound. It can drive you crazy. Road conditions in the cities are good. In the rural areas, bad. In the Himalayas it is challenging. But this is why we go. Voetspore is heading to India, and we are under no illusions, this is going to be challenging, yet it will be good.

We’ll keep you posted.

Courtesy:  Johan Badenhorst: Leisure Wheels

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