Within a week of Adventures Overland announcing on its Instagram page that it was launching a bus service from the Indian capital New Delhi to London—a distance of 4,168 miles—the company was inundated with thousands of inquiries about it, despite the $20,185 fare.
“Our website has been visited over 150 million times and 25,000 people have already downloaded the brochure and registered their details since we announced the service,” said Tushar Agarwal, co-founder of the company that offers self-drive expeditions and specializes in road trips. It’s based in Gurugram, one of New Delhi’s satellite cities.
Agarwal and his partner Sanjay Madan announced the bus service to London on August 15, India’s 74th Independence Day. The duo hold a Guinness World Record for driving the longest distance in a single country (Australia) in 2013, and are familiar with the Delhi to London overland journey.
They conducted three previous road trips with self-driven car convoys on the same route, once in each of the last three years.
“In 2017, we undertook our first road trip to London, with a convoy of 13 cars and 27 people,” says Agarwal who did his first solo London-to-Delhi trip in 2010. “It was a big success.”
“At that time there were a lot of queries from people who wanted to do the trip but did not want to drive. That is when we started thinking about the bus service. But it took a pandemic and months of forced pause to make it a reality.”
The bus service will be a first of sorts for Agrawal and Madan, who will be using a vehicle of their own to ferry the passengers, instead of simply facilitating the travel and escorting a convoy of cars owned by their clients.
“The bus is being customized to add all the necessities, comforts, and luxuries like high-speed wi-fi, powerful air-conditioning [and] beverages on board to make the journey comfortable,” said Agarwal. “Every single route in each country has been vetted to ensure that the journey is seamless. We take charge of documentation, paperwork, visas, and permits to ensure that the entire focus of participants is on experiencing the journey.”
The “hop-on-hop-off” Bus to London will have to take a circuitous route through 18 countries and travel approximately 12,427 miles over 70 days just to avoid going through Pakistan, with whom India has ongoing cross-border tensions.
The route will pass through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, and Belgium before reaching London.
Cutting through Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, instead, would have shaved off 5,000 miles from the trip.
For Agarwal and Madan, however, a few extra miles are nothing when it comes to the safety that they believe this route offers. And they are hopeful that the recent skirmishes with China don’t toss a spanner into the works.
“India has very strong trade relations with China and we are talking to each other to resolve the issue, so I don’t think that the situation will escalate enough to affect the trip,” said Agarwal. “If it does, we will comply with the government’s directives.”
Those who have taken similar trips with Adventure Overland vouch for the experience.
Pardeep Gupta, 67, an entrepreneur from Chandigarh in northern India took the Road to London drive with Adventure Overland in 2018.
“I decided to take my hardy Toyota Innova Crysta (a hatchback multi-purpose vehicle) because I reckoned that I would have no problems finding a repair garage if I had a snag,” said Gupta. “Thankfully, such a situation didn’t arise.”
Gupta is a motorsports enthusiast who has taken part in car rallies like the Raid de Himalaya and Desert Storm multiple times.
“The trip was hassle-free other than a 10-hour wait in China where our documents were checked by seven agents,” said Gupta. “All our visa formalities, permits, hotel stays, and local guides were arranged by Adventure Overland so all I had to do was drive and enjoy the experience.”
For many, the Bus to London may seem like the last word in exotica, but for H Kishie Singh, columnist and author of the book “Good Motoring”, the trip does not seem quite as exciting as the London-to-Delhi one he took in 1975.
“Travelling in a bus with 20 other Indians, which will in all likelihood include squalling babies and old people, does not sound like my idea of a good time,” said Singh. “However, the old silk route that they intend to follow is spectacular and one should go on the trip just for the scenery if not the company.”
On Singh’s Overland journey, a friend and he traveled over three months through countries along the route taken by Alexander, the ancient Macedonian general. They set out in Singh’s blue Toyota Corolla sedan that was fondly named Bucephalus after Alexander’s horse.
“After zig-zagging through Greece, we went to Turkey because I was determined to see the land of Rumi (poet) and the whirling dervishes,” said Singh. “Then we drove through Iran. Those were the days when the Shah was still in power and the economy was booming. It was a modern, vibrant country.”
The next leg of his journey led him through Afghanistan—to Kabul, Kandahar, and Herat—places steeped in history that he vividly remembers.
In Pakistan—India had just fought a war with its neighbor—Singh’s passport was checked 32 times.
“But the people were very nice to me,” he said.
(Edited by Siddharthya Roy and David Martosko.)