Martin Latham and I had been to the same Prep School and after Bradfield we both went to Cambridge, Martin to read Mechanical Sciences at Fitzwilliam and I to read Law at Jesus College.

One of the Clubs that we joined was the rather grandly named Explorers and Travellers Club, where we learned of an expedition to the Eastern Ghats near Vishakhapatnam, halfway down the East Coast of India. The aim of the expedition was to report back on the progress of some Indian Government education initiatives directed towards the remote tribes in the hills near a place called Paderu Village.

Martin and I were keen, and we were joined by Dave Galloway from Emmanuel and Chris Sandars from Corpus Christi (not Old Bradfieldians).

The first task was to try to finance the trip as far as possible ourselves. We wrote to various organisations to obtain financial grants, several of which were forthcoming, and we received generous gifts of medical supplies, camping equipment, food, thousands of cigarettes (wonderful for bartering) and six brand new tyres from Goodyear. Martin was able to find a second-hand Long Wheel Land Rover at a modest price and attended a free five-day residential course at Land Rover on how to maintain the vehicle throughout the trip.

Within a few years, overland trips to India would become commonplace, however at that time India and Pakistan had only been independent for 15 years or so and we were uncertain what sort of reception we would face. We were however pleasantly surprised by how friendly and hospitable everyone was throughout our trip, particularly in India. When we arrived in Delhi our undertaking was something of a novelty and a photo of us appeared on the front page of The Times of India with the caption “They Emerged From The Desert”. Sadly, we do not have a copy to prove our fame!

The overland journey to Delhi, some 6,000 miles, took exactly three weeks – an average of only 300 miles a day, but on very poor roads (particularly in Persia [now Iran] as it then was, between Tehran and Baluchistan), very long customs checks (most notably entering Bulgaria and leaving Persia) and several days lost for Land Rover repairs mainly to do with the suspension.

It was for the most part very hot, so we would rise at daybreak (around 4am), have breakfast, load the Land Rover and set off, drive for around 12 hours and finish a couple of hours before nightfall. Initially, we drove in two-hour shifts which we reduced when the roads deteriorated, and more intense concentration was needed to avoid potholes. The Land Rover had no air conditioning but leaving the windows open meant being caked with dust, so we had to keep them closed which was horrendous, especially when the temperature reached 120 degrees as it did in Baluchistan!

When stopping for the night the first activity would be to pump up the Primus stove, an old friend from Bradfield days, and brew up a large pan of boiling water and drink tea to rehydrate. All other drinking water we filtered. On the route to and from India we were mostly self-sufficient, brewing up packets on the Primus stove and eating tins of food given to us by companies such as Heinz and Unilever. In India, we overnighted at Dak (Travellers) Bungalows, still maintained after Independence, but originally built for visiting magistrates and other government officials. A bed for the night cost one rupee and another rupee for the evening meal. In Paderu, we had our own cook, Moses, until he was dismissed for drinking from our bottle of whisky and trying to hide the fact by substituting non-filtered water. Otherwise we ate locally, invariably rice and curry eaten by hand off a banana leaf. Simple, but delicious, and quite safe if eaten fresh from the stove. The locally grown coffee was excellent.

One particular encounter springs to mind; whilst driving through a Baluchistan desert, miles from anywhere, we were waved down by a character, his face hardly visible under his headdress, who invited us into his home which was a large and rather comfortable tent, and offered us tea. Communication was by sign language and it turned out he wanted a lift to the next town, Dalbandin, some 80 miles away. However, we had no room in the Land Rover because we were already giving a lift to a young Danish chap, Hans, who we had found stranded in Zahedan. However, Hans volunteered to go on the roof rack! So, we drove somewhat tentatively to Dalbandin checking from the shadow from the roof rack that Hans was still there! On reaching Dalbandin we said goodbye to our hitchhikers.

After a week’s recuperation in Delhi, we made our way down to the University at Waltair near Vishakhapatnam before heading to Paderu where we stayed for some six weeks. The project itself involved visiting neighbouring villages and talking, through an interpreter. It was a fascinating experience, and not just for us as many of the villagers had never seen a European let alone one with fair hair. Several of the villages arranged demonstrations of local music and dancing by the children for our enjoyment.

The journey home from Delhi went well, albeit over some very rough roads in Afghanistan, until interrupted by an accident in Turkey. We slid off the road and hit a rock face. Dave received a nasty cut to his head which had to be stitched by the local police, with no anesthetic.

The front of the Land Rover was also badly damaged and there was no longer room for the four of us in any comfort. Accordingly, we limped up to Trabzon on the Black Sea and took a car ferry to Istanbul. There we parted company; Martin and I returned to Ostend by train via Salonika, Belgrade and Munich, and Dave and Chris drove.

We feel very lucky to have enjoyed a wonderful experience which sadly, because of the political situation, would not be possible these days. We were away 15 weeks and drove a total of 17,000 miles with no easy means of communication with home.