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ABOUT THIS BLOG

In the summer of 2009, Nicolas Rapp decided to take a break from his Art Director job at The Associated Press to attempt a one-year overland travel around the world in a 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser. He was back in New York in February 2011 after traveling 15 months and 37,000 miles.

Visited countries

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THE ROUTE

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  • The road to Calcutta

    Posted on October 8th, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    You can’t get bored on the road as you see the strangest equipages.

    You can’t get bored on the road as you see the strangest equipages.

    Leaving Hampi.

    Leaving Hampi.

    From Hampi to the eastern side of India, it is not a region well known for travelers. In fact, not many tourists are to be seen on the road. Officially, there’s not much to see there, except maybe Hyderabad, which I chose to avoid as I am not looking forward to the craziness of Indian hyper populated cities. I use mostly secondary roads, and the progress can be slow. Roads are bad at places, with many of potholes, so I find myself in driving conditions that remind me a little of Africa.

    Laundry in the river.

    Laundry in the river.

    People are driving in an incredible dangerous way, not paying attention to any rules with vehicles in terrible shape. It is understood that the battery should be saved, so many people don’t use headlights at night except when they get close to you. Between Mumbai and Calcutta, I may have seen three people using their turn signal. And Indian drivers don’t need any rearview mirrors. In fact they often just keep it folded to save space.

    The center of India is dedicated to agriculture.

    The center of India is dedicated to agriculture.

    I avoid driving at night when people seem to think it is OK to drive even faster.
    From Hampi I go east and avoid Hyderabad, passing south of the city. Then, as I get closer to the coast I go north toward Calcutta. In the first part of this leg I slept at gas stations along the way where I only get moderate rest and wake up with ten people watching me. Everybody is very nice, and as I said in my previous post, very curious about my adventures. The only problem is that I notice that little things tend to disappear as keeping control of the crowd can be tricky. Once, as I stop to get gas, someone even took off with my tank cap forcing me to hunt a new one in the nearby city.

    The main mode of transportation in India’s smallest towns, the tuk-tuk.

    The main mode of transportation in India’s smallest towns, the tuk-tuk.

    The area stands out with pretty landscape of rolling plantations. Lot of cows around, as always, but also I can now spot pigs, which I didn’t see since a long time as they are nowhere to be seen in Muslim countries. How ironic, I am now as surprise to see pigs than I was to see elephants in Africa.
    You see a lot of misery around, and at best people live in a really low quality of life. It is very different from Central America where people enjoy a minimum of comfort, or at least some decent place to live.
    Once I get on the coast, I stop in various places going north, including Visakhapatnam or Gopalpur. I pay hotels to let me use their parking lots. There, I get more privacy and can relax a bit. Things should be similar in Bangladesh where the population density should be even higher.

    A lot more rain on the eastern regions of India.

    A lot more rain on the eastern regions of India.

    I am still surprised at the fact that most people don’t speak English and communication can be difficult. There are no signs on the road and have to keep asking people for direction.

    Night is falling, time to find a place to spend the night…

    Night is falling, time to find a place to spend the night…

    Food is sometimes difficult to find outside of populated areas and I have to use my canned reserves to avoid not-so-seducing meals. When eating in places along the road, I mostly stick to vegetarian food, which I consider safer. But even so, an insect encrusted vegetable curry is not necessary appetizing.

    At highway’s toll booths, employees can never decide if I have to pay or not.

    At highway’s toll booths, employees can never decide if I have to pay or not.

    Finally I make it to Calcutta and I can enjoy the diversity of restaurant and try to gain back the lost weight. I check in at the “Broadway” a very old school hotel where I can get a minimum of luxury for US$10 a night. No hot showers still, but real showers at least.

    The traffic is always intense in big cities. Here, Calcutta.

    The traffic is always intense in big cities. Here, Calcutta.

    The first thing I do when I arrive in the city is to go to the Bangladesh embassy to apply for a visa. That should be ready in two days for the amount of US$35. Meanwhile, I will spend time in the city and explore the crowded and narrow streets.

    Welcome to Calcutta.

    Welcome to Calcutta.

    When I will be ready to leave, it should be two hours of driving to the Bangladesh border. From there, I expect slightly worst roads and a five hours drive to Dhaka, the country capital.

    At the “Broadway Hotel” Sit-down toilets and cold shower available.

    At the “Broadway Hotel” Sit-down toilets and cold shower available.

  • Discovering ancient India

    Posted on October 2nd, 2010 Nicolas No comments
    Our traveler found some peace on a Goa beach.

    Our traveler found some peace on a Goa beach.

    I leave Mumbai at the beginning of the afternoon. The city is a labyrinth, but I am lucky and after an hour and an half I am out of the peninsula and on my way south. The state of Goa, famous for its beach, lays 400 miles south of Mumbai.

    It is very green as I drive south, thanks to the monsoon.

    It is very green as I drive south, thanks to the monsoon.

    The first two days of driving are difficult. There’s a lot of traffic the first day and I have to stop to sleep after covering only 110 miles. I stay on the parking lot of a restaurant where I had diner the previous night. The following day, I drive all I can but because of a combination of poor signage and a bad map, I cannot find the places I want to see and can only keep driving south missing my targets.

    Early afternoon is usually hot…

    Early afternoon is usually hot…

    The map of India I got is supposed to be the best one available, but is filled with mistakes, omissions and road that don’t exist. I don’t have the maps of the country in my GPS either. It was the cases in most of the places, but in location like Africa – for example – there are not that many roads and you can’t really get lost. In India, there are a lot of roads everywhere, with no signs at the intersections. I figure that the best way to navigate is to ask people whenever possible.

    ... but monsoon means rain in late afternoon.

    ... but monsoon means rain in late afternoon.

    Later, after leaving behind Maharashtra state, the situation improves a bit, and there are more signs. And in English this time.
    Every evening, it is possible to see that the monsoon period is not totally finished. There are usually heavy rains, and one can see the muddy waters flowing down the high rivers.

    A full river as I approach Goa.

    A full river as I approach Goa.

    The second night I am looking for a beach to camp. I am close to Panaji, the state capital of Goa. After turning around for what seems an eternity, I decide to stop for the night in Calangute. It is not a very charming place. It is one of these beaches accessible by cement steps with a waterfront crammed with restaurants and shops. At this point I feel a little bit pessimistic and begin to wonder where the marvelous beaches you always hear about are. F_town A typical town, once of many I cross as I drive south.
    I strike a deal with a hotel and they let me sleep in their parking lot for US$2. It is still not the high season, and most places are empty except from local tourists wandering around on this Sunday night.

    All the kids are wearing uniforms to go to school. As in many countries I visited.

    All the kids are wearing uniforms to go to school. As in many countries I visited.

    In the morning, I decide to continue south, and go pass Panaji, as the beaches in the south of the state have the reputation to be less developed and quieter. In the afternoon, I reach Agonda beach and find the paradise. I am able to park on the beach which reminds me of good times in Central America.

    Back being a gipsy on the beach.

    Back being a gipsy on the beach.

    I am not alone there, as there’s another truck belonging to a Swiss family. Even better, as no mater where you are, you always feel safer when you are not alone. I stay there two days, watching the ballet of the fishermen incessantly going out and bringing back nets full of fish. I read and enjoy the perfect temperature of the sea.

    Only me and the cows on the beach.

    Only me and the cows on the beach.

    At night, it is raining and there’s some wind. I wake up one night as the tent is folding on me. I can escape by the back door and stabilize the situation.
    But I am ready to get some more miles behind, so after this short break, I am back on the road. This time I am going east. The next time I will see the sea, it will be the Bay of Bengal, and it will take a while.

    Gate of one of the town on my way to Hampi.

    Gate of one of the town on my way to Hampi.

    Meanwhile I gain altitude as I reach the inland plateau, and after eight hours of driving I arrive in the ancient city of Hampi.
    There, I ask the government hotel (KSTDC Mayura Bhuvaneshwari) to let me sleep on the parking lot. They agree for US$1 a night, but there’s no shower. I explain to them that French people don’t need any, and I go to sleep.

    Elephant stables in Hampi.

    Elephant stables in Hampi.

    Or try too. India is very intense, and wherever you stop, you soon have a group of ten people asking questions, opening the doors of the vehicle, looking around. They can stay around for a long time and watch you have diner, read or wash your clothes. Late evening, I am finally able to go upstairs and go to sleep.

    Scary encounter as I walk through Hampi.

    Scary encounter as I walk through Hampi.

    The Lotus Mahal.

    The Lotus Mahal.

    Snake!

    Snake!

    I wake up early morning as I have a long day in front of me. I decided to visit the large ruins by foot which is something like an eight-mile walk. It is hot and humid and the end of the visit is quite painful. But it is very impressive. You have to pay attention to snakes when walking around as they seem to be everywhere.

    Virupaksha Temple.

    Virupaksha Temple.

    Hampi was once the capital of the huge Vijayanagar Empire, the center of the largest Hindu center in South India. The landscape is astonishing as well, with enormous boulders dotting the landscape as if a giant would have put them here as a game.

    Vittala Temple.

    Vittala Temple.

    Sad to say, but I wish there would have been more time between my visit to Hampi and my visit of Persepolis. The latest have been so impressive, it is difficult to not draw a comparison.
    At the end of the day, I am cooked, and waiting for sunburns to appear. The following day I will take the direction of Hyderabad on my way east toward New York City.

    Farmers working the fields.

    Farmers working the fields.