Today is a massive milestone for us as we cross the border to Laos! We set out with a dream nearly 5 years ago to see as much of the world as we could by car. 75,568 miles and 49 countries later we've lost a few pounds (weight and financial) and gained a few scars! Our trip has had it's ups and downs and on a few occasions we've nearly thrown the towel in...
TODAY IS OUR 800th DAY ON THE ROAD and we are incredibly proud of what we've achieved with good old fashioned hard work, grit and determination. Without the support of each other, our friends, family and the encouragement of all our supporters, fans and followers we'd still be sat at home on the sofa dreaming. THANK YOU!
To help celebrate we've selected some of our favourite photographs all featuring the third and arguably the most important member of our team Bee-bee!
No-one forgets their first day in India- a full on sensory onslaught of sights, smells, and sounds with the volume and colour saturation turned up to maximum. Then add extra glitter and bells. Our journey started in Mumbai (our car was to join us later than planned due to the logistical minefield that is Indian customs). Mumbai is a heaving metropolis with millions jostling for space on the cramped island peninsular. It’s worth spending a couple of days in the city, striking colonial architecture gives the city a grand, old-fashioned feel alongside modern, luxury buildings along sweeping Marine Drive. The Iconic Gateway to India and Taj Palace Hotel dominate the seafront where crowds of tourists gather and mingle at sunset. Family groups huddle round snack ‘chaat’ on Chowpatty beach and boats chug to and from the Gateway, ferrying visitors out to nearby Elephanta Island with incredible rock-cut caves and with carved temples.
So the journey begins, for us travelling in our trusty Toyota Hilux ‘Bee-bee’ we bumped slowly along Maharashtra’s chaotic and crowded roads, swerving round cows and rickshaws in a constant cacophony of horns beeping. Travel options are varied and include private taxis, local and tourist buses, trains or brave the Indian roads yourself and hire a car or motorbike. For short distances 3-wheeler auto-rickshaws veer and bounce through urban backstreets- every transport medium is recommended for the full Indian tour experience.
This stretch of our travels in India would see us travel the south-western coast from Mumbai, all the way to the southernmost point of the country at Kanyakumari.
We paused in Goa state at Agonda and Patnem beaches, a far cry from the hippy-heyday but an easy introduction to South India as the state attracts tourists in their droves. Tie-dye and techno beats fill the beach huts and restaurants with idyllic sunsets over the horizon.
The next state on route is Karnataka, our first stop Gokarna where pilgrims flocked to visit the ancient temple, wrapped in orange lunghi skirts and dutifully bearing offerings of coconuts, pink lotus flowers and butter lamps.
Moving inland we weaved our way into the hills to India’s highest waterfall at Jog Falls then camped amongst Malabar Hornbills and Barking Deer in Sharvati Wildlife Reserve. Emerging from the jungle and back down towards the humid coastal plain we visited Murudeshwara, the world’s second largest Shiva statue looming over the coastline, shimmering silver in the sunlight overlooking a bustling temple complex of devout pilgrims offering gifts and prayers at his feet.
Another important stop on the pilgrimage trail is Udupi, at dusk one of the huge temple chariots on wheels loomed around the inner courtyard of the temple complex in a procession of drummers and young masked boys cartwheeling through a path of fire.
We crossed into the coconut palm-fringed state of Kerala, the northern coastline is largely deserted with gorgeous sandy beaches backed by wooded hills inland. We were fortunate enough to witness the extraordinary event of Theyyam in the tiny village of Parassinikadavu. Before sunrise, in a modest temple on the banks of the murky river, elaborately-dressed priests become possessed by the Hindu God Shiva and enact a series of offerings through dance to the heady repetitive beats of white-cloth wearing temple drummers. The atmosphere is electric as the drum beats intensify and accelerate to a climax of trance-like movements from the priests wearing towering, decorated headdresses, thick orange body paint, with silver eye patches and jangling embellished skirts.
The natural environment of Kerala state is jaw-dropping, both inland and along the coast. We ventured into the pristine forests of the Western Ghats and took a jeep safari into Wayanad wildlife sanctuary, an area rich in wildlife. Spotted Deer peep shyly from the forest, Indian bison, Langur monkeys, Malabar Squirrels, numerous bird species and the highlight- a group of 3 wild elephants crossing the track in front of us.
Briefly entering Tamil Nadu state we visited the regal city of Mysore, the main attraction of the city being its outstanding palace with magnificent halls and pavilions ornately decorated with colourful carvings, paintings and stained glass. Winding our way through the rolling hills of lush tea plantations with colourful villages clinging to the bright green slopes we passed the hill station of Ooty. Further south, the town of Munnar is also surrounded by tea and the tropical jungle hills bursting with spice gardens; cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon, pepper and cloves growing wild.
Kerala is famed for its backwaters and as we slid away silently from the jetty near Kottyam on the still waters, our narrow wooden rowing boat gently gliding across the calm surface, it is easy to see why people travel to this watery paradise. The sound of melodic Bollywood drifted across the water from a small cottage, a lady washing the previous night’s pots and pans at the bottom of steps to the dark water. Vivid flashes of electric blue Kingfishers dart across the surface, elegant white Egrets tiptoe through the shallows and camouflaged Pond Herons creep across mats of floating water hyacinth. Stunning cerise water lilies burst floating from the margins as a flame-orange sun rises high over the misty rice paddies.
At Varkala an idyllic sandy beach stretches as far as the eye can see from a high cliff vantage point, surf rolling in from the Indian Ocean.
No trip to Kerala would be complete without sampling the intense dance-drama of Kathkali, one of the world’s oldest forms of theatre. In Trivandrum, a flamboyantly dressed actor leaps onto the stage, face painted thick with green paint twitching and gurning to the fast drumbeats, haunting chants and clashing cymbals.
As we crossed into coastal Tamil Nadu, villages are dominated by ornate and beautifully bizarre gateways leading to pyramid-topped temples bursting with colour and intricate carved statues of the many deity manifestations.
Our final point on our southwestern Indian coastal voyage was Kanyakumari, the most southern point of India where the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean meet. Watching the sun set from this ‘land’s end’ point seemed a fitting end to this stage of our overland journey, as the moon simultaneously rises over the iridescent water we looked forward to our onward travels back North.
This article originally appeared in Envoyage Inflight Magazine where we have been guest travel writers for the last year or so. Back issues are available for download using the Newstand App on iPhone and iPad.
Envoyage is the in-flight lifestyle magazine for Aurigny, the Channel Islanders' airline, voted Best Short Haul Airline by Which? readers in 2013. To find out more click here.
The true heart of Kazakhstan can be found in its vast steppe land, at times stretching to an infinite horizon in every direction. The world’s ninth largest country, a third of Kazakhstan’s colossal land area is steppe, an indication of just how immense this landscape is. So common is the sight of eternal, flat plain that it is easy to take this beautiful habitat for granted and many exploring the natural wonders of the country bypass this glorious grassland and focus mainly on its mountains, canyons, lakes and National Parks.
At first sight, the steppe landscape can appear monotonous and barren but peer closer to the ground and there is a myriad of wildlife to be discovered. Hot, dry summers and freezing winters present challenging conditions for survival, but the species that can be found here are perfectly adapted to the extreme fluctuating conditions of drought, strong winds, frost and grazing.
In the remote, northern regions of the country driving distances are huge and harsh road conditions make overland travel laboriously slow and bone-shaking. A bumpy journey weaving around potholes with little other traffic does have the one advantage of offering the chance to view many steppe species surprisingly close-up. Bobak Marmot relax stretched-out in the sunshine on road verges, lazily watching you swerving past. Around our campsites these stocky, ginger-coloured rodents stand on their hind legs from their sandy burrow entrances, watching you cautiously and scurrying deep underground, squeaking, should you get too close.
The diversity of birds of prey on the steppe is staggering; Eagles, Kites, Buzzards and Kestrels soar and perch every few hundred metres. White Pallid Harrier hover ghost-like over the road verges hunting for mice while magnificent steppe Eagles sit poised on tree stumps surveying the horizon.
We camped wild across the steppe for the entire month of May, a wonderful opportunity to experience spring in Kazakhstan. With a completely flat horizon, the sky presents a ginormous aerial auditorium to view the fast, ever-changing weather patterns which roll in across the landscape. Standing in one place, you can see black clouds with sheets of vertical rain pouring down, flashes of fork lightning and hear rumbling thunder in front of you. Behind you is bright blue sky, white fluffy clouds and brilliant sunshine. One minute we were setting up a picnic in the sun, then 5 minutes later diving for cover of the car as huge icy hailstones battered the earth.
Tall, elegant steppe Hare leap from nowhere as you search for a camp spot, bounding ahead effortlessly along the grass track. Small, charming ground squirrels peep from their burrows, waiting until the last second to dive out of your way, inquisitively reappearing minutes later to see what’s happening.
In the warm light of sunset the carpet of tall grass swaying in the breeze turns golden and the songs of thousands of insects are amplified as the light fades. At dusk, bats swoop from nowhere and the cautious rustlings of small rodents can be heard emerging from burrows nearby, tiny voles wide-eyed when caught in our torch light.
At dawn a new chorus begins as incalculable bugs welcome the arrival of day; butterflies flitting amongst the flowers, vivid, hairy caterpillars climb the tall stems, ants march across the dry soil, bees buzzing between poppies, iridescent beetles clinging to tall grass tips and crickets and grasshoppers leaping in all directions with every step you take through the meadow.
For all the beauty and magnificence of National Parks, it is simply unbeatable to wake with the sound of a cuckoo calling, crickets chirping and an unobstructed 360 degree view of wild expanse, often without any sign of people or buildings.
Though gentle and delicate to look at, not even the might and power of a crushing soviet offensive on these peaceful pastures could tame their roots. During soviet times in the 1950’s, a vast majority of the Steppe was brutally ploughed and planted as far as the eye could see with cultivated wheat fields, with only around 20% of the original steppe preserved. Agriculture failure was widespread and has been abandoned in much of the steppe, where slowly the grassland is regenerating and nomadic pasturing has returned.
Avid followers of our blog will know we love to take photographs. Thomas Cook are currently running a travel photography competition and we thought it would be a great opportunity to showcase a few photographs that might not typically see light of day on our website. The theme for the competition is "Explore the Elements" - Earth, Water, Fire and Air.
EARTH - Represents the hard, solid objects of the earth. Associated with stubbornness, collectiveness, physicality and gravity.
This photograph was taken in Kazan, Russia. It features the statue of Musa Dzhalil in front of Kazan Kremlin. Dzhalil was a Tatar poet and martyr.
WATER - Represents the fluid, flowing, formless things in the world. Associated with emotion, defensiveness, adaptability, flexibility, suppleness, and magnetism.
Whilst in Montenegro we documented many of the beaches along the Budva Riviera as the summer season ended. This photograph was taken at Ploče Bay on a stormy day. We captured this pensive swimmer shortly before he dived into the rough sea.
FIRE - Represents the energetic, forceful, moving things in the world. Associated with security, motivation, desire, intention, and an outgoing spirit.
This photograph was also taken in Montenegro on Drobni Pijesak beach were we found lots of 'sea glass'. Traditionally fire is used in the production of glass, but more importantly we were interested in how the forceful energy of the sea transforms the once sharp edges.
AIR - Represents things that grow, expand, and enjoy freedom of movement. Associated with will, elusiveness, evasiveness, benevolence, compassion, and wisdom.
To quote Jarvis Cocker "Yeah, the trees, those useless trees produce the air that I am breathing". This photograph was taken on an early morning drive up Mount Olympus in Greece.
To check out more entries follow Thomas Cook on Twitter and use the hashtag #exploretheelements.
It would be great to see entries from...