Expedition specialists Rahat & Renuka share their roadie secrets.
Let me start with a confession – as someone who is addicted to self driven road journeys, I am insanely envious of Rahat Nathani and Renuka Kirpalani. After all, these intrepid travellers have driven to virtually every corner of the world, together logging 50,000 plus kilometres on the road.
Before I dash off in my car, here’s a short brief on both:
Renuka is one of only a handful of women in the rarefied field of Indian rally driving. She won her début race in a good old Premier Padmini, knocking the wheels off a field of 18 male competitors. Since then, Renuka has gone on to win several awards, and has been hosting the Autocar India show on Bloomberg TV for several years now.
In Rahat’s words, “I’m a full time travel junkie cum expedition specialist who moonlights as a hair dresser.”. Rahat took a sabbatical from her hair dressing job on an impulse 7 years ago, when she decided to accompany Renuka on a roadtrip. The rest, as they say, is history – and she wouldn’t have missed it for the world!
With their million miles of travel across all kinds of tarmac and priceless experiences of places, people, food and culture, the girls wanted to share the joy with others. That led them to start Roadtripper in 2009 – a unique platform that gives roadies the opportunity to enjoy the wonders of the world on wheels, without the stress of figuring out the details and logistics.
My Big Red Bag in conversation with the Roadtrippers, Rahat and Renuka.
Rahat, Thanks for talking to us! What brought the two of you together for a driving excursion, can you tell us about the first roadtrip you took together?
Believe it or not, the first time we met was at a hairdressing school in London – we were both taking classes there, though we were in different batches! Renuka has been a passionate rally driver since her youth, but she decided to take a break in the middle and was trying her hand at different things when we met in London. Ultimately, Renuka decided to return to her first love (cars!). She was planning a cross country expedition for which she needed an adventurous companion – and I was happy to volunteer!
The first road expedition that we did together was the SAARC car rally in 2007. We drove across Bangladesh, India, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sr Lanka & Maldives, and ended up clocking just under 9,000 km.
What do you enjoy most about roadtrips? And what’s something you don’t like at all?
We love the idea of seeing the world through our wind screens. Travelling by road gives you the freedom to dictate the pace of travel, and it also gives you the opportunity to soak in the variety of sights, sounds and smells along the way. In that sense, we truly believe in the adage that the journey is much more fun than the destination.
We love all aspects of a roadtrip, but if there’s one thing we have to gripe about – as women, it has to be toilets along the way!
What are some of your favourite drives, in and around India?
1. Kinnaur and Spiti: The ever changing landscape and the vast open skies in the region are simply mindblowing. Because of its remoteness, this region has managed to hold on to its culture and the people are simple and pure.
2. Nainital to Jageshwar: The road to Jageswhar Shiva temple is like driving into another era and another country. Tall fir pine trees, silence , great road surface and a 800 year old Temple at the end of it.
3. Bhutan: It’s hard to pick a single road in Bhutan as the entire country has fantastic roads, most of them in the hills with breathtaking views at each turn- so it’s a driver’s dream! The country has good surfaces, great switchbacks and diverse kinds of beauty all along the way – from stark mountains, to lush forests, beautiful Dzongs, colorful foliage – it has it all!
4. Western China: The word scenic does not do justice to this part of China. Everyday offers a new experience and the landscape is jaw dropping. The place is remote yet accessible and all basic facilities are at hand. Some of our favourite places in this region are Daocheng, which has the world’s highest civilian airport at 4,411 m; Yading, a national park in Daocheng County and the Larung Gar Buddhist Academy in Seda – it’s the largest Buddhist academy in the world and is spread across a valley, with quaint red huts that provide accommodation to the monks dotting the hillside.
The most challenging roadtrip you have undertaken?
Having done numerous expeditions covering over 9000 km, we are used to successive late nights ,early mornings and long days of driving – it’s all adrenaline for us. But the most challenging section of road which had us and our cars knackered has to be from Mandalay (in Myanmar) into India. It’s charitable to call this stretch of nearly 500 km a road – dust, dirt and stones is all you’re likely to find!
Is there a drive that you never get bored of?
For us its always Bhutan. It just offers us everything and anything!
What are your favourite food stops on Indian roads?
One of the perks of a roadtrip is the native food one gets to sample – we love stopping at local dhabbas or eating at the homes of locals. In particular, the dhabas in Himachal are some of the best we’ve eaten at!
What’s your advice to people undertaking a road trip?
- Pack light
- Go to the loo at every halt, else your only choice could be the wilderness !
- Be prepared for a journey that could last 2 hrs or 22 hrs for the same distance
- Remember even if you are following rules and driving on the correct side of the road , you could still face oncoming traffic ! This is especially true in India, even on major highways
Any special tips for women roadtrippers?
- Remember the loos are few and far between.
- It’s good to get famililar with your car and have some knowledge of basic troubleshooting (such as a puncture)
- Always over inflate your tires a bit before a highway run.
- Get to a destination before dark
- Dress sensibly
Could you share some details about the services offered by Roadtripper?
Roadtrippers’ aim is to make your driving holiday a hassle free experience. We arrange for everything from helping design your itinerary, providing the car, local logistics and any other requirements along the way. You could travel with a group of like- minded people on our fixed departures or customize a roadtrip for yourself. Roadtripper also specializes in large scale multi country expeditions.
On our journeys you will find yourself exploring destinations in a novel and exciting way, without the stress and bother of organising it yourself. Whatever you require, as long as it’s on wheels, Roadtripper is your answer. We are planning an expedition to Western Tibetan China soon, details of which will be published on our website.
A dream roadtrip that you are yet to undertake?
Driving from Puerto Montt in southern Chile to Machu Picchu in Peru, covering a distance of over 6,000 km.
You can follow the Roadtrippers on their exotic expeditions all over the world and keep track of their upcoming trips for the public by following them on Facebook. Their website will also be updated with travelogues and information on upcoming trips over the next couple of weeks. If you have a question or comment, mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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