Street Smart – The Pioneer
Author and traveller Tushar Agarwal chats with Divya Kaushik on taking the most dreaded journeys and how his London-Delhi road trip helped him rediscover himself
He can be best described as a serial road tripper, who won’t mind eating a spider, not taking a bath for over a week and staying overnight at places where some of us might not prefer to. Tushar Agarwal decided to leave the comforts of his well-established life long ago and spent a major part of his life on the roads, visiting the unheard-of places and experiencing cultures from across the world. In 2010, Tushar made a world record by driving 13,000 km from London to Delhi in 51 days. That was the beginning and an experience that made him realise his passion for travelling. “I worked in Japan, US and UK and would often drive to the countryside. My job was taking me to the places, I was travelling with my family and also going for vacations to places like Europe and Australia. But I wanted to do something different. Somehow this idea of driving from London to Delhi occurred to me and as I thought more about it I felt that it is not impossible. I began searching the Internet, spoke to people for the finances and enquired on how to get permissions,” shared Tushar, who has recently come up with the book, wherein he narrates his experiences on the road. It’s called Road Affair (Heritage Publishers). Tushar covered the distance from London to Delhi in his jeep Cherokee, which was five-year-old when he bought it. Arranging for the funds of his dream trip was the most difficult part. He had to take a personal loan to meet the expenses. We asked him why he didn’t consider travelling with a few like-minded people and he told us that he created a forum on Lonely Planet and asked people to come forward to travel with him. Many criticised him and said he is trying to collect money from other people for his own holiday. “They forgot that along with me they too will be experiencing something different,” he commented.
On his journey to Delhi the author crossed places like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Czech Republic. Needless to say the journey was not about splendid landscapes that we thought existed only in fairy tales. He had to pay bribes at many places, search for a place to sleep and had to cross the regions which were going through tough political conditions and were facing extreme situations. “Like Kyrgyzstan was almost burning during that time. And talk about bribes and I can now proudly say that India is definitely not the only country where people expect bribes. I think the first bribe that I had to pay was in Czech Republic, where I was fined at two in the afternoon for driving without the headlights in broad day light. I did not understand this rule, but could not argue with the officers. I was asked to pay $200, but I only paid $10 as a bribe and fled away. I tried acting dumb and acted like I didn’t understand the language, but I did not manage to fool the officers. Ukraine I think was the most corrupt. The police had put dummy plastic cars on the road to slow you down so that they can catch you easily. They took a U-turn to get me and stopped me saying I didn’t have some stickers on my car, which had every sticker mandatory for a foreign vehicle. In Russia, cops asked me if they are as corrupt as officers in India. In China I was stopped at the border to get a stamp and the officer told me that he would only let me go if I would give him a Shah Rukh Khan CD. I didn’t have any so I gave him one of Jagjit Singh’s and told that it was SRK’s. Uzbekistan was the best experience. People there are really fond of Indians, they love Bollywood. I was charged for overspeeding four times and they let me go every time because I am an Indian,” said Tushar. These experiences form an essential part of his book and he says that he made it a point that wherever he goes he visits the local cafes, travels in local transport and meets people so that he can accumulate more stories to be told.
Tushar returned to India last year with a dream to establish his own travel company. He did that and his road trips didn’t stop. He did a Trans Himalayan road journey, which was sponsored by Toyota and once again got himself registered in Limca Book of Records for undertaking one of the toughest journeys on road. He was selected to be a part of the Indian team in the ASEAN India Car Rally. The convoy of over 31 countries drove from Singapore to India and drove over 8,000 kms in December last year.
Apart from writing, travelling of course, the 32-year-old is the co-founder of a travel company that organises road trips, Adventures Overland. He has already started writing for his second book and is set for the next big journey he will be setting himself on in September. “It’s called ‘Great Indian World Trip’. I will be driving through 50 countries and crossing six continents. We will be meeting Indians staying in different parts of the world. For instance, we will be meeting Punjabi truck drivers in Canada, Indian scientists who work with NASA in US and Indian investment bankers in New York. It will be shot as a series as the camera crew will be moving with us. We are in talks with UTV Bindaas to air it like a TV series or if no channel comes forward to take it up, we will shoot it as an independent documentary,” he informed.