How they met the Star.
Team Last Overland has reached the end of Stage One of their journey from Singapore to London. Stage One took them from the F1 Pit Building in Singapore to the border between Nepal and Tibet, China. Here is their report.
As we set out on Stage Two, which will take us through China, the Stans and over to the border with Turkey, it’s a good time to take stock. For all of us (apart from our resident Overlanding Guru Larry Leong), it’ll be our first visit to this part of the world, and given the distance, remoteness and altitude that awaits, it represents ours – and Oxford’s – toughest challenge yet.
Luckily, in the fine tradition of Himalayan adventurers past and present, we’ve been taking some downtime in beautiful Nepal to get physically and mentally prepared. It’s time to get our cars, and ourselves, in the best possible shape for the road ahead!
We couldn’t have timed it better – we’ve landed right in the middle of the Dashain festival, where all across Nepal celebrations are ongoing to mark the start of the harvest season. The colour, noise and smells are exquisite!
Since we last sat down to write in the beautiful Kaziranga National Park, we continued in the tyre-tracks of the First Overlanders. After 64 years, so much has changed in this corner of the world that it was sometimes hard to imagine what Tim and co. were seeing from the windows of the Oxford and Cambridge Land Rovers back in 1955. Or so we thought!
With the help of our trusted guide Rajan Dowerah (who turned up with his own first edition copy of Tim’s book, The First Overland) we decided to track down the Deka Julia Tea Estate, where the First Overlanders stayed in 1955. It was their final rest-stop before their greatest challenge that would land them in the history books – the crossing of Burma via the Stilwell Road. They stayed as guests of Mr. Hannay – the Brooke Bond Estate Manager – and his wife.
We were blown away to discover that the house was still standing, and by the looks of it had barely been touched since the 50s. It was being used as a temporary guest house cum A&E for the plantation which was still in full swing, but now under new ownership. From this little corner of England we decided to give Tim a call, and he was equally flabbergasted to learn it was still going strong!
Our nerves were still jangling from the unique experience of driving on Indian highways (traffic direction rules, cows aplenty and headlights appear to be entirely optional…), which meant the whole team were knocked flat by the welcome we received from the residents of Kalimpong. You can see a link to the local news footage here.
Swamped by crowds bearing flowers, firecrackers and ceremonial scarves, Oxford was led through the town centre by a pipe-band in full swing. It was our first taste of Gorkha culture here in the highlands of West Bengal, a community we would come to know so well over the coming days.
From Kalimpong it was on through the tea-plantations to Darjeeling, a destination the First Overlanders famously visited. We couldn’t resist recreating another moment from history…
Our final stop in India was arguably the most exciting for all the Land Rover lovers out there – Maneybhanjang, otherwise known as the Land of the Land Rovers! There we met local hero Samantha Dong, the star of Land Rover’s beautiful short film. Not a bad way to end Oxford’s journey through this incredible corner of the world.
On October 1st, we left north-east India behind and crossed into the sixth country on our journey – Nepal. This was start of a particularly special chapter for us, as we were going to get the chance to spend some quality time with our brilliant charity partner The Gurkha Welfare Trust (GWT).
October 1st also marked a special day for our talisman, Tim Slessor, who turned 88! Tim’s back in the UK and recovering well, even if he is, in his own words, a wee bit jealous… We’ll be updating soon on where Tim will be re-joining the journey.
Over the next few days here in Nepal we were able to see first-hand just how important the work GWT is doing to care for all surviving veterans from the British Army’s Gurkha Regiments living in Nepal.
For 200 years men from this mountainous (now former) kingdom have been signing up to fight for another Monarch and Country, and it’s been a source of great pride to see how the GWT – with support from the British Government and private donors – are making sure every Gurkha and their spouse is cared for until the end, no matter how remote the corner of Nepal they live in.
A particular highlight for the team was joining GWT to meet with 106 year old Lal Bahadur, WW2 veteran of Libya, Egypt and the battle of Montecasino, Italy. Even after all these years he can still remember how to order chicken and wine in Italian! If you’d like to help care for heroes like Lal Bahadur, you can make a contribution via our fundraising campaign.
But it wasn’t just Gurkha veterans we had the pleasure of getting to know here in Nepal – we were also treated to a night’s stay at the British Gurkha Camp in Pokhara as guests of Major Sandy Nightingale and his team. Over delicious Gurkha stew we learned about the extraordinary lives of modern-day Gurkhas, serving in every corner of the world.
At some point in the evening Marcus and Alex decided the only way to truly appreciate how tough you need to be to stand a chance of becoming a 21st century Gurkha, they volunteered to try out the infamous Doka Run – the final test in the gruelling Gurkha recruitment process. It involves carrying a traditional Nepali woven basket filled with 15kgs of sand up a 5 kilometre hill climb.
Safe to say 40+ days of driving and eating curry wasn’t the perfect conditioning, but happy to report they made it to the top and the TLO team still has 8 functioning members!
Where on earth…?
As we prepare to cross the border into China, where some communications are restricted, we may not be as communicative online as we have been during Stage One of our journey. However, you can keep track of our journey with a 24 hour delay here on our website
So, keep on rolling.
Team TLO x