The ‘XPD Beyond Asia-Trans Siberian 2019 team’ covered 21,700 km from Coimbatore to Saint Petersburg in 52 days. It was either a bumpy drive of 30 kilometres in eight hours on a ‘no road’ track or a zip of 120 km/hour on a 1,064 km desolate stretch. The two travel-weary and dusty Tata Hexa, Dhanno and Sheru and their drivers Meenakshi Sai and Sharath Madhav accomplished the remarkable odyssey. The drivers are back, the vehicles are on their way back.
The 11,000 km long Trans-Siberian highway that Meenakshi Sai with her experience of expeditions in the past and Sharath drove on, is considered one of the longest and most dangerous highways in the world. the 11,000 km long Trans-Siberian highway Madhav eager to get his passport stamped became co-travellers on one of the – . They were joined my Meenakshi’s brother, Sanjay Subbian, and five other car enthusiasts — Madhuri Sapru from Mumbai, Anjana Kaul (Bengaluru), Sheila Verghis (Chennai), Jomet Mani (Kottayam) and Pradeep Yuvaraj (Coimbatore), joined them on the trip.
“Though we crossed through four countries and required only two visas, it was an adventure like none other,” says Sharath, who had earlier driven from Madurai to Nepal with his wife two years ago. After his maiden rally in 2017, he met Meenakshi on the sets of Sun TV. She was just then embarking on an all-women car tour of 24 countries across 24,000 km from Coimbatore to London in 70 days. The duo kept in touch for planning a road trip together sometime and Meenakshi planned on a challenging trip.
“Not just the drive, I wanted even the planning to be both adventurous and challenging,” she says. After research she came to the conclusion that the road from Coimbatore to St.Petersburg in Russia offered extreme weather conditions, bad and lonely roads and was just the perfect exploration she was after. She was surprised at the immediate response to her social media posts. “There are many people wanting to explore. We invited those who approached us first and were willing to undertake a crazy trip,” says Meenakshi, who was the team captain.
No matter how thorough the research and follow-ups, nothing can fully prepare you for reality, she says. Sharath says he will never forget a 30 km passage while driving from Dunche to Ruswagadi near the Nepal-Tibet border. “It was the same Himalayan terrain and landscape but it took us eight hours on this stretch. We scraped through a landslide on a path that had only mud and stones and was lined with recovery vehicles. Both our cars had already done 70,000 km on earlier expeditions and did not have good ground clearance. So only one person cruised in the car and the rest walked along. Otherwise the injectors of the vehicles would have been choked. It was physically and mentally exhausting because we could not afford to lose time and mess up our schedule,” says Sharath. “At that point we had not even completed 10 per cent of our trip,” recalls Meenakshi.
The other difficult terrainwas on the Trans-Siberian highway when they had to do two treacherous 1,000 km stretches between Vladivostok and St.Petersburg. “It was like driving through a cold desert with nothing in sight for miles. Also some parts were like single carriageways jammed with trailers that made driving extremely difficult. Overtaking or slowing down was impossible and we had to synchronise our driving and not lose sight of each other,” she says.
But there were some cheer filled moments too. Like their halt at a tiny hamlet called Mogocha with 3,000 inhabitants and one Trucker’s Inn. “It was like a small gem for us with the power of positivity. We sang and danced and strengthened our will power to drive on from there next morning,” says Sharath. “Even the Russians have not heard about this mining town but my love for the place is permanent now,” he laughs.
“It was not a jolly ride,” adds Meenakshi but says that is what expeditions are meant to be; we go as explorers and not tourists. Of course there were unforgettable thrills such as a glimpse of Mount Everest from the Tibetan side as they drove at the high altitude of 18,500 feet.
From harsh weather conditions to remote landscapes, hotels without elevators, language problem and of course the very meat-centric food in Tibet-China and Russia, everything was an endurance test for the team. “But it showed each of us what we are made of,” says Sharath.
Long drive in enclosed vehicles can play on the nerves. “Even trivial things begin to irritate you, but one learns not to allow any kind of tension to escalate,” says Sharath. “Before starting, we had decided nobody will talk politics or religion on the trip,” pipes in Meenakshi and declares, “Only when you travel to god forsaken places, you realise peoples’ struggles and feel grateful for what you have.”
ON THE ROAD
Duration of XPD Beyond Asia Trans-Siberian: August 6, 2019 to September 27, 2019 (on the road plus another four days to complete formalities)
- Distance Covered: 21,700 km
- Driving hours: The team would start driving at sunrise and wrap up at sunset
- Countries traversed: India, Nepal, Tibet-China and Russia
- Team strength: Four men and four women
- Unforgettable moment: At the world’s largest and deepest freshwater Lake Baikal near Irkutsk town in Siberia.