As a child, Tushar Agarwal would often badger his father, a Delhi-based businessman, to take him on journeys by plane. But instead of flights of fancy, what he got was something more grounded: road trips in the family car - even when they had to travel as far as Guwahati or Kolkata.
The long drives with his father gradually turned Agarwal into a believer in road travel as a globe-trotting option and inspired him to become an essential roadie. In 2010, Agarwal, then working in London, decided to drive with his ex-wife all the way to his home in Delhi in a Jeep Cherokee. The 12,000km-long journey which lasted 51 days, during which his jeep consumed 1,500 litres of petrol, took him to 15 countries, cost him Rs 15 lakh and earned him a place in the Limca Book of Records.
Two years on, the 32-year-old has given up his career in IT and is a full-time roadie. He is usually on the road eight months a year. He says that while he had gone on long journeys in the US (including a 3,200-km one from Chicago to Seattle), the inspiration for the London-to-Delhi drive was a car journey from John o' Groats, in Scotland, to Land's End, in England's west Cornwall. "But the London-Delhi trip was a different ball game altogether. Such a long journey required meticulous planning of the route and logistics. I researched for a year before the trip. I had to take a longer route and do 4,000km extra because I could not get a visa to drive through Pakistan," says Agarwal, who finally drove through France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Tibet and Nepal.
"Every country, except China, issued visas and permits to me easily. It took five months and R4 lakh as fees to get permits and licences from various authorities to drive through China," he says. Many a time, he says, he had to pay police or custom officers "because I was a foreigner driving a foreign vehicle on their land". In the Czech Republic, he was asked for Euros; on the Russian border, an official demanded only a few Indian coins as he was a coin collector; on the Chinese border, he was asked for a CD of any Shah Rukh Khan movie; in Kazakhstan, a police officer demanded anything English. "I gave him chocolates from the UK and he let me go immediately," he laughs.
Uzbekistan, he says, was the most hospitable country en route, and the people there, including police and custom officials, have great regard for Indians. He says he faced most difficulties in Tibet, where he says, he drove on gravel for around 2,000km. "When I finally hit a proper road, I literally cried and kissed the road. Tibet, I must say, was the most beautiful region on the way. Here I saw while people don't even have access to clean bathrooms or toilets, they are happy and content. This was a humbling experience," he says.
The scariest moment during his journey came in Kyrgyzstan while he was driving at an altitude of over 15,000ft on a glacier on his way to China. "At 6am, the differential lock of the car stopped working and the car got stuck in snow. No matter how hard I tried, it would not budge. All I could see around me was a desert of ice, but thankfully a truck arrived and the two men in it helped me retrieve the car."
In June this year, Agarwal had set off on yet another extreme road trip: a trans-Himalayan drive, covering 5,500km non-stop. This feat, he says, has earned him another place in the Limca Book of Records for being in the first team to have completed the drive in the shortest time. Agarwal led a team of four, drove for almost 24 hours a day for nine days from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh over the entire Himalayan range in India, Nepal and Bhutan. Earlier this month, Agarwal and his team travelled to Mana Pass on the Indo-China border in Uttarakhand at 18,399ft, the new highest motorable road in the world.
Six months ago, Agarwal decided to give up his fledgling career in IT and a set up Journeys By Road, a company that organises self-driving expeditions, with his friend and avid road traveller Sanjay Madan. "Self-driving expeditions are getting popular in India now with rising incomes and improved highways. I believe Assam and West Bengal have the worst roads, while Gujarat has the best," he says.
Agarwal is now busy planning a self-driving expedition from Delhi to Bangkok next year. The expedition is open to everyone with cars equipped with GPS for navigation, oxygen cylinders, medical kits and emergency equipment. "Self-driving expeditions are basically guided road trips where people drive their own vehicles and can take their families with them, while rallies are a motor sport event for professional roadies," he says, adding, "My ultimate aim is to undertake an epic world trip by road through six continents, 50 countries and 80,000km that lasts six months. I plan to undertake it in 2013," he says.