Harsh Verma, a Delhi based IT professional, got married in January this year. His family and friends were flabbergasted when he told them that he wanted to spend his honeymoon on the road, a long trip from Delhi to Goa. He felt his is own car, an i10 was not suitable for the long journey.
So, he rented an SUV from a self-driving car rental company. "It was fun. I covered 400 km per day, discovering the villages and the smaller towns that I could not have seen otherwise," he says. "The vehicle cost Rs 1,300 per day. I left the car in Goa and flew back to Delhi."
Harsh is among a growing breed of the young and restless for whom the traditional hill station and beach routine for a honeymoon trip or an adventure trip is passe. The trend of self-driving holidays, quite popular in countries such US, Australia and New Zealand, is now fast picking up in India - which has the second largest road network in the world. Fuelling this trend are the growing number self-driving car rental and niche road travel companies that offer self-driving holidays across the country.
Most of these companies, which have come up in the last couple of years, say Delhiites form a large chuck of their customers. "This Holi weekend our business went up by 50%. After China, India is emerging as the fastest growing self-drive rental market," says Greg Moran, who co-founded Zoomcar in 2013. Zoomcar , a self drive car rental company, operates in Delhi/NCR, Pune and Bengaluru. "We believe that cost is not the only reason for the growing shift towards self-drive in India. People, even those who can easily afford a chauffeur are seeking privacy and independence that comes with self driving," said Greg.
And not just Indians, a lot of foreign tourists too are coming to India on self driving holidays. Paul Bradshaw, 39, from the UK undertook a month-long driving expedition in India, driving from Mumbai to Goa to Kanyakumari. "I have been on a driving expedition in the US and New Zealand and always wanted to see India by road. Of late, I have been hearing stories about Indiafs improved highways so I decided to finally come to India for a road trip. I loved the drive along the coast of Kerala to Kanyakumari, which is one of the most beautiful drives I have seen across the world," he says. "I think India needs to market itself as a self-driving destination. It really has a huge potential," said Bradshaw.
Soham Shah, who founded eSelf Drive, a Pune-based self drive car rental company, says that 80 per cent of his clients are foreigners. "Mumbai to Goa is the favourite route. We install a tablet in every car so that they can navigate their way on Google maps," he says. "Young Indians who love driving and adventure but cannot afford an SUV are also renting our cars. Self-driving means that you are in command of your journey, have one extra seat and get the independence to explore a place at your own pace."
While monsoon, he says, is the favourite season for Indians; foreigners come on self-driving holidays during October and November. Most of these self drive car rental companies offer cars ranging from Tata Nano to a Mercedes Benz at rates ranging between Rs 500 to Rs 1,500 per day, depending on the vehicle. Some companies such as Off Beat Adventure Drives offer what they call edriving holidays and designer drives in which you are allowed to prepare your own road map and drive to offbeat, non-touristy destinations. "We help our customers to drive and see the real India. We travel in a convoy of vehicles which are fitted with a two-way radio system. We have two support vehicles driving with us carrying support staff and medical facilities," says Ravi Nayar, founder of Off Beat Adventure Drives. He says while many people love to drive, a number of them, especially women, do not want to go on driving expeditions alone because of the lack of hygienic toilet facilities and the fear of vehicle breakdown.
"They overcome such fears when they drive with us in a convoy. We have a mobile toilet for the road, which can be set up anywhere within 10 minutes. Most of our customers come from Bengaluru and Delhi. In fact, 40 per cent of our road travellers are from Delhi, where there is a strong driving culture," says Nayar.
Driving with companies such Off Beat Adventure Drives can cost you anything between Rs 7,000 and Rs 10,000 per day. "Most of our clients belong to upper middle class or high income group. Besides, expats form a large chunk of our clients," he says, adding, "People are fed up with Bangkok-Thailand package holidays. They want to try out something new. In the coming years, India will emerge as one of the hottest driving holiday destinations.h Agrees Tushar Aggarwal, cofounder Adventure Overland, which organizes cross-country self driving expeditions. "Selfdriving expeditions are getting popular in India with rising incomes and improved highways. Our Delhi to Myanmar and Bhutan trips are very popular."
The continuing trend suggests India is sure on the road to becoming a hot global driving holiday destination.