MOTORING NEWS - After nearly 17 000km, 146 days and 10 countries, Kingsley Holgate and his fleet of Land Rovers have reached Nepal, completing an arduous, transcontinental expedition from Cape Town to Kathmandu.
Shortly after conquering the precarious mountain passes of the Karakoram Highway, Holgate and crew exited Pakistan and crossed India for the final leg of their journey. The expedition team drove their two Discovery vehicles and a trusty Defender 130 across the Wagah-Attari border, famous for its "Beating Retreat" ceremony where thousands of spectators on both sides arrive to witness a colourful parade of soldiers who lower flags and close border gates in perfect coordination every day before sunset.
The crossing wasn't smooth sailing, however, as Indian customs officials spent three hours searching every inch of the three Land Rovers and their contents. Each car was also driven onto a ramp to inspect it for explosives.
Only once satisfied that all was in order, a friendly official waved them through and wrote "Welcome to India" on the Madiba 100 scroll of peace and goodwill, which was on its way to representatives of Kathmandu as a symbolic gesture friendship from the people of South Africa.
"On previous Land Rover expeditions, we've faced the grid-locked traffic of overcrowded cities such as Cairo, Kinshasa, Lagos and Nairobi, but nothing prepared us for the chaos, pandemonium and sensory overload of driving in India," said Holgate.
"But it was all worthwhile when we stood at the famous world heritage sites of the Golden Palace in Amritsar, the Red Fort of New Delhi and observed the poignant beauty of the Taj Mahal in Agra, which Rudyard Kipling referred to as 'the embodiment of all things pure'."
With the end in sight, the team pushed north and crossed into Nepal. From Lumbini, the birthplace of Lord Buddha, the vehicles cruised east to the jungle wonderland of the Chitwan National Park and zigzagged over one final Himalayan mountain pass choked with trucks and buses.
"Once again, it's the incredible handling, braking and acceleration of the Discovery that got us here safely," Holgate said. "They seem to be born for these road conditions. Despite the long and challenging journey, we're all upbeat. Kathmandu is finally a reality."
The team received an emotional welcome in the Nepalese capital. With lights flashing, a Nepal Tourist Police vehicle escorted the three expedition Land Rovers to the 600-year-old, high-domed World Heritage Site of the Boudhanath Stupa – the holiest Buddhist temple in Kathmandu. Here they were welcomed by a group of school children waving South African and Nepalese flags.
A robed Buddhist monk, Khenpo Dorje Lama, led a welcoming delegation that included South African Honorary Consul Pradeep Shrestha, directors from the Nepal Tourism Board, Jack Edwards and Marie Jensen who helped with community work at Chitwan National Park.
Later, there was an exchange of South African and Nepalese flags followed by a traditional feast.
"I look at the travel-weary faces of the expedition crew who, sometimes against all odds, have made this world-first Land Rover Discovery journey possible," concluded Holgate. "I feel an overwhelming sense of relief that we all got here safely. So much could have gone wrong. There have been some tough security situations.
On some of the mountain passes, one mistake and we could have easily plunged to our deaths. I'm grateful to Land Rover and our other supporters who enabled us to once again and wherever possible, link this adventure to improving and saving lives. Our conservation community education programme continues to engender a passion for wildlife among the youth.
"With the journey now over, it's time to reflect on the diversity of religions and cultures and the wonderful mix of world heritage sites we've been fortunate to experience. The grandeur of the landscapes and the world's highest mountain ranges – the Himalayas, Hindu Kush and Karakorams and all the wonderful people we've met along the way who helped push this expedition forward.
"We are not forgetting the two Land Rover Discovery vehicles and our big Defender 130 'mother ship'.
"They are the true heroes of this transcontinental journey from the tip of the African continent to the top of the world."
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