18 July 2018 – Centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth: to celebrate Land Rover’s 70th anniversary year and in the spirit of ‘Africa & Beyond’, the transcontinental Cape Town to Kathmandu Expedition began with a colourful send-off at the Nobel Square on Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront, the filling of the symbolic expedition Zulu calabash with cold Atlantic seawater and the unveiling of the expedition’s new ‘Madiba100’ Scroll of Peace and Goodwill. It promised to be another great challenge for the same two All New Discoverys and faithful Defender 130 that successfully reached Africa’s most easterly point in Somalia in 2017.
And so started the frenetic, first leg through South Africa, with 12 Land Rover retailer events and plenty of Rite to Sight, Early Childhood Development and Rhino Art conservation education work. Then it was all the way up the 2,400Km coastline of Mozambique, conducting malaria prevention with thousands of pregnant women and mums with young children, to reach the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and ship the Land Rovers to Turkey.
In exotic Istanbul – huge excitement as the second leg of the expedition began with a crossing the Bosporus Straits from Europe to Asia by ferry, then following Turkey’s Black Sea coast to Georgia. It was great to be back in the Landies again, but the fierce northern winter was coming and we certainly felt it – tackling high-altitude 4×4 passes clogged with snow, ice and mud in the high Caucasus Mountains close to the Russian border and enduring below-freezing temperatures in Armenia, before following ancient Silk Routes across the vast, empty deserts of the Islamic Republic of Iran, camping under cold, starlit skies.
In the dangerous Balochistan region close to Afghanistan, we had to run the gauntlet of military convoys with heavily armed police escorts to reach Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, and an enthusiastic welcome from the Pakistan Land Rover community and the South African High Commission.
A few days later, a major expedition objective achieved – and a historic moment for the expedition Land Rovers – as our All New Discoverys became the first in the world to travel the famous Khyber Pass to the Afghanistan border and then, in freezing conditions, complete the treacherous 800-kilometre-long Karakoram Highway in northern Pakistan. It’s not called the ‘highest paved road in the world’ for nothing as it twists and turns through the three greatest mountain ranges on Earth – the Himalayas, the Karakorams and the Hindu Kush – Shova Mike did much of it on his mountain bike. Wow!
Crossing into India at the Wagah border, the overcrowded roads of northern India threw a new set of ‘dodgem car’ challenges, before the entry stamps banged down in our passports and we finally entered the Mountain Kingdom of Nepal. After months of planning, endless paperwork and 10 countries now behind us, at last we could taste victory!
First stop was Chitwan National Park, home to a small but growing population of the critically endangered Asian One-Horned Rhinoceros. What a heartwarming moment – handing over the Rhino Art messages against rhino poaching from children that we’d carried all the way from South Africa in the Land Rovers, and receiving reciprocal messages of solidarity from Nepalese children. It’s the first time these two globally important rhino conservation countries have connected in such a profound way, through the voices of their children.
146 days after leaving from Cape Town, what an incredible welcome we received in mystical Kathmandu – hundreds of Nepalese children lined the streets waving South African and Nepali flags. At the 600-year-old World Heritage Site of the Boudhanath Stupa, the holiest Buddhist temple in Kathmandu, senior Buddhist monks, TV crews, VIPs from Nepal Tourism, the City of Kathmandu and the South African Honorary Consulate joined our weary expedition team in a vibrant end-of-expedition ceremony. Slowly, we emptied the expedition’s Zulu calabash of well-travelled Cape Atlantic seawater over a sacred, golden Buddhist shrine, as Nepalese well-wishers endorsed the Madiba100 Scroll of Peace and Goodwill, already chock-full of messages from wonderful people we met along the route. The three expedition Land Rovers also received special permission to do a lap of honour around the Boudhanath Stupa – what an honour!
But the journey wasn’t over yet. From Kathmandu we turned south into India again – a further test for the Land Rovers as we tackled more high-altitude 4×4 tracks and steep, narrow hairpin bends through the Himalayas, to reach the famous ‘Land Rover Series I’ region in the mountains surrounding Darjeeling. Then came an 800Km hell-run of broken and dangerously congested roads to Calcutta, conducting Rite to Sight and distributing LifeStraw water purification units along the way. How we made it without a scratch or dent – only the ‘Zen of Travel’ knows.
17,000Km, 11 countries in 5 months – from Africa’s beautiful southern tip and coastline, to Asia’s snow-capped mountain ranges, vast deserts, ancient Silk Routes and 32 UNESCO World Heritage Sites – with fantastic humanitarian and youth conservation work all along the expedition’s route. Another geographic world-first for Land Rover – ‘Mission Accomplished’!