News / Asia

Nano Diaries: Tiny Car Makes Big India Road Trip

Vanessa Able's Tata Nano, which she drove across India, is passed by cattle in the road.
Vanessa Able's Tata Nano, which she drove across India, is passed by cattle in the road.

Travel throughout India can be quite an adventure.  Roads vary from a dusty rock filled trail to a glistening stretch of smooth pavement.  Any type of creature is prone to cross a road at any time, the weather can range between some of the coldest and hottest temperatures on the planet, and travelers are likely to encounter a variety of culture and dialects.  Recently, a British travel writer set out on a long road trip across India in a vehicle not specifically designed for long distance trips.  

With a price tag of about $2,000, the Indian built Nano Tata is currently the least expensive production car available in the world.  Vanessa Able is a British travel journalist, and the idea of taking the unique vehicle on a long excursion seemed to be a natural fit.

Blogger Vanessa Able stands beside her Tata Nano during her trip across India.
Blogger Vanessa Able stands beside her Tata Nano during her trip across India.


"When I first started telling people I had intended to drive this car around India, they looked at me as if I was crazy because it is being marketed as a city car.  Basically the Nano is not designed for highway driving.  And even India has a fantastic stretch of very modern and good quality highways.  But there is also an extremely large portion of the country that has roads that are a much lesser quality, they have a lot of potholes, a lot of them are not asphalted to a great degree.  And a lot of the time when I was travelling in more rural places, there were some times you are even off roading," she said.

Able planned a three-month, 10,000-kilometer journey.  She ended up logging about 13,000 kilometers between February and May 2010, with a swing through India's northwestern region in October after temperatures had cooled.  The trip was shared with readers on the internet through blogs that make up The Nano Diaries.

Able says the Nano Tata proved to be more reliable than she had hoped.

"I was actually hoping for more problems because it would make for more exciting report writing as I was writing my blog as I went along.  In terms of technical difficulties with the car, I had none.  I got three flat tires on extremely bumpy roads.  That was the extent of the mechanics I had to deal with," she said.

The Nano Tata was designed to be a low cost replacement for motorbikes and give families in India a safer way to travel.  As luck would have it, Able found a model with many extra amenities.

"I happened to get the top model of the most basic car.  So mine has features that the basic model would not have in terms of it has air conditioning, it has upholstered seats, it has electric windows, it has features that the most basic model would not have.  But it still is a very, very, very basic vehicle," she said.

As a British woman driving this, new small and novel vehicle, Able quickly drew attention wherever she went.  Able says most Indians she met were impressed.

"I got a very positive reaction.  A lot of Indian people are very, very proud of the fact that Indian industry has managed to produce a vehicle that is being spoken of internationally.  That is really saying something about Indian design, Indian technology, Indian industry.  And then the fact when they actually see it is sort of being pushed beyond its boundaries too, that people were surprised that it was making [the trip], in the end the road trip came to something like 13,000 kilometers.  Most people were sort of in disbelief," she said.

And once she got underway, trepidations of driving across India melted away.

"I went from being very, very tense behind the wheel to sort of being like 'ok, I understand there is sort of a kind of flow here.'  And once you get into it, things went much, much easier," she said.

Nano Diaries: Tiny Car Makes Big India Road Trip
Nano Diaries: Tiny Car Makes Big India Road Trip

The primary difficulties Able encountered were mostly logistics, including navigating to smaller locations and dealing with the multitude of languages and dialects found throughout India.  But as any seasoned traveler knows, unexpected events often provide the most lasting memories.

"I was sort of cruising on this highway.  I had just come off a dirt road that I had been on for a very long time, and it is highway and I said 'oh this is fantastic, I will reach my destination very soon.'  There was no traffic and then I kept driving and driving and driving.  And I was beginning to wonder why there was no traffic.  There was this big pile of rubble on the side of the road that thankfully slowed me down.  And I slowed down enough to understand that within about 20 meters of where I was, the road just ended.  They were actually building a bridge that they were meeting from both sides.  There was no actual stop signs or anything to make you aware of the fact that the road was about to end and there was something like a 10 meter plunge down from there.  So I slammed on my brakes within about 10 meters probably or maybe even less before there was this sheer drop and the road just ended," she said.

A big trip highlight for Able included a big visitor.

"There was a guy passing through.  He was riding an elephant.  And I was very taken aback to see this huge elephant.  So I stopped.  And I think the elephant was more fascinated with the Nano than I was with the elephant.  But I had the windows down and the elephant came over and he put his trunk kind of inside the car.  And at first I thought 'Oh that is cute.  There is an elephant putting his trunk inside my car.'  But then he really started coming in.  He put the full force of his trunk inside to the point where it was kind of scary.  He was sort of going for my stuff like he was going through my bag.  I was kind of wrestling with him.  And what I never realized is that elephants have extremely runny noses.  And he covered the inside of my car with this sort of elephant slime that it took me quite a long time to clean up afterward when I finally managed to reach a place that had water and rags," she said.

The elephant was not the only animal to greet Able along the way.

"You will sort of be driving along and then you suddenly find yourself in the midst of a crowd of goats, [cattle] crossing the road.  You just have to respect that.  You kind of slow down and you understand you are sharing the road with all creatures, goats, bullocks, dogs very often too. You slow down, you are respectful, you stop and you let them pass and then you continue," she said.

Now based in Pondicherry, India, Able is turning her journey into a book.  Her Nano Diaries website has photos, videos and narratives of the trip and recent travels with her small car.

The Journey Part 1

View Nano Diaries - Route Map in a larger map

The Journey Part 2
View Nano Diaries - Route Map in a larger map


Jim Stevenson

For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

You May Like

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More