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

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    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.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora