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Expedition to Nepal in our Bedford truck in 1975

This story is about a trip Pete Dryer and Ivan Hurst (me) made in 1975 from England to Nepal in our own truck.

This whole travelling thing started in March 1975. Pete and I were travelling to work one morning and we started talking about how far you could travel by road once across the channel. We had heard about the Grand Trunk Road and thought it would an adventure to drive along it in our own truck. That was it, the decision was made. However, it was not quite as simple to translate the decision into actuality. The internet was not invented and information was a lot more difficult to find. Mass long distance travelling had not really taken off and unless you knew how and where to find it there was little help to be found. Mobile phones were not available so general communications were limited to letters, telegrams, or very rarely telex, unless you met face to face and had a conversation.

Pete and I had met at college and were at the time working for the same company, Percy Bilton Ltd, at the same road construction site in north London. We had one company mini van between us as we both lived in different parts of Hatfield, having not moved away since attending college there. The van was a treat, not an entitlement. On the way home that day we talked about next steps. Pete asked his fiancée what she thought about the idea. I asked my girlfriend. When Pete picked me up from my home the next morning we compared notes. Pete and his fiancée were up for the trip whilst my girlfriend would stay at home. So the crew was set at three.

Over the next few weeks we asked around friends and got offers of help and a couple of additional people interested in the trip. We also discussed the route and what sort of vehicle we should take. One of the new team had recently passed his navigation exams. So our most ambitious route involved a boat. We would drive to New Delhi and then to South West India where they are famous for the quality of the boats they build. Not luxurious western style but thoroughly seaworthy, and considerably cheaper than a UK built boat. We were going to take a marine diesel engine in the back of the truck to put in the boat as that is the difficult part to acquire in India. The trip would then recommence as a sea voyage hugging the coast all the way to China. After that the plans were somewhat vague. That plan started to fall apart when we realised that we would be at sea during the cyclone season. It was totally canned when our navigator dropped out of the trip.

Oh dear, Burma is closed. OK, the destination is Nepal

We re-planned the trip again, still New Delhi and then across the north of India, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Laos and China. So back to the concept of the Grand Trunk Road, which is still acknowledged as a major highway of the world. Another trip to the library required. Oh dear, Burma is closed. OK, the destination is Nepal. And that is where we went for my first ever trip abroad apart from a trip to Ireland with my parents when I was a kid.

Back to the choice of vehicle. We did not know the condition of the roads we were going to encounter. We wanted something tough, easy to maintain and easy to get spares for, wherever we where. We considered the ubiquitous Land Rover but decided it would be too small. We found a old Bedford TK truck previously owned by Kraft. It was a box truck used for chilled foods and was insulated. Only thinly, not as thick as a frozen food truck and instead of a heavy door it had a roller shutter. The insulation would be beneficial in the hot countries. It weighed less than 7.5 tons so we did not need a HGV license to be able to drive it. The equivalent 4x4 Bedford MJ has a GVW about two tons more, and that is for a soft top. We wanted a hard box for reasons of security.

We bought that truck for about £300 after a friend, a truck mechanic, had looked it over. He also prepared it for the journey, repairing the worn out bits and a giving it good service. We found some very old truck, split opening front windscreen in a truck scrap yard and fitted them as windows to the front of the box above the cab. Add some side windows and an elevated platform with two pairs of coach seats and we have room for a crew of seven. Its amazing how versatile some surplus 4x2 timber and external ply can be in skilled hands. Put up some blue curtains, and you have cosy.  Although the curtains did approach horizontal with the truck on tarmac roads with the front windows open. We also built a storage box along the side of the box for our food and stuff. It also served as a single bed. Otherwise, the floor was the bed. We did not go for luxury.

We slowly found out about international driving licenses, visas, and inoculations, and got them sorted. We started taking malaria tablets and Vitamin B12. Apparently the latter makes you smell unattractive to mosquitoes. We decided against salt tablets as this could be sorted out on the road. We gave up sugar in tea and coffee so that we did not miss it on the trip. Just in time we found out about Carnet de Passages en Douane and obtained one from the RAC. The place on the ferry was booked. We also found out about the travel service the RAC offered. I remember my Dad using it as well. We wrote to the RAC with our destination, paid them some money, and they would plan your route from say Southampton to Aberystwyth, mark it on a map,and post the map and directions to you. All done by hand. Well, our destination was Kathmandu. They did the same service, for the same fee, just a little further. I still have bits of the RAC map from our second trip.

In the meantime the crew had dwindled back down to three. We had all resigned from our jobs, packed up our rented homes, and were generally ready.

We did the shopping and filled the truck and parked it up ready for the morning. It is fun pushing around six trolleys around the supermarket, and then asking to speak to the manager, to get a discount. I arrived at Woolworth’s car park in the centre of Hatfield ready for our early departure and waited for Pete and Chris to arrive whilst warming up the engine. I think it may have been raining lightly. Eventually Pete turned up, but without Chris. That morning she had decided than she was not coming. She would stay in the UK and wait for him to return. Pete and I discussed this and then, all things sorted out, we departed for our Grand Tour, our first grand adventure.

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