London to Colombo by car


Driving from London to Colombo overland across Europe and Asia seems to have been familiar type of Sri Lankan adventure travel in the 1960s. The idea was for a bunch of friends to fly to England, live cheap, work madly and buy a charriot with their pooled earnings. Then drive it to Colombo via Europe, the middle east, and India. On getting to Colombo they would sell the chariot which would more than cover the cost of the trip.

I recall some greying uncles reminiscing of the adventures on the last leg of the trip — exiting Afghanistan, via Kyber Pass. Then wading through the crony socialism of Pakistan and India to catch the Talaimannar ferry. After the crossing, and the triumphal drive to Colombo to sell their transcontinental chariot – a sale they now seem to regret.

I have also heard that such trips were not uncommon for twenty somethings who could pool the cash and the odd London connection. Particularly for newly minted university grads returning to Sri Lanka. It was a time when a brown face with a Ceylon passport at a passport counter was considered an exotic visitor — not another visa overstaying illegal migrant. Sri Lanka’s dalliance with socialism would I suppose warrant friendly passage through the Warsaw pact. Though I wonder what some hapless official at some isolated border crossing in the Balkans or Iran would have reacted at the bunch of happy go lucky faces stuffed in a piece of posh British motoring,

Do you know of any relatives, friends, relatives of friends or friends of relatives who have done this trip? The comment box awaits their stories / anecdotes

27 comments

  1. woah.. the good old days without cross border visa restrictions! my dad traveled by land all the way to Italy. working his way along. Sadly, you cant do such things so easily today.

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  2. Sorry to put a damper on RD’s and Sach’s spirits. I Have to agree with Whacko, getting the Visas alone would be as hard and time consuming as the journey. Getting a visa to legally go and work in England is a tough call.

    The EU might make things easier but beyond that is another issue. No idea how the Serbs, Bosnians, Croats, Slovenians, and Bulgarians will treat a Sri Lankan passport. Eastern Turkey will be quite wild. I’m clue less as to what the Turkey Iran border would be like but these guys do seem to – but then they got first world passports.

    Getting through North Western Pakistan & Afghanistan would be suicidal. Surviving that, there’s the hassle of making it through the Indian/Pakistani border. The alternative option is to detour through the “Stans” of Asia (in this case Turkmenistan , Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan) before swing through the Western China to avoid the Afghan Panjshir Valley before crossing into India. The China/India cross is also a bit complicated as this forum post indicates

    Compared to all this (assuming getting to India alive) the dangers of rural Indian roads will be peanuts. Then there’s the additional assumption/hope that the ferry to Mannar is still working so can you’d get slapped with a thundering Sri lankan import duty on the chariot. Fat luck setting that rattle trap in Sri Lanka🙂

    However those are not the reasons I’d skip this trip – I just can’t stand being stuck in a chariot for more than a 2 hours.

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  3. If this needed to be done, it can be done other way around. You start from Japan or Korea, where real cars been made these days, not those TATA Jaguars, and drive back through China, Tibet, and Nepal to India – and once you reach end of India, you can diced do you really want to go to Sri Lanka or not.

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  4. Ray Wijewardene did it – flying solo by plane.

    His short memoir on the exercise “Solo Flyer” was available at Lakpahana (on Reid Avenue) some time back, interesting read.

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  5. this is the problem with Sri Lankan men these days.

    No guts , no glory. Just a bunch of yuppies who over analyse everything to death and armchair travellers.

    Gone are the days when Sri Lankan men experienced life, travel and adventure. All modern adventures of our lot are in familiar terrain or in second life.

    Honestly you lot can learn a lot from the life of old B. Sansoni and that Senanayake chap or Ray for that matter. [not the young Sansoni lot, I assure you, how can such bland stock come from such a great woman ,I wonder !!!]

    I agree with Sam. You don’t have to do London Colombo anymore.

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  6. sam Sounds like quite a detour🙂

    <b.NOdd ask around and you'll be surprised.

    Gallicissa: I’d bet you’d pot some interesting ones as well🙂

    Jack Thank you for that info😀 Have you read the book? and if you have perhaps a short summery?

    Frank Come one – don’t be so bitter🙂 the whole London Colombo haul was the preview of a tiny (privileged) minority. Everyone else was trying to make ends meet. The real adventurers these are those who risk life and limb to get into the first world bastions like Europe/USA after traversing Africa and risking it all to leaky boats and people smugglers. All to wire some hard currency home. Just because you don’t hear about them doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

    But I bet you’ve done some interesting adventuring of the London to Colombo sort- hope you do share😀

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  7. Very short summary. Ray Wijewardene was trying to return to Ceylon after the War. There was no room on any ship (the usual means of travel), he had done a bit of flying so he decided to buy a plane and fly over, which he did.

    The aircraft was a single seater and with a very limited range so the journey consisted of series of hops across Europe, Africa and Asia. He pre-arranged landing places and fuel drops a few stops ahead and stayed overnight at various places along the way.

    The journey took several weeks and he describes the places, the people and his various adventures on the way.

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  8. Actually my two uncles had aparently done this trip. My parents and them were living in london at the time, it might have been in the early 80’s or the latter part of the 70’s I’m not sure about this.

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  9. In the 1977 season a somewhat eccentric surfer dude arrived at Arugam Bay.
    With a board and beard.
    Overland. By motorbike. Via Goa, India. Mannar.
    It seems he never went back again.
    To the Isle of Man (an island Nation near England).

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  10. I have done this run in 1977. Visiting friends on the way it took me a month. 8565 miles,1050 litres of petrol, and a couple or so of hair raising moments.

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  11. Slightly off the topic:
    Because I done this little trip by motor bike. Not a car or van. And not just from ‘London’, but from the Isle of Man.
    Because back home we are all bike and TT crazy. In 1977 that was a bit of an adventure I suppose.
    These days there are petrol sheds, repair places and DHL spare parts delivery services everywhere.
    The old Mannar Ferry was awesome.
    We are sad that it’s no more, incl. that last ill-fated attempt to re-resurrect the ro/ro service. From Tamil Nadu to ….Colombo (a bad political choice I feel).

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    • You mean Douglas to Liverpool, Dover Ostend Brussels, Aachen, Nurenburgh, Vienna,Zagreb, Edirne,Istanbul,,Erzermum,Zanjan,Sari,Bourjnord,Herat,Kandahar, Kabul, Peshawar, Ludhiana,Delhi,Bombay,Bangalore,Rameshwaram, and the good old ferry to Mannar. Bet you didnt have the hair raising experience of running across the sand ladder to the jetty where two canoes lashed together with boards bobbed about and when over acceleration would land you in the sea and under acceleration would bust your springs.
      I’ve done a lot of travelling but this was easily the most memorable and enjoyable experience of my lifetime.

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