Alex Bescoby is an award-winning British filmmaker and TV presenter based in Yangon, Myanmar. He studied politics and history at Cambridge University and has spent much of the last decade working, exploring and living in Southeast Asia. Bescoby has a passion for Land Rovers stretching back to childhood, having long idolised The First Overland Expedition. The First Overland – made history in 1955 by being the first to drive from London to Singapore. That young team inspired generations of adventurers through their extraordinary endeavour, showing many remote corners of the world on film for the first time.
Driving the original 1955 Series One Land Rover (‘Oxford’), Bescoby and an experienced team are remaking history for a new generation of adventurers. This time, the team will forge the path through some of the densest jungles, highest mountains and most arid deserts on the planet, returning the car from Singapore to London.
Currently, Bescoby is in Nepal part of the Last Overland expedition where he along with his team are driving from Singapore to London on a 64-year-old Land Rover. Onlinekhabar caught up with Bescoby and talked to him about his journey so far and what he aims to achieve through this extraordinary journey. Excerpts:
How has the journey been so far?
It’s been amazing. I had pretty high expectations when they approached me and I have not been let down at all. It feels I’ve been doing this forever now and it’s a wonderful life. I have a wonderful team. We get up every day, meet new people, and see new places where we’ve never been to before. We also get to learn so many things every day. We eat fantastic food and often bump into landrover lovers who come out to see and speak to us just to see the car.
It has been tiring moving all the time, but it’s been a wonderful experience so far. There’s been a lot of variety so far. Roads have been good in most places but we’ve also had some really poor roads but all in all, I’d say it’s been fun.
Where have you been so far?
Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Northeast India and now Nepal. And what’s wonderful is that the way we’re travelling we’re learning new things about cross-border cultures. When you fly into a place you assume that the geographical borders are where the cultures stop. But you realise that when you cross from Thailand to Myanmar, a lot of people there speak the same language, share the same faith. Same with travelling through northeast India, we’ve seen six or seven major ethnic groups which are similar to northwest Myanmar. The past few days, we spent with people speaking Nepali and identifying themselves as Gurkhas in northeast India. That is what I’ve been finding very fascinating. When you travel by road slowly, how the different national cultures they sort of mix and blend with each other.
How long have you been on the road?
It is a long way. We’ve been on the road for 36 days now and still have around two-and-a-half months to go. It turns out flying is a lot easier than driving from Singapore to London.
So you’re not rushing then?
What would be the point in that? We’re not racing against anyone. We’re in an old car and want to enjoy this journey. We also want to see these incredible places and learn about new cultures because you never know when we’ll be able to travel to these places. It would be a real shame to just drive through these wonderful places.
When do you plan to be back in London?
Our deadline is Christmas. I think we are on track.
What was the first thing that came across your mind when you were asked to go on this journey?
It was the opportunity of a lifetime. The pieces started to fall for the project when I started to get excited. Tim Slessor wanted to do it. The old car was available and restored. We had sponsors like the Singapore Tourism Board and Land Rover came in and told us they’d make it possible. That is when I felt this was going to be an adventure of a lifetime and I haven’t been disappointed.
How is the car?
It’s good. Oxford is 64 years old. She has no power steering, no disk brake, no air conditioning, very very poor windscreen wipers which I have realised in the past few days. And she leaks through the roof and she’s drafty. But by god, she is fun to drive. I call her ‘she’ because Tim always called her ‘she’. He called this car the old lady.
I feel this car has a personality that you get to know gradually and that’s wonderful because this isn’t a normal car. You’re not protected from the environment. You feel the road, you feel the weather, it’s noisy and it’s hard work because you have to concentrate. It makes the journey more fun I’d say.
What advice did Tim give you before starting the journey?
It was nice of him to come to Singapore with us. The initial plan was for him to come with us, but his health got bad so he didn’t join us. But in the build-up to that, Tim gave me some practical advice which has come in handy so far into the journey. From how to pack the cars, to how to approach scheduling and resting, how to eat how to drink. But I remember two pieces of advice the most: one was to drive fast on bumpy roads or else oxford will rattle into pieces and the other one was whatever disagreement we’d have as a team, he told us to make sure it didn’t last the day.
What has each country taught you so far?
Well, Singapore taught me how much you can get done in 24 hours. That city is incredible. Anything you want to get done in 24 hours you can do. In Malaysia, I learned how much those people loved Land Rovers. I was absolutely blown away. In Thailand, I learned to appreciate good roads, 7/11s, good petrol stations and great food. Myanmar, where I’ve lived for many years, taught me the value of air conditioning. It was absolutely boiling there.
Northeast India blew my mind. It taught me how little I knew about India and the variety of culture and history there. Even the terrain was quite surprising. And here in Nepal nothing yet. I’ve just been here and I hope I get to learn a lot from this country too. The welcome has been amazing. We’ve been looked after by the Gurkha Welfare Trust who have been simply amazing.
Where will you be travelling around Nepal?
Well, from Damak, we’re going to Pokhara where we’ll spend a few days. We’ll take the car to Sarangkot. After that, we’ll go to Kathmandu where we’ll prepare for our trip to China which is going to be quite tough. We’re exiting via Kerung into China which is going to be hard work. Travelling through some remote places in China, going through some of the highest roads in the world, we want to relax in Kathmandu and immerse ourselves in the festival. Looking forward to having a good time in Nepal.
What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
I’d say the car. Just keeping the car in good condition has been a challenge. It’s been challenging to drive especially on the Indian highways where people drive on the wrong side of the road. Making sure the car is okay has been a challenge. We broke down in Darjeeling where there were a lot of Land Rover mechanics which was a lot of help. Bad roads have also been a challenge.
Has the journey been better than what you’d hoped it would be?
Absolutely. I hadn’t expected such a good response. I had thought that we would be driving through countries and no one would care. But that has not been the case. Both the response the road and where we’re stopped has been staggering. People have given us free meals and free hotels, something which I had not imagined we would be getting. The response online has been quite amazing. Both on Facebook and Instagram.
When Tim fell ill we thought people would not be interested in our journey but we were wrong. People have absolutely loved what we’re doing so far. What we’ve realised is that the car is much a celebrity as Tim.
What do you plan to achieve through this? Is this doing it for doing its sake or is there a greater calling?
I mean there is this doing it for doing its sake in a way because the journey that Tim went on to define his life. And 64 years later, he and his friends are still talking about it.
Then another question arose – can we do it? Will the car make it? Politically can we get across borders without much trouble? We also wanted to see if the world was more dangerous than it was 64 years ago or is it safer?
Personally I wanted to investigate what had changed in the world in the past 64 years.
There are obviously bad things going around in the world, but I want to show people that on the ground level people are lovely. And I hope I inspire other people to travel slowly across countries and hope they realise that the world is a better place.
The First Overland came via Afghanistan and Syria, but you’re not taking that route. The world was more interconnected in the past, but can’t move as freely now. Comments?
We could try going through Afghanistan and Syria, but it would be stupid. We don’t want to take so many risks. What interesting about this route we’re taking now is we’ve moving freely across China and Central Asia, something the 1955 team could never do. There is no way that six Britons could drive through China and the USSR without conflicts. Just shows how the world has changed.
Photos – Last Overland