Travel startup Voyages Overland puts the focus on the journey as its overlanding trips in customised trucks promise experiences like none other.
At a glance:
Startup: Voyages Overland
Founded in: 2016, Operations began in 2018
Based out of: Mumbai
Founders: Bhairavi Sagar and Col Jaidev Singh Rathore
The call of the road, the wind in your hair… there is a certain romance to road trips, especially those in trailers and large campers. In India, however, planning a road trip is a daunting task. To change this, travel enthusiasts Bhairavi Sagar and Colonel Jaidev Singh Rathore decided to bring “overlanding” to India with Voyages Overland.
The Mumbai-based bootstrapped startup puts people on the road for a travel experience of a different kind – with the emphasis less on the destination and more on the journey.
Over the years, the duo has travelled and overlanded through states, countries, and continents – they claim their cumulative travel experience spans over 50 countries.
“With overlanding being the form of travel we love most, the idea took birth with the thought of sharing this immersive and engaging travel format in the country. We felt that we must share it in its purest form, with the same love and passion with travellers and tourists – those who did not know about overlanding and would love to experience India in a whole new light,” Bhairavi says.
Once the idea had taken root, the duo decided to make overlanding vehicles themselves. They decided to use off-road trucks, modified to suit their purpose.
Trucks for the way
“As with everything else, we had a long wish list and an even longer quality requirement list for the trucks. We were positive about the fact that these would form the bedrock of the platform and had to be the best fit,” Bhairavi says.
During the initial process, the team met with Bharat Benz, Tata, Ashok Leyland, Volvo, Man and Scania. They narrowed down choices in terms of the truck category, and figured out the models they were looking for with each brand.
Bhairavi explains it was a bit tricky to put the whole picture of overlanding across when you were repurposing a platform meant for something else.
“Bharat Benz, Tata, Ashok Leyland, and the others gave us a patient hearing. After a series of meetings we finally went ahead with Bharat Benz. The fact that their products best suited our requirements was a key factor. Post the selection, after several unsuccessful efforts to procure finance for the purchase of the vehicles (since we were less than a six-month-old company), an NBFC finally approved our project and that’s how the trucks were procured,” Bhairavi says.
Making them for India
Once the trucks were obtained, they needed to be modified. It was an uphill task as there was no previous reference or expertise for this. Bhairavi says they received “upmarket quotes” from a lot of fabricators and firms, along with their opinions on the project.
They finally decided to develop the designs and fabricate the trucks in-house as they didn’t want the designs to be changed or adapted to existing formats and mindsets in the country.
The duo started by learning digital 3D modelling, made the designs, and got a team of willing enthusiasts to fabricate the trucks piece by piece, like a puzzle. Each person on the team was an expert in his own field, from metal fabricators to welders and electricians.
“The process took us close to a year, majorly owing to the fact that we did not want to cut back on quality and design at any stage from the standards and requirements set. It meant long hours in the sun scratching our heads, but the results were worth going through it all again,” Bhairavi says.
These trucks are designed keeping Indian travel conditions in mind. They are completely self-reliant in terms of power, amenities, and travel and camping requirements. They are capable of operating or being on the road without support for long durations at a single stretch. “In fact, we are equipped to offer 45-day plus itineraries,” Bharavi adds.
What do these trucks have?
The passenger truck – aka ‘Bonnie’ – carries 12 passengers. It is air-conditioned and comes equipped with a mini fridge. Personal lockers where travellers can store their daypacks, laptops, and other valuables safely are built into the frame along with numerous storage spaces.
Roof seats allow you to enjoy 360-degree views while on the road. Outside storage compartments house a generator and an inverter ensure AC comfort, a fridge, and charging points.
An infotainment system, including portable speakers and an outdoor movie projector – for those bonfire and movie nights in the wilderness – is carried on board. A vestibule connects the rear seating area to the driver’s cabin for uninterrupted views of the road.
The camper utility truck aka ‘Clyde’ takes care of every other requirement one might have while on the road, including a fully functional kitchen where meals are prepared, a washing machine for long spells on the road – enabling you to travel light – and five washrooms with pressurised hot and cold water.
“We believe in an open kitchen where you can conjure up dishes you would like to share.
The truck also houses its own RO filtration plant and the guests are given two bottles which they can refill to avoid generating any plastic waste along the way, but we do carry bottled water, in case the guest so desires. We aim at generating the least amount of waste and even lesser plastic waste. All our trash is housed till we can dispose it safely,” Bhairavi says.
Working the nitty-gritty
The tents that are a part of the overlanding experience were selected over two years. These accommodate a maximum of four people who can stand upright in the tent. The team claims to have US military specification camp cots, air mattresses, inflatable pillows, liners and sleeping bags.
All lighting throughout the camp is rechargeable or solar, which keeps the auxiliary truck batteries charging while the trucks run and minimises the need for running a generator.
The convoy moves along the itinerary with one or two halts, depending on the sightseeing planned.
The camping sites are on preselected private land, where owners are partnered with, thus ensuring safety. The hotels are carefully selected to provide an experience rather than just plain luxury. Every Overland trip is accompanied by a trained crew, ready to assist in case of any requirement and making the experience completely hassle-free for any traveller.
A time for travel
While established in 2016, the team started operations in March this year. Voyages Overland trip charges are on a per night basis. The team charges Rs 8000 per night for plains and easier sectors and Rs 10,000 per night per person for hill trips. A total of two vehicles go on a trip. The passenger vehicle accommodates 12 tourists and the Utility vehicle accommodates three crew members. For any trip to run effectively, there needs to a minimum of 10 people.
The charges include accommodation whether hotel or camp, food, travel and organised sightseeing. It has been designed to be an all-inclusive package where once the overlanders are on board all their needs are catered for.
The trips can be customised extensively for the sector, duration and camping content vs hotel stays based on the group requirements. This does reduce the costings based on the selections however, we need a minimum of eight to ten people for customising departures and trips. The format is designed specifically for long overlanding tours and it truly becomes a rewarding experience once we are on the road for a long haul.
“Apart from the trial runs we have recently finished our pioneer trip to Chopta (Tungnath) in Uttarakhand,” says Bhairavi.
Curated travel as a concept is fast picking up in India. Byond Travel, started by Vikram Ahuja, has been curating and building different kinds of travel experiences for people – from yoga retreats to jungle safaris. There also is Jagriti Yatra, which works closely with social entrepreneurs and takes them to different parts of India. Then there is TripFactory, backed by Mohandas Pai, which builds and creates trips for people.
While bigger players like MakeMyTrip and ClearTrip create packages for activities, there are other players like WeNomads, Adventure365, Thrillophilia and even TripHobo that create itineraries for travellers. Voyages Overland, however, focuses on overlanding trips.
“We plan on expanding the sectors we currently cover in India and increasing the fleet of vehicles we own – giving Bonnie and Clyde additional partners to travel with. South India and the North East are on our radar to start with. Eventually, we want to move to Southeast Asia and overland to neighbouring countries as well,” Bhairavi ends.