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    Day 3 Day 10

    Day 17

    Day 24

    Day 31

    Day 38 Day 45
    Day 4 Day 11

    Day 18

    Day 25

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    Day 39 Day 46
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    Day 19

    Day 26

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    Day 35 Day 42 Day 49


    • Detail of the
      Asian Highway route
      on the UN's map

    This illustrated travelogue of the Tokyo to London Aston Martin Driving Home Road Safety 2007 event was compiled en route by Richard Meredith with some later editing and added material

    © Richard Meredith 2007; all rights reserved
    Design and layout

    The event aimed to draw world attention to issues of road safety with charity proceeds being donated to UNICEF's office in Beijing to help their programme for saving young lives.

    All pictures © MercuryBooks unless shown
    Photo team: Phil Colley (main), Tony Honess, Richard Meredith, “James” & “Mr Mar” (minders in China), friends, passers-by and others.

    Click here for the HALL OF FAME list of corporate sponsors who made this event possible

    Asian Highway Adventure


    Day 1

    Monday June 25
    From: Tokyo, Japan
    To: Osaka
    Distance: 540km
    Route: AH1

    • Here she comes: a transporter delivers the car after its long trip by sea to Japan


    The salesman in the Tokyo camera shop called himself Ted. That wasn’t his Japanese name, of course, but he wore it on a name badge to make foreign customers like us feel more at ease. Thankfully too, he spoke a good range of english.

    • pic © Nigensha Publishing, Japan
    • Proud to be British: jokey bowlers and a final wave as we set off from Tokyo

    We met him last night in Akihabara, which is known as the “electronic district” of this vast city of more than 30 million people and is, without doubt, one of the greatest retail concentrations of computerised gadgetry, image recollection and digitalised gismo-nology anywhere in the world.

    All we needed was to buy some camera equipment capable of faithfully recording this trans-continental journey of ours back to London.

    But to be able to give his best advice, Ted wanted to know our story.

    “Drawing world attention to road safety,” he said, repeating one of our main ambitions. “Well, here in Japan, you should find that drivers behave themselves with care and caution. It’s part of our national psyche.

    “But as for your route … the Asian Highway, you say?” I pulled out my bag with the map and its accompanying booklet from the United Nations.

    “M’mm, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a sign for it. Are you sure there is one?”

    On Day One, our departure day from Tokyo, we found that Ted was right on both counts. With traffic so thick in the world’s biggest city, there was simply no other way than to drive slowly with caution. And, even with Phil’s fluency in Japanese, following the signs to reach our designated highway going south tested his navigational abilities to the full. The UN’s map confirmed we were on Asian Highway 1 (AH1), but otherwise: who would know?

    Tonight as we reach Osaka, another big city, there is more confusion as we roam round busy streets following signs in an unfamiliar language. But we reach our hotel safely in the end.

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    Day 2

    Tuesday June 26
    From: Osaka
    To: Fukuoka
    Distance: 625km
    Route: AH1
    Total driven so far: 1165km

    A good run down to the port of Fukuoka on a smooth, Western-style expressway with frequent service stations and emergency service support. The countryside is pleasantly wooded with glimpses of the mist-shrouded Chugoku hills which are the backbone of this southern part of Honshu island.

    • Fill her up: first fuel stop of the trip

    Traffic volume is thinner now that we are clear of the big cities and drivers stick responsibly to the (mostly) 80kph limit with good lane discipline. There will be many far, far more difficult days ahead. But for today, the driving was relaxing and straight-forward.

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    Day 3

    Wednesday June 27
    From: Fukuoka, Japan
    To: Busan, S.Korea (by ferry)

    • First of many: customs officers search the car at Busan after our arrival in Korea

    A fast and efficient ferry takes us across from Japan to South Korea on the first “waterborne” section of the Asian Highway. Four years ago, when I was last at the Korean port of Busan, typhoon Maemi had blown in, flattening many of the dock facilities and hurling boats up onto the quayside. But today we have none of that drama – making the flat calm crossing in just seven hours with a minimum of fuss.

    Clearing customs is no great problem either although officials in the car shed are sceptical of our schedule.
    “How long will you be staying in Korea,” asked one.

    “About 36 hours,” I replied.

    “Oh, and where are you going?” he queried.

    “London,” I said firmly and quite matter-of-fact.

    “Goodness,” his eyebrow raised, “nobody’s ever told me that before.”

    “I know,” I said, “we’ll be the first to do it.”

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    Day 4

    Thursday June 28
    From: Busan
    To: Seoul
    Distance: 435km
    Route: AH1
    Total driven so far: 1600km

    • Look familiar? Nose to tail on the AH1 in South Korea


    • Where next? Map check at our sponsors' hotel in Seoul

    As so often, the picture tells the story ...

    We were seriously starting to wonder if this new Asian Highway road network would turn out to be that continent's best-kept secret.

    After driving through two countries and the best part of 1000 miles we had not seen a single sign to announce that we were actually travelling along what will undoubtedly become one of the world's most important road systems since the Silk Routes of ancient times.

    We had been along the designated expressway from Tokyo right through Japan with there being, well, not a sign of it.

    And now we were halfway across South Korea too.

    Then, suddenly, there it was ... a sign across the motorway which said: "This way to Turkey"!

    • Sign that says it all: this way to Turkey

    The AH1, a principle road artery of the new Asian Highway system, is signposted just south of Seoul, the South Korean capital. It links Asia with Europe after passing through China to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and eventually to Istanbul, many thousands of miles away.

    We shall follow it as far as X'i’an, the ancient Chinese capital, before branching west
    across China along the AH5 ( aka the “central "corridor" route) travelling through the 'Stans, across the mighty Caspian Sea, and then on to Europe through Turkey.

    The sign we saw today said everything ...we are on our way, the right way, into history - the first car ever to cross the full extent of the new Highway; a journey that no car has achieved before. Asia's best-kept secret is out at last!

    Meanwhile, the driving today is mostly slow going with a heavy volume of traffic, especially in Seoul.

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    Day 5

    Friday June 29
    From: Seoul
    To: Incheon
    Distance: 80km
    Route: AH1
    Total driven so far: 1680km

    • Joy-riding: pedal power interlude at Korean roadway services


    After a short drive to Incheon we find problems await us on the second waterborne leg of our trip - a lengthy ferry journey cross the East China Sea.
    • Easy does it: ground-clearance problems as we board the ferry to China

    First, we discover that bad weather has delayed our sailing on the Motor Vessel Tian Ren by three hours.

    Second, our overnight “cabin” turns out to be a dormitory to be shared with dozens of Chinese on mattresses laid out in rows on the floor (we pay to upgrade) And third, potentially far more serious, we find the car’s low ground clearance means we can’t get up the loading ramp. In the end, we make it (just) thanks to a pile of drift wood and some cautious guidance from the loading crew. But they warn that disembarkation in China may be even more problematic and make us promise not to hold them responsible if we can’t get the car off.

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    Day 6

    Saturday June 30
    From: Incheon
    To: Tanggu, China (by ferry)

    • Welcome to craneland: first sight of the Dragon's feverish new economy



    Our journey over to China onboard the Tian Ren is roughly 600 miles and takes 24 hours.

    In actual fact, we hadn’t intended to come by ferry at all, but our road route to China along the AH1 through North Korea is closed due to what the authorities describe as “political reasons” (a polite term for the imposition of sanctions following North Korea’s recent testing of a nuclear device.) Was it ever thus?

    Anyway, it gives us time on board to catch up with sleep and, despite our fears, the car comes off the boat in fine fettle - although only after the unloading crew had made special arrangements for us, using a second ramp when everyone else had long departed.

    On the dockside we are met by “James” and “Mr Mar” (not their real names) who have been appointed our official minders by the government, and who will accompany us every yard of the way through China to ensure, presumably, that we don’t see anything we shouldn’t. M’mm.

    Tonight they take us to a local hotel at nearby Tianjin, leaving our car behind to begin the frustrating process of clearing China’s notoriously slow and laborious customs procedures.

    “It could take days,” warns James ominously.

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    Days 7 & 8

    Sunday 1st/Monday 2nd July


    • Undercover assignment: the long wait for clearance at Tanggu dockside

    Our car remains on the dockside at Tanggu, impounded in the Customs yard looking mysterious but rather forlorn under a dark blue cover.

    China's economy may be expanding at break-neck speed, but the news does not yet seem to have reached those who work in the local Customs department.

    They do not work on Sundays (well, not on shipments like ours apparently), so that's one day gone. Then there's all the paperwork to be checked, signed and counter-signed. And that's a days-worth too.

    No international carnets here. China has its own rules for doing things, so we'll just have to wait. That could be another three days, we are told. Chinese number plates have to be arranged; we'll need to be issued with Chinese driving licences; our "guide" (aka compulsory companion) will have to present himself...

    Remember, says an official, the first foreign car was not allowed into Beijing until 20 years ago.

    But that was then and this is now, I say. A lot has happened since. What will happen next year when hundreds of thousands arrive for the Olympics?

    Ah, says the man in the polished peaked cap, a great number of more staff are already being trained up. Cars will get through in no time ...

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    Days 9 & 10

    Tuesday 3/Wednesday 4 July


    • Above and Below: traffic clogs Beijing's busy streets



    With our engine forcibly switched off, as you might say, we find ourselves with an unexpected chance to explore the city of Beijing, a truly amazing mixture of new-found wealth and old-world charm.

    • Smog is an ever-present hazard

    In the space of a lifetime, the place has been transformed into a formidable business centre capable of competing with the best in the world while, between the cracks, there is still a myriad of small shops, restaurants and markets to be found, plus of course the famous Forbidden City, Emperor's Palace and Great Hall, and the ill-famed Tiananmen Square.

    It is also, we learn later, a city where more than 1000 cars are being newly-registered every day.

    Meanwhile, we hear there are the first encouraging signs of movement down on the dockside at Tanggu ...

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    Day 11

    Thursday July 5
    From: Tanggu
    To: Beijing
    Distance: 200 kms
    Road: National Highway


    • Another inch gone: final map check before we leave Beijing

    Well into the sixth day, Tanggu customs finally cleared the car to make its official entrance into China. Phil was the hero as his patient persuasion and mastery of the language eventually broke down the barriers. Unfortunately, there was not quite time enough for the car to make her star entrance at a press conference 2 1/2 hours away in Beijing where Richard was "holding the fort" in front of more than 50 media and broadcast representatives. He referred to the car's absence as an adventure thriller in true 007 tradition, and all understood the difficulties since problems with customs clearance are well known throughout China.

    UNICEF's chief representative in China, Dr Yin Yin Nwe praised our efforts to raise the issues of road safety and child care and thanked all those involved with our journey for making it possible.

    Some photographers stayed on to record the car's arrival, while others will return in the morning for the final send-off. Facilities for the event were provided by InterContinental Hotels, one of the major sponsors of the Asian Drive.

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    Day 12

    Friday July 6
    From: Beijing
    To: Zhengzhou
    Distance: 678km
    Total driven to date: 2562km
    Route: AH1

    • Pollution is part of daily life in China
    • The media crowd gathers at Zhengzhou

    On the road again at last. We leave Beijing - rather appropriately - across the Marco Polo bridge on the Jingliang expressway. These are "hard miles" as we seek to catch up lost time, but the roads are surprisingly good and we make excellent progress through, it must be said, an essentially flat and uninteresting landscape that is permanently enshrouded in a sweltering 38deg heavy haze of smog.

    Hazard ahead: the journey is dangerously enlivened by the antics of undisciplined drivers who weave in and out of traffic on the dual-carriageway (plus hard shoulder) more in the fashion of skiers tackling a giant slalom. After (or perhaps because of) surviving the experience, a large media scrum is waiting at our night's pit stop in Zhengzhou, one of China's Top 10 largest cities

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    Day 13

    Saturday July 7
    From: Zhengzhou
    To: X'ian
    Distance: 550km
    Total distance driven so far: 3112km
    Route: AH1

    • Above and right: City sights in Xi'an, burial place of the terracotta warriors and China's ancient former capital


    After leaving the AH1, we travel west to join the AH5 at X'ian and the "central corridor" route that will take us all the way to Istanbul and into Europe.

    Today's road closely follows the aptly-named Yellow River through sand-driven hillsides and fertile lands until we reach X'ian which Marco Polo "discovered" on his famous journey, taking silk, paper and other treasures back to Europe along what later became known as the Silk Roads that were used for centuries by traders and pilgrims. Today, some of the city walls of X'ian still remain, together with its tree-lined streets and ancient markets - but like so much of modern China, it is now in the grip of a building frenzy.

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    Day 14

    Sunday July 8
    From: Xi'an
    To: Ping Liang
    Distance: 263 km
    Total distance driven so far:3375km
    Route: Detour (AH5)

    • Foot Patrol: Richard showing the way to go

    First real test of the car's durability. An enforced detour - something we are told, rather mysteriously, to do


    with not being allowed near a "sensitive" military installation - takes us off-route to rural Ping Liang.

    • Dusty deviation near Ping Liang

    The gruelling journey is only about 165 miles but it takes eight hours in grid-lock in heat of 60degrees. After our progress so far on express and highways this rough road has multiple problems. Pounded by trucks shuttling in and out of sand and gravel extraction plants, the surface is frequently broken with repair work, mounds and potholes. The car has a ground clearance of approx 6ins and several times Richard has to walk in advance

  • Heat is on: ambient temperature went over 60 in the cockpit
  • like the flagmen of motoring 100 years ago, guiding Phil on a path through ruts that are twice that deep. But the car survives it all - without a murmur of dissent.

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    Day 15

    Monday July 9
    From: Ping Liang
    To: Lanzhou
    Distance: 329km
    Total distance driven so far: 3704km
    Route: Detour (AH5)

    • Fields of plenty: a spectacular 'layered cake' hillside outside Lanzhou


    Arrived at Lanzhou with the car still in one piece after an adventurous 600km detour. It was Phil's turn today to go on "flagman patrol" to guide us through the ruts and potholes.

    • Which way next? Rough road detours were a major problem

    Refreshingly, however, we were able to experience many of the sights that expressway driving obscures, including farming communities threshing out a living from fields in the Yellow River Valley, and spectacular views of layered-cake hills in manicured cultivation - scenes far removed from the "new" China, and just the way it has been for many centuries.

    Tonight, thankfully, we reached Lanzhou, another major and historic city. Tomorrow (Wednesday) is a rest day, and then we continue on our route, which retraces the steps of Marco Polo and the old Silk Routes.

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    Day 17

    Wednesday July 11

    • Spied in China: the V8 Vantage caused great curiosity

    A rest from driving today allows us to visit some of this city's formidable variety of restaurants, where we find why the Chinese have long been famed for their careful regime of waste-not-want-not. Here's a taste from a typical menu, but be warned, this is not for the sqeamish:

    Chef's specialities: Mixed fern root noodles with chicken gristle
    Sauteed stomach (no further details given) with colourful peppers
    Marinated duck's tongue
    Jellyfish head with mixed vinegar
    Stewed goose webs (feet) with mushrooms
    Sauteed pork neck (or ear)
    Fried chicken's physique (no further details given) with chili sauce
    Stewed beef tongue with crispy potatoes

    Side dishes: Apart from a wide variety of noodles, dumplings, rice and pancakes, this little gem caught the eye:
    A seasonal mixed salad of lily root and black wood fungus

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    Day 18

    Thursday July 12
    From: Lanzhou
    To: Zhangye
    Distance: 512km
    Total distance driven so far: 4,216km
    Route:National highway/AH5

    • Flash storms were an extra test


    Our drive continued across the high plains of central China, where the weather changes in an instant from bright sun to torrential rain.

    After the crowded cities of the east we are now seeing the vastness of the country, with few cars and only scattered villages along the road. It is an historic place, where weather-worn ramparts of the Great Wall still set their face against the hordes from Mongolia and the sands of the Gobi.

    • Dwarfed by the watch-tower at Zhangye

    Tonight we are stopping at Zhangye, where Marco Polo was said to have rested for a year on his fabled journeys to and from Xi'an. Judging by the interest in the car and the messages we are bringing, this drive of ours will go down in legend here too.

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    Day 19

    Firday July 13
    From: Zhangye
    To: Anxi
    Distance: 511km
    Total distance driven so far: 4,728km
    Route: National Highway 312/ AH5



    We have travelled across the high plains of central China for 1,000km in the past two days, with a great deal more to come.

    Today we conditioned ourselves in the cockpit for temperatures of 40degC across a landscape that was an everlasting wilderness of wind-sculptured sand and semi-desert. Incongruously, it is boundaried to the south by a horizon of snow-capped mountains in the Qilian range. A couple of highlights: we found the fort at Jiayuguan which pretty much marks the end of the Great Wall's snaking journey all the way up from Beijing,

    • Left: Highway breaks the Great Wall
      Above: The ancient fort at Jiayuguan

    and tonight we "pit stopped" at Anxi near the famous cave dwellings at Dunhuang which so excited archaeologists in the early 20th century, when they discovered that traders from Rome must have passed through this way 2,000 years ago.

    Today's expressway - a superb piece of engineering through this difficult terrain - is part of China's contribution to the Asian Highway system of roads with its important links to Europe.

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    Danger ahead on the roads of China

    Signs are ignored... Tyres are bald... Riders without helmets... Ah, that's better!



    Day 20

    Saturday July 14
    From: Anxi
    To: Hami
    Distance: 364km
    Total distance driven so far: 5,092km
    Route: National Highway 312/ AH5



    Another day of sizzling heat and a long stretch of lower-quality road keeps us on constant alert. The shimmering tarmac is an ever-present halucination of distance and judgement, and the thought is never far from our minds that an error in avoiding potholes could send us corkscrewing off the road.

    Other than widely in Australia and partly in Arizona, I cannot remember experiencing distance-driving conditions like this before. The stretch is turning into another great test for the car.

    After three long days in the rising temperatures of these high plains, tomorrow we will tackle the route through Turpan -a desolate place that has recorded some of the highest temperatures on record. But tonight we reach the oasis town of Hami, where we can prepare for the challenge to come.

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    Day 21

    Sunday July 15
    From: Hami
    To: Urumchi
    Distance: 587km
    Total distance driven so far: 5,679km
    Route: National Highway 312/AH5


    • Down into the lunar landscape


    Turpan is one those places you read about in geography books and then promptly forget - unless you happen to go there. We reach it today on our continuing journey across north-west China and it is, by any standards, a phenomenon of nature. Suddenly, after driving for days through empty plains of sandy nowhereness, we drop right into it, descending mile after mile into a huge basin of a place enclosed by rocky escarpments on all sides and with a floor which has lowered itself, quite inconceivably, well below sea level.

    Because of this geological freakery, the temperature rises to a brutish 50degC by day and plunges to minus 20degC at night - a span of extremes that is unsurpassed virtually anywhere else in the world.

    To put it bluntly, it is not a place for the feint-hearted. But then again, nature has a way of being kind as well as cruel. Despite its dangers, the Turpan Basin was on the route of explorers, traders and pilgrims who passed this way for centuries and lived to tell the tale.

    • Hot stuff: It goes over 50 at Turpan, tho' thankfully cooler for us
    • A truck snakes down into the Basin

    And so it was with us, on a day in which nature thankfully decided to throw some thin cloud across the sun and to send a cooling wind from the distant Tianshan mountains that kept the temperature mercifully down to around 40degC.

    A group of local Urgur people told us the combination was a rare event - just as it was for an Aston Martin V8 Vantage to make the Turpan crossing. If indeed, it has ever happened at all. Until today.

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    Day 22

    Monday July 16
    From: Urumchi
    To: Jinghe
    Distance: 424km
    Total distance driven so far: 6,103km
    Route: National Highway 312/AH5

    • Face-saving: cyclists need to protect themselves from air pollution



    Cooler weather and a return of trees, crops and grazing land mark today's journey as we near the end of our China run.

    By the time we reach Kazakhstan tomorrow (Tuesday) we will have driven across this huge and important country in little more than nine days. At around 4,500km (or 2,800 miles) it has constituted about a quarter of our entire trip from Tokyo to London.

    We have driven from East to West along roads designated within the new Asian Highway system, through the over-crowded, smoggy streets of Beijing, to new cities like Zhengzou and old ones like Xi'an, been diverted into the country backwaters of Ping Liang, crossed the desert wastes of the central plains, and plunged into the cauldron of the Turpan Basin.

    It has been an incredible journey, not just for the benefit of seeing these places, but also because it has been a fascinating chance to witness this nation at the time of its rapid re-emergence on the world's economic stage.

    The power of China's new future is everywhere, from the frenetic building of roads and infrastructure projects at every level to towering office and apartment blocks in the new or revitalised cities. Wherever we have been, people seem mesmerised and not a little overwhelmed as their nation, their past and their futures are being transformed by the State at breakneck speed.

    Like us, those able to witness the huge problems of bureaucracy and inefficiencies compared with the West can only wonder at what power there is to come when the barriers are broken down. Be warned: the Dragon is not only awake, it is getting increasingly hungry.

    China car notes: apart from an occasional throat-clearance, no doubt caused by fuel octanes of dubious quality, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage has behaved impeccably despite frequently hot and arduous conditions.

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    Day 23

    Tuesday July 17
    From: Jinghe, China
    To: Almaty, Kazakhstan
    Distance: 602km
    Total distance driven so far: 6,705km
    Route: National Highway 312/AH5 (China)
    Highways A353,A350/AH5 (Kazakhstan)

    • In-tents concentration: a village of yurts is home for Kazak people


    We left China as we began, with more frustration in clearing the car through Customs, but first there was a pleasant drive of 200km to the border at Horgos. This was quite different from what had gone before, with the winding road leading down through Alpine-like scenery of pine-clad hills and lakes and past the encampments of the nomadic, horse-riding Kazak people with their conical yurts (traditional, tented homes made of felt).

    • Sign language: 'this way to Europe' said the message

    But then came the delay in our departure. We were bang on schedule, yet despite three months of pre-notification, the help of local agents and calls to the UK to provide futher information about the car, we still had a six-hour wait for clearance.

    Three different phases of checkouts and 21 forms and documents, all needing to be signed by officials, did not help the process. But we were lucky - as we drove past line after line of trucks and other vehicles, we heard that some of them had been waiting for three days in the backlog.

    Sign of the day: while waiting for the car's release we spotted a small blue-and-white sign on the road into Horgos. It said "Yaou Road" with Chinese symbols alongside, which meant "the road from Asia to Europe." It is the one and only sign for the Asian Highway we had seen throughout our entire journey across China.

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    Day 24

    Wednesday July 18
    Rest Day: Almaty, Kazakhstan
    Total distance driven so far: 6,705km

    • Here we are in Kazakhstan


    Our rest day in Almaty followed a nightmare 400km drive from Korgos, China, into Kazakhstan, with Phil needing to adopt a technique we'll call "road surfing". The scenery beside the A353 and A350 (designated routes on the AH5) was sumptuous - mile upon mile of wild and unspoilt prairie with sun-dappled hills where only the renowned Kazak horsemen live and roam free. But the state of the road was a quite different story.

    Unlit, unmarked and apparently unmaintained for years, whole sections were rutted and pitted, and the passage of large trucks had deformed long stretches into mounds and hollows. Driving it in the road-hugging Aston Martin was like riding a switchback or surfing a wave, and the danger of "grounding" the car was quickly evident.

    • Hazard ahead: no markings and a rutted surface meant we had to 'road surf'

    But Phil mastered the art of road surfing by the technique of getting one set of wheels onto the upside of bumps and thus flipping the car up sufficiently to avoid the ruts and hollows. At low speed it may sound easy, but the V8 Vantage wasn't built for dawdling.

    It meant we were literally tossed around in the cabin like a surfer or a snowboarder as we lurched off the crest of the "waves" - but the car avoided any serious damage below the waterline!
    The technique is not to be recommended in any normal circumstances and required the greatest concentration. But with his quick eye and equally quick reactions, Phil was up to the task and brought the car into Almaty after a marathon five-hour drive in which the tyres and suspension took a hammering but the car remained unscathed. It was one of the most sustained pieces of driving in hazardous conditions that I can recall.

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    Days 25/26

    Thursday/Friday July 19/20
    From: Almaty (Kazakhstan)
    To: Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan)
    Distance: 254km
    Total distance driven so far: 6,959
    Route: M33 (AH5)

    • Almaty: now a major commercial centre


    Our time in Almaty found a vibrant and bustling city, as the former capital of Kazakhstan emerges from under the old Soviet regime into one of Eurasia's major commercial centres.
    More than 20 per cent of the nation's 15 million people live here, but only about half are Kazaks. The rest are predominantly Russians, Turks and Urgyrs. It all gives the place an international flavour with a surprising acceptance of western fashions and lifestyles.

    With its endless acres of wheatfields, self-sufficiency in oil, and a territory about the size of Europe, I imagine it to have been one of the assets the USSR was most loathe to lose following the Communist melt-down of the 1990s.

    • Border chaos: waiting to cross into Kyrgyzstan

    Today, as we travelled the short distance to Kyrgyzstan, the highway going west out of the city was better than it was from the Chinese border at Horgos, but we have heard that more of our "road surfing" tactics might be necessary when we travel back into Kazakhstan for the second time tomorrow.

    Tonight, meanwhile, we "pit stopped" at Bishkek, first city of the smallest of the now-independent Soviet states, and enjoyed the tree-lined streets and spectacular mountain views of what was once a favourite "watering hole" for the camel trains of traders along the old Silk Routes.

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    Day 27

    Saturday 21 July
    From: Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan)
    To: Tashkent (Uzbekistan)
    Distance: 632km
    Total istance driven so far: 7,591km
    Route: M30 (AH5) through Kazakhstan

    • More map planning at Tashkent

    After our briefest of stopovers in Bishkek, this was one of the longest day's driving of the trip so far - and we were back on the notorious roads of Kazakhstan. The scenery is beautiful ... a land of plenty with softly rolling hills, lazy rivers, fields of handsome fruit and vast plains of wheat - a thinly populated rural idyll so different to the city-life of Almaty. But the state of the road required our constant vigil.

    The local word was that nothing much had been done to maintain the roads since the Russians cut their umbilical cord to Kazakstan, and it showed. Today's run was more than 375 miles on one of the country's major roads, yet all but a short section of it was just two lanes, and we found the roadside littered with broken-down trucks and the carriageway strewn with fractured tyres and other debris.

    It wasn't surprising, since here once morewere all the bumps and hollows of a road surface heated by the strong sun and deformed by the pounding of big trucks and other heavy vehicles.
    As before, the V8 Vantage, with its road-hugging contours, took a thorough pasting of jars and judders, but we arrived at our destination safely. That destination was the Kazak border with Uzbekistan - and here again, we found ourselves needing to take some less orthodox action.

    Naturally,we couldn't possibly disclose the full details, but when night is falling fast, the gate is about to shut, and your car is the last in a long line, then let's just say that the current strength of the pound is something that can come in rather handy when trying to energise border officials at the end of a long and tiring day.

    And so tonight we rested in Tashkent, the Uzbeck capital, with another two countries - Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhtan - left behind in our dusty slipstream.

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    Look out, there's a heavy load about

    Hay going to the Market No more room on top... Pick of the cotton crop
    Hay going to market... No more room on top... Pick of the cotton crop


    Day 28

    Sunday 22 July
    Tashkent, Uzbekistan

    • Help! Where can we get some decent fuel


    Our stopover turned into a day of unexpected planning, after we discovered to our horror that no one in Uzbekistan could apparently sell us any fuel suitable for our Aston Martin.
    Well, not quite no one, as it turned out.

    Tapping into local knowledge, we found that someone knew someone who had a cousin who owned a garage here in Tashkent which was very probably the only place in the whole of Uzbekistan that could sell us the 98 octane petrol we needed.

    It may have sounded far-fetched, but the more we checked it out the more it seemed to be true.

    Oh dear! Uzbekistan is about the size of California. We were at the far end of it and it stretched before us for another 885 miles. Even with a following wind we simply could not drive that far on a single tank. And there was scarcely a breeze.

    Doesn't your cousin have any brothers who could help us out further into our journey, we asked our source. No, he said, the octane anywhere else would all be of lower quality and, even worse, would be leaded - still a legacy from the Soviet days.

    Oh dear oh dear!

    We sent an urgent message back to the Aston Martin base in the UK.

    Having been given the appropriate advice, we decided to fill the tank up to the very brim with the cousin's unleaded 98 octane petrol, fill up the largest spare can we could find, and squeeze it into our crowded cabin.

    We also decided that, as soon as we got a chance, we would cross into any neighbouring country, providing it wasn't Afghanistan.

    That country will be Turkmenistan. We will try to forget any political problems that country may be facing, and concentrate on the fact that they have ample supplies of the quality of fuel we need.

    We calculate that our route to the Turkmenistan border is 750km (470 miles), and that our full tank plus reserves and a following wind will carry us 782km (490 miles). There was, we realised, little room for error, and it was far too close for comfort. But comfort isn't why we are tackling this historic journey.

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    Day 29

    Monday 23 July
    From: Tashkent, Ukbekistan
    To: Samarkand
    Distance: 337 km
    Total Distance Driven so far: 7,928 km
    Route: M39 (AH5)

    • Above and below: Our arrival cause quite a stir among the ancient mosques and palaces of Samarkand and Bukhara


    Knowing that we could not buy more fuel whilst in Uzbekistan added a sense of drama to today's drive to Samakand.
    • Above and below: ancient and modern in the cenral square at Samarkand

    Another day of sweltering 40+degC on the Central Asian plain had a dangerously soporific effect as we eased along a highway mostly thin with traffic except for ancient Russian trucks, Daewoo cars from the national factory and animals of various descriptions which presented themselves in the fast lane from time to time.

    Samarkand, however, was worth the visit - a romantic place with picturesque forts, mosques and ornamental gateways dating from pre-Christianity, and a centre of trading on the Silk Roads since ancient times.

    Back in reality, the needle of our fuel gauge showed we still had a little over half a tank of fuel remaining. Perhaps it will be just enough.

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    Day 30

    Tuesday 24 July
    From: Samarkand
    To: Bukhara
    Distance: 276km
    Total distance driven so far 8,204km
    Route: M39 (AH5)

    • Mounded fortress guards Bukhara


    Next stop Bukhara, another of the great trading stations between Europe, Asia and China along the old Silk Roads. There was an even more rural feel to the driving today, with plenty of hay and donkey carts to avoid and trucks taking cotton -Uzbekistan's main wealth producer - to market. Life for the motorist, we learned, had changed little since the lifting of the Russian yoke. Fuel
    • Inside story: parking in a private courtyard keeps the car safely out of sight
    stations are mostly of the single-pump variety with octane grades in the low 80s, and requests for 'green' petrol are firmly rejected. Car insurance is a rarity and seat-belt rules are only now being advocated.

    Interestingly, the Aston Martin and our road-safety campaigning drew more crowds of well-wishers than usual, after our apparent appearance last night on national television. On more pressing matters, the amber low-fuel warning light flickered on as we approached the town. Tonight, we will put in our last reserves and tomorrow (Wednesday) we must travel another 140km to the Turkmenistan border with even more apprehension than usual.

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    Day 31

    Wednesday 25 July
    From: Bukhara (Uzbekistan)
    To: Mary (Turkmenistan)
    Distance: 394 km
    Total distance driven so far: 8598km
    Route: M37 (AH5)

    • Border bother: six hours in the heat

    With one eye permanently on the fuel gauge we continue to make for the shortest exit out of Uzbekistan - a place where they seem to think a catolytic converter is a new kind of missionary.
    • Animal cross roads: if it isn't a camel (above)
      it's a herd of cattle (below)

    Employing some of the best petrol-rationing tactics since World War II, we make it to the border at Farab with enough in the bottom of the tank to get us into Turkmenistan, a secretive land fabled for its cheap and plentiful fuel, fairytale castles of Italian marble and millions living an Orwellian life of listless impoverishment.

    First the bad news ... another six-hour marathon in a tin shed of a customs house in 45deg heat as we attempt to get into this never-never land where we notice, for the first time on this oddyssey of ours, that the border guards now have rifles across their shoulders.

    Then an obstacle race as we try to cross the river Oxus on a pontoon bridge where the sections rise and fall with the water. Imagine the picture with a car that has a six-inch ground clearance needing to make a sudden leap onto a section that has just stepped up by twice that much. The only way to achieve this feat is to anticipate the next fall of the oscillating bridge and then sprint-start to complete the jump-over to the next section before it rises again.

    We make it ...just; and we also make it just, to the first garage in Turkmenistan with 95 octane fuel. Our dashboard message gives us the news that we had enough fuel for only another 14.5 more miles.

    Those calculations we had made in Tashkent 500 miles ago had been right, but it had been a very, very close call.

    Incidentally, the new fuel - a full tank of more than 70 litres - cost us less than $2.

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    Day 32

    Thursday 26 July
    From: Mary
    To: Ashgabat
    Distance: 451km
    Total distance driven so far: 9049km
    Route M37 (AH5)

    • Watch out, there’s a camel about


    First to Merv, a name which sounds like

    • Ancient Merv: well worth a visit
    • Roads are rough outside the capital

    something out of an American movie from the 1960s. It was in fact, one of the most important centres of power in these parts for successively, the Persian, Greek, Arab and Turkish empires. Today, it is a collection of sandstone fortress walls and re-constructed mosques but well worth a visit. What isn't so worthy, is the journey from Merv to the capital Ashgabat where the road twists on for endless, featureless miles across the arid Asian plateau and the temperature settles in the stifling mid 40s. Tonight we arrive at Ashgabat, the Turkmenistan capital which the President Saparmurat Niyazov, until his recent death, had turned into a personal fantasy-land of fountains, parks and sculptures, designed against a serrated skyline of landmark buildings clad in European white marble and looking like something straight off the top of a box of Lego.

    Unfortunately, we have found ourselves in a police state that directs all foreigners to abide by an 11.30pm curfew, and doubles any fines against motorists which remain unpaid after 12 hours. They also demand a start-to-finish routemap from visitors which must be adhered to without fail, so it is not the kind of place which many would want to visit for long.

    Tomorrow, a rest day, we can explore some more before preparing for another extended run up to Turkmenbashi, and then a ferry across the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan.

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    Day 33

    Friday 27 July
    Rest day in Ashgabad (Turkmenistan)


    • The 'fairy-tale' city of Ashgabad

    • 'Trophy' buildings clad in white marble



    A stopover chance to venture into the extraordinary capital of this closed and little-known nation, which is surely like none other. Saparmurat Niyazov - until his recent death from heart failure - was evidently an unfettered dictator able to exercise the full range of his fantasies on this place while levelling a regime of total command and control on his subjects.

    • Niyazov's statue: immortalised in gold
    • Stepping up to the president's palace
    • Posters of the new president are everywhere

    Ashgabad city is a complete one-off in a nation of four million, who live mostly in rural penury. It commands a fairy-tale setting below the mountains that separate Turkmenistan from Iran, and it glitters like an illusion of the false oasis that it is.

    In the centre sits Niyazov's palace - a golden-domed edifice surrounded by a clutch of buildings that housed his acolytes and the apparatus of his power, all of them faced with expensive white marble imported from Europe and set among parks, shaded boulevards, intricate fountains and striking monuments, mostly of himself.

    Elsewhere in this city of delusion there is a huge "Olympic stadium" which will never stage the Olympics, a "world trade centre" which will never be a centre for world trade, and row upon row of high-rise "trophy" buildings and offices clad in the same white marble that look like cut-outs from a Hollywood film set but are, in fact, either empty or occupied by foreign companies and their guests.

    As part of his grand strategy, Niyazov determined that citizens and visitors alike could be stopped without reason - as we were many times - by the police and military on every street corner and questioned about their identity and purpose. Furthermore, there is evidence that he authorised bugging of hotel rooms and censorship of internet messages.

    He also decreed that all employees of the State (i.e., almost everyone with a job) should be provided with virtually free petrol and free gas, electricity and other household services in exchange for receiving virtually no wages - a policy which, despite all "official" survey results, has clearly failed to meet with universal satisfaction.

    His successor, the effusively-named Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow, has promised to change a few things since taking up the reigns of power in February.

    But despite that promise, visitors like us are treated to a rash of larger-than-life-size pictures of the new president being erected on sites throughout the city as we make our rapid tour.

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    Day 34

    Saturday 28 July
    From: Ashgabad, Turkmenistan
    To: Turkmenbashi
    Distance: 578km
    Total distance driven so far: 9,627km
    Route: M37 (AH5)

    • Humps in the road: a modern camel train


    An arduous eight-hour drive along the corridor between the sand dunes of the Garagum desert and the spectacular Kopet Dag mountains took us to the port of Turkmenbashi, where we expected to take a ferry across the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan.

    The journey was punctuated only by the antics of wandering camels in the habit of sitting on the warm asphalt towards the end of each day, causing a driving hazard in the failing light that Aston Martin drivers would not usually be conditioned to encounter on the roads of England (or most other places for that matter).

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    Night 34 & Day 35

    Saturday & Sunday 28 & 29 July

    The Caspian Sea ferry


    Of all the dispatches sent send during this marathon journey of ours along the new Asian Highway, there will be few - if any - more unusual than this. The plain fact is that what happened in a car park on a sultry night in a corner of a police state in central Asia will not have been within the experience of many who are associated with one of the world's great cars, and neither will many of them have attempted to sleep in one with their legs dangling through an open window in preference to settling down for the night in a mosquito-ridden ornamental flower bed. In the beginning, we had arrived at the ferry terminal in Turkmenbashi towards the late afternoon, looking to secure a place on the next sailing to Baku in Azerbaijan. It is, as we could see from the UN's official map of the new Asian Highway, the designated link of the AH5 route across the mighty Caspian Sea.

    • Choice accommodation: it was either the car or an ornamental flowerbed

    But oh dear, we found that the terminal - which even in its finest moments would languish among the fourth division of its peers and piers - was in even greater disarray following a fire and explosion earlier in the day at the local electricity plant that had blanked out all computer screens, halted all sailings, and marooned inbound passengers in the waiting room and outbound travellers in the car park.

    Probably, if we were on any ordinary journey to Baku, there would have been nothing else for it but to sit and wait. But we were men on a mission.

    The first thing we did was to establish that there were two ferries in the dock and that one was already fully loaded. The next was to discover that there was room on the second for perhaps 20 more passengers with or without cars, and the third was to find that we were, individually, 157th and 158th on the waiting list, and 159th if you counted the car. In view of the power failure it was also unlikely, we were told, that more boats would be turning up anytime soon.

    We began to negotiate in the time-honoured fashion in this part of the world.

    As an hour or two went by we identified those who were able to speed the process, gained access to their increasingly darkening offices, explained our problem, suggested a way forward with a gentle rubbing of thumb and forefinger, and finally settled on the required financial arrangements.

    We were now 11th, 12th and 13th on the list. But unfortunately, not yet with a boat to be listed on.

    Back in the car park, an uninspiring place of dust and grime, initial celebration at our elevation in the queue gradually subsided into resignation. Darkness, accentuated by the lack of power in the town and terminal, descended. The cafe shut. A warm breeze arrived with evening time, thankfully taking the smell of the toilets downwind. A pack of local dogs began their nightly prowl.

    Other travellers, some of them British, trickled into the place, and we found ourselves huddled with them on two raised, sandy islands. Once, probably when this place opened, they would have been ornamental flowerbeds, but now, devoid of vegetation, they suited another purpose and become our territory, our redoubts in the inky blackness.

    • With one a'chord: Phil serenades the stranded passengers

    More time passed. Occasionally, and especially when cars arrived with people who looked the slightest bit official, there was a stir as we pressed for news of a possible departure. But none came. In fact, there were no announcements of public information at all.

    The time dragged by to midnight. On our island encampment there was a difficult decision to be made: we were tempted to depart for a local hotel and get a good night's sleep, but what if the ferry should leave in the night? Our place in the queue - and all our financial "investments" - would be lost. And when might the next ferry turn up anyway? It could be days.
    On the other hand, if we stayed, where could we sleep - in a car already stuffed with the detritus of five weeks travelling, or among the sandy debris of a once-ornamental flowerbed?

    Nothing we could find in the Aston Martin handbook gave us a clue, but the choice was made - we stuck at our posts to see it through.

    • ‘Negotiating’ takes place in the time-honoured fashion

    So what can I tell you about how it is to sleep in the seat of one of the world's best-known cars on a pitch-black night in an arid car park in the middle of Asia? Despite all the electronic leverings of angles and adjustments, my conclusion was that it was after all a seat designed for driving and not for sleeping.
    The favoured position was to hang my feet out of the window and bury my head and back into the seat in recline as far as it would go. Unsuprisingly, my body language was soon as black as my surroundings.

    Surveying the island dormitory in the early hours on a preamble to get the blood flowing again into my aching limbs, I found Phil laid out on the car's dust cover which he had impregnated on the inside with insect repellant and wrapped around him like the Turin shroud. A borrowed guitar, presumably to deal with any bugs larger than the restless mosquitos, lay close at hand.

    Other of our new-found friends were strewn about. One, the son of a retired oil executive from Westminster, had taken the position of those knights of old who rest with hands neatly clasped on the top of tombstones. Another, a Russian with good English, appeared to have achieved the trick of sleeping with one eye still open like a faithful dog on guard duty, while a third, a pleasant social worker from Leeds, spent most of the night administering water and jolly words of comfort to those most in need.

    It was a night to remember, and it paid dividends. At about 7am, when we would surely have still been in our hotel beds if we had taken that course, word came round that we could board the ferry and our journey
    • At last: boarding the ferry to Baku
    to the distant shore of Azerbaijan could continue.

    It took nearly 17 hours, including another sleepless episode aboard a rust-bucket of a motor vessel of unknown vintage sailing under the highly improbable name of the "Akademik Topchubashov". But that is another story and will have to wait for later.

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    Day 36

    Monday 30 July

    Baku, Azerbaijan


    We arrived at the Azerbaijan capital's antiquated port after a moonlit journey across the Caspian Sea on an equally antiquated boat, with a villainous crew who demanded kickbacks for everything from shower soap to cabin size.

    Another sleepless night following the flowerbed incident in Turkmenistan left us badly drained - and to cap it all, the Customs shed was closed.

    While the Aston Martin remained impounded, it brought echoes of our entrance into China, but events perked up markedly later, as a police escort whisked us through the frenetic city of Baku to a press conference, where national TV and assorted media again mustered to record our arrival and to spread our messages on road safety.

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    Day 37

    Tuesday 31 July
    From: Baku, Azerbaijan
    To: Tbilisi, Georgia
    Distance: 608 km
    Total distance driven so far: 10,235km
    Route: M1 (AH5)

    Another long and tiring day saw us drive right across Azerbaijan, giving us a glimpse of a country which ranges from the expanding sprawl of oil-rich Baku to a countryside of semi-desert and rural deprivation. In parallel, the roads vary enormously from good to downright terrible.

    Tonight, another border crossing - this time into Georgia - and our first real taste that the West, rather than the East, was beckoning, with helpful officials, less mind-numbing bureaucracy, and no "financial persuasion" required.

    A little further and we arrived at Tbilisi, a twinkling, captivating Prague-like city now wanting to lean its future towards Europe after its "Rose Revolution" which brought independence from the Soviets

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    Day 38

    Wednesday 1 August
    Rest day :Tbilisi

    A 'pit stop' day allows us to explore more of this fascinating city. After centuries of turmoil that have ranged from earthquakes to gunfire and rioting in its narrow streets, the city is at last beginning a renaissance signposted by a new and vibrant pavement cafe society of culture, art and fashion.

    After its recent pounding across the rough roads of central Asia we also take the chance to check the car for any tyre or other fundamental damage. Rremarkably, the shock absorbers seem to have stood up to the test outstandingly well - as have the Bridgestone tyres which only required replacements to the rear set as a sensible precaution.

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    Day 39

    Thursday 2 August
    From: Tblisi
    To: Batumi
    Distance: 451km
    Total distance driven so far: 10686km
    Route: M1/M2 [AH5]


    At last! Good, flat roads take us through the lush, green fertile valleys of the wooded Caucuses. And tonight another contrast to all that has gone before ... we reach the Black Sea resort of Batumi, a favourite holiday destination for Georgian families and those from the Russian States with all the paraphernalia of beach huts, funfairs and silly hats to remind us that fun and laughter have returned to this part of the world. What a change it all is to my journey through here just four years ago when I needed to hire the local police chief to sit in the back of our car to warn-off his own men intent on relieving us of cash because they hadn't been paid

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    Day 40

    Friday 3 August
    From: Batumi (Georgia)
    To: Samsun (Turkey)
    Distance: 533km
    Total distance driven so far: 11219
    Route: D.010 [AH5]


    One more short hop and we cross the border into Turkey - the very last country in our attempt to become the first car to cross the full extent of the new Asian Highway. Comfortingly, the road is now a mostly dual-carriageway ride along the coast and we are able to enjoy the scenery instead of worrying about how to keep the car on the road for the first time in many weeks

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    Day 41

    Saturday 4 August
    From: Samsun, Turkey
    To: Arac
    Distance: 405km
    Driven so far: 11,624km
    Route: 0.10 and detours (AH5)

    • Colourful coast: Turkey’s aquamarine Black Sea


    With a few hours in hand we decided to detour from the main highway on this, the penultimate day of our journey across the new Asian Highway, and found some of the most spell-binding scenery of the whole trip.

    • A hidden world of red-tiled houses

    Driving inland towards Kastamonu from the aquamarine Black Sea, we found an enchanting hidden world tucked behind the mountains of Turkey's coastal range with golden meadows and pine-clad hills gathered around villages of red-tiled, whitewashed houses where life has changed little over the centuries.

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    Day 42

    Sunday 5 August
    From: Arac, Turkey
    To: Istanbul
    Distance: 465km
    Driven so far: 12,089km
    Route: 04 M-way (AH05)


    At precisely 4.32pm local time, the duty policeman in his box on the Asian side of the ancient suspension bridge that crosses the Bosphorus at Istanbul logged in one of the strangest requests to have ever come his way.

    Out of the gloom on an overcast afternoon, a mud-spattered Aston Martin V8 Vantage bedecked with sponsors' slogans and appeals for road safety, drew up outside his guard post and spilled out two weary-looking Brits, who declared that they had driven all the way from Japan and would he please take their photograph?

    • End of the highway: celebrating at the Bosphorus Bridge where Asia meets Europe and East meets West

    The two were Phil and me. The policeman took the picture and finally, after 42 days of one of the more significant journeys of modern-day motoring, we were able to say that we had completed the first official crossing of the new Asian Highway road system, with all its important implications for the future of global travel and trade.

    The statistics are these:

    Journey: From Tokyo, Japan, to Istanbul,Turkey

    Time taken*: Six weeks exactly

    Distance driven**: 12,089km

    Route: AH1 and AH5 - the Asian Highway "central corridor" route

    Nations crossed (10): Japan, South Korea, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey.

    Note *: after deducting delays for Customs clearance and rest days, actual driving time taken was approx four weeks.

    Note **: after adding ferry journeys, the actual total distance travelled was approx 13,000km.

    But there has been so much more to the story than that.

    By reaching the Bosphorus bridge, which officially marks the end of Asia and the beginning of Europe, we had shown that after 50 years in the planning, the 32 nations of Asia now have an inter-connected road network that is capable of speeding travellers and trade to and from the markets of Europe.

    Just like the Silk Roads of centuries ago, the new road system - with all its opportunities and implications - will grow in world significance over the years to come. And just like Marco Polo and those fabled travellers of many years ago who established the routes between East and West, there will surely be a great many others who followa along our pioneering path.

    Our personal thanks must go to a large number of people who helped to make the trip succeed.

    My own gratitude starts with Barry Cable, Director of Transportation of the UN's Asian Commission, and to his team, for hatching the idea with me of the first full Highway journey at the "Coming into Force" ceremony of the multi-national Treaty in Bangkok in the summer of 2005.

    There are also those connected with the FIA's Make Roads Safe and the GRSC's Road Safety is No Accident campaigns, whose objectives in trying to reduce the horrendous toll of traffic deaths in Asia - and particularly those of children - we have been proud to support. Extensive and heartfelt thanks too must go to our partners Aston Martin, for loaning us a car whose exceptional durability enabled us to complete the journey and whose help and support reached well beyond any expectations; to InterContinental, the international hotel chain, for providing us with places to rest our weary heads; to Bridgestone, for helping to keep our journey safe and a great deal more besides; and to a long list of many other companies and organisations for their most wonderful encouragement and support.

    Finally, but without whom this project would simply not have succeeded, I must thank Phil my co-driver, companion and amazingly talented all-round travelling person, plus Geoff, Tony, Paquita and Becky, who have been on-call throughout as the home-base team, providing all the back-up help that allowed us to concentrate on the road.

    As we rested in Turkey's fascinating capital of Istanbul, we were reminded that this great city was once one of the most important strategic centres of trade in the world.

    Known then as Constantinople, it was the principal city of the Roman's eastern (or Byzantine) empire, and it was across a bridge just like the one where we startled our policeman friend today that travellers, traders and pilgrims arrived or set out on their desperately arduous journeys to and from Asia.

    As history repeats itself, there seems little doubt that this city's reputation will soon once again blossom as the great Gateway between the civilizations of East and West, due to the arrival of the new Asian Highway network

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    Help to save young lives like these

    The Aston Martin 'Driving Home Road Safety 2007' event was in support of the FIA's Make Roads Safe
    campaign and the UN-backed Road Safety Is No Accident initiative.

    Funds raised by the trip will go to the child safety programme of UNICEF (China) to improve the road
    safety awareness of children and provide them with practical help like reflective tape and armbands.

    Please give generously to UNICEF -



    Day 43

    Monday 6 August
    Istanbul, Turkey

    • Blossoming again: Istanbul’s importance


    A major media presentation today marked our successful completion of the Asian Highway journey - but we are not finished yet. Tomorrow the European leg begins with London as the final destination.

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    Day 44

    Tuesday 7 August
    From: Istanbul, Turkey
    To: Sofia, Bulgaria
    Distance: 599km
    Total distance Driven so far: 12,688km


    At last - some smooth roads and motorway driving allowed our so-versatile Aston Martin V8 Vantage to purr along, in such contrast to so much of what had gone before.

    In truth, the Bulgarian roads are not quite as flat in places as many might suppose, but the more disciplined European driving standards and more strictly enforced speed limits were quickly evident.

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    Day 45

    Wednesday 8 August
    From Sofia, Bulgaria
    To: Zagreb, Croatia
    Distance: 761km
    Total distance driven so far 13,449km


    Bulgaria, Serbia and Croatia all fly past today as our whistle-stop run back to London powers into top gear.

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    Day 46

    Thursday 9 August
    From: Zagreb
    To: (nr.) Stuttgart
    Distance: 822km
    Total distance Driven so far: 14,271km


    After leaving Croatia in the morning we added two more nations - Austria and Germany - to our visiting list. This was motoring on another level ... fast roads, service stations at regular intervals, and fast-pass "borderless" crossings now that we are within inner Europe.

    The odometer clicked along at such a pace that we clocked up more than 500 miles (822km) on the day - a record during our journey.

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    Day 47

    Friday 10 August
    From: Stuttgart
    To: Paris
    Distance: 644 km
    Total Miles driven so far: 14,915km

    This was one of the proudest moments of our entire trip as we entered the French capital.

    • Classic Paris: (top) the Place de la Concorde and (below) the spectacular Arc de Triumph

    Ironically, and as an entire surprise to us, a cavalcade of cars was entering the Place Vendome at virtually the same moment, after completing a journey from Peking (now Beijing) to Paris in commemoration of the first time that famous feat was achieved 100 years ago.

    Ever since that journey, Paris has revelled in its place in motoring history - and now it has our own, extended odyssey to add to its illustrious list.

    In their modern celebration of the 1907 rally, the cars and drivers we met today in the Place Vendome had taken two months to journey from Beijing. Thanks to the speed and durability of the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, we took a little more than half that time.

    Through our pioneering trip, this was surely an indication of the future as the Asian Highway increases the ease and speed of travel between the East and West still further.

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    Day 48

    Saturday 11 August

    A rest day in Paris, although we also had a trip to Arlon in Belgium to complete an assignment for one of our sponsors.

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    Day 49

    Sunday 12 August
    From: Paris
    To: London
    Distance: 433km
    Total driven distance from Tokyo: 15,348km
    Total all-travel distance: approx 16,500km incl ferries

    • Ship ahoy! The ferry back to Blighty

    And so, at last, we arrive in London - our final destination.

    To begin the day there was another silky run up to Calais across French roads that we both agreed were among the best of the whole journey, but first there is the strangest piece of serendipity.

    It happened on the autoroute an hour or two going north out of Paris when we spotted a dark blue maserati being driven by a man who bore the most uncanny resembalence to multi-times F1 world champion Michael Schumacher.

    As readers can imagine this was not the kind of encounter that drivers of an Aston Martin, even those who have been travelling for 48 days, could easily resist checking out most thoroughly.

    And it was he (or so we can surely be certain?), as the face so familiar to racing fans the world over broke into a grin as we pulled alongside and he spotted our Make Roads Safe slogan down the side of the car - a message not lost on our hero, who is himself a commitee member of the campaign and one of its leading supporters.

    Courteously (for surely that must have been the reason?) the former world champion then allowed us to pass.


    Later, after a smooth and efficient crossing on P&O's "Pride of Canterbury", we were back on English soil and away up the final, final leg to London along roads which were regrettably clogged with cars and traffic even on a Sunday evening.

    It had been an exhilarating, stimulating and enthralling journey full of colour, interest and no little drama. Thankfully (some might even say miraculously) we were exactly on the schedule we had predicted - a total of 49 days to cover the distance from Tokyo to London which was, in turn, the equivalent of roughly half a lap around the world.

    More importantly perhaps, it is interesting to anticipate how much less time this same journey might take when the roads in central Asia are improved and faster border crossings, as in Europe, are installed in the East. Then, as we have proved by our historic journey across the new Asian Highway road system, car travel between the East and West will only get easier and faster.

    • Reporting on parade: Buckingham Palace, London

    My own guess, for what it's worth, is that within five years the same journey as ours could be achieved in less than a month - opening up a whole range of wonderful new travel horizons for millions of people, and huge benefits for trade from the potential savings in transportation time and costs. It had certainly been a privilege to pioneer this journey along what is surely one of the most significant developments in global transportion in the modern motoring era, and to show the way forward for those who will follow our path. We also need to offer our sincerest thanks to all of those very many people who, in a whole variety of ways, made this historic journey possible through their gifts of finance and resources, support, enthusiasm and love. Without you, the event would simply not have been possible, and we send you the hope that the result is all you would have wished for.

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    Boys are back in town: the home-coming in London

    Journey's end: Richard and Phil finally handed back the carwhen they drove their mud-stained but still remarkably perky Aston Martin into the forecourt of the InterContinental Hotel in London's Park Lane. There to greet them was Dr Ulrich Bez, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Aston Martin, Saul Billingsley, Deputy Director of the FIA Foundation, plus a host of guests from sponsoring companies and organisations, supporters, families and friends. TV and media interviews were followed by a Press Conference at which Dr Bez announced that the historic car would be auctioned in December, raising further funds for the UNICEF (China) programme to reduce the number of young victims of road accidents. This was followed by a celebration lunch attended by many of the corporate sponsors who had made the journey possible.




    This travelogue of the "Driving Home Road Safety 2007" event is © Richard Meredtih and MercuryBooks and must not be reproduced without permission

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