INDIA VOYAGE M8 THE MAGAZINE
In 2010, the young lady, armed with loads of gumption, a GPS device, phone and a can of hairspray, took a 10,000 km (6,214miles) trip around the country in the newly-launched Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car.
She documented her journey in a book
titled The Nanologues.
Able set out from Mumbai in a lemon yellow car she named Abhilasha. Able’s narrative is humorous and entertaining, though
at points you cannot help but wonder what
on earth she was thinking setting out on
what seemed like a suicidal trip.
Able returned to Mumbai in one piece
and even succeeded in stealing a few minutes with Ratan Tata, then chairman of the
Tata group at his office in Mumbai. The
episode, which appears towards the end of
the book, is a fascinating account of a man
we’ve all read about but few have met.
Able describes Tata as being ‘a big guy,
big but friendly like a bear and dare I say
even a touch cuddly’ and narrates her
account of her meeting in the same slightly
cheeky tone that runs through the book.
Before setting out on this fascinating
journey, Able edited Time Out Istanbul and
has been a writer for magazines including
Life & Style, National Geographic Traveler,
Esquire and The New York Times.
What drew you to the four-door, two-cylinder, 624cc machine?
Well, I thought it was a fascinating concept: the idea that a luxury product can be
reproduced quite frugally and made available to a whole swathe of people who previously did not have the choice of buying a
You’ve visited India earlier as a backpacker. How has being in the driver’s seat affected your perception of India?
I love driving for the level of involvement
it affords me in a place. And by that I mean,
when you’re driving a car, you get to participate in a very rudimentary part of a
country’s functioning, but you get
to do it undercover.
What is it being a single
woman traveler in India?
What precautions did
I had no problems at all on account of my
gender. As such, I never felt afraid.
Everyone I met was helpful and courteous.
I did however, take sensible measures: I
had a Global Positioning System and my
phone with me at all times. I tried to
always know where I was going
and pre-book the place I was
going to stay the following night. For self-
protection I had a small can of hairspray in
my handbag, which also doubled up as a
handy beauty product.
How did you decide upon the itinerary?
I made a rough plan to drive 10,000 km
around the country in a large circle, covering different types of topography, from the
deserts to the mountains and down to the
lush south. I also wanted to take in all the
major cities. The rest was improvised along
the way, according to distance and route
What was the most challenging part of
Long drives that ended up taking even
longer due to the state of the roads and lots
of heavy goods vehicles traffic. Six-hour
drives that took 13 hours; I could never
quite reconcile myself to the unpredictability of it all.
How did you get used to being the center
Foreigners in India often get the royal
treatment from local people, which is very
heartwarming. Though in my case, and
although it bruises my pride to say it, I
think my car was a far greater draw at the
end of the day than I was.
Which part of the journey was the most
memorable and why?
The morning I saw half a dozen black
goats being beheaded at the Kalighat temple in Kolkata has really stuck in my memory for some reason. Go figure.
During which part of your journey where
you were genuinely scared?
Only on one occasion: while I was stuck
in the middle of a crowd of trucks locked in
at the border between Bihar and
Jharkhand. There were no other cars
around and the truck drivers appeared
tetchy and restless. It was the only time I
felt genuinely uncomfortable and made
a pointed effort to extricate myself
from the situation as quickly as
In a country like India where
foreigners stick out like
sore thumbs, having a car
is like having a protective bubble where
you can take part and
observe the machina-
What does it take to drive around India in a
Tata Nano? Gumption mainly, British writer
Vanessa Able tells Abhishek Mande Bhot
with driving in
Vanessa Able took a 10,000-km (6,214 miles) trip across India in
the newly-launched Tata Nano and documented the trip in The