Cancer awareness mission: Family drives across 12 countries in 23 days

Sep 06, 2012, 06:42 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

In August, Jayesh and Lata Desai embarked on a road trip with a friend to raise money for research on leukaemia, which their daughter has battled. MiD DAY takes you through their fascinating journey

Where there is a wheel, or at least a good set of four, there is a way. A Gujarati family has just completed the road trip of a lifetime, driving all the way from London to Mumbai. The family entered the city last evening after completing a mammoth 14,000 km-long drive that lasted 23 days and took them to 12 nations.

Cancer awareness mission, Lata Desai, Jayesh Desai and Jay Patel
Where there’s a wheel... (From left) Jayesh Desai, Lata Desai and Jay Patel reached Dahisar checknaka yesterday evening. Pic/Nimesh Dave

It was more than just wanderlust that compelled the UK nationals of Indian origin to undertake the gruelling road trip. Jayesh Desai (63), wife Lata (59), and friend Jay Patel (51) were driven by a cause — the charity ‘drivathon’ was undertaken to spread the word about Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and to focus on the important role played by support organisations for those affected by lymphoma.

Lata Desai, Jayesh Desai and Jay Patel are all smiles at the Dahisar check naka
The road less travelled: Lata Desai, Jayesh Desai and Jay Patel are all smiles at the Dahisar check naka after they complete their mammoth drive from London to Mumbai yesterday. They undertook the journey to raise awareness and money for research on leukaemia. pic/nimesh dave

Desai’s daughter Rinal (32), a banker in UK is now in remission after being treated for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer. Wiser from their experiences while battling the disease, the family is now dedicated to raising money for research on leukaemia and lymphoma.

The long and winding road, route map

The long and winding road: The route map for the journey undertaken by Jayesh, Lata and Jay

Countries crossed >> 1) England, 2) France, 3) Germany, 4) Poland, 5) Ukraine, 6) Russia, 7) Kazakhistan, 8) Uzbekistan, 9) Kyrgystan, 10) China, 11) Pakistan, 12) India

Jayesh, speaking to MiD DAY while on his way to the city from Baroda, said, “We want to support a small organisation called the Asian Women Cancer Group, which provides invaluable advice and support to Asian women in the UK who suffer from cancer. There is a real dearth of community-based support for cancer patients from the Asian community in the UK. They really helped my daughter.”

Plans and paperwork
The group started working on the dream of a drivathon one-and-a-half years ago. In May, they registered their cause on a portal, narrating their cause and requesting people to donate towards it.

“The target was to collect £8,000 (Rs 7.10 lakh). We received a tremendous response from donors online, with 137 people pitching in, taking collections to £8,500 (Rs 7.55 lakh). The proceeds will be given to charitable organisations,” the couple said.

Armed with the wherewithal, the family acquired a Mitsubishi Shogun Warrior, equipped it with durable tyres and a global positioning system, and got cracking on the sundry visas and permits they would need to venture into different countries.

The biggest roadblock came when they started chalking out a route map. The family’s initial plans included a foray into Tibet en route to India, but when Chinese officials refused to allow the British passport holders from entering the region, they decided to enter India through Pakistan. “We were skeptical about entering through Pakistan, but had no other option.”

Armed with petrol, instant food, and international travel cards, the family embarked on their journey on August 14, to go halfway around the world in 23 days.


“The vehicle rolled out from London to move through France and Germany. We halted in Poland that night and resumed our journey on the morning of August 15. We ran into trouble as we were unable to comprehend local languages in the non-English speaking countries of Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The signboards were painted in local languages, and locals didn’t speak English. We lost our way four to five times and found it back only because taxi drivers and some good Samaritans helped us out.”

“The vehicle did not develop any problems for a large part of our journey, but soon after we entered the 142-km long no man’s land between Kyrgystan and China, bad roads punctured not one, but two of our tyres at one go.


With no humans in sight for miles ahead, Jay, a mechanic himself, managed to change one. “Somehow we continued our journey to the China border, where we met a local tour guide, who assisted us to mechanic in a village.”

“The Karakoram Range is a vast range spanning the borders of India, Pakistan and China, one of the largest mountain ranges in Asia. With the exception of the polar regions, the Karakoram is the most heavily glaciated part of the world.


Most of the rivers originating in the range flow into Pakistan. While driving on this stretch, they came to a point where the entire road ahead was submerged in water — before them stretched out a

25 km long stretch of water. We had to ferry the vehicle on a boat to continue our journey and reach the Pakistan border.”

“Through the Karakoram Range we reached the SOST border in North Pakistan. Customs officers and rangers from the Pakistan Army received us with warmth and cooperation.


One of the Customs officers, Gulam Gaffar, informed us that in his last 28 years of being posted at the border, he had never run into a Gujarati-speaking family entering into Pakistan from the Karakoram Range. Officers even offered tea and invited us to join them for dinner, but we had to refuse. We then headed to Islamabad, then to Lahore and finally to Wagah border. On September 2, we entered India and witnessed the customary closing ceremony at the gates.”

After we set foot on Indian soil, we found it difficult to control our emotions. After spending a few hours at Golden temple, we continued our journey, driving from Amritsar to Ajmer in Rajasthan and entered Baroda in Gujarat before heading towards Mumbai. Around 7 pm, we reached Dahisar checknaka.


The road ahead
While Jayesh Patel will fly back to UK on Saturday, the Desais will stay at their Borivli residence for the next few months. “We want to continue our mission. The journey was exhilerating. We came across different people from different walks of life and one thing is certain — language is never a barrier in communication. We communicated; they could understand and they directed us to our ultimate destination — Mumbai. It is a memory which will remain with us for the rest of our lives,” said the emotional and
tired family members.

Still waiting
The Desais expressed disappointment with the Indian embassy in London. “We had asked if vehicles registered in UK would be allowed to cross international borders, but we still haven’t got a response.” 

Go to top