When Britons and French came to India on a bus.
Much before the famous band Beatles reached Rishikesh or Jerry Garcia got inspired by Benares, there was a cult of young and middle aged happy-go-lucky ones who travelled on buses often called ‘magic-buses’ for long distances internationally. This possibly was the first instance when India opened up as a tourist destination to the world, much before it was seen as a leisure destination.
The earliest bus that brought in the first batch tourists from France to India was in 1956. This trip started from Paris and brought in French and quite possibly other Europeans too to Bombay. This journey took almost 60 days and covered around fourteen thousand kilometres.
Then there were many who tried military discarded vehicles to travel by road through the Asian terrain. This kind of travel opened up in the sixties. Most of these vehicles were really worn-out and just not apt for this kind of travel that was almost covering the stretch of earth.
One Briton Jonathan Benyon did take up a few such trips which also included a drive on a school bus called ‘Rocket’ while another was ‘Silver Express’, coach that was built by Mercedes.
Benyon as a driver when drove the Mercedes bus from England to India in just about twenty days passing through France, Holland, Germany, Slovenia & Croatia (earlier Yugoslavia), Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, ending in India. The cost of this trip was for about, eighty five to one hundred Great Britain Pounds. Roughly translating to today’s Indian rupees eight thousand to ten thousand. On reaching India the bus came through the central India including Gwalior where the bus stopped at a restaurant.
The journey must have been a real fun but sadly it stopped in the seventies when relationships between countries became a bit awkward and crossing the borders too was not as easy as it was earlier. Air travel was now faster, reliable and importantly promised time bound scheduled arrivals which replaced the overland road travel which was now considered overly-adventurous. We can safely trace India’s incoming tourist traffic to the fifties after the clouds of the Second World War had settled and a period of peace prevailed around the world.
(source: Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India by Rory MacLean)