Who knew how useful a tin of Fortnum’s biscuits were in a crisis? From out here in the middle of a historic expedition, The Last Overland's Alex Bescoby can confirm they’re very useful indeed.
Fortnum’s kindly provided The Last Overland Team with an aptly named Globetrotter Hamper for our 10,000 mile + journey over 23 countries in a 64 year old Land Rover. It’s certainly living up to its name. We’d planned to unpack it when we crossed into the Tibetan plateau, to mark the end of the first stage of our journey and our arrival in one of the most difficult to access corners of the world. Sadly the best laid plans don’t always work out.
After collecting the hamper in Yangon, former capital of Burma (now Myanmar), our team of eight from across the UK, France, USA, Singapore, Belgium and Indonesia struggled to resist the temptation to unbuckle the straps and sample the delights within. The discipline held for over a month until a dark day - September 15th in Manipur, India. Alex Bescoby and Marcus Allender, the two old friends behind the Expedition, were celebrating a joint birthday. Despite diligent research on all aspects of our route, they had failed to spot that Manipur was in fact a ‘dry state’, meaning Alex and Marcus were facing their first tipple-free birthday for quite a few years! Discipline broke, and the hamper was unleashed. The first casualties were the exquisite selection of truffles, chocolates and mints which were happily devoured by all to celebrate another passing year. Mood significantly improved, the hamper was packed away once more with stern commitments from all parties to keep it locked until our arrival in China.
Sadly, just a few days later our resolve did not survive contact with reality. Driving through Nagaland in North-East India famous for its (now retired) communities of head hunters, The Last Overland team found themselves stuck in a heated roadblock on the way to Imphal, as two Naga villages with a history of enmity tried to establish who was responsible for a spate of burnt buildings that morning. Facing a delay of several days and increasingly heated discussions around us, a call was made to unleash the hamper once more. This time it was the Chocolossus and Piccadilly Biscuit Selections that came to our aid. Passing them round to an incredibly baffled, but now well-fed band of young men responsible for keeping us blocked up, tempers started to noticeably cool. Our little convoy of three Land Rovers soon became a mobile pantomime, as the team shared the stories of both the First Overland Expedition we were paying homage to, and the plans for our own journey. Soon enough, and a few tins of biscuits lighter, our team were finally allowed to move on through.
Arriving in Nepal, the hamper was now bouncing along a little more freely on top of the Oxford Land Rover, which had last bumped along the same roads back in 1955 during its first historic expedition across the world. We were so close to our Tibetan target, but this time it was the remote village of Athar outside Pokhara that undid us.
To get there we’d travelled across some of the most difficult roads on our route so far, and found ourselves 2,500m above sea level with the snow-capped Himalayas in the background. We were accompanied by our charity partner The Gurkha Welfare Trust
whose brilliant work in Nepal we’re happily using our Expedition to raise funds for. The whole village of Athar turned out to greet us in the brilliant sunshine, and gifted garlands of sweet-smelling flowers to welcome us to their home. We learned from our friends at the GWT that this tiny village has for generations sent its best and brightest to join the British Army’s elite Gurkha Regiments, as part of a 200-year partnership between our two countries. We were so moved by the stories we heard that we felt we had to give something back right there and then - once again, Fortnum’s came to our aid. We emptied all we had left - teas, pickles, chutneys and jams - in a tiny gesture to say thank you. While it was a small gift for us to give in light of what their community has given to Britain, it was very warmly received up there in the Himalayan foothills. As we move on to our seventh country - China - we can’t help but hope that that little Fortnum’s Stripe Teapot might grace the community kitchen for many decades to come, and remind Athar that they’ll never be forgotten by the Last Overlanders.
All images by Léopold Belanger / Grammar Productions.