December 14, 2010

Fiat Ducato Campers At Kala Ghoda

I was pleasantly surprised last weekend to see three motorhomes (alternately called camper vans or RVs as in Recreational Vehicles) parked together in the traffic island along K. Dubhash Marg in Kala Ghoda, Mumbai. The number-plates and the profusion of stickers on the back of the vans, more so on one of the two Fiat Ducato Campers, evidently marking countries traveled through, indicated of foreign tourists touring India by road.

It's unlikely that they collected the stickers along the way at each port of call on their overland journey through countries before driving into India, it’d be too much of a hassle to locate one in each country that one is passing through.

It’s more likely they’d purchased the stickers before starting out on their travel, possibly sticking each one on the back as they crossed international borders.

The two Fiat Ducato camper vans were joined by a Mercedes Vito F, or so I think as the logo identifying the Mercedes camper van model was not immediately readable, at least not from the acute angle on the left. The raised V (the larger of the four letters) obscured the rest, particularly the adjacent (smaller) letter, rendering the logo in the kind of flourish that some logo designers will only too happily relish creating as a tribute to one of their inexplicable doodling moments fuelled by cigarette deprivation, or worse for want of spirit fuelled inspiration. Among differently-sized letters raised on a surface, the smaller letter adjacent to the larger one will be obscured when viewed at an angle.

The blue Fiat Ducato was seemingly spared the dust coating the light coloured Fiat Ducato parked adjacent was subjected to on its India travel. When travelling around India by road, it helps to be painted in dark colours if only so the dust will not make itself immediately apparent on the surface, small consolation actually.

A muggy winter day in Mumbai is as good a day as any to be up and about. However the light on the street did not mirror the unusually blue skies overhead, heightened in no small measure by the occasional white cloud sailing free. Post-monsoons, approaching winter, is a good time to travel to India. In the US, the occupants of the three motorhomes would be known as Snowbirders, for escaping the harsh winters of their native countries for the relatively warmer climes nearer the equator, not unlike migratory birds.

While I was interested in having a look inside I contented myself with the exteriors. Considering how difficult it can be to avail of railway reservations to and from major destinations in India (if not booked in advance), in addition to hotel fares on the upswing during the holiday (nee traveling) season in India, the winters, it actually makes eminent sense to get a camper van with amenities that’ll allow a sleep-in on the road every once in a while.

The Mercedes Vito F at Kala Ghoda was smaller in comparison to the two Fiat Ducato motorhomes parked alongside. Contraptions fitted to the back of the van and the roof possibly made space for luggage, or maybe beds. I couldn’t tell for sure. Travellers are known to carry bicycles strapped behind, or even motorcycles.

The lighter coloured Fiat Ducato appeared to be fitted with a retractable roof that motorhomes will sometimes be equipped with to accommodate a roof bed and provide for standing room. Where hydraulic controls are absent, the roof is operated manually, elevated when needed, and covered on the sides by canvas fitted with fly-screen vents.

The Fiat Ducato has a major share of the motorhome market in Europe. The chassis is made available in various lengths, as also height, to suit customer requirements for space to accommodate their travel requirements when converting the caravan base into living quarters. The two Fiat Ducato motorhomes I saw were of similar size and would comfortably fit four in each.

It bears thought why motorhomes cannot similarly succeed in India considering the conveniences it can offer on the road even if we were to discount the fact that such travel will likely mean skipping the India of public travel and related experiences.

If the Indian traveler is prepared to put up with the few inconveniences of the road as opposed to the conveniences of a hotel, namely facilities to wash up in the mornings, he could benefit from being able to sleep out in the open, under the stars as he travels across India. It also bears mentioning that for the concept to take off, towns and cities will need to plan for washroom facilities at the very least for Camper Van/Motorhome travellers without having to book into hotels to avail of them, assuming it's difficult to tank up on water along the way or manage waste disposal.

If that were to happen I’d expect each state in the Indian Union to issue a state logo reflective of the state that the traveler could then stick on the back of the motorhome, collecting stickers along the way at each crossing of state borders. Imagine how much better the mass of stickers would reflect India than if it were to be indicated by only the flag.

Note: Of the two Fiat Ducato motorhomes parked alongside, one prominently advertised Adria Space, the entity that designs motorhomes to suit customer requirements, fitting the design to the Fiat Ducato chassis, like is possible to do with models by Auto manufacturers in the Motorhomes / Campers market.

While I could not see the interiors, the Adria Space page highlights the custom-made interiors they offer to customers. As you’ll see, it’s not made for the backpacker experience. India backpackers will be advised to do it the old and more fulfilling way.

Note: Motorhome / RV Living options in India are limited. If custom-built in India as some Western travellers have, using the Mazda chassis, or bus-frames at local manufacturing facilities, they'll likely offer up their motorhomes / RVs for sale in India before returning, finding it economical to sell it than incur import duties if they were to ferry it back.

Mark, an American, got a motorhome / RV custom-built in Goa, and is now offering it up for sale.

Related Links

1. Explore the Fiat Ducato Camper


Lucy said...

I suppose fear engendered by the wild tales on hears about Indian traffic might put some people off! They're very popular here, and have become almost synonymous with French liberal professionals in retirement. the other problem with them is that once parked up, it's inconvenient to use them as one's ancillary form of transport, but bicycles are often attached.

Interesting observations here as ever!

Shrinidhi Hande said...

looks like people are hiring caravans on rent in good numbers

Shrinidhi Hande said...

In the ducato pic, is that BSE building in the backgrond?

Anil P said...

Lucy: I'm sure there must be hair-raising stories of Indian traffic floating about :-) Retirees will be in no hurry to return, making Motorhomes an useful mode of transport around the country.

Many Motorhomes / RVs are shipped into India under ATA Carnet, and I believe the period of duty-free admission is valid for six months at a stretch.

Bicycles would be useful indeed.

Srinidhi Hande: Renting Motorhomes to tourists in India can be a viable business.

Yes, that is the BSE building in the background.

Mumbai Paused said...

In the early 80s, I've seen buses with tourists in Goa that came overland from Europe. They had the names of cities and countries painted on the sides. It's one of the few memories of a holiday with my parents. I think my father has some family pics where we have a couple of buses in the background. Should scan and post them on my next visit home.

Riot Kitty said...

It's cold and rainy here - I wouldn't mind looking into a road trip!

I was going to mention, that building is beautiful.

Anil P said...

Mumbai Paused: Over the years, Goa probably saw more of Motorhomes than other parts of India. Shipping Motorhomes / RVs to India should not be very difficult, with ATA Carnet a handy channel.

A Motohome with names of countries or stickers on it is a very vivid sight, and makes for a lovely memory, more so considering that it'll evoke of continents crossed, countries passed through.

Riot Kitty: Road trip through India should be an adventure for sure.

It's the Sassoon Library in Fort.

dr.antony said...

We have just few of such vehicles here,the weather doesn't suit.I have seen larger vehicles during the yachting competition here.The insides are unbelievably beautiful,and so well furnished. I always dream I could travel in such a vehicle.
These people are lucky,they don't have to worry about future and livelihood,the way we do.

Anil P said...

Dr. Antony: The interiors are well done, mirrors a home, except this is a home on wheels.

Those living in Motorhomes are usually those who are retired, or maybe taking a break from work.

If retirees then it's likely they've sold off their homes and prefer to live as they tour around in their Recreational Vehicles (RV) / Motorhomes.

radha said...

They could provide convenient places for people to mark their vehicles in a secure area. And maybe a few public conveniences at nominal price. One could plan trips on impulse and enjoy them too without the hassles of reservations.

Anil P said...

Radha: India will need Motorhome infrastructure / facilities to an extent, especially camping areas that account for waste disposal (emptying toilet etc.), and so also water points to help motorhomes tank up at water utilities among other things.

Abhilash Pillai said...

its amazing... people do anything for fun.

Anu said...

very interesting..never seen any of them before...but from what i have been hearing and reading, there arent really any facilities for such campers here in India... so wouldnt there be a problem? for them as well as us? as u mentioned with water and waste especialy?

Anil P said...

Abhilash Pillai: Maybe not merely for fun, more as a way of life, and living.

Anu: For motorhome campers, no. Not exactly a problem that cannot be solved, since motorhome / RV toilets are designed so the travellers can actually detach the capsule and empty/clean it up before reusing it.

Tehseen hasan bajwa said...

taking information of this you are improving day by day keep it up

Europe By Camper said...

It's amazing where a Fiat Ducato camper can get to! :)