John Keay

The Road to Mandalay

Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia

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Driving from London to Calcutta in the 1960s was fairly straightforward. All you needed was a passport spattered with visas, a robust vehicle, and a green loose-leaf carnet de passage, obtainable from the AA in Leicester Square, which exempted your vehicle from import duty. The difficult bit came if you were continuing east after Calcutta. To enter the Indian state of Assam you had to obtain a permit that was rarely granted to self-drive foreigners, while to get from there into strife-torn Nagaland and Manipur required the sanction – and sometimes the firepower – of the Indian army. Then came Burma, the overlander’s ne plus ultra. The roads were said to be impassable, Rangoon didn’t recognise the AA’s carnet, and entry permits from India were unheard of. The only hope of driving down the Malay peninsula into Singapore was to ship your motor from Calcutta to Penang.


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