Friday, February 23, 2024

“Seeing the world through the windscreen of my car” – Bob Rupani

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I am sure most of us have a bucket list of destinations where we want to go and do recreational activities available there. Year by year passes and our life keeps us so occupied that we hardly cover two or three destinations from our bucket list. Most people would imagine going to an exotic place like Greece or a happening destination like Bali, but our guest through his experiences has shown us that you can find all this in India as well.

Bob Rupani, is a pioneer in the field of automobile journalism in India. He started his career in 1986 as an automotive journalist with the Indian Auto Journal. Over the years, he has played the role of an executive editor for multiple top automobile magazines. Right now he serves as a consulting editor of Overdrive.

Apart from this, he is also a keen traveler, having driven well over 1.5 million kilometers across India. His love for cars and traveling has been well-documented. He used the knowledge he gained from traveling all across India and authored his first book which was a critically acclaimed bestseller called ‘Driving Holidays in India’.

His book ‘India’s 100 Best Destinations’ was selected by the Government of India Tourism to be a gift for foreign dignitaries. A month ago, he started his Youtube Channel where he goes for exploration drives and lives with the culture of that place.

Team Sociobits connected with Mr. Bob Rupani to discuss his explorations, what he has learned from the outdoors, and the future of Electric Vehicles in India.

Team Sociobits: How would Bob Rupani define himself?

Bob Rupani:

A person who has not worked a single day in his life. Because I’ve always done what I’ve enjoyed.

A lot of people talk about my career in auto journalism or that I have run and edited so many magazines, but to me, it’s always been about having fun and following my passion. That’s why whenever someone asks me this question, I say that I have fun and I have not worked a single day.

Team Sociobits: How did you make the decision of entering the automobile industry?

Bob Rupani: Since childhood, I have always been into cars. My elder brother was into cars as well and he did a little motor racing, I got involved in it too and started modifying cars. Actually, I was always into cars, and on my birthdays, I would get toy cars or model cars as gifts because everyone knew I was fascinated with them. In 1986, India’s first auto magazine, The Indian Auto Journal, started, and the editor of that magazine, Gautam Singh, was a dear friend of mine.

So he came to me and said that this magazine is starting and I would like it if you could help me with it and write for us. That’s how my journey as a journalist started, something I had never imagined. But I was interested because it was related to cars, reviewing them, testing them, and more. So right from 1986, the journey has continued and I have never stopped.

Team Sociobits: We know that you are a seasoned traveler now but comparatively what was your first traveling experience like?

Bob Rupani:

When you love cars, the love for driving goes hand in hand. I have always loved driving and seeing the world through the windscreen of my car.

Bob Rupani

Back in the day, I was into motor racing, particularly rallying. Car rallies are generally run in beautiful forest areas, hilly areas, away from the population. In those days we didn’t close the roads for rallying, but we would generally prefer areas where the human population and traffic were less.

During that time I realized how beautiful India is and how fortunate I am to be born in this pretty country. As I was competing, I was driving fast through those places but I promised myself that one day I will come back and see all these places at leisure. From then on, since the mid-’80s, I take a nice car and I do road trips, exploring the architecture of various places, the natural and man-made beauty, and through these experiences, I have fallen in love with India.

I would say I have driven more than 15 Lakh kilometers across India to all the corners. In the initial years, I used to maintain a log but then stopped. So I don’t know the exact number, but it’s definitely around 1.5 million kilometers.

Team Sociobits: What difference did you feel when you saw these places while rallying as opposed to leisurely, at your own time?

Bob Rupani: Huge difference because when I was rallying, I was racing against time. When I started driving for leisure, I said to myself that I will not follow a fixed schedule. This is what makes traveling in your own vehicle so pleasurable because unlike public transport you don’t have to follow a schedule and reach a certain place at a certain time.

Traveling independently on your car or motorcycle gives you huge freedom, if you like a place you can stay there on your own terms, if you don’t, you can choose to go elsewhere. I like this freedom from schedules. One time, me and my friend were traveling somewhere. In front of us, there was a road junction where one road led to Indore and the other somewhere else.

We thought let’s toss a coin and decide which way to go and that’s what we did. These were two roads going in completely opposite directions to different destinations altogether. But we left it to the coin to decide which way we would go. That’s how I used to travel and I have made quite good friends as well this way. This one time, I was traveling and I had stopped somewhere in Gujarat for refreshments.

At the time, I was driving a modified Maruti Gypsy, and someone saw it and came to talk to me. He appreciated the way I had modified the car and said that a relative who lived about 200 kilometers away was also fond of cars and he had some old jeeps too and that I should visit him someday. I told him why someday, I can go today.

There were no phones at that time, so we went to a phone booth and he called his relative. He told his relative that I have come from Bombay and I have a nice modified car. His relative was pleased to hear this and said I was welcome. Today we are good friends, this is what travel does.

Team Sociobits: What have you learned from your travel experiences that you can or have applied in your personal or work life?

Bob Rupani: Travel has taught me a lot. It’s unfortunate that in our country, we don’t have a culture of traveling after you have finished your graduation or master’s degree. You see foreigners doing this, including many of the backpackers that come to India. After they finish their education and are about to start their careers, they take a 5-6 month break and go travel, see the world and get new experiences. Traveling teaches you about culture, food, places, and new people.

When you travel, you learn to adapt. If you are sitting at home, there’s a certain comfort level attached to it. I have been born and brought up in Bombay, I know almost all the streets here and what I can and cannot get here. When you go to a new place, some things might be available, some might not, so you should keep an open mind. When I travel, I like to talk to the people there and get to know what the culture is like. I like to have these local experiences.

Travel is a teacher. It is one of the biggest teacher’s in life.

People here like to go on vacations just to have fun. I’m not against having fun, do that by all means, but when you come back there should be at least something which you have picked up from that place. It might be their culture or their food, a habit or practice, or information about a place.

Our country is so wonderful that every 100 kilometers the language changes, people’s way of talking changes, and food habits change. The dresses also change, and if you’re able to pick up things from this diversity, then it’s only going to make you a richer and better human being.

Team Sociobits: In these long travels, do you feel homesick?

Bob Rupani: Now I don’t travel as much as I used to back in the day. But of course, you feel homesick. Sometimes that feeling comes after three weeks, sometimes after four weeks. Once I would be home, the bug of traveling would bite me again and I would then head on to another trip.

I have explored most places, so now when I travel, I like to go to the forests and places with wildlife. Not the overcrowded wildlife parks and tiger reserves overflowing with tourists. I prefer going to quieter places where I can really appreciate and enjoy nature.

When you are living in the city, you constantly see people around you and there is just so much noise with the cars honking. I have literally gotten sick of seeing people, so I like to drive to places where there are few people. If I’m in a place where I don’t hear a car’s horn for 4-5 days, I think I have landed in paradise.

We are surrounded by so much pollution and noise, that i look for fresh air and peace whenever I travel now.

Team Sociobits: Today the means of travel are far more advanced than before due to technology. What changes have you observed in these years and in what aspects?

Bob Rupani: In the 80s and 90s when I was traveling cars were not as reliable. They needed regular repairs and there was no infrastructure for a traveler to go very far. There were not a lot of options to eat food or stay, the infrastructure was very limited. Due to this, only people seeking adventure traveled by road.

Earlier, driving from Bombay to Himachal Pradesh was seen as a big deal but today if someone tells you I’m driving from the South of India to Ladakh, people will not be amused. Earlier driving so far required a lot of preparation. Even a clean meal or lodging-boarding options were difficult to find.

Today, almost all major manufacturers are making and selling cars and motorcycles in India. The quality of vehicles and our road infrastructure together have improved a lot. Earlier roads would get washed out, they were not well maintained, it’s not the case now. Surely, the traffic has increased and one thing which I feel has gotten worse is the driving culture.

Previously, fewer people were driving yet they had better road etiquette than people do now. If you give anyone a compass and ask them to show you the directions, they won’t be able to because they are so used to Google Maps. I still have all the physical maps that I used to travel with. I still trust those more.

I don’t entirely like Google Maps because it will not necessarily take you from the most scenic route, it takes you by the shortest route which can be very congested. I prefer to stop at taxi stands and bus stands on the way and ask the local drivers about routes that are nice and pretty.

Sometimes people would say that you go and take the highway and it will get you to your destination in 2 hours but if you take this other route, it might take you 4 hours but you will see many beautiful waterfalls on the way. This helped me go on the route I wanted to take.

Talking to people. has helped me make some wonderful discoveries. This is something I will continue to do because there is nothing like getting local knowledge from the people who live there.

Google Maps won’t tell you the things people will. One time, a person told me about a narrow road, which could be inconvenient for me, but he said that on that route, there is a beautiful viewpoint that will show you all the mountains. I said that’s the route I want to go by.

Team Sociobits: As a traveler, how much can you actually rely on technology?

Bob Rupani: As I said, nowadays cars are very good and reliable so you don’t have to think about that. The roads are very good and so are the service networks.

I prefer to switch off my phone when I’m on a holiday rather than being disturbed by Whatsapp forwards of someone wishing you good morning and good night.

Yes, I do carry a laptop with me, which I check occasionally when I get Wi-Fi to see if I’ve got any E-mails, but that’s about it. It’s a choice you have to make. Nowadays, I see that the first thing that people ask is if there is Wi-Fi available at the place they are visiting. My question is the exact opposite. I believe that if there is no network there, then I can enjoy my holiday in peace.

Unfortunately, we have become so addicted to our personal devices and technology that we do not know when to stop. I like to detach and I’m personally very happy when all these things are not available.

Team Sociobits: Being an automobile expert, could you tell us your opinion on Electrical Vehicles(EV)?

Bob Rupani: There are no two ways about it that the future is electric. When this change will happen or should you be using coal energy to charge these vehicles, remains to be answered. In India, most of the electricity we generate is by burning coal. If you will use that to charge your vehicle, then you are just moving the pollution away from the tailpipe of the car to the chimney of coal plants.

If you will use that to charge your vehicle, then you are just moving the pollution away from the tailpipe of your car to the chimney of your coal plants.

Electrical Vehicles will help in reducing pollution in a big way when they are charged with other alternative forms of energy like solar power, wind energy, or hydropower. In India, we are going down the EV route, but I think we are doing it a little too quickly. We need the correct infrastructure and enough eco-friendly sources of electricity.

I wish it helps with reducing pollution, but I don’t think it will. At the same time, I wonder why we haven’t looked at hybrid vehicles, which charge themselves more seriously. You have an electric motor and a battery and you have a regular, smaller engine. This way you don’t have to worry about where you are getting your next charge from.

It is your car’s regular internal combustion engine that is charging your battery. Hybrids could have been a good solution for India before we moved completely to electric vehicles. Companies like Toyota, Maruti, and Lexus are introducing hybrids and they are getting popular but they are not quite mainstream yet.

In my view, the transition should have been from internal combustion engines to hybrids and then electric vehicles. We have jumped two steps forward due to which now we are facing problems with EVs and people are saying, we don’t have the infrastructure ready yet.

I believe EVs are the future but only when we have enough charging stations as well as alternative energy sources, rather than just burning more coal.

Team Sociobits: Which company do you think will dominate the EV sector in the coming time?

Bob Rupani: EVs have changed the game completely. To make a regular vehicle, you’ll need an engine, a gearbox, and many more things. A huge amount of manufacturing expertise and technology goes into this process. EVs are pretty simple in comparison, you just need batteries, motors, the platform and body of the car, and suspension and wheels.

Most EVs don’t even have a gearbox. It’s basically the equivalent of assembling a computer. You get the motherboard from somewhere, then you get the RAM from somewhere else. You just buy things from suppliers, assemble them, and present a vehicle. Not every EV manufacturer is doing that, some are investing a lot in research and development.

They are making their own vehicles but particularly in the EV two-wheeler space in India, we are launching a new Electric two-wheeler every day. I have lost count of how many electric two-wheeler manufacturers there are in India, but I can tell you a new one comes out every day.

These guys just need a space and some workers to assemble all the parts of the electric two or three-wheeler. Going ahead, it’s difficult to take one single name as to who will dominate. It could be someone completely new. Currently, Tesla is dominating the US market with their cutting-edge technology. Similarly, Apple too may enter the space as could so many others.

It could be anyone, but I think that established manufacturers with decades of experience will always be slightly ahead.

Team Sociobits: One issue that’s been consistent with EV users is the range anxiety they have due to how the car is made, what do you think of that?

Bob Rupani:

Life is anyway stressful, why do you need to have that range anxiety on top of that!

Life is anyway stressful, why do you need to have that range anxiety on top of that. I don’t like the fact that if I am driving a vehicle, I may run out of charge. Then, I am dependent on a charger which I may or may not find. There are multiple things that can go wrong and I don’t want that. That’s why I prefer hybrids.

As time goes by, the range for EVs is increasing but if the vehicle will have a longer range, it’ll also be that much more expensive. The question of affordability comes in here. 10 years from now we should be in a better position to say yes to EVs but as of today, I don’t want that range anxiety.

If I did own an electric vehicle, I will only use it in the city and not on long road trips. People have done it but I personally won’t be comfortable doing it. Others are mostly doing it for records. Of course, it is doable provided you know where to stop to find charging stations and appropriate infrastructure.

Team Sociobits: You have recently ventured into Youtube, what can we expect from your channel in terms of content?

Bob Rupani: During the pandemic, everyone was locked in. Even newspapers were not being published for some time in the beginning. Around that time, things started making a big shift towards digital media platforms such as YouTube and people requested that they would love to see me make videos.

My friends and colleagues encouraged me to do the same, so I gave a thought to trying it out. It is any way just a change of medium, earlier I used to write a story, now I tell a story. I started my YouTube channel just a few weeks back and the response so far has been really positive and encouraging.

We plan on making short films on a variety of subjects. These subjects will include historical monuments, wildlife, culture, and more.

Team Sociobits: Before we end, can you give budding travelers any tips on exploring India?

Bob Rupani: Recently, I have been very disappointed with the way people have been behaving at tourist places. Someone drove into the Pangong Tso Lake! then there was a couple who was fined 50,000 Rupees for driving on the sand dunes. There were also people smoking near a Buddhist Shrine.

The Buddhist Monks are non-violent people otherwise if this was some other part of the country, these people would have been beaten up for smoking and drinking at a place of worship. It doesn’t matter what place you are visiting, you should respect the local culture, the local people, and their culture and landscapes.

I don’t understand what makes a person do things like these, the Pangong Tso Lake is one of the world’s most pristine spots and you choose to drive your car inside it. A similar case happened in Goa where somebody took their vehicle across a beach in Goa and got it stuck in the water, the Goans were pretty unhappy about this.

Indian tourists are pretty unaware of the place they are going for a holiday. If you see a foreign tourist, they read up on everything and know exactly what place is of cultural significance. They do their research in all aspects, about food, history, about everything. My wife’s friends recently were talking about their experience in Jim Corbett National Park.

For me, it’s less about having a big bank balance and more about the knowledge and experiences you’ve had to talk about.

Bob Rupani

They stated that they couldn’t see a single tiger there. I asked them whether they expected the tiger to be sitting there and waiting for them. I then inquired about the birds they saw and they said that they saw quite a few birds, all colorful, none of which they had seen before.

I told them that it’s your fault that you were not well-read before going there. The birds you saw there are extremely rare and bird-watchers from Europe come down here to see these birds. Then they said they spotted a bear, at which point I said that it’s great because a bear is harder to spot there compared to a tiger.

This is the problem, we don’t have an appreciation for what our country has to offer. So I would suggest, go read up on historical monuments and places. Visit them and you will come back a richer human being, a human being with knowledge. For me, it’s less about having a big bank balance and more about the knowledge and experiences you’ve had.

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