NO ORDINARY TOUR
|Article from Tyre News - January 1974
Norman Harris phoned us one Monday morning to see if the colour transaparencies he had sent were suitable for illustrating an article. We told him that they were so suitable it was difficult to pick the best, but we would return the ones we did not use in a day or so, along with the draft of the article for him to have a look at. He replied that he would not be around to check it for four days, because they had put on an extra run and being short of a driver he would have to take a coach to Austria himself. Asian Greyound is that kind of business and in case of emergency, everyone has to muck in including the proprietor.
Asian Greyound is well named, not only do they go all over Southern Asia but they do it quickly, and Norman Harris, a traveller of no mean order himself comes from the land of the greatest travellers - Australia. In fact, when the business started 16 years ago in 1957 as Swagman Tours it was based in Kangaroo Valley, or in other words the Earls Court area of London, but since then the Australian population has spread around a bit. In the early days, too, it was mainly Australians that were carried in the Asian Greyhound coaches, but now there are just as many English people,this means nearly every walk of life (but mainly the young), groups of friends, married couples or just straight forward adventureers. And with so many people feeling that they must do something different, even if it means a twelve months stint working in a Nepal hospital, there seem to be no end to the list of potential passengers.
It is not quite like a coach trip works' outing to Brighton or the Mothers' Union to Walsingham Abbey, because the overall distance is something in excess of 12,000 miles each way. On these distances anything can happen to cause delays and sometimes does. With most people it is straight-forward tour business and they do in fact come back again after a day or so at the other end. From that angle it is a long distance tour organistaion and not an intercontinental charabanc trip. Sometimes 'specials' are done and this means groups of people on a similar adventure, or in other words charter trips which can be as ordinary as a Boy Scouts' trip to somewhere in Europe, or a college climbing/camping tour. All this is more than the average British operator would want to do because many of them are wary of doing the near Continental work, let along going half-say round the world. Needless to say all this requires more than an ordinary driver and qualified drivers have to have a considerable training stint before they are let loose with Asian Greyhound. Also, of course, they have to be more than average mechanics so that they can get going again in times of trouble. The tour leader, and it is essential to have such a person, must have done more than one tour under instruction before he will be a leader. There is no shortage of applications and they get at least two a week, so there is no problem in getting drivers - it all sounds so glamorous - but gettting the right people for the job is much more difficult.
We are not surprised to hear that Michelin tyres are specified on the vehicles and Norman is quite adamant that they are the best tyres available for this sort of operation. It is quite possible to wear the tyres down to the limit because quite obviously you do not leave on a 25,000 mile round trip with only 10,000 miles of rubber tread left. They usually get two full trips out of a set, plus spare, and thereafter replacements become necessary two at a time. Although there is a fair amount of tyre damage by way of hard wear, they have never to their knowledge had a genuine blow out on Michelin. The change to Michelin was made because with the other tyres they were using, they had instances of the whole tread stripping off.
Readers may be surprised to learn that it is now possible to go all the way to Nepal on metalled roads, not that Asian Greyhound do. They are after all a tour operator and they run cross country for a couple of hundred miles or so and in bits and pieces. Over the route they cover there is still 10-15% of unmade roads wich is of course a great deal better than it used to be.
It is an ill wind that blows no good and recent regulations in Pakistan and India have increased the business for the tour operator. What this really boils down to is customs restrictions and to enter Pakistan means putting up a bond of 300% of the current replacement value of the vehicle, which means if you have a vehicle 20 years old you still have to put up 300% of its present-day equivalent.
The Austraian's ideal way of going home after his European working trip is now killed stone-dead because for obvious reasons few of them can put up the necessary money and neither can they afford an alternative route, avoiding Pakistan. What is the use of buying a cheap vehicle with the intention of selling it at the other end only to find that customs restrictions make it impossible? It is ironic that one of the main operators who is cashing in on this is himself an Australian. There are others in this field but they do not run the same kind of business, and the nearest tour operator to them keeps mostly to hotels and well away from the dirt and dust.
But back to the vehicles because this is really what tour operation is all about. Asian Greyhound have found that most vehicles that can be purchased today are just not strong enough for this kind of operation. In fact, their latest addition to their fleet of LS Bristols is of 1958 vintage which like all the others in the fleet has been purchased from a bus company. Western National, West Yorkshire United, they have all been used as a source of 'new' buses. Tyres too, are more than just a long life problem because it is the safety factor that counts, you need to know that with a set of new tyres they will wear out - not fail. Before the change to Michelin was made a whole set blew out in India which meant not only a serious delay but that particular tour was a total loss financially. The best combination has been proved to be a XZZ on the front and XY on the back, but there could, of course be a change here now because the XZA may well replace the XZZ on the front. Michelin radials absorb the shocks, they give a decent comfortable ride and the road holding according to this operator is immaculate, and they really only say what thousands of other operators are saying.
Eventually it is hoped to run the tour service all the way to Australian and operate from both ends which means including Malaysia, Indonesia and all South Eastern Asia. It is quite a venture but politics makes the the whole thing terribly complicated. Running the vehicles is the easier part, it is the different countries' regulations and their restrictions that cause all the problems. Furthermore, because this particular operator does not want to run entirely on roads (their reputation is based upon going into the bush country) authorities are even more suspicious. The average age of passengers is 26, with the oldest ever being an 80 year-old American and the youngest Norman Harris's four week old son. Nearly all professions are included with nurses, teachers and medical staff probably taking the most seats. Strangely enough not many students travel on these trips and apparently they are not very popular, anyway.