They had traversed the sub-continent in their antique Rolls-Royce, swerving potholes, dining with Rajas and dodging insurgents in Himalayan foothills.
But in the end it was bureaucratic bungling that thwarted Rupert Grey — great-grandson of the 19th century Prime Minister Earl Grey — and his wife, Jan, from completing their epic journey across Asia.
The couple, who had criss-crossed Asia for three months, were prevented from taking their 1936 Rolls-Royce across the border from India to Bangladesh, where they were guests of honour at Bangladesh’s prestigious photographic festival, Chobi Mela.
Mr Grey, a former partner with Farrer & Co, the Queen’s lawyers, and now a consultant with the law firm Swan Turton, was forced to abandon his cherished car at a remote customs house, surrounded by admiring Asians.
The couple’s epic adventure, described by them as “an elderly English couple driving an elderly English motor across an ancient land”, had fallen foul of red tape. Despite letters from government ministries confirming that they had no objection to the vintage motor becoming the only antique Rolls in Bangladesh, customs officials had no records.
Unfortunately for the couple, Bangladesh has abandoned the international system for vehicles crossing continents, the Carnet de Passage, which allows holders to import vehicles duty-free temporarily. The Bangladesh Government has claimed that the permit was being abused by people bringing the cars into the country and avoiding its onerous import duties.
Speaking from Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, after abandoning his car at the border, Mr Grey, 66, said he was “deeply irritated”.
“It’s very sad that bureaucrats see fit to behave in this high-handed way. It should be a straightforward crossing of the border,” he toldThe Times. “It’s just really sad that Bangladesh, which is the ultimate destination, is being so bloody difficult.” The couple, who live in the Sussex Downs, had planned the journey for the past three years as a celebration of their 35th wedding anniversary.
During the trip, they said 100,000 photographs had been taken of them and their car by admiring Indians. They had rattled the screws in their car crossing deserts, the ash frame had shrunk crossing the plains of Gujarat in India, and they had dined with Indian royalty. They had also ventured into no-go areas of Uttar Pradesh, although, as Mr Grey said, the insurgents inhabiting the foothills tended not to drive 1936 Rolls-Royces.
Yesterday, however, Mr Grey was facing up to an inglorious end to his adventure. “I have left the Rolls at the border,” he said. “The customs officer was very embarrassed and said he could not believe that his country was behaving in this way. But it is too dangerous to leave the car for any length of time.”
Mr Grey — whose father had been stationed in Bengal as an army doctor during the Second World War and who, in 1959, became the third owner of the Derby-built car — said they had enjoyed wonderful adventures. The Rolls had been a “real catalyst”, he said. “Local people have been helping with minor repairs and everybody wants to see the engine . . . We have been well regarded and it’s all been very British. It’s been an extraordinary time.”
Mr Grey, who has been travelling to Bangladesh for 20 years, said he hoped that the matter would be resolved, not least for the pleasure of seeing his car being admired in Bangladesh.
After The Times made enquiries about Mr Grey’s plight, government officials in Bangladesh said they would investigate the problem.
“There will be a way out here,” said an official at the National Board of Revenue, which deals with the documents. “If he comes to us on Sunday then we will help.”
Rupert Grey has just gone off to the Tamabil border to collect his 1936 Rolls Royce which made it all the way over from the UK to attend CMVII. Thanks to Arshad Jamal and Khushi Kabir for weaving their magic behind the scenes to make it happen.