In January we asked readers to send us their plans for the expedition of a lifetime and win a share in the Heineken/Independent pounds 25,000 travel bursary. The response was impressively enthusiastic and competition was fierce. Here we publish the successful entries. By Simon Calder
What happens when you offer the world? As The Independent and Heineken Export discovered, the response is tremendous. Along with the travel publisher Lonely Planet and youth specialist STA Travel, we wanted to help some of the wildest dreams of adventure come true - so applicants were invited to apply for bursaries, sending in plans of their proposed trips. The plans the judges found the most impressive were given awards.

Heineken Export is available in more countries than any other lager - 177 in all. So it was natural that the drink should be behind a scheme to extend travellers' horizons. Thousands of dreamers applied for a share of the pounds 25,000 bursary. Some were for long treks, others for short, sharp shots at the trip of a lifetime.

These were whittled down to a shortlist by the judges - award-winning travel writer William Dalrymple, Jennifer Cox of Lonely Planet, Kathryn McNamara of Heineken Export, Sarah Garland of STA Travel and myself - and the applicants invited to London for interview.

Here, they faced some close questioning about motives and means. The foremost concern of the judges was that the participants should return safely, so the applicants had to demonstrate that they were properly prepared and had the necessary resources to cope with setbacks. After the interviews, hours of argument took place to decide how most fairly to divide the cash. We hope we have done our bit to extend the frontiers of travel - and look forward to finding out how the adventurers get on.

A Short Walk Through India

Rory Spowers, 29, wins pounds 2,500

I intend to carry nothing with me except a toothbrush, a blanket and some money. I want to make a pilgrimage on foot from the southern tip of India to the Himalayas. The 3,000-mile journey will be undertaken from September and will extend through India's 50th year of independence." Rory, who lives in London, describes himself as a "chef, writer and film- maker". He plans to spend no more than pounds 6 per day on subsistence, staying at villages along the way or at cheap guest houses. William Dalrymple thought the plan splendid, but queried whether the toothbrush was really necessary. "I find neem twigs do the job just as well," he said.

Search for the last of the "wild men" of Borneo

Mark Eveleigh, 28. pounds 3,300

"I have researched extensively and believe I have located the last large territory of the mysterious Punan tribe. This is the last resort of the original jungle-dwelling nomads - the wild men of Borneo - believed by other tribes to be so primitive that they have tails."

Mark is a labourer living in London. He will travel with Paul Bailey, a photographer, who is distantly related to the famed "white Rajah of Sarawak" - as, bizarrely, is William Dalrymple, one of the judges. Mark and Paul's journey will go from east to west across the huge island of Borneo, visiting an ancestral burial ground in Sarawak before the main part of the trip - a five-week hike through the dense jungle interior of Borneo. As far as the pair know, no foreigner has ever crossed the wild area just south of the Muller range. "We will hire two Punan guides and a hunter, who will help us to supplement our diet of rice."

Joining troubadours in Transylvania

Claire Doyle, 32 and Alexander Hopkins, 21. pounds 2,000

"We shall be playing music with, and learning from, the gypsy musicians of Transylvania. We are taking instruments made by ourselves - violin and three-stringed viola - and will pick up tunes and techniques by ear. We will travel to remote Hungarian villages, including those visited by Bela Bartk and Zoltn Kodly at the beginning of the century."

Claire and Alexander live in London and are both musicians and instrument makers. They are not simply planning to turn up and track down a troupe of roving musicians, but have enlisted the help of Iren Kertesz, a Hungarian singer. They plan to spend up to two months travelling this summer, staying with villagers - which helps explain the modest amount of funding required. As evidence of the determination involved, Claire has been learning Hungarian for a year.

A year on the trail of Charles Darwin

Toby Green, 22. pounds 4,400

"I plan to retrace Charles Darwin's route by horse. Although Darwin is famous for travelling by ship, all of the important research projects undertaken were made on horseback. For this reason, and also for the reason that horses are an accepted method of transport in Patagonia (where I will spend much of my time), the horse is an appropriate and innovative way of following in Darwin's footsteps."

Like Darwin, Toby is a Cambridge University student; he is about to sit his philosophy finals. He asked for pounds 7,300 to fund his 8,000-mile journey through Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Peru. A good horse, he told the judges, costs around pounds 500 in Brazil, and both he and his steed should survive on pounds 10 each per day. "In much of the region, estancias [ranches] will accept passing travellers".

The judges commended the plan but felt it demanded too large a slice of the pounds 25,000 cake. Toby said he was confident that he could earn up to pounds 10 an hour teaching English in the region, so he was awarded pounds 4,400- enough to get him to Tierra del Fuego and north to Valparaiso.

Pacific to Altiplano - and back

Christopher Bishop, 31, and Frances Appleyard, 29. pounds 2,000

"We want to travel through the western edge of South America and get entwined in the ancient Inca civilisation and Spanish colonialism." The trip will take them from Lima (where they may encounter Toby Green) to Macchu Pichu, across to La Paz and then north to Quito in Ecuador.

What particularly impressed the judges about this couple from North Shields, Tyne and Wear, was the efforts they had made to secure the necessary two months off. Both work for local authorities, and were required to pass a succession of bureaucratic hurdles to secure unpaid leave for the trip.

Grandfather's footsteps

James Broad, 31. pounds 1,500

"In 1925, during the course of his surveying work for the Canadian government, Albert Gammon completed a 350-mile canoe trip down the river that now bears his name. Seventy-one years later, the area through which the river flows is still wild, uninhabited and rarely visited. Referring to his original notes and charts, I will repeat his journey along the Gammon and Bloodvein rivers. Albert Gammon was my grandfather."

James is a designer living in Gloucestershire. He has already bought a canoe in Canada using an advertisement on the Internet (and a Canadian contact to check it over). A substantial chunk of the cash will be spent on chartering a float-plane to deposit him and his canoe on Red Lake, Ontario. Then it is downriver all the way to Lake Winnipeg. "This will almost certainly be the first repeat of the route."

A global pilgrimage

Babar Javed, 27. pounds 6,000

"I want to visit the 24 sites of greatest historical, cultural and spiritual significance to mankind. Nobody has yet visited all of the most important sites in the world in a single journey; it will provide a unique insight into the peoples, places and practices of the world.

Babar, a student from Croydon, does not do things by halves. The panel could have spent a week arguing about his choice of sites (why select Samarkand but not St Petersburg, Adam's Peak but not Anaconagua?), but all were impressed by the degree of planning - and the 10-minute video presentation that accompanied the application.

Babar will be using public transport wherever possible, and plans to stay in private homes, but he expects the trip to cost pounds 16,000. He has already raised pounds 10,000, so the judges were pleased to provide the necessary funding to get him under way."I will be the first global pilgrim," he promised. The judges' generosity was match only by their collective envy.

In the steps of the Inuit

Ruth Patterson, 35. pounds 3,300

"I plan to follow the ancient Eskimo migratory routes from north-east Alaska, across Canada and into Greenland. Hopefully, by spending time with the Inuit, I'll also be able to learn about their art and mythology."

Ruth is a sculptor living in Bath, and she is particularly interested in Eskimo sculpture. She will travel between July and September - the Arctic summer - and she hopes her time will allow her to learn and develop new techniques. Little is documented about the mythology of the Inuit and she has not ruled out the idea of spending some of her time collecting stories for a book to be written on her return.

To gather information for her trip, Ruth used the Internet and, on her arrival in Alaska, she will be meeting up with some of the people who have helped her prepare for her journey.