54 year old Kumar Jayantilal Shah, the publisher of Vadodara Samachar, set out to do something few would dare to imagine and fewer manage to accomplish. Combining the passion of motorbiking and the zeal for a cause, he has traversed the roads of several countries of the world. Encouraging more people to experience the sheer love for travelling, he often invites people to join his expeditions and see the world through a different perspective.
The Silk Odyssey from Gujarat to London on a motorbike was a landmark expedition he has scratched off his Itch List and hopes to scratch off many more over the coming years.
About the Expedition
Going on this motorbike expedition, from Vadodara to London had been a dream for Shah since 1983. June 9, 2013 was that special date which marked the beginning of something huge and momentous-
2 bikes. 3 people. 14 countries. 76 days. 15,300 Km.
Kumar Shah and Hitesh Raval from Vadodara and Gagan Deep from Delhi began their journey across 14 countries, spanning 2 continents on their bikes that day. Traversing the roads of India, Nepal, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France to UK- this expedition was not only an adventurous trail, but has also pledged to raise 5 lakhs for Save the Children Foundation to aid child survival and care.
Why the Silk Route?
There are two routes from India to UK by road. One is through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey into Europe to UK. The other route is through Nepal China Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia into Europe to UK known as the silk route. For Shah, “Safety has no holiday” and concerns regarding safety led to choosing the Silk Route. He says, “The route also offered unexplored roads especially as hardly any Indian has travelled by road through the magnificent beauty of historical CIS countries. I have learnt of these CIS countries which were also part of former USSR, lead by Chengis Khan and Barber in History lessons during school which I could relate to. The roads through arid deserts offered more challenges, which I loved to take on.”
The Challenge of Funding
The expedition was self funded and the cost was immense, obviously. Unexpected changes, road blocks, bureaucratic processes were a major hurdle that made everything unpredictable. “25 days before the journey commenced, I hit a MAJOR road block where I decided to call off the event. China charges a huge sum of money to cross their country on a motorbike to the tune of Rs 8 lakhs + expenses which came to Rs 12 lakhs for China only. I thought of raising funds through sponsorship. I thought my event was unique so there would be many who would support me to realise my dream. I ran from pillar to post, travelling the length and breadth of the country, meeting MDs and Chairman’s’ of various top Industries and Corporate of India. Most responded positively and many recalled and told me about events from their own lives of travel on a motorbike during their young days. Some also told me that they dreamt of such an event in life but could not realize it so far. Eventually I did not get any support from any corporate or industry. “Some help came through sponsorship from a few friends but largely the entire journey was self-financed.
Meeting New People On the Road:
Caution and care are the two words that Shah exercised in his life. Having read various blogs and numerous conversations with motor bikers across the world, he was aware of the shocking stories of betrayal, conning and theft. But Shah prefers to believe in the innate humanity of all people and treats such stories as exceptional instances. “I also happened to meet a local, accidentally, in my city Vadodara, a few days before I started my journey. Chandrasen Jadhav is settled in Germany since the 60s and had driven his car two times from Germany to India in 1965 and 1971. When I asked him what advise he had for me he had only one statement to make. He told me, “Kumar the world is becoming more and more intolerant, so be careful and keep your ears and eyes open all the time.” But for Shah personally, it has been a wonderful journey of meeting warm, kind and helpful people.
Hurdles on the Road:
Most of the countries they travelled through spoke very little English. Language was a major barrier but with interesting games like dumb charades, the problem of communication was solved seamlessly and they conversed with locals effectively. Roads were rough and ill maintained at least till Europe. The toughest was riding through desert of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. “Most desert patches were of 500 plus kms so we had to cross them any how in one day. I got stuck in one patch on the way to Benyue, but an angel arrived from nowhere. He saved me on these deserted broken horrible roads where I had a breakdown and was stranded for the night. The food was tough especially horse meat but from Russia onwards, the cuisine got easier and tastier. A thumb rule in such adventures is patience and commitment to the cause.
Humanity Across borders:
During his travels in Russia, he hung out out with seven other bikers and rode with them in Moscow till 4 in the morning painting the city red. Biking, pub hopping, drinking black tea in flute glasses, laced with ginger and lemon kept them up the whole morning. So often you meet people and things click instantly.This was the case with Alex in Moscow. They bonded instantly and shared life stories during the 9 hours of biking. “We travelled the corners of Moscow riding like ruffians cutting across traffic and some time behaving like bullies on a bike. When he saw where I was staying, a poor locality with very basic facilities, he offered his 5 bedroom house.”
Before leaving for Petersburg, there was a moving farewell. “It was dark and raining when he rode to meet me. He brought with him a gift for me, a Contour helmet camera – costs around 350 USD. I refused to accept such an expensive gift but he thrust it on me. In return I presented a lapel pin of our India flag for his riding jacket.”
What Alex said next was quite moving and reminds you of the importance of childhood memories. When he was a small boy he went with his father (who was a high ranking officer in the Army of Serbia) to the airport when our late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had come to visit their country. The nation and Alex noticed as a child that she had brought gifts for all the dignitaries she interacted with while getting off the plane. This was something very new for Serbia. Since then he mentioned that it has become a tradition in Serbia to give a gift to their guest and people they interact from other countries and so he brought the gift for Shah.”His generosity in offering his house to a total stranger where bikers are know as ruffians in Russia and bringing a gift can be the act of angels only. I felt blessed and thank God for such a wonderful person in my life as a friend. We interact quite often now and look forward to his visit to India to paint the cities red.”
Lessons Learned on the Road:
“The world is a small place and people are the same everywhere”, for Shah. Through his vast travels he has discovered his history and past and his pride and love for India has only grown-“India is a rich, more fascinating and a wonderful country to ride through in its typography and diversity with multi lingual and cultural diversity in one country.” To know about yourself, you must travel outside you comfort zone and take up challenges that shake you and bring you alive. The expedition has been a key stepping stone for Shah and his fellow travellers in that direction.
Next on Shah’s Itch List:
– 2016: release the book I have written on my Extra Ordinary Journey to London
– 2016: Do my basic and advance course in scuba diving and learn the mouth organ.
– 2017: I want to set out for 3 years on my motorbike, riding through 100 countries a total of 1,00,000 kms, if he gets sponsors.
Any words of hope and encouragement for our Itchy readers who are keen about open road biking but wary about the risks?
“There is a pandora box of magic lying subdued suppressed or in hibernation in everyone’s life. Open it and give it wings. It’s easier than you can imagine. Money is never the factor, it shall come from various sources, but it’s your willingness to do it that’s important. Ordinary people do the Extra Ordinary!”
Check out the Facebook page for The Silk Odyssey here!
If you’re also itching to make your dreams and personal goals a priority, you’re welcome to our huddle at The Itch List 🙂