For your viewing pleasure enjoy the first ride outside of our own borders; Malaysia! The logistics of getting our bikes out of customs in Kuala Lumpur and onto the road in a foreign country wasn’t without its hiccups, but we eventually hit the road and headed straight for the Cameron Highlands. After that it was back to the coast for an adventure on Penang Island before making our way to the border to enter Thailand.
We decided to upload this video on Vimeo because we’re sticklers for quality, but die hard YouTubers will find the same video on our YouTube channel
To read more about our time in Malaysia check out our blog post:
That’s right folks, we’re back – not literally of course; strictly in the digital sense. If there’s only one good thing that’s come about as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, it’s that we’ve been able to start going through all the footage that we recorded on our journey from Australia to Europe. It’s an incredibly time consuming process so the forced stay at home order has allowed us to be very productive. We hope to get a few more episodes out before we’re back to full time work. But for now enjoy the first leg of our journey from Melbourne up the east coast of Australia to the Sunshine Coast!
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After being stuck in Vienna far longer than expected whilst we tried to finalise settling down, the opportunity to return to London and ride the bike home finally presented itself. Unfortunately Moni decided that she wasn’t able to spare the time to join me, so our original plans of heading north through Belgium, The Netherlands and Northern Germany to catch up with her friends there were made null and void. I decided however to make the most of the opportunity and return to The Alps where I could enjoy the mountain riding – this time without a pillion. It also gave me the chance to catch up with another friend from Beijing, Becs, who’d moved back to Geneva a few years ago.
With views like this, I’m pretty sure you’d be keen to get to The Alps too
With a tight timeline and The Alps firmly in my sight, my trip across France was again nothing more than a commute. I considered stopping in Paris for the night, but the thought of navigating the bike through one of Europe’s biggest cities just to say “I’ve done it” didn’t really enthuse me, so I steered clear. And so in two days, stopping for nothing but food and fuel, I made it to Geneva.
It was fantastic to see Becs again and she wasted no time in showing me some of Geneva’s eating and drinking highlights – we hadn’t seen each other in four years, and enjoying beers on Lake Geneva really emphasised the cultural differences to Beijing. But The Alps were a stone’s throw away so the following morning I set off to put myself in their midst.
I’d marked a few mountain passes on the map, the first being the Grimsel Pass. After giving the bike a good flogging I stopped at the damn wall of Lake Grimsel to take a break and a photo or two. There were motorbikes everywhere, but one stood out: a brand new R1200GS fully loaded, complete with a spare set of heavy duty tyres. Of course, when you see a big bike in an Asian country it’s not at all unusual to see a spare set of tyres on it. But in Western Europe big bikes and motorcycle workshops are in abundance, so I knew this bloke was heading somewhere different. Turns out he’d noticed the “AUS” sticker next to my number plate and we immediately knew we were on bigger journeys than the other bikers tearing up and down the passes.
The old adventurer and the new with the old bike and the new.
Ewen was only four days into his trip around the world (check out his blog goinground.me) – he’d left from Cologne in Germany and was planning to spend two years on the road. Heading in the opposite direction to that which we had come, he was enroute to Australia, after which he was planning to skip across to The Americas. After the small talk we realised that we were heading in the same direction for the day and both wanted to smash a few more passes. So with no good reason not to, we decided to ride together.
The Old Girl, at the top of Furka Pass
And smash the mountain passes we did. From Grimsel we next took on the Furka Pass, and that in turn led us to the Gotthard Pass. The Gotthard Pass took us in the wrong direction, but we decided to ride it anyway as that would give us a good excuse to do it all over again in reverse. This is where it all went horribly wrong.
Spurred on by another rider who was undoubtedly on a more powerful bike than I, I was giving the Old Girl everything she had to keep up as we zig-zagged back up the pass. I wrapped the throttle on after coming out of a hairpin and the bike revved in turn – but there was no power to the wheel. Trying again, the engine screamed, but forward momentum escaped me. Needless to say I was a touch disappointed that here, on the first day of what I’d hoped would be several in The Alps, my bike was going nowhere.
Eventually Ewen came back, realising that I was no longer in his rear vision mirror. He graciously offered his help to try and sort it out with me but I refused: we’d only met two hours before, and four days into his journey he didn’t need to be burdened with a bloke on broken bike. And besides, after riding more than 30,000kms across the world I was pretty sure I could sort something out on my own. So I bid him good luck and farewell, and proceeded to push my bike in the opposite direction.
The wonderful thing about breaking down near the top of a mountain pass in the European Alps is that you’ve got a long way to get to the bottom. I rolled the Old Girl no less than 5kms (at quite a pace too) before the hill flattened out and I rolled to a stop. The nearest campground was still 10kms away so I turned her over to see what might happen. Applying the throttle very gently I was able to get some momentum, but if I pushed it any harder than 4000RPM the power disappeared. So ever so gently I eased towards the camp site.
The timing was painfully ironic – I was only 1000kms away from finishing the journey for good, and yet here I was stuck in the middle of Switzerland with a bike that couldn’t ride any faster than an electric wheelchair. Suspecting the clutch to be the cause of my woes, I posted on the Advrider forum to see what others more knowledgable than me thought of the situation. The night’s campsite set me back $45AUD so I wasn’t really enthusiastic about getting the bike repaired in Switzerland; the clutch after all is one of the most time consuming jobs to do on a BMW. I really just wanted to know if people thought I could make it back to Vienna.
I woke the following morning to a multitude of replies to my post on the forum – the internet really is an incredible thing! There were two possible scenarios put forward: firstly as I suspected, my clutch was spent; secondly it could be that the drive shaft was turning inside itself, causing the loss of power. It was proposed that if it was the clutch I might be able make it to Vienna; if it was the drive shaft the bike was going home on a truck.
The fly wheel and clutch plates from behind the starter motor
I pulled the starter motor off the side of the bike to take a look at the clutch, which to my untrained eyes looked fine – no fluid to be seen which could cause slippage. But without the means to inspect the driveshaft myself, I resolved to try riding 80kms to the nearest BMW dealership to see what they had to say on the matter. I decided their opinion would determine my course of action – providing of course that I made it there at all.
To go easy on the bike, I choose to ride under the Gotthard Pass – a 16.9km tunnel – the fourth longest in the world
After perhaps the slowest, most nervous 80kms I’d ever ridden I arrived just 30 minutes before closing time. The head mechanic took the bike for a quick spin and upon his return he announced through a thick Swiss-German accent “it’s really bad”. Well, no surprises there.
He suspected it was the clutch and quoted approximately 2000 Swiss Francs for the labour to repair it – near enough to $3000AUD – which is almost what the bike itself is worth. This was all the motivation I needed to jump straight back on the bike and try my luck to Vienna. The first goal was just to get out of Switzerland; if it did come to the point that I needed to call a truck, my wallet desperately wanted to be making that phone call from Germany or Austria – not Switzerland. It was already 6pm, and I had 200kms to ride before the next border – Europe never felt so big! By 10PM I found a campsite just over the Austrian border. No more than two minutes passed after I’d set up my tent before the heavens opened. What a day.
The heavens were still wide open when I woke the following morning – it was pissing down. This was to be my last day on the bike, and what a way to start it. I packed the sopping wet tent in the pouring rain and proceeded to get sopping wet in the process. Over breakfast I checked the map: 650kms to Vienna. Then I checked the weather forecast: rain all day, all the way to Vienna.
Wet and cold and enroute to Vienna
And so my last day on the bike was spent riding on the shoulder of the autobahn on a busted bike for ten hours in the non-stop pouring rain. Seriously, it didn’t let up even for five minutes. It was the most depressing day I’ve ever spent on a motorcycle. Of course, the silver lining was that the bike made it to Vienna without further incident, and I’m seriously thankful the journey didn’t end on the back of a truck.
When I did finally step off the bike every inch of me was soaked through – my supposedly waterproof gear was saturated; water squished out of my boots as I walked; my camera and passport were damp inside my waterproof tank bag wrapped in it’s waterproof rain cover; the GoPro on the handlebars sat in a small pool of water inside its waterproof case. Under these circumstances it was difficult to appreciate what I’d just finished: 34,119kms from one corner of the globe to another.
Getting off the bike in Vienna for the last time. This photo says a lot
As stereotypical as it may sound, it was Ewan McGregor and Charlie Borman’s “Long Way Round” that originally inspired me to ride a motorcycle. Their journey was presented as a stylised adventure and it’s popularity spawned a new category of motorcycling complete with motorcycles to go with it: Adventure Motorcycling. Subconsciously it was they who planted the seed for Drew and I more than ten years ago. Commercial hype aside, our our journey was very similar – an adventure. And how lucky I was to share it with my best mate Drew, with my wife Monica joining me at times along the way.
The dream team in Kathmandu
But now, several weeks after the journey’s completion I’m left not with a sense of adventure, but an overwhelming sense of privilege. Privilege that I had the opportunity and the means to complete such an epic adventure. I had health, financial means and freedom from responsibilities like children and mortgages – not to mention an understanding wife! However these privileges I was aware of even before we departed.
As the journey progressed I became acutely aware of a different sort of privilege – the privilege of circumstance. This adventure didn’t require extraordinarily hard work, nor did I have to make extraordinary sacrifices to achieve it; I’m just an ordinary guy living an otherwise ordinary life. But I was born into a life immeasurably more privileged than so many other people. It’s very difficult to perceive this as you go about normal life, especially living in the city that for the sixth year running has been ranked as the world’s most liveable.
It becomes painfully obvious however as you travel through developing countries with little wealth or prosperity. When you’re approached at traffic lights by emancipated child-beggars. As you overtake a family of five travelling together on a 100cc scooter. When you stop at road works and watch women laying tar by hand. When you see rubble piled up on street corners twelve months after an earthquake. When you pass men sitting together in the back of a pickup holding machine guns. When you see buildings pockmarked with bullet holes. After seeing these things, you realise that you really do live a privileged life.
It’s the women doing the work whilst the men stand around and talk
More than 12 months after Nepal’s devastating earthquake the damage is still plain to see
There’s no tension when five blokes are holding an AK47 each
As we travelled through Australia, nobody looked twice at us on our adventure motorcycles. Nor did we score a second glance from anybody beyond Turkey. But in developing countries people showed us real interest – we were different. The interest I’m sure was genuine, but fundamentally it was not us that they were interested in. They were interested in a life that was foreign to them, a life that in their realms of possibility could never be possible – we were exposing them to something that previously had only ever existed on TV or an illegally copied DVD. We were unreal to them.
Surrounded by people in Pakistan who couldn’t quite understand what they were seeing
And it is this that I am left with: how truly privileged I am to have completed such a journey. For Drew and I it’s been the adventure of a lifetime, and I hope from behind your computer or smartphone you’ve enjoyed coming along for the ride.
Wow, how the real world has caught up with us, and fast! Our stop in Vienna several weeks ago opened a big can of worms, aptly labelled “reality”. We tried our best to jam the worms back in again and seal it shut by jumping on the bike and continuing west, but here we are back in Vienna, without a bike. We abandoned it in London to tend to some more reality related business which has taken longer than expected; we’ve since had to postpone our return flight by at least a week. The flip side is that this has provided a wonderful opportunity to update you on the most recent leg of our journey.
My first flight in 21 countries – London to Vienna
The Western European leg itself has been more about catching up with friends and family rather than being tourists. If you look at the map, you can see that for the most part we’d not taken a particularly interesting route to achieve this, but it wasn’t without it’s highlights.
The first stop was St. Gallen in Switzerland to visit Joanne, a former work colleague of Monica’s. Joanne’s husband is Swiss and the family had flown from Australia for a holiday.
Moni & Joanne in St Gallen
Two things can be said from the outset about Switzerland. Firstly, it’s mind-blowingly beautiful; every corner you turn seems like you’ve entered into a postcard.
High in the Swiss hills. What the camera doesn’t show is the 20 switchbacks that preceded these on the other side of the ridge
Still snow in the height of summer suggests that we’re a fair way above sea level
Like riding on the top of the world
A long way down to the bottom
Secondly, it’s wallet-blowingly expensive; we paid nearly €40 for the privilege of pitching our tent on one occasion. Needless to say we didn’t stick around longer than necessary. We did however meet a fantastic French couple at said camp site who were touring on their BMW K1200. It would be an understatement to suggest that Moni was a little envious of Dominique’s pillion seat on the luxury tourer, and Vincent very kindly offered her the chance to test it out for herself. I suspect, if I succumb to Moni’s requirements of a motorcycle, my next bike might be from the K series…
Moni enjoying the comfort of the BMW K1200
Great to camp next to fellow motorcycling enthusiasts
Our rather expensive lakeside campsite by night
Our trip towards Germany took us through some incredible mountain roads, some of which were cobbled – definitely a surface I’m not used to tipping the bike over into.
A cobbled 180° hairpin in the Swiss alps
We skirted through the Black Forest in the south western corner of Germany before crossing the Rhine into France to spend the night in a heavily German influenced town called Turckheim. Famed for it’s wine and it’s storks, a good time was had by all.
One beer too many?
On the hunt for storks. Not sure who was more afraid here
A stork and a dark cloud
French cuisine in Turckheim – very German looking!
Unfortunately I’d noticed a very disconcerting wobble whilst riding over the previous two days and I feared that the Old Girl’s final drive was about to give up on me. Without Drew’s expert advice on hand, I put the bike on it’s centre stand to take a short video which I sent to Drew for his appraisal.
He was as fearful as I was and advised that I ride no further than absolutely necessary. Moni and I decided it would be easier to turn back to Germany for some expert advice rather than try our luck in France; Moni speaks German, and being the Old Girl’s birthplace we expected parts to be easier to come by. So back over the Rhine we went to the nearest town with a service centre: Freiburg.
Crossing the Rhine in the wrong direction
Freiburg is famed for it’s open waterways called Bächle, which flow through the streets and date back to the 13th century. Strolling around the city’s old quarter made for a pleasant distraction whilst the bike was getting her dose of TLC.
Relaxing in Freiburg
A boy plays with a wooden boat in one of Freiburg’s Bächle’s
Rubber ducks in the Bächle
Moni being very grown up with a fountain that feeds the Bächle
The team at Motorrad Zentrum Freiburg were absolutely amazing – they offered to put the bike on the hoist immediately to inspect the problem. Surprisingly (but thankfully) their mechanic gave the final drive a clean bill of health and suggested that the wobble might be due to my extremely worn tyre. I was hoping to make it to London on the old tyre, but the side by side comparison shot confirms that this was the right time to change it.
The Old Girl getting some much appreciated TLC at Motorrad Zentrum Freiburg
Many thanks to Motorrad Zentrum Freiburg
The old tyre & the new. You can see that the old tyre has been worn down to the point that the tyre is square in the middle
So with fresh rubber we were back over the Rhine (again) and heading westwards towards the UK. Disappointingly, northern France was bland to ride through. Towns were small, void of character and often people too. To make matters even less inspiring we were caught in some pretty miserable weather.
Moni sporting some additional weather protection
France became nothing more than a commute. It did provide a great opportunity to reflect on what I’d achieved over the last couple of months – originally England was our end goal, and now that we were only a day away the reality of travelling so far across the world was setting in.
We decided to take the shuttle train under the channel to the UK and although this was more expensive than we’d expected (€120 one way), it was certainly an interesting experience. You literally drive into the train and 35 minutes later you drive out the other end in another country! Not wanting to disappoint us, England greeted us with a not-so-warm and rainy welcome.
Inside the shuttle train under the channel
We were due to meet my sister in the afternoon, but with a bit of time to kill before she finished work we thought we’d ride by some of London’s sights.
What a stupid idea this turned out to be. London has the worst traffic congestion of anywhere I’ve ridden through in the last 30,000kms. It took over an hour for us to ride 10kms through the city despite the fact that I was lane splitting wherever possible. And of course, once in the city we had to get back out again!
Our foolish mission to see the sights by bike with the Tower Bridge in the background
It looks photoshopped, but I assure you it real. Big Ben from a bike
After covering 25kms in three hours in heavy traffic, rolling into Jenny’s street in Shepherd’s Bush felt nearly as good as going for a swim in a pool of beer. And this was almost what I got as Jen showered me in champagne on our arrival. Fantastic to see her again and great that she acknowledged the achievement of riding across the world.
A champion’s welcome
A social, non bike related couple of days were spent in London catching up with friends from all over the world.
A better way to get around London: public transport. A night out with Moni’s cousin Adriana and her husband Alin
When in Rome…
A fantastic dinner at the top of The Shard, London’s tallest building, to celebrate my birthday
I think the cake decorator might have missed a flag or two, but it still tasted damn fine
Lucy, originally from Melbourne; my cousin Natalie; and Mike, a good friend from Beijing
The social agenda required that we get back on the bike and continue west towards Ireland. Enroute to Wales we stopped in Warwick to say hello to my cousin Rachel and her family. To their father’s dismay the girls took quite a liking to the bike.
My cousin Rachel and her daughters
Before we knew it we were rolling off yet another ferry in another country. No time was lost getting straight to the heart of Irish culture: Guinness. After smashing a few pints at the St James’s Gate Brewery we spent a very hospitable night with Mich, a good friend from Melbourne who’d recently moved back to Ireland.
The home of Guinness
Apparently all this helped bring out the flavour in the beer
Mich and Moni
The following day we stopped in at a small town called Shercock to say g’day to “our man” Colm, of Darwin to Douglas fame. We met Colm and his riding partner Ed on the Thai/Myanmar border some 20,000kms ago. Almost by chance, we met again in Pakistan and travelled together as a gang of four across two thirds of the country. It was great to see Colm in his natural environment, on the farm!
Ed & Colm in Pakistan
Colm – still smiling even though there was no tractor in sight
An article from the local rag about Colm & Ed’s trip from Darwin to Douglas
Finally, after riding 30,932kms towards the setting sun, we arrived at the journey’s most westerly point; Falcarragh, a small coastal town in the north western corner of Ireland. Here we met Adrian and his partner Lou, two very good friends from Melbourne. They’ve taken a sabbatical to spend some quality time with Ado’s family and it was fantastic to get an insight into traditional Irish farm & family life, even if we could only understand half of what was being said! It’s a spectacular stretch of coastline and we spent a great couple of days taking in all the area had to offer, including of course, more Guinness.
Lou & Moni taking a walk to the beach on Ado’s family’s property
Sunset in Falcarragh
Enjoying the family company in Falcarragh
Glenveagh National Park
A pile of peat. Peat is dug from the bog pits and dried so it can be used for fire instead of wood
A man digging peat from the bog pit by hand. Hard work
A disused church in Donegal
On tour in Donegal
A hard earned thirst
A beautiful part of the world, shared with beautiful people
After 5 months and 16 days of travelling west it was finally time to turn the bike around in the opposite direction. With no time to spare we were straight back to London to catch our flight to Vienna where we now sit. Western Europe has been a whirlwind of preparing to settle in Austria, social catch ups and eating up the kilometres in between each social engagement. The real world has started to dominate our thoughts and actions, and sometimes I forget that technically the journey’s not quite over yet – I just need to get back to London to get the bike! It’s also easy to forget that I’ve almost completed a dream hatched a decade ago with my best mate in a share house in Melbourne, 32,000kms away. I think now might be the time to start planning for the next one, and cheers to that…
It was a strange feeling saying goodbye to Drew after literally spending every waking minute together for the last four months. We’d travelled so far, met so many people and experienced so much; together. Of course, the practical part of me (which a lot of people would argue is the most dominant) knew from the beginning that this moment was coming. But that didn’t make it any easier to say farewell.
What did make it easier though was the knowledge that for me, the journey wasn’t over yet. After spending a few weeks in Vienna making preparations for our residency it was out with the old, in with the new and back on the road again. Like it or not Drew has been replaced by Moni, my wife, and two up we’re now making our way across Europe.
This change in personnel has also marked a significant change in attitude for the journey. You can’t channel Casey Stoner when you’re two up, not if you want to stay married that is. Road selection hasn’t been about how many bends it has or how high it’s altitude is, and certainly not whether there’s any dirt we can hit. It has become a delicate balance of practicality; how quickly will we reach our destination vs how much will we enjoy the time on the bike.
That’s one ominous looking sky
Time for a roadside waterproof liner install
Apparently we needed a shower
And despite the change in personnel, I can’t help but recognise there’s been a shift in the journey that’s totally out of my hands. We’re no longer ‘adventure motorcyclists’ because if we’re totally honest, we’re no longer on an adventure. Travel through Europe is blissfully easy; people follow the rules, road quality is magnificent, food is fantastic, infrastructure functions in a functional fashion, you don’t have to factor four hours to cross a border and you can sit down on the toilet and use paper instead of your hands to clean up after yourself. We’re tourists and we’re on holiday, we just happen to be doing it on a motorcycle.
And we’re on the road
This transition from adventurer to tourist has been apparent in the way other people interact with us too – previously our motorcycles would attract attention, and when asked what our purpose was people would clearly struggle to comprehend just what was wrong with us.
You can’t be sure your tank’s really full unless 50 people confirm that it’s full
Now we don’t stand out in the crowd – nobody seems to notice us riding a bike that’s 13 years old and not straight off the factory floor like most of the other bikes we see (and gee BMW must be doing alright for themselves at the moment). I suspect that most people think the ‘AUS’ on the back of my bike stands for Austria instead of Australia as even fellow motorcyclists don’t engage in conversation with us – it’s all just so normal.
Waiting to board the ferry to Sardinia – we lined up with 10 other bikes, and none of them even said hello
And so it’s with this new line up and mindset that Moni and I have made it two thousand kilometres further west of Vienna. I had organised to spend a week on the Italian island of Sardinia for Moni’s Christmas present, so it was in the south-west direction that I pointed the handlebars. We ate breakfast in Graz, Austria, had lunch in Ljubljana, Slovenia, before arriving in eastern Italy for dinner.
Good to know how far several of our destinations are – overlooking Graz, Austria
We’d decided to skip Venice enroute, as we knew we couldn’t take the bike there. The thought of finding somewhere to leave the bike and then unloading all of our luggage didn’t really appeal so we scraped it from the list. Of course, we still needed to find somewhere to stay for the night, and purely by coincidence we found ourselves in a caravan park almost directly opposite The Floating City. When checking in, the receptionist showed us the map of the park and pointed to the bus stop out the front, saying “this is where the bus departs to Venice, and it will take you there in ten minutes”. I looked at Moni and said “dinner in Venice then?”, and before we knew it we were on the bus. What a delightfully pleasant surprise too – we spent two hours walking through the city enjoying the atmosphere before we found somewhere to eat.
On the streets (if you can call them that?) of Venice
Sunset in Venice
Look closely – that’s a Venetian fire truck/gondola
Just a regular dinner in Venice
Come on, you wouldn’t say no, would you?
Venice by night
The next morning it was off to the Tuscan capital of Florence. The road into Florence crossed a mountain range which made for some cracking motorcycling, even though we were two up. The sound of performance sport bikes echoed through the hills as we descended into Florence – the Italians do enjoy their motorcycling! After another casual stroll through the old town we obliged our palettes by indulging in some more quality Italian food and wine.
Beer, with Florence in the background
More beer, Florence style
No dogs in Florence
Sorry, that was no dogs
Moni and David
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
Florence by night
We were taking the ferry to Sardinia from Livorno which is 25kms from the infamous Pisa, and it would have been quite rude of us not to pay a visit.
Look closely – there’s a leaning tower in there
Moni, trying to push some dude over in Pisa
After a night on Livorno’s coast where we watched kite surfers with envy, we rose stupidly early to catch the ferry to Sardinia. Our destination was Stintino on the far north western corner, where we did absolutely nothing but eat, drink and laze on the beach for a week!
Kitesurfers in Livorno
The old girl, inside the hull
Enroute to Sardinia
Some quality aperitifs on our balcony in Stintino
The view from our balcony
Moni’s best lizard impersonation
Somebody really enjoyed their Italian wine tonight
All good things must come to an end as they say, but our next firm destination was to be St. Gallen in Switzerland more than a week later. On a whim we decided to spend that week making our way north through France’s answer to Sardinia; Corsica. I don’t even know where to start with Corsica – it’s like Tasmania on steroids, in the middle of the mediterranean! It has mountains over 2500 metres high, picture perfect beaches, world class hiking trails, surfing, kite surfing, diving, sailing – the list goes on. Oh, and did I mention the motorcycling? The place is a motorcyclist’s wet dream and for Drew’s sake I’m sorry to say that it beats Romania for the number one motorcycling destination we’ve travelled through yet. And to top it all off the food is to die for – fantastic locally produced cured meats, cheese, wine and beer make for very happy tourists.
The old girl, behind some much newer girls on the ferry to Corsica
Enjoying the ocean view from the pool of our caravan park. Could be worse
In the mountains of De Bavella
The De Bavella pass
Stunning views around every corner
A beach breakfast of fresh French pastry
Storm’s a brewing in Campomoro
Corsica’s roads are sure to keep your pillion on the edge of their seats
Cliffs on one side, ocean on the other
Yep, that’s a tight one
Waving to our future selves? My only hope is that in 15 years I might be able to afford a brand new BMW!
She might be old, but she still gets the job done – Corsica makes it easy work
Meat and cheese
The port town of Calvi, with a +2000 metre mountain range in the background
Corsica’s corners require concentration
Unfortunately St. Gallen was calling and so it was back on the bike to get back on the boat to begin our mad-dash through Europe to catch up with the dozen or so friends we have dotted in all corners of the continent. It’s tough, but somebody’s gotta do it…
We’d not researched anything about Bulgaria – originally planning to simply transit the country enroute to Romania. This would have been more than achievable, as Google Maps suggests that the 650kms from Istanbul to Bucharest can be done in a little over 8 hours, which has become normal day of riding for us. But a day or two out we thought we should at least stop for the night – after all, when were we likely to visit Bulgaria again? And so it was with blissful ignorance that we crossed the border of Turkey and Bulgaria and officially entered the European Union and our third continent.
People often say how remarkable it is that landscapes and culture seem to change instantly as you cross a border, and we couldn’t agree more. Suckers for the seaside, we took the most scenic route down to the Black Sea and were amazed at the solitude of the place – during our first 100kms in the country we saw only two or three other vehicles. The road was literally overgrown with greenery, a stark contrast to the arid landscapes that we’d grown accustomed to over recent weeks.
Drew, inspecting some minor road damage to see if we can make it through
It’s incredible to think that only 26 years ago, communism was the norm in this part of the world – communist era infrastructure can still be seen in their buildings, buses and trams and road maintenance. We didn’t spend nearly enough time to get a solid appreciation of the way of life, but people do seem to have moved along way forward from communist rule.
Passing through the streets of country Bulgaria
It was also strange to see Cyrillic script printed everywhere – thankfully we had our GPS, otherwise we might not have managed to navigate our way across. After spending our last night on the sea as two Blokes we saddled up and enjoyed a fantastic day’s riding as we pushed towards our commitments in Bucharest.
Back on the highway en route to Bucharest
My wife’s family is Romanian and our sponsor Remedia is also based there, as such Romania was always an important stop on our itinerary. Valentin, my father in law, was watching our progress on our Spot Tracker and met us on our way into Bucharest – we were almost run off the road as he enthusiastically waved us down! He escorted directly to a Bavarian Beer Haus where we caught up over sausages, sauerkraut, and erm, beer. But it wasn’t all about food and drink and our attention quickly turned to more responsible matters.
Making a short presentation of our journey for the staff at Remedia
We were invited to share stories about our journey with the staff at Remedia, and this was followed by an interview for the Romanian television station Antenna3.
Turning heads and cameras
Not wanting to stop there though, we also made a short presentation at Automobile Bavaria Otopeni, who in return very graciously gave the bikes a much needed service. Emanuel and the team were fantastic to deal with and gave the bikes far more attention than they deserved – if you’re in Romania and on a BMW that needs some TLC, you can’t go wrong to pay them a visit. Really!
Meeting fellow adventure motorcyclists at Automobile Bavaria Otopeni
“Make life a ride” and share your ride tales with other BMW folk
My bike under the tender care of Automobile Bavaria’s mechanics
Our sincerest thanks to the team at Automobile Bavaria for their efforts!
These photos make our bikes look far more glamorous than they actually are…
…look closely at Drew’s indicator!
We did take the time to soak up some of the things Bucharest had to offer which included a walking tour of the city and a visit to the communist dictator Ceaușescu’s palatial residence. It was quite incredible to walk through this simple but opulent home, knowing that whilst occupied, people outside it’s walls were starving.
An unrestored section of wallpaper in Ceaușescu’s palatial residence – made out of gold!
Private cinema in the basement of the palace
Elena’s (Ceaușescu’s wife) wardrobe
A staircase inside the palace – fantastic mosaic tiling features throughout
They told us this was a spa…
Drew, signing an autograph for our palace tour guide, after she found out that we were on the TV
Ceaușescu began his rule as a popular leader and initially Romania prospered under his stewardship. His public condemnation of the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 by other communist nations won favour in the US. This led to Romania’s membership in the International Monetary Fund from whom he proceeded to borrow a staggering $13 billion. The debts got out of hand, and determined to reign things in Ceaușescu decided to export everything. Needless to say when you export everything (and don’t import anything) people are going to run out of things to eat, and the once popular leader became the most hated man in the country. Remarkably though, just weeks before he was overthrown and executed, the debt was fully paid off – Romania remains the only country in the world to have achieved this.
With our media commitments behind us and our thirst for recent history quenched we got back on the bikes for Drew’s final leg to Vienna. During our trip planning one of the only roads we’d marked as a ‘must ride’ was the Transfagarasan, which crosses the Carpathian Mountains and was famously declared “the best road in the world” by Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson. With a declaration like that, we’d be fools not to include it on our way west, right? Needless to say we were pretty heartbroken when we found out the road was officially closed still for the winter (yep, we were there in May!) and wouldn’t open until June. We met fellow overlander Florea Ionut (aka Jon, from Into The World) at Automobile Bavaria, and he mentioned that we might have more luck with the Transalpina. Sure, it hadn’t featured on a TV show, but we were assured it was no less spectacular. And that was all we needed; after a fantastic home cooked breakfast provided by our outstanding hosts in Bucharest we were back on the road again.
Our farewell breakfast – there was hardly any food and our stomachs were growling all day
And blow me down if Jeremy wasn’t barking up the right tree when talking about Romanian roads. Un-f&^king-believable! We didn’t even make it all the way over the Transalpina either, because it was still covered with a metre of snow! But we had bloody sensational time trying.
The Transalpina. That’s snow up there
And all of a sudden the snow’s pretty close
A lot of fun, but certainly not promising
We had so much fun in fact, that the following day we decided to try our luck from the other direction, knowing full well that we’d eventually hit the snowline again – we didn’t care, we just loved every kilometre on the roads of the Carpathians. Gorgeous green mountains, fantastic tarmaced roads, picture perfect villages and fantastic (and affordable) food made Romania our favourite country so far for motorcycling. If you like motorcycling, you will love Romania!
Our second attempt at the Transalpina. Sensational
Romania. Unbelievable motorcycling
Travelling through small Romanian villages
Like riding through a postcard
This town is called Carpenis. That is all
But all good things must come to an end as they say, and we needed to continue towards Hungary. My bike was determined to stay in Romania however. The morning of our last day a strange noise was coming from my bike’s alternator belt, and at times like these, it’s always comforting to travel with a bloke like Drew.
Initially planned as another transit country, we squeezed a night in Budapest in as our last hurrah as two Blokes – the following day would see us ride into Vienna where I’d be reunited with my wife, and Drew would depart to Australia to reunited with his. A vibrant city with incredibly rich culture and history, ironically we were both so tired from abusing our motorcycles in Romania that our last ‘big night out’ finished at around 9:30PM. History and culture came a boring second place to sleep.
On the streets of Budapest
Our first and last cocktail for the night
It’s a shame we weren’t feeling more energetic, because Budapest seemed to have a lot of potential
And so, with mixed feelings of achievement and sadness, the two of us saddled our bikes in Budapest for our final ride together on this epic adventure…
Iran: it emerged like a verdant oasis in the middle of a desolate desert wasteland. At first, it was hard to tell if our opinion of Iran was neutral; if you’ve read our earlier posts you’ll appreciate that our journey through the sub-continent was a real test for us, and this warped our sense of normality. But it seems that we’ve passed the test with flying colours to be rewarded in this fantastic, vibrant country.
We love Iran!
Iran defied nearly all of our preconceptions. We expected intense heat in arid desert, religious and cultural conservatism, and a lack of modern development; all under the watchful eye of the military. How wonderful it was to have our expectations shattered. Iran is arid but high in altitude, which made it surprisingly temperate – the jagged mountains making spectacular vistas as we journeyed across the countryside.
Every kilometre in Iran has been simply breathtaking
It is an Islamic state, where religious dress code is enforceable by law, but we were surprised to see how relaxed women are about wearing their hijabs. Often they only just cover their tied up hair and wear heavy make up on their faces – a stark contrast to Pakistan (an interesting article about women in Iran was recently published on The Guardian). Daily calls to prayer are almost unnoticeable in the background, and few people talk about religion in normal conversation. The people are liberal, relaxed, friendly, and compared to where we’ve traveled, they’re also wealthy. Modern amenities and consumables are found everywhere – the only obvious exclusions are American chains like McDonalds, Starbucks and the like (and as Eddy from Darwin to Douglas would point out, sit-down toilets). The country is spotlessly clean, which was a very welcome change – immaculate gardens can be found almost everywhere which make the cities refreshingly picturesque.
Stopped on the roadside after crossing the border. Note the smile
Our first two days in the country were an intense push to make it 1300kms from the border to Isfahan to meet Monica and Lucy, who were flying in to meet us for a week of sightseeing. We had been put so far behind schedule in Pakistan that we feared we might not make it time. We were given another military escort from the border town of Mirjaveh and were then handed over to a government representative from the tourism department 100kms down the road in Zahedan. With memories of being a football kicked from escort to escort haunting us we were ready to tell the girls that they’d be sightseeing on their own. It soon became clear however that this far eastern province of Iran is starved of tourists, and all that was wanted of us was to spend some time being tourists. We firmly explained we had another 1200kms to travel by the following nightfall (by this stage it was 3pm!), and we were reluctantly given back our passports along with some souvenir keyrings and allowed to continue on our way.
And finally after nearly 3 weeks of following somebody else’s agenda we were free! Free to travel where we wanted, when we wanted, at the speed we wanted. The road infrastructure in Iran is incredible – double lane dual carriage ways ply through the desert. They are free of pot holes, cows, goats, horse pulled carts and overloaded tractors traveling in the wrong direction. With a speed limit of 120 we quickly realised that we might be able to make it to Isfahan in time after all.
Every corner we turn there are more stunning mountains
And make it we did. The intense agenda we’d been following instantly became a holiday, with time off the bikes for sightseeing and soaking up Iran’s incredible culture. Through Moni’s father we were put in touch with Amir, an Iranian who’d lived in Vienna for 6 years. He took us under his wing during our time in Isfahan, he showed us the sights, fed us the food, explained Iranian culture and even took Drew to the dentist.
A fantastic home cooked meal with Amir and his parents
Iran’s cultural history is about as rich as they come, given people have been living in the area since 3000BC – it’s one of the oldest civilisations on the planet. There was no shortage of things to see and do. Isfahan was the capital for over a century, from 1600AD and was our base whilst the girls were in town.
Lucy, Moni and Drew at Siosepol Bridge, Isfahan. “The Bridge of 33 Spans”, constructed in 1599
Shah Mosque, in Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Isfahan
Ali Qapu’s Music Hall, with instrument shaped cutouts for aesthetics and acoustics. Isfahan
Chilling at Ali Qapu
A spice stall inside Isfahan’s Bazaar
Tiling on the ceiling of Jameh Mosque, Isfahan
James Mosque, Isfahan. One of the oldest mosques in Iran – been there since 842AD!
A man in prayer at Jameh Mosque
Not sure what they’ve been feeding these chicks?
After soaking up all that Isfahan had to offer, we got on the bikes with girls and ventured to Shiraz. Shiraz was also once Iran’s capital, and on it’s outskirts the ruins of Persepolis can be found; an ancient city dating back to 550BC
Moni and Lucy – kitted up and ready to ride!
Enroute to Shiraz
A sand storm passes through Persepolis
Lucy, enjoying the vista over Persepolis
Persepolis, or “The Persian City”. Ruins dating back to 550BC
Rumour has it the Persians domesticated the horse
Moni enjoying some Iranian sweets at Eram Garden, Shiraz
Eram Garden, Shiraz. 13th century
The ceiling of Vakil Mosque, Shiraz. Built in 1751
Lucy and Moni enjoying a break inside Vakil Mosque
From Shiraz it was the desert city of Yazd we were destined. Unfortunately leaving Shiraz I picked up some dirty fuel which ruined my fuel pump. When emptying fuel from the filter, it came out black with chunks of debris! My last pump gave up 3 weeks earlier in Pakistan, and at $500 a pop it’s not been a cheap exercise. Thankfully we were cautious enough to get Moni to order a new one and bring it from Austria, otherwise we’d still be on the roadside.
Another busted fuel pump enroute from Shiraz to Yazd
With Drew’s skills at play, we were only stuck on the roadside for an hour or so before pushing onwards. Moni had organised a stay in a spectacular family run guesthouse in the desert outside of the city, called Farvardinn – I’d recommend anybody in the area to stay here. Our host, Masoud, told us we should head 1km into the desert to appreciate the sunset over some ruins.
Two bikes two up toward Yazd
Sunset in Yazd
A quick ride through the desert in Yazd
A quick ride through the desert in Yazd
The following day we headed into the centre of the city, famed for it’s mud bricked old town with a labyrinth of traditional laneways zigzagging in all directions.
Yazd’s towers of silence. Formerly the bodies of the dead were taken to the top of the circular towers to be eaten by vultures
From the top of Yazd’s Towers of Silence
Jame Mosque of Yazd, with the highest minarets in Iran
Stunning tiling on the ceiling of Jame Mosque, Yazd
Relaxing on the rooftop, overlooking Jame Mosque, Yazd
A view across the traditional roofs of Yazd, Jame Mosque’s minarets towering above
After dropping the girls back in Isfahan (and another trip to the dentist) we decided to push onwards towards Turkey. The road infrastructure is so good we thought we’d be fools not to make the most of the opportunity to buy a little time for later on in our journey – Drew booked his flight back to Australia, so we now have a very finite schedule to make it to Vienna. Given how safe, clean and sparsely populated Iran is, we decided to camp enroute – the first time since Australia.
Chasing the sun to find a suitable place to camp for the night
A roadside camp outside Qom. This is the first time we’ve camped since Australia!
The landscape changed strikingly as we neared Turkey, the temperature dropping quickly as arid planes turned into rich green pastures. On our final day we road over 1,000kms and managed to cross the border before nightfall – our biggest distance yet. It was the same day we clocked 20,000kms since departing from Melbourne, so we thought it was cause for celebration. We were excited to stay in a country where alcohol is legal again, but sadly for us we couldn’t find any beer in the Turkish border town that we stayed in for the night. The search continues.
Snow capped mountains and rich greenery as we push towards Turkey. It got a little chilly!
Layers in the earth remind us of spices in the Bazaars
Mount Ararat, Turkey. The view across the border as we made our push to Turkey
We’ve absolutely loved our time in Iran – we didn’t really know what to expect, but our expectations weren’t high. Low expectations are a fantastic springboard for great experiences and Iran’s been one of the best countries that we’ve visited so far. If you’re at a loss for where to go on your next holiday I’d suggest you make it Iran. You won’t be disappointed.
As a fairly well travelled chap, I knew very well what to expect for the first half of our journey. South East Asia didn’t disappoint, but nor did it surprise. Once leaving India however Drew and I were both thrust into very new territory – an unfamiliar culture, staunchly religious (and a very unfamiliar religion at that), with a bad reputation in our western media for unsavoury social behaviour.
But we’re both open minded, and we have embraced Pakistan as fully as we could. I kid you not, the people are the friendliest I’ve ever come across (actually, the men are the friendliest I’ve ever come across – I haven’t met any women so am not in a position to comment).We had expected to keep our distance with Pakistan to avoid getting into any sticky situations, but ironically of all the cultures we’ve encountered on our journey thus far, it’s Pakistan’s that we’ve immersed ourselves in most fully. We’ve done more homestays than hotel stays, we’ve been fed to bursting, enjoyed countless chai tea breaks, and even had fuel bought for us. Pakistanis are hospitable beyond words.
Smiles all around
Our host Ghayoor, from Peshawar
Farewelling friends in Mardan
And the scenery is simply breathtaking – the world’s second highest peak, K2, is in the heart of the Karakoram ranges, where the Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges meet. Descending from the mountains you’re taken through fertile agricultural lands, which is followed byvast deserts that give you the feeling of riding through landscapes straight from Star Wars’ Tatooine. There’s a lot to love about Pakistan, and by rights they deserve to have a booming tourism industry.
Leaving Nagar Fort
A stunning vista from Nagar Fort
Spectacular mountains in the desert en route to Quetta
Not too many corners to worry about here
But undeniably there is a darker side to Pakistan, the side that westerners are more familiar with. Outside of the heavily populated (and economically powerful) eastern province of Punjab the presence of armed forces in Pakistan is almost overwhelming. Police walk around casually with AK47s or assault rifles slung over their shoulders and 9mm pistols strapped to their hips. The army is no different. Bank security guards carry double barrelled shotguns, whilst men of moderate prominence employ armed bodyguards to accompany them as they go about their daily business. Thankfully we’ve not witnessed anything unsavoury ourselves, and when speaking to locals about the security situation everyone’s very quick to say “there’s no security problem here”. I have no doubt that this is due to the huge presence of armed forces, and as a result we’ve become very blase about being surrounded by men with weapons.
Refuelling under armed escort in Dir
When digging a little deeper in conversation with Pakistani people we’ve come to realise that their plight is a horribly complex one. Oblivious westerners might assume that all these problems relating to guns and armed forces stem from 9/11 and the Taliban’s presence in the region. No Pakistani has denied that things didn’t change significantly for them after 9/11, however the problems go far deeper than that. For more than half a century, Pakistan has been a political football; it began when the British partitioned the subcontinent in 1947, and by all reports they did a pretty average job of it. It’s no coincidence that both Pakistan and India have a province called Punjab, and to this day Jammu and Kashmir are still disputed territories.
A farmer herding goats strolls past whilst waiting in the desert for a police hand over
Standing around in the desert, waiting
A military helicopter flies overhead whilst we’re escorted towards Quetta
Pakistan is resource rich, and located in a strategically opportune spot on the Gulf of Oman. Russia invaded Afghanistan in the late 70’s, and out of their own self interest America sided with Pakistan – this was part of the cold war. But Pakistan also borders China, and China’s might is huge. The Chinese are currently investing heavily in infrastructure in Pakistan, for both resources and strategic military gain. But of course China and America don’t get along so famously, and in more recent times (according to the Pakistanis) America has seen this as a passive threat and have retaliated by supporting India. Incidentally, China is also supporting Nepal after India tried to cut off their fuel supply to force them into political submission.
And we haven’t even touched on religion yet! Pakistan is an Islamic state, and Islam comes in different flavours. Whilst Sunni and Shiites previously got along, it was apparently hardlined Saudi Arabian Wahabis that showed an interest in setting the cat amongst the religious pigeons. Remember too that Pakistan is a nuclear armed nation with a notoriously corrupt government and you can start to understand just what a sticky situation it is. Religious extremists are just the salt and pepper on top.
“Where are you from?”
“Where are you going?”
“What is your father’s name?”
“Who gave you permission?”
Of course we haven’t seen any Americans, Russians, Chinese or Saudi muftis – we’re blissfully ignorant of Pakistan’s political woes. What we have had to deal with though is literally dozens of military and police checkpoints. Independent travel by road in Pakistan is arduously slow. There is no way for us to know what road is open, what road is restricted and what roads we’ll be required to travel under police escort. Hour upon hour has been wasted sitting at the roadside waiting to find out if we can proceed, and if you look closely at our GPS tracks, you’ll see all the times we’ve had to double back on ourselves. To make matters worse, the police from one district won’t communicate with the police in the adjacent district – we’ve sat around for hours whilst we’ve waited for them to negotiate amongst themselves what should be done with us. These guys couldn’t organise a root in a brothel and sadly all of this has left a bitter taste in our mouths about Pakistan.
Riding in the back of a police ute in Quetta with some fellow overlanders to get our government permission to proceed on our journey
Catching some z’s in the police compound near the Lowari Tunnel. Note the AK47 Drew’s sleeping next to
Following the escort car towards Taftan
Registering passport details at a checkpost well after dark
Whilst the world’s superpowers make their sport in Pakistan, the everyday Pakistani goes about normal life as best they can. And the overlander travelling across the country is left to negotiate the roads and the checkpoints as best they can, wondering if Pakistan is bitter or sweet.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a historical, political nor religious expert – this post is a condensed interpretation of conversations with everyday Pakistani people – don’t hold it against me if I’ve misrepresented the situation.
This is the second time I’ve visited the Indian sub-continent. Eight years ago when I was last here, I rented a 500cc Royal Enfield ‘Bullet’ and rode from Delhi through the deserts of Rajasthan to the high mountain passes of the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh. I recall it being one of the best times in my life. And I seriously wonder what has changed in these last years…
James, selfie style, during a solo jaunt in the Indian Himalayas
India is a country that polarises opinions; you either love it or you hate it. I loved it back then and expected no different the second time around. Our very first impressions after entering from Myanmar were wonderful – fantastic scenery and riding through gorgeous mountain ranges in Manipur. It was a rude awakening once we came off the mountain however. Naively, I put down to cultural differences in the country’s far east and happily crossed the border into Nepal expecting all to be well once we re-entered further west.
What a welcome though upon returning (as far west as we possibly could) when the road quite literally disappeared beneath us at the border. The immigration building smelt like it doubled as the border town’s sewage treatment plant. I shit you not. Passport stamped and welcome back James!
During the ensuing days, I couldn’t help but think how stupid people here were. People ride motorbikes without helmets (let alone any other sort of safety gear). They drive cars the wrong way down the motorway at speed without wearing seatbelts, whilst talking on their mobile phones. They drive the wrong way around a roundabout because the distance travelled is shorter. You are passed by wealthy people in their European sports cars on the motorway; sunroof open with 5 year old child with his head out the top. Trucks are loaded with more bricks than we’d spread across five trucks. And I’d strongly advise electricians against journeying to the sub continent – you’re likely to have a heart attack and not make it back. I felt like I was seeing Darwinism take place before my very eyes, and everybody seemed pretty cool about it.
Our passage through Western India centred around getting our Iranian visa’s from the embassy in Delhi, and we scheduled everything accordingly. You’ve not seen two grown men’s heart sink faster when told first thing on Monday morning that due to Persian New Year and Holi Festival, the embassy would be closed until Friday. But we were told we could come back then and have them processed within the day. All was not lost, as we decided to take a car to Agra and the Taj Mahal, and it also meant we could celebrate Holi with the family of a good friend from back home.
You can probably guess where this is
Drew, inspecting the craftsmanship at the Taj
Moni, shopping for colours in readiness for the Holi celebrations
Holi – the festival of colour. It doesn’t matter which colours you start with, they all end up turning purple!
First thing Friday morning, still glowing purple from Thursday’s Holi festivities and keen to continue west, we arrived back at the Iranian Consulate to be told that all was in order with our application but that due to banks being closed for Easter we couldn’t deposit the fees into the embassy’s account. And no, cash would not be accepted. “No problems sir, come back on Monday with the completed bank receipts and we will give you your visas”.
Delhi is the most intense place we’ve visited yet, and the thought of spending the weekend there twiddling our thumbs didn’t appeal to any of us. But nor did getting back on the bikes to try our luck with Charles Darwin, so we rented another car and headed to the “Pink City” of Jaipur. Along with Agra and Delhi, Jaipur completes the ‘tourist triangle; it’s very popular and for good reason. City palaces, water palaces, centuries old astronomical observatories and not one but two forts make it a great place to immerse yourself in Indian history and culture.
Nahargarh Fort, above Jaipur
Nahargarh Fort, above Jaipur
Turns out the rest of Delhi thought it would make for a good weekend too (with it being a long one and all) so it was far from being the relaxed getaway that we’d been hoping for. Added to all this was our driver, who had an insistent knack for only taking us to places where he could get a commission from the proprietor. And he drove us to each with a will that made me think he wanted to be on the top of Darwin’s list.
Nahargarh Fort, above Jaipur
Making shadows at ‘Jantar Mantar’, Jaipur.
Not entirely sure what’s going on here?
Some wildlife at Jaipur’s Water Palace
Jaipur’s Water Palace. Clearly being well looked after
Needless to say that my patience with India was wearing thin. I was surprised and disappointed at the way I was reacting to it – I was fed up, uninspired; I’d become one of the haters. A friend sent me a message on Facebook and asked if I was having the “time of my life”. This hit me like a tonne of bricks, because it suddenly occurred to me that I was in the middle of the journey that I’d been dreaming of for nearly a decade and I didn’t want to be here. I was disappointed with myself for letting India get me down, and I decided that tomorrow I’d turn a new leaf.
Tomorrow became Monday, and we rose early to pack the bikes figuring that we could just keep riding once we picked up our passports from the embassy. It was really hard for me to not rip the newly turned leaf to pieces though when, upon presenting our bank receipts at the embassy, we were told that we could come back at 5pm on Tuesday to collect the passports. Apparently our applications had not been approved, and calls would need to be made to the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. To his credit, Drew dealt with this much better than I, and managed to talk them into letting us come back at 5pm that day to try our luck. And lucky we were. There was less than two hours light left in the day, but with passports in hand we were so keen to get moving that we got on the bikes and started riding towards Amritsar regardless.
Like a golden light at the end of a filthy long tunnel, thankfully Amritsar helped me restore some of my former enthusiasm for India. It’s home to Harmandir Sahib, the Golden Temple, which is the centerpiece of Sikhism. Despite it being crowded in a way that only an Indian attraction can be, there’s something truly peaceful about this place. Any person of any race or religion is welcome to visit the temple. There are no metal detectors, no body pat downs, no entry fees, and no ‘government approved’ guides wanting to show you around.
A Sikh man, bathing at the Golden Temple
The Golden Temple
Whilst there we also took part in Langar. Langar is a community kitchen – a free feed for anybody who wants it, at any time of the day. And let me tell you that a lot of people want it. Apparently 100,000 people per day are feed at Harmandir Sahib’s Langar. 1.5 tonnes of dahl, 200,000 rotis and 100 LPG gas bottles are churned through every day. You can’t help but feel good about humanity after visiting this place and eating the food on offer. How timely that we were to leave India the following day.
Waiting for Langar, at the Golden Temple
Serving rice at Langar
After stuffing ourselves at Langar we headed out to the Indian/Pakistan border to watch the border ceremony. This really has to be seen to be believed. It’s like going to a stadium sports match, except the sport is patriotism and the players are the punters. The referees are army personnel with swords, rifles and machine guns. It really is something to sit and watch 5,000 people screaming for their country as armed guards ceremoniously lower their respective flags. On the one hand it’s fantastic to see people celebrate their identity despite their circumstances. On the other it’s scary to witness just how easily national pride could turn into unrest.
Hordes waiting for the border ceremony at Wagah. Note the decorative uniforms of the army officers in the background
After the border ceremony is completed the crowds are allowed to rush towards the gates
Our last day in India was also the day that I had to farewell Moni – properly bittersweet. Without a Pakistani visa it was out of the question for her to continue, whether she liked it or not. We lingered as long we could but after Moni’s taxi took her to the airport Drew and I climbed back on the bikes and headed for Pakistan.
The airport taxi
Not more than a week before a terrorist attack had taken place in Lahore (30kms from the border we were to cross), killing 70 people. It was fair to say we were apprehensive. What a surprise when the security officer out the front of the immigration building shook our hands in turn, followed by a hug saying “Welcome to Pakistan”.
You realise what a sheltered and privileged life you’ve lived when you take a walk through a town and can feel every single eye upon you. We arrived in Phidim, a long way from the well trodden path, and Drew took an afternoon nap whilst I strolled alone through the small, remote township. Whilst I walked, there was not a single pair of eyes that didn’t stop to look at me. Young children ran and hid, whilst some not so young children called “What’s your name?” after I’d walked passed them, followed by childish giggles. Young men stared coldly and young women tried to hide their intrigue. It was only the older men and women who didn’t seem to show much interest at all. You can’t help but feel uncomfortable at the way people react in a place like this; not unsafe, but certainly not at ease.
The streets of Phidim
And it’s this feeling that makes me appreciate how lucky we are. Lucky that we live in a country where the hourly rate of pay is more than people here earn in a week, and lucky that I live in a country amongst people whose skin is the same colour as mine so as not to turn heads. You can only begin to appreciate what immigrants, refugees and people from ethnic minorities living Australia must feel everyday after taking a walk in a place like this.
10km/h is the limit in Phidim
We came to Nepal perhaps a little earlier than anticipated – after less than one week in India both Drew and I felt the need to move on from the crowds, horns, traffic and pollution that India presented us. As motorcyclists we love the mountain roads, and we’d headed to Darjeeling not just for the roads enroute, but to try and escape the heat and humanity of India’s lowlands. It was bitter sweet however; the roads were fantastic, but our time in the hills was shrouded in cloud so we couldn’t appreciate the vistas that Darjeeling is renowned for.
Riding through the clouds in the Himalayas. Drew is not more than 50 metres in front
And there were the people. Everywhere people. The straw that broke the camel’s back was an older Indian man getting on Drew’s bike (without first seeking our permission) for a selfie whilst we were stopped at the roadside. This in itself wouldn’t have been an issue – but that fact the he didn’t appreciate how heavy the bike was, losing his balance and falling over, taking 250kgs of motorcycle with him certainly was. After I spat some very choice words at the man, Drew and decided it best to get as quickly to Nepal as we could to try and find some respite.
Breathtaking valleys in the Himalayan foothills
Nepal is statistically one of the poorest countries in the world – it rates in the lowest quarter of the Human Development Index. Thankfully we’ve not seen anything yet in Nepal that epitomises these statistics. Even here in Phidim young children speak to me in English, which I find truly impressive. There seems to be a better equality between men and women than in India, and people seem far more liberal in general. There is noticeably less rubbish on the roadsides, and the roads themselves are in much better condition. When we stop the bikes we still draw a crowd, but people don’t touch and prod them, or worse, sit on them for selfies. Of course it’s not possible for me to judge these things properly after riding through villages for two days off the beaten track, but if I had to make a call today I’d pick Nepal over India any day of the week.
This photo doesn’t even begin to capture what these roads are like
Being the mountain loving motorcyclists that we are, after crossing the border we headed straight back for the hills. And my how spectacular they are – we’ve ridden up and down valleys and ridges countless time, dropping as low as 200 metres ASL before zigzagging back as high as 2,500 metres – you get an overwhelming sense of vertigo when you look over the edge of the road as you’re riding. One wrong corner here and you’d literally launch yourself to your end. It is simply breathtaking. I just hope that Nepal and it’s people continue to take my breath away for all of the right reasons