AM I A LEGEND?
NO, I DON’T THINK OR FEEL SO. But, whenever I see my sticker studded motorcycle and think about all the places it took me and the LEGENDS I met because of these journeys, it makes me feel like one. I am the First Indian to ride ALONE AROUND THE WORLD on my motorcycle, aptly christened as PUSHPAK, a vehicle that takes you to any place you wish. It is an Andhra-registered (AP 31 AM 0419) Yellow Hero Honda Karizma.
Before we relive my journeys, let’s first meet the LEGENDS I met because of my motorcycle.
I think most riders recognize the legendary riders in the above picture. On the left is Ted Simon, the pioneer of world travelers who went around the world twice on his motorcycle. He traveled through more than 45 countries in about 7 years. His journeys were chronicled in JUPITER’S TRAVELS. He is still an inspiration for bikers like me.
The bored-looking gentleman on the right (because he is asked to sit and not ride) is Nick Sanders, known as the ‘fastest man around the world’! He completed his world-record circumnavigation in just 19 days! Can you imagine? And then he went around the world 7 times! These are the true Legends.
When I was asked to sit with them to talk about world travel at the India Bike Week 2014, I was on cloud nine, you can actually see my face glowing like a bulb. They wondered why so few Indians travel around the world. But then I described how difficult it is for an Indian to ride around the world.
It all starts with VISAS. An American or a Briton (like Ted and Nick)can’t even imagine how hard it is for us Indians to get visas. They get them right at the borders while we need to secure all the visas before we leave the country and that itself will take a year. They have the best of bikes available which can safely and comfortably take them around the world while we have only street bikes. Importing a bike is three times more expensive for us. They get sponsors more easily (both Ted and Nick were sponsored) while Indian companies still believe only film stars can add value to their products.
And most importantly, a year’s salary may be sufficient for them to afford a world tour. Whereas we the Indians may have to work hard over many years and save the required funds. When Americans start traveling, everything becomes progressively cheaper as he/she goes to the East while we shall spend a lot more than what we would spend at home as we go to the West. We discussed a lot more and they understood why so few Indians (still it’s only me) go around the world. By the end of that program, I felt like a LEGEND.
As I said, I never attended bike festivals or contests until the founder of the Motorcycle Travelers Meet Santosh invited me to their first meet in Bangalore. I was reluctant, but he assured me that all the participants were seriously interested in motorcycles and travel. I met many accomplished riders there including the Legend Navroz Contractor, the veteran motorcycle Journalist and Traveler who traveled from India to London in 1977! When he told the group ‘I am left with no words, I have nothing to speak about after seeing Bharadwaj’s achievement’, I felt like a LEGEND.
There were a few surprise invitations from eminent people who generally are not interested in motorcycles. Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, Padma Vibhushan Sri M.N.Venkatachalayya followed my journey online and invited me to his home. We discussed travel and adventure spirit in India. I never imagined meeting such Legends in my life and it is surprising that my motorcycle made this possible. That’s when I felt like a LEGEND.
Lol! Here is another surprise. Prince of Dubai, Sheik Mansour bin Mohammad Al Maktoum invited me to their National Day celebrations and felicitated me with an award for spreading goodwill and friendship through my travels. They made me feel like a King with their fabulous hospitality and grandeur
I met many illustrious figures and members of the Royal family. They were intrigued to know about my journeys and asked a lot of questions. While I was talking to this Royal Scion (picture above) seated in golden chairs, a group of people were watching me from a distance. When I was ready to leave, one of the aides asked me whether a few Indians working there could meet me. They were elated when I met them and said admiringly “There are many Indians here, but this is the first time we saw a common Indian like us sitting among the Sheiks and talking to them”. My chest filled with joy and made me feel like a LEGEND.
Usually, motorcycles are not welcome and bikers are chased out of educational institutions. But when I went to the IMA University in Dehradun with a few fellow bikers during the Vande Mataram campaign, they welcomed us warmly and organized a meeting with all their students to share my experiences(thanks to Siddharth, first from the left). I was seated between the Pro-Chancellor (in a yellow shirt) and the Vice Chancellor (in a grey suit). When the students started making a little noise, the Vice Chancellor took the mike and said “This is a wonderful opportunity for you to meet with a Legend. Don’t waste a single minute and learn from his experiences”. That made me feel like a LEGEND.
Apart from meeting great people, I feel so fortunate to have a huge fan base spanning all over the country. Wherever I went, bikers were always there to meet me and share their stories with me. This sure makes me proud and feel like a LEGEND.
I always wanted to do my bit for society and my country. I spearheaded many campaigns for good causes. The year 2004 was declared as the Year of Road Safety by the United Nations. Hence, I started an All India Road Safety Rally to create awareness and urge people to wear helmets. It was flagged off by Sri L.K. Advani. I started solo with just another journalist, but soon many riders joined from different places. I finished this all-India tour in 40 days. At that time, it made me feel like a LEGEND.
I was preparing to launch my next world tour when the General Elections were announced in March 2014. I felt the need to energize the youth of the country to go ahead and vote, no matter to whom. The average age of the voter in this election was 23 years. That means these young guns are going to decide the fate of this country. But it’s a known fact that most of the youth do not take part in voting just because they don’t feel the need for it or they don’t think they can make a difference.
Many of them go to a movie or a ride using Election Day as a holiday. I was a world rider who had some following and many riders admired me. I wanted this leverage to be used for the country. I started a biker movement called Vande Mataram with my own funds to motivate the youth to cast their vote. Before independence, the Vande Mataram slogan united the people of India and changed its future. I wanted the youngsters to join hands in doing it again. I wanted to show that we the bikers are not a careless lot, but we are responsible and do care for our country. If you look at the Vande Mataram page www.facebook.com/Vandemaataram2014 you will know what difference we made.
A group of riders and enthusiasts from Mumbai – Sahil, Mehul, Laxmi, Irshad, Steve, Pravin, Rajiv, Praveena, Geetha, Rasika, and many others to mention, worked relentlessly on the planning and logistics. Riders from different parts of the country Jaspreet Singh Monty, Raman Balyan, Navin Nayar, Christopher Nadar, and M.N. Anand Babu joined me to take this campaign to all the capital cities of the country. A huge number of supporters, bikers, and biking clubs joined us and campaigned for the cause. This was totally apolitical and neutral campaign. When thousands of people said we were doing a great job, I felt like a LEGEND.
ROAD SAFETY AWARENESS DRIVE
India is also a global leader in the number of road fatalities. 1,40,000 people die on Indian roads every year! And most of them are motorcyclists(19.7%). Road safety is not a personal problem but a social problem as every one of us pays towards the treatment of these cases. A few safety tips can save many lives. With this motive, I am going to educational and corporate institutions and taking classes on road safety. Free of charge (if you want me conduct a class in your company please get in touch). During Feb 2015 alone I have taken classes to 10,000 students of GITAM University, Visakhapatnam.