Two young men,Deepak Kamath and G.H Basavaraj planning their journey of a lifetime for four years, and that too on a motorcycle. Back in 1994, it appeared to be impossible but their dream to travel around the globe came true and how. Read on.
During their 119 day journey, this legendary duo covered a distance of around 42,038 km over six continents. This was when there was no access to mobile and satellite phones, GPS or any other space age technology.
The expedition was called The Yezdi Castrol Continental Raid and was sponsored by Ideal Jawa, Castrol and CEAT Tyres among others.
It all happened because of Ideal Jawa who, at that time, was trying to achieve the same record since the 100 cc fast bikes hit the market. So, they agreed to aid Kamath and Basavaraj in their two-wheeled venture. The sponsorship provided the duo the much needed help in the form of specially designed wheels, an as needed bike, express shipping of spare parts whenever and wherever required, along with other additional support.
Kamath says “The Yezdi-Castrol Continental Raid… an endeavor to cover the length of the equator, 24901 miles or 40075 kms across all 6 continents with a minimum of 1000 miles in each continent without using the same road twice. Mode of intercontinental transport was optional as long as the start to finish gave the desired miles in the shortest period of time. Log book and photographs would substantiate our claim.”
“Though Ideal Jawa was in trying times since the onslaught of the 100 cc bikes, they decided to support this dream as the primary sponsors. Castrol agreed to be the secondary sponsor and then there was no looking back. Canara Bank, Addon Horns, Crompton Greaves Batteries, Vega Helmets, Yenkay (VDO) Instruments, Timex Watches, Rolon Chains, and CEAT Tyres, all lined up, along with numerous family, friends and well-wishers.” he adds.
Kamath goes on detailing the dream plan giving an insight into the effort that went into stepping out on this endeavour “Initially, the plan was to create a Guinness world record based on the car circumnavigation that was being done by Indians (Navin Kapila / Saluddin Choudhury) and the British army, but no talk of anyone even thinking about doing it on a two wheeler. “
“I wanted to be the first” he quips.
Here is a step by step progression on how this project materialized.
Ideal Jawa: Primary Sponsors: Cash support to a certain extent of the whole project + Totally altered/ as needed bike + breakdown support in any part of the world + express shipping of spare parts to any destination in the world.
Castrol: Cash Sponsorship to the tune of distance covered. We agreed, considering this was way too low, the brand association was enough to get attention.
CEAT Tyres: Specially designed lugs for a 18 inch wheel and tyre support as required + Cash sponsorship AFTER we returned back successfully + advertisement campaign.
– Crompton Batteries + Addon Horns + Yenkay (VDO) Instruments + Timex watches + Rolon Chains + Canara Bank + Friends / Well wishers from India and around the World…the list is exhaustive!!
Route: Asia > Africa > Europe > North America > South America > Australia. (All km is the nearest approximate)
Asia: India: Bangalore – Nagpur > New Delhi (Asia: 2500 Kms).
Africa: Egypt: Cairo – Luxor – Alexandria – Cairo: 2000 km. We had to circle within as Sudan refused us a Visa and Libya cancelled our Visa as we were on the motorcycle.
Europe: Landed in Rome, Italy > Austria > Republic of Czech > Germany > France > UK: 5000 odd km
North America: Landed in New York > Philadelphia > Chicago > Oklahoma > San Francisco > San Diego > Dallas > Miami: 21000 kms in 31 days
South America > Buenos Aires ( by the time we reached here, my Brazil visa lapsed and we were not able to get : 3000 kms
Australia: Brisbane > Sydney > Melbourne > Adelaide > Perth > 6000 odd km
Asia: India: Chennai > New Delhi > Jaipur > Mumbai > Bangalore: 3000 kms .“
It’s not very often that travellers manage to circumnavigate the world on a single cylinder, two stroke, air cooled engine motorcycle. But my friend Bassu and I did just that on a Yezdi Roadking, and within a span of 47 days!
Of course the planning and paperwork took almost 4 years and finally paid off. I christened the Project as The Yezdi castrol Continental Raid – which went on to become the first ever attempt by Indians to set a new World Record in traversing all the 6 Continents in the shortest time on a two wheeler.
FOR THE RECORDS
We bought paper maps from the American Automobile Association (AAA), since there was no GPS / Satellite phone or any technology around to assist in travel. Internet and mobile phone was yet to kick in and the best part was that a 250 cc bike was being used and was at times an object of mockery in many countries.
I am proud, very proud of having accomplished this and it makes me hold my head high in pride that I did it as an Indian, when there were many countries with more luxuries than us, who did not dream of achieving this.
The total cost of this whole project then was not more than INR 12 lakhs, then. Can we do it now?? Maybe yes – Maybe no. But, definitely not at that cost. However, with so much of technological aid available at your finger tips, this adventure then may not be an adventure now!, but certainly if we are to target tight scheduled days, it will be something that I would be keenly wanting to raid the Continents, one more time!.
We left Bangalore for New Delhi on Oct 8, 1994, with Shiraz Irani, wife of Managing Director of Ideal Jawa, Tehmton Irani, flagging us off. We reached New Delhi on Oct 10 and 4 days later took a Gulf Air flight to Egypt, minus our bike.
We left India when plague hit us (Surat, Gujarat, 1994). We were quarantined in Bahrain and subsequently in Cairo. My bike did not get past customs as perishables were prioritized. Gulf Air tickets and cargo was sponsored by a Rotarian in New Delhi as that was the only airline flying and by the time we could coordinate the airlift from Egypt, we had lost major number of days…. almost a month….and ALL our Visas had expired.
From Oct 15 till Oct 18, we toured (read as killed time) Cairo until the bike arrived two days later. The Egyptian Custom authorities insisted on registering the bike with new number plates. The task took 4 days and we finally got the bike on October 24, that too only after “greasing” the palms of some Custom officers! For a moment, I thought that the project had died down before it started. But, without losing heart, we connected with the Record authorities, got guidelines on the documentation bit and hit the road.
Our real-time riding began … The second leg was the African leg, which started on 24 Oct from Alexandria towards Cairo and down South of Egypt towards Luxor / Aswan. Hardly, 100 km away, the local Military Police stopped us and asked to see our papers. We had had our fill of Egypt’s bureaucracy and we vented our frustration on them about how the image of Egypt and its people had been tarnished. To kill time, till the next steps were being decided, we listened to our “Walkman” with Kishore Kumar songs. The Military Police were keen to hear what we were hearing and the moment they heard it, they exclaimed “Yemitabh Bachan” Yes, they have a frenzy for our Superstar!! To our surprise, the chief officer smiled and told us that he would arrange 2 convoy cars, one in the front of our bike and one (a gunner mount car) following us to escort us wherever we wished to go in Egypt! That’s how we went about, with wailing sirens in front and behind us, heralding our presence on the road!! We covered the 2063 km Egypt leg in 3 days of riding…. About 700 odd kms with the convoy!
THE EUROPEAN LEG
Europe beckoned and we took an Alitalia flight on Nov 4, 1994, from Cairo to Rome. We were much behind our scheduled itinerary, thanks to the bureaucratic hurdles in Egypt and the plague factor, and had to stay back to get the Visas renewed. The Alitalia Airlines were very helpful and thanks to the Carnet De Passage, we cleared the Customs in 5 min flat! We assembled our bike to normalcy and then sped to the Youth Hostel where I had stayed during my World Cycling Expedition, a few years ago (1989).
I had planned my European route meticulously….Italy, Austria, Republic of Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and then the UK, but had to skip Spain and Portugal due to the deteriorating weather condition. What immediately strikes you in Europe are the fine roads and we managed to open up the bike to a 120 Kmph with ease. The only problem was the chilly weather, constant fog and continuous drizzle. Travelling by road is fun in Europe, there is self service gas stations, easy to read road markers, motels on the highways, and constant cheerios and thumbs up from the passersby in cars and on bikes. What was not factored was the super expensive tolls that left us drained on the money!
We covered the entire European stretch of 4551 km in 5 days of continuous riding in the thick fog, rain and cold wind. We even experienced a few close calls: once while riding in the tunnel, Bassu bent over to adjust the carburettor and he lost balance, tipping over the right shoulder. Fortunately, we tripped on the right, for a truck whizzed past on the left.
. We just made it to Calais in time for the last ferry to Dover, that evening. It was a relief to meet up with English speaking people. We had been through some hilarious language lessons in other countries. In London, we got an opportunity to meet up with many many Indians who voluntarily wanted to help in every possible way. With funds almost running low, any help was embraced with both arms. In the Republic of Czechoslovakia, we visited the Jawa factory, where we were taken to see the museum, production and assembly lines, and dispatch sections. We even got an opportunity to meet Stanley Valez, the person who designed the most famous Yezdi Roadking. We headed towards Germany and then to Paris, where among other places, we visited the Eiffel Tower, for the records
Air India had agreed to take our bike, but mistook it for a cycle. There was a little hesitancy when we approached the Check In, but the Indian influence was too good to let us down. A few formalities later, we were asked to push the bike into the passenger lounge of the Heathrow! There we met the Commander, who would fly us across the Atlantic; Comdr. Menezes. He just could not take his eyes off the bike and eventually stopped to ask if it was a Jawa. I told him that it was Yezdi, from the Ideal Jawa stable and also took this opportunity to tell him briefly about our project and requested him if there was any scope to walk into to see the cockpit. He told that he will call for us and went on. Once the Boarding Pass was given, the airline staff asked me to take the bike into the passenger luggage compartment and place the bike. Once that was done, we were flying over the Atlantic! An hour into the flight, an airhostess came by and escorted us to the Cockpit… a beautiful technological marvel it was and for the next 4:30 min, I was merrily chatting with the air-hostesses and the Commander, till touchdown JFK International New York!!
THIS IS THE BEST PART
As the bike was loaded in the passenger baggage section, the bike came out on a conveyor belt with people staring at this crazy thing. Knowing that we flew together, many helped us get this off the conveyor belt, and we started to push the bike through the Green Channel, where we could hear the Immigration Officer say, “ONLY YOU INDIANS CAN DO IT” I could clearly hear the sarcastic tone over my shoulder, and I politely, for fear of getting stopped for more questions, said, “YES, YOU BET!” and gave him my most wide smile!!
On December 28, 1994, we started on our South American Leg. Buenos Aires, Capital of Argentina, reminded us of Bombay! The roads there are very much like India, though gas was somewhat expensive. Here the local Indians guided us to a route that stretched 2908 km that we covered in 3 days! On New Year ’s Eve, we returned to Buenos Aires to a BIG surprise, a party hosted for us by a very enthusiastic Indian, working for a Hong Kong based company.
The weather was hot and we rode without our usual riding gear. Even though, the roads here are single lane, the drivers were much disciplined. Though language was a hindrance, hospitable kitchen doors solved all problems of food. Even the gas stations were always equipped with food.
In the meantime, a friend arranged for tickets from the USA to fly us and our steed out to Australia, our last leg of the Continental Raid. Thanks to him, we got our tickets at half the usual rates. We had to skip Brazil and Chile, because our Visas to those countries had lapsed. The Argentinean Customs released the bike and we prepared ourselves for the long haul flight to Australia, across the Pacific Ocean.
Australia – The Great Down Under!
After about 18 hours of nonstop flying, we reached Auckland, New Zealand, where we changed over to Australia’s national airline, Qantas, arriving at Sydney at 07:30 am on January 7, 1995. Of course, we had to rely on others for the date, as we had lost count of time! In Australia, an ex-Australian RTO staffer guided us in completing the formalities regarding the road regulations in that country. And while checking the Yezdi into Customs, we made sure the bike was clean and gleaming, knowing the Australian penchant for quarantining anything that is dirty and unworthy of being on the Australian soil. Thanks to the then FMSCI President, Mr. Anand Swadhi (Fondly called as Dada), who had written to friends in Australia to help us out, we managed to keep our bodies and souls together, with some good scenic tours thrown in for good measure.
We started from Sydney on an 800 km stretch to Melbourne, from where we made it to Perth – on the other side of Australia – a distance of more than 3500 km away.
Our experience of riding on Australian terrain was quite different from elsewhere in the world. Road surfaces are very rough, the roads are clear of vehicles and temperatures are prone to sudden changes. Leaving sunny weather behind in one town, we would often reach another drenched to the skin, where the Sun would make an appearance again. Knowing these conditions, people in Australia prefer to use the local airlines, rather than use the road across the country. We also saw other things typical to Australia – huge trailer trucks, known as Road Trains, criss-crossing the continent and boards displaying the population levels in certain towns. Some even had total population of 5! We avoided travelling by night for fear of running into Kangaroos – after all, we were in Kangaroo land!!
We had our share of falls too! Once, just after the Nullobor Plains, when we were doing about 120 kmph, the rear tyre gave away sending us flying off the bike! Our helmets saved our lives and I am quite sure of that…while falling, I could distinctly hear my helmet being dragged along the rough surface. The bike was damaged, but after working on it and installing a new tube, we were back on the road again. The evening we camped in a backpackers lodge, and then moved on to Perth, where our Australian leg ended. We had covered 4934 km in 5 days, with a total of 15 days in Australia.
Back on the Asian Leg
We flew back to India to a thunderous welcome by the Jawa Club of Madras and Yezdi dealers in that city. With detours in Europe and missed opportunities to cover more miles in South America, we were behind by about 3000 km due to which we started to ride towards New Delhi, then to Jaipur and Bombay before finally calling it a day in Bangalore at the lawns of The Holiday Inn on February 9, 1995.
We had circumnavigated the world in 47 days of actual riding, and 119 days in all, covering 42038 kms, across all the Six Continents.
The Yezdi Castrol Continental Raid Route
Asia > Africa > Europe > North America > South America > Australia
Asia: India: Bangalore – Nagpur > New Delhi
Africa: Egypt: Cairo – Luxor – Alexandria – Cairo. We had to circle within as Sudan refused us a Visa and Libya cancelled our Visa as we were on the motorcycle.
Europe: Landed in Rome, Italy > Austria > Republic of Czech > Germany > France > UK
North America: Landed in New York > Philadelphia > Chicago > Oklahoma > San Francisco > San Diego > Dallas > Miami
South America > Buenos Aires > Mar del Plata > Buenos Aires ( by the time we reached here, my Brazil visa lapsed and we were not able to get a renewal
Australia: Brisbane > Sydney > Melbourne > Adelaide > Perth
Asia: India: Chennai > New Delhi > Jaipur > Mumbai > Bangalore
My list of people to thank is endless…. There were so many Indians, family, friends, new friends who I knew may never meet up again, foreign locals, all of whom stood up to help us at every stage of this historic ride. There are few without who, the Project itself would not have taken off and stood the test of the most trying times during the Raid….here are those names and this is with the most sincere heartfelt thanks and also not forgetting all those who are in my mind.
Tehmton, Shiraz, & Boman Irani: Ideal Jawa India Limited: Without their confidence, there was no project!
Dilnaz Anklesaria: Castrol: Who believed that we could and stuck with us with their sponsorship even though the initial sign off was in 1991 and project materialized only 1994.
Rohinton Commissariat: Ceat… helped us with the special compound tyres and ensured we got the required exposure in most of the major newspapers around the world.
P A Nazreth, His Excellency, the then Indian Ambassador to Egypt…incidentally, brother of erstwhile Union Minister, Ms. Margaret Alva, from Mangalore, my hometown and the common language helped us in him speaking to his counterparts to get most, if not all the Visa’s renewed. This was one major help, without which we just could not have progressed.
Air India for having included our bike (motorcycle) in the passenger baggage compartment as accompanied baggage, and bike being rolled out on the conveyor belt in JFK, NYC. ONLY, we Indians could have done it!!
The large Indian Community at London who influenced Air India to be a part of this event.
– Deepak Kamath (as told to wrangler-ap.com & xbhp.com)
Adventure & Wildlife magazine salutes these two men for achieving this incredible feat of circumnavigating the globe in an era where even the thought of doing so seemed impossible.