|A moment's peace on the road in Ethiopia.|
Front fender was removed because mud jammed the wheel.
Sampuran Singh, Subhash Sharma, Ashok Kher and Manmohan Singh traveled the world by Royal Enfield in 1971.
It was an idea first hatched by Subhash Sharma among friends in the summer of 1969 — a far different time.
"Imagine no GPS, no maps, no Internet, no cell phones, no clue about what snow is," notes his account, published in xBhp magazine in 2011.
|A Royal Enfield almost disappears into Ethiopian mud.|
He was only 22 years old in 1969, with little real idea what he was about to attempt. My first question was: if young again, would he do it over?
"Yes, if I were young and I had the similar friends with me, I will agree to do such a trip in a heart beat," he replied. "My desire to travel is still very strong and I still take three-to-four international trips every year but in more conventional way."
|The road through Ethiopia.|
"Selecting the Royal Enfield motorcycle for that trip was quite easy," he replied. "In late '60s there were only three motorcycles produced in India... For our trip we needed a durable four-stroke motor with some substantial power. So that is why we picked the Royal Enfield."
Manmohan Singh already owned a Royal Enfield motorcycle. A second, Army surplus Bullet 350 was purchased at an auction.
|Subhash Sharma in Nairobi, Kenya.|
International tensions denied the four permission to ride through Pakistan.
Help came from no less a person than industrialist Sumant Moolgaokar, one of the creators of Tata Motors. The team accompanied a load of Tata-made buses on a ship to Kuwait.
|The team in Tanzania.|
From Lebanon they traveled by ship to Egypt — taking them around Arab-Israeli conflicts — but the Libyan border was closed to non-Arabs and they were denied entry. This meant a detour through Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda.
|In Niger the team was delayed waiting for a big truck to convoy with across the wastes.|
Officials considered it too dangerous for motorcycles to try to cross unaccompanied.
In Congo a camera filled with precious photos was stolen and there was a serious breakdown: a stuck valve. A mechanic modified a valve from a Jeep to replace it.
|On the road in the Central African Republic.|
West Africa, then Mali and Saharan sand through which they literally pushed the motorcycles.
|Wavy tracks mark the site of a skid and a fall in the Sahara.|
|Subhash Sharma in Germany, with a mechanic who fixed one of the bikes, but refused payment.|
|A highlight of the trip: A visit to Daimler-Benz in Germany.|
They had thought to travel across the Pacific and thus to India, but wars were again in the way, and the Royal Enfields were worn down. The bikes would be shipped from San Francisco to Bombay, but the two riders still had to get home.
Which they did, by hitchhiking from San Francisco to New York and then hitchhiking from France to Afghanistan.
Arriving by train in Bombay they found it would not be easy to get their own Indian-made motorcycles re-admitted to India by customs. Eventually they were able to ride to their original starting point, arriving on July 10, 1972.
"When we were back in India on the same motorcycles we traveled to Nepal and Sikkim," Subhash Sharma told me.
Subhash Sharma's account ends with this: "Eighteen months, 108,000 kilometers, 52 countries... countless memories."
It was an epic journey that did not circle the world, but could have. The circumference of the Earth, at the equator, is just over 40,000 kilometers.
Part 1: The Story Behind the Story.