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Friday, May 27, 2016

Remembering a world journey by Royal Enfield

Four young men prepare to depart India on a world tour in 1971.
Their trip was featured in xBhp magazine, but there is a story behind that story.
First of three parts

The story you are about to read is true. It's also exciting, fun and informative. But there is more to it than that.

Travel adventure stories involving Royal Enfield motorcycles are a familiar genre. You know how they go: the mountains are high, the roads bad, the weather awful. The motorcycles break down, and are cleverly repaired by the side of the road.

The dangers are often real. The constant theme is "You Won't Believe What Happened Next!"

The story of this 1971 journey by four young men on two Royal Enfields felt familiar to me until I had the chance to speak with one of them, Subhash Sharma. Now longtime residents of Texas, Subhash and wife Kiran passed through Miami on their way to board a cruise ship.

The 1971 world tour by four young Indian men has been written up before and Subhash had shared the route of the trip with me. But in person he was able to help me understand better.

For instance, the fact that it had taken a year to get approval for the journey is not just the sidelight I had assumed. Getting his employer to promise to continue his salary as he traveled turned out to be the easy part. (It would be repaid by the team visiting every company office from Khartoum to New York.)

Getting layer after layer of government bureaucracy to even allow the trip is what took time.

Subhash has the letters from government entities, one of which he showed me: The Ministry of Education and Youth Services "has no objection." It forwarded the request to The Ministry of External Affairs and The Ministry of Finance (Department of Economic Affairs) for additional "consideration."

To someone like me, who dreads having to spend two hours getting his license renewed every few years, the idea of persevering through such red tape is soul crushing.

The fact that the team embarked on the trip with only $100 struck me as simple evidence of poor fiances. No indeed. That was the amount of hard currency they were permitted to take out of India. Today's adventure traveler could at least expect to be allowed to spend his own money.

Subhash was the trip's planner. He would determine the route. In the India of that day, where could he get maps of places in Africa? He visited the United States Information Agency library, where he carefully traced maps he borrowed. His company's blueprint department turned his tracings into blueprinted maps for him.

With a smile, Subhash acknowledges his own naivety. He had no way to know that many of the roads shown on the maps would turn out to be just pathways. Sometimes there was just a line of poles in the earth. You could see the next pole, but there was no "road" to take you there.

He and his companions were not widely travelled.

"We didn't understand snow!"

Despite all his planning, the team would find itself in the Sahara in the heat of Summer, and in Europe in Winter. "Spring" in the northeastern United States turned out to include a blizzard.

Of course Subhash approached the Royal Enfield company before beginning a trip bound to bring international attention to its products. He asked the company to supply parts they'd need along the road — they couldn't carry everything with them.

He was waved off: Many would-be adventurers approached the company for support, but few followed through, he was told. He was promised only that Royal Enfield in England would help when the team reached Britain. (But, of course, by the time they did, Royal Enfield was out of business in England.)

One rarely hears the aftermath of adventure stories. Returned to India, Subhash found himself "restless." He continued to sleep in a sleeping bag!

With the trip over, the Royal Enfield company offered to rebuild the two Bullets, in exchange for the worn parts and Subhash's technical log of the trip.

He left for England with a work permit before Royal Enfield finished rebuilding his Bullet. The rebuilt motorcycle was shipped to his family, but its fate was no longer front and center for him. He doesn't know what eventually came of it.

He cut off his beard and cleaned up "for the girls," he said. That worked. He met his future wife in England.

Their son tells Subhash he should write a book about the world trip. For now, Subash prefers to tell it.

The memories are rich. "I could tell so many stories..."

Subhash Sharma and wife Kiran in Miami, sharing stories.
Part 2: An Epic Journey.
Part 3: Riding through the United States.

1 comment:

  1. RE in England being out of business by the time he got there reminds of the American farmer who took his covered wagon all the way to Moscow to meet with Nikita Khruschev only to discover that he'd been deposed by the time he got there. Very cool story; looking forward to the rest.

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