Words & Photography: Manas Dewan The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. For me that first step was to give up a perfectly good life and trade it for a hundred days of living my dream. Well it was almost as dramatic as that. We lived in Muscat, Oman and I had an interesting corporate job as head of Marketing for a large conglomerate – the money was decent, the work was smooth and we lived a great life. But often, life offers a golden cage, stay there long enough and you will forget the voice of your inner aspiration. Anu (my wife) and I, we did not want that to happen to us because we had a long cherished dream to travel distant lands, to make new friends and truly experience humanity. Sometimes the first step calls for tough decisions and so it was with us. We decided to quit the job, put a pause to career and follow the call of the road.
We left Oman and flew into Mumbai, it was the middle of March. I had quit my perfectly satisfying job, our life in Oman and reached India. Our plan was to travel Europe on a motorbike. Summer months offer the only window for travel on motorbike and that left us really little time to prepare. But prepare we did, burning the midnight oil, researching, working on the motorbike modifications and readying ourselves for the dream ride.
Project “Dosti On Wheels”
Our ride was to be a celebration of friendship and we decided to call it Dosti On Wheels. It was a celebration of our 18 years of togetherness. The trip was also a celebration of friendships yet to be fostered… when strangers will turn into friends. We were convinced that they were around and we were going to step out of the four walls of our home and office to meet them. Our wheels would guide us to our new friends and with that conviction, we planned out our ambitious trip.
We planned to travel from Spain and Portugal to Czechoslovakia in the north, and from Italy in the south, till the Balkan countries of Eastern Europe and then finally conclude our ride in Turkey, the gateway to Asia. Our route was nearly 20,000 kilometres and it passed through most varied climates, landforms and terrain; it was not going to be easy. We had little in terms of experience of previous travellers to seek advice from… even the various Automobile Associations were unaware of people who had planned a trip of this magnitude and over this geography. “This is going to be a real adventure,” Anu grinned at me.
By end April, our Ducati Scrambler was packed off on board the ship bound for Valencia, Spain. A month down the road, we followed suit, flying to Valencia where our bike awaited us at the port. “Ladies and gentlemen welcome to Valencia,” the pilot announced. We stepped out to a beautiful sunny day and Dosti on Wheels was on the roll. Or so we thought. Now, releasing a motorbike from the Valencian port was tough. We had allotted two days for this activity – it finally boiled down to two weeks! Those were two dark weeks when we battled customs, paperwork, legislation complexities as well as apathy. There were times when it felt that all hope was lost, those were hard days… but we were also lucky, we made new friends.
Since we had selected the Ducati Scrambler, we had connected with the local Ducati representatives in Spain about our ride. The initial stress as well as the moments of utter despair were not easy to handle, however, the Ducati Valencia team were there throughout, supporting us in every way possible. They were our first friends at Valencia and they literally adopted us: every meal and spare time was orchestrated by them.
The Ducati owners of Valencia too gave us a rousing welcome in the way a fellow biker welcomes another: A welcome ride for #DostiOnWheels. It was a beautiful summer morning as we stepped up to the Ducati Valencia showroom. Greeting us were a row of Scramblers and their owners excitedly chatting amongst themselves. Even among the Spaniards, the Valencians are known for their hospitality and the enthusiasm with which they welcomed us left no doubts about the truth behind this legend. Thus it came about that a bunch of leather-clad riders in their Ducatis vroomed through Valencia… and after a while we headed out into the deeper mountains. The ride was a delight with beautiful roads, rapid sets of hairpins and a perfect sky glowing grey and blue.
The mountains towered over us as the road clung along the steep mountainside almost like a carelessly thrown rope. It was unusual to have 300 metre road without a hairpin and the Ducatis proved their mettle as they took to the precipitous corners guided by experienced hands. A short break for lunch at the mountain village of Cortes De Pallas and we roared back again. It was evening by the time we got back to Valencia and one by one, the helmets slipped off to reveal faces plastered with smiles. That is the true beauty of motoring, it is a force that unites.
The Open Road
Our motorbike was finally released from customs and it was time for us to leave Valencia. Dosti On Wheels was on the road! We travelled west, along the coast of Spain crossing picturesque villages and sun-kissed terrain until we reach the western tip of Europe – Portugal. We crossed the entire length of Portugal, past the sprawling harbours of Lisboa till the little town of Porto, birthplace of Port wine.
After a brief halt in Portugal, we crossed over Spain and entered France. We travelled along the rolling valleys and vineyards and the seaside villages in the south of France and travelled through the central French regions of Perigord. Our next stop was Switzerland and then we moved into Germany. The pristine countryside and the beautiful roads made travel in Germany a breeze… and after a few days we entered Czech. We travelled along the Czech countryside, sampled its delicious cuisine and spirits and fell in love with Prague. It was beautiful, walking through centuries of history and tales of intrigue. We then started our way down south, crossed the length of Austria and entered Liechtenstein, a country so tiny that you could cross from one end to the other within 45 minutes. Italy was next on our list, a country that we fell in love with. We took our time here and explored its rolling vineyards, its little towns and the countryside as well as the larger cities. After Milan, we travelled along the west coast past Genoa, Pisa and picturesque seaside villages until finally, we reached Rome.
And then we followed the ancient pathways that lead into Eastern Europe. We took the road into Slovenia and followed it through Croatia, a most gorgeous country. Warm people, delicious cuisine, stunning architecture and the kind of natural beauty that will take your breath away. We travelled easy, stopped where our hearts commanded and moved along the entire length of this beautiful land. Next in our route were the countries of the “Wild East”, Bosnia Herzegovina, Macedonia and Albania, countries that we had been cautioned against venturing into… but venture we did, travelling through the heartland, sampling their lands, the nature, as well as making friends. And we were simply swept off our feet. The people were lovely, they were kind and hospitable and they loved everything Indian! Some of our best days were spent in those countries where centuries of history, tradition and culture coexist with modern influences. We then made our way into Greece. Now most travellers head for the Greek islands but there is so much more in Greece that is yet unexplored. We travelled along the Aegean sea heading south until Lamia and then crossed into the central Greek heartland where the ancient monasteries of Meteora greeted us and then we continued west till we reached the Ionian coastline where exotic little villages nestled between tall mountains and deep forests. We then headed east where the long road to Turkey beckoned us.
Turkey was another spectacular experience for us. Its roads were immaculate, its people were hospitable and its countryside was just incredible. We had a 4-week visa for Turkey and decided to utilise every single day in this land. And so we did, traveling an entire loop around the country experiencing its sights, smells and panorama.
The leaves were turning brown and all around us, the signs of winter were written large. The road had put its spell upon us. Wherever we rested our head for the night became our home and whoever we stayed with became family. The elements weathered us, nature bedazzled us, the days blended into weeks and the weeks into months… the road had truly claimed our souls.
It was nearly four months since we had started and it was now time for us to head home from Turkey. We put the motorbike back on the ship headed for Mumbai and boarded a flight for India. As we looked at the tall minarets of Istanbul vanishing beneath us, our minds took us back to the recent months and the flood of memories and experiences we’d had. People had opened their homes, hearts and their lives to us… it was more than just a road trip to us, it was a pilgrimage into the deepest recesses of our souls.