Apprehensions are to be expected as baggage when an almost 60 year-old dreams of sauntering through Europe alone. Many might consider themselves too old to risk it. For most, a solo trip is as good as ruled out, while one on a two-wheeler might as well be considered the start of descent into dotage. But Subhash Inamdar has no concern for convention. And having completed a solo 100-day bike trip across a continent he has been longing to visit for the past 15 years, he is a happy man with little regret in life. His glass — as he puts it — is definitely half full.
“I have biked all over India two times over. I have even travelled to the (supposedly) highest pass in the world, Khardung La in Ladakh, twice,” says the Vasai resident, who runs an industrial hardware store. “I had first dreamt of travelling to Europe 15 years ago, but at that time my kids were too young and there were many expenses to take care of.” It was only when Inamdar stumbled upon Dhirubhai Ambani’s words of wisdom that he realised that to achieve his dream, he would need to work towards it.
“Something that Dhirubhai had said — ‘Dream big, but dream with your eyes open’ — drove me to start with researching for my trip three years ago. I started going through maps, figuring out the interiors of the countries I was going to bypass and learning how to fix the bike. I can proudly say that even now, all these routes are perfectly etched in my head.”
After shipping his newly-purchased bike, the Bajaj Avenger 220 DTS-I, to Turkey, Inamdar set off on his spree on April 17, earlier this year. His superbly-organised itinerary took him across 16 countries, including Serbia, Hungary, Austria, France, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and Greece. For companions, he had his trusted bike and a backpack stuffed with three pairs of shirts and pants, maps, bike spare parts and some winter clothing. Though his itinerary was intricately planned in terms of the route, he had left it open in terms of the number of days he would spend at each place and where he would stay. It’s sweetly ironic that at most places, he stayed overnight at ‘youth’ hostels.
“I would also approach the local police stations, and ask them to allow me to roll out my sleeping bag in their compounds. Most often, they would go out of their way to help me do this,” he says.
And though staying the night over at the cop stations proved favourable for him, Inamdar had a close brush with the other side of the jail bars at the border of the Netherlands. The cops at the border police station asked him to submit all his documents as well as the bike key, and requested him to wait in a room that had a prison on the other side of it. It turned out to be a three-hour restless wait. Nobody informed Inamdar why he was being detained. “I finally took out my daily log diary, and began to write about my ordeal,” he says. “When I read it out to the officer there, I could finally break the ice. He spoke to his senior who realised that I was simply a traveller, and they allowed me to go. It turned out that the issue was with my Italian visa, that had some old stampings.”
Inamdar’s joyful discoveries seem to be laced with an innocence that is hard to find in adults. His 16-hour ferry ride between Bari (Italy) and Patra (Greece) made him feel like he was aboard the Titanic, and an incident in Hamburg where some youngsters were chided by the cops for wasting food made him feel sad about the wastage back in our own country.
He made friends everywhere, and even a ‘girlfriend’ in Athens. His souvenirs merely included Swiss watches for his two kids, and a Swiss Army knife for himself. As an avid trekker, that seems like a handy buy. But nothing for his wife, we ask. He replies, “The biggest gift I could give her was that I returned home to her without a single scratch!” Overall, Inamdar ended up spending around Rs 6.5 lakh on his trip, and that includes the bike purchase.
Thanks to Inamdar’s fondness for meat, and a regime that includes daily exercise, there were no mishaps or food issues during his journey. “At the age of 60, one would be content seeing their grandkids play. But the satisfaction that I’ve got in these 100 days cannot be explained in words. Fear is just a state of mind. If you conquer it, there is no age limit to achieving your dreams.”
But did it ever get lonely to simply have a man and his machine on road for so long? Inamdar gets philosophical, but is quick to answer. “We have all come alone in this world, and we have to travel through it alone too. That is our destiny.”
Raring to go but unsure about how to? E-mail Subhash Inamdar on firstname.lastname@example.org for details
Rocking it post 50
Tips from the DIY-veteran to help you get started on your own journey
> Be in good shape for your trip. Exercise everyday for a couple of months before you set out
> Check the local weather reports everyday. There will be times when you might be stranded due to a rainstorm, but treat that as an experience too
> Carry minimum luggage. As they say, first you must pack. Then, you must get rid of half your clothing, and double the amount of money you planned to take along
> Don’t be shy about asking people for directions. European countries are very friendly, especially to older people
> Invest in a good, light sleeping bag. This one’s a must
> If you want to go alone, you must have a strong heart. I was scared when unexpected things happened to me during my trip, but the point is to not let it deter you
> Go through the rulebook of each city and country you intend to visit. In Austria, I was stopped by police officers who asked for a special ticket that you need to drive or ride in their country. I had forgotten to purchase it, and that overlook cost me as much as Rs 4,500
> Maintain a log of your daily doings
> Do not be worried about what others will think of your trip. You’re never too old to have fun