In conversation with Deepak Kamath, a man who created records by travelling across the globe on a humble Jawa. This was just one of the many rides he did on two wheels; yes cycling was also a mode of travel. We get to know the courage it takes to be a two-wheeled brave heart.
xBhp: When and why did you decide to make travel such a large part of your life?
Deepak Kamath: The fascination for travel came in from my mother’s genes, she loved to travel. Being a bank employee and the benefit of LTA, she took me places since my childhood. This exposure steadily built the interest to travel on my own. Added to this, being a part of the Bharat Scouts and Guides and the small camps away from home during the schooling days, and when in college, being a part of the elite 1 Karnataka Armoured Squadron, NCC, (National Cadet Corps) (MES College of Arts, Commerce and Science, Bangalore) helped me in ensuring that I remain in constant touch with travel. The NCC Basic Leadership Camp in Silchar, Assam, was probably the turning point of many of my activities that followed. Further getting selected for the prestigious Republic Day Parade in 1988 and shortlisted for the most prestigious NCC Army Contingent to march at Rajpath on 26th January 1988 is something that I cannot forget in my life. The Prime Minister’s Rally the following day and an opportunity to meet the patriarch of modern India, Mr Rajiv Gandhi had a BIG influence in my adventure activities that followed this camp. I initially took to cycling as this was considered quite adventurous in those days. Promoted by NCC and my college, along with my buddy, Gururaja Buddharaju, also from my squadron and college mate, we embarked on a 12000+ km ride across India and Nepal. This was my first expedition and it has been a very memorable one. We saw India closely, experienced the rich heritage and warm hospitality across so many states and the officers from NCC, far away from home and sharing each other’s experiences. To recollect, the experiences in J&K, meeting Milkha Singh in one of the events further strengthened my zeal for more accomplishments. The ride across the country, meeting so many people and cultures has by far been one of the most thrilling experiences.
xBhp: At what point of time in your life were you bitten by the two-wheeler bug?
Deepak Kamath: 1989: When as promised my mom bought me a Yezdi motorcycle. Though a second hand Model B, the bike was maintained in mint condition by one of her colleagues. MEY 3442, went on to be a motorcycle that became synonymous with many trips that I undertook. There was no looking back from then on. It started with small commutes and ended up getting longer – 10319 km in 18 days, 11180 km in 16 days and 42038 km in 47 days.
xBhp: What inspired you to start exploring the country on a bicycle?
Deepak Kamath: National Cadet Corps: 1 Karnataka Armoured Squadron. I tried and attended almost all the camps in my 4 year association with them. The Annual Training Camps, Basic Leadership Camps, mountaineering camps, the Republic Day Camp and smaller outings as a local activity, built in loads of enthusiasm to stay outdoors. Without parental support, I could not have possibly seen the world that I have. The eyes have seen so much, the mind has registered so much, it is impossible to express in words. And all this started with the cycling expedition, for which there was ample support from the NCC and my college. My mom came to many cities when we were to reach; this was a source of inspiration since it was my first trip away from my parents. Even when I had a small accident while riding around the Dal Lake in Srinagar, she asked me what that bandage was across my head. I lied that it was a sweatband; fearing that she may get on the edge. Nonetheless, when I told her on completion of my trip, there were tears of fear in her eyes, which I cannot forget. This expedition was the first of its kind from any NCC battalion/ college and hence, it was more of an inspiration to undertake this and ensure a successful completion. The standing ovation that I got on my return within the college campus had been unprecedented. An ovation that only celebrities or people in power possibly get. This kind of a support led me to look beyond what was accomplished.
xBhp: What was the reaction of your family towards motorcycling long distances?
Deepak Kamath: With All India Cycling Expedition and a partially called off World Cycling Expedition, the support continued seamlessly. So, when MEY 3442 came in and I went out for short rides, the long one across India did not come as a surprise. More so when I told my parents that the bike would be completely done up by Ideal Jawa as part of a sponsorship. This gave them comfort that there was a company backing me, and this was very important.
xBhp: From your many travels any incident which stands out from the rest?
Deepak Kamath: There are a few, but let me try to prioritize. It is difficult to identify one which stands out!
- Passing through Srinagar during my first expedition – 1990. We were stopped by the police, refusing permission to pass. We had to narrate the purpose and incidentally, there was a Superintendent from Belgaum, who helped us by providing a convoy to cut across the city of Srinagar.
- Reaching the Khardung La Pass. In 1990, this route was restricted and we had travelled almost 25 km of the arduous journey and were stopped from going any further for lack of permission. We were asked to go back to Leh. There we met the Regional Commander in his unit and from my NCC days gave him a smart civilian salute and told him the purpose of the project. He offered us the army courtesies and ensured and helped us achieve our goal to reach the highest motorable road.
- The unconditional support from the Military Police in Egypt: Just outside of Cairo, during our Yezdi Castrol Continental Raid, we were stopped with no permission to travel by road due to a gruesome attack on a Belgium bus full of tourists. After pleading with the Military Police and “trying” to explain to them the essence of our trip, and making them listen to “Yemitabh” Bachan songs, and post some internal coordination, they gave a 2 car convoy for over 1800 km till we returned to Cairo after travelling through Luxor and Aswan.
- Bike checking in in the Passenger Terminal of the Heathrow, London: On our last day of our journey in London, with air tickets sponsored by the local Indian community there, and Air India deciding to airlift our bike on a FOC basis, we reached the airport only to find that the cargo would need a 24 hour cooling off period before the bike could be loaded. With no time on our hands and the need to take the bike as accompanied baggage, we could only request Air India, who with some deviations helped us load the bike in the passenger luggage area, post getting the battery fluids drained and electrical fuse taken off and petrol completely emptied. Once we landed at JFK, we could see our bike coming on the luggage conveyor belt. We picked the bike, as people pick their luggage suitcase and walked out of the Green Channel and heard the Immigration Officials tell us, “only you Indians can do it”. YES, only we Indians can do it!
- The great throw in Australia: We had just about crossed the Great Nullabor highway… a SUPER flat road of 142 km… when the rear wheel spoke which had been eating away into the tube gave away. Roughly, I must have been at 120 kmph, and the next minute, everything was blank. It took a moment to realize and stand up. With the bike thrown aside, my partner across the road, saddle bag, camera bag, tool kit all thrown everywhere. The bike handle was badly damaged and had caved in into the tank, there was no way we could have ridden the bike. But as luck was always with us, throughout this epic journey, we were able to find a long hollow tube, complete with rust. We cleaned it up and removed the clutch grip and pushed the tube into the handle and straightened it to the best possible angle and reached Perth.
xBhp: How long did it take to plan and prepare for your world tour?
Deepak Kamath: Honestly, 2 years. Post the two expeditions in 1990, there was lots of support from many areas including family, college and Ideal Jawa. Those were the days when there was lot of talk and newsprint on people who did it by car. 53 days, then 40 days, then 39 days and possibly 33 days now that is currently standing. I may be wrong here. This led me to think, if we have done the states and Nepal in record time, then we should be able to do something similar across the world. And with the support from the Directors at Ideal Jawa, I planned this trip to cover the six continents in 60 days. But unfortunately, my mom fell ill and succumbed to her diabetes in 1993, due to which, I had to push the project to 1994. I had to work with all the sponsors to move the sponsorship budget to the next financial year. All of them agreed and the project took off on 8 Oct, 1994. Between 1991 and 1994, when there was no Internet or email, I had to either telephonically coordinate with sponsors for a date and time to meet them, write in to the American Automobile Association for the maps of different countries to ensure the planning was perfect.
xBhp: How easy/ difficult was it to get sponsors for your ride?
Deepak Kamath: It was mighty difficult, as during those days, there were many Indians who, in the name of adventure and trips had “vanished” in foreign countries. We were called as “Intended Aliens” in the American Embassy and more. Not many sponsors believed that Yezdi could do it. It was only the grit and determination and the success of our prior two projects that helped get Castrol to jump in, even with a very negligible sponsorship. The project was to cover around 40000 km, so the sponsorship amount would have to be as much! But nonetheless, with a brand like Castrol associated with Yezdi, the magic began to happen. Most sponsors gave very little money, but ensured they gave us customized products from their stable. That helped, but not in any monetary way. There was a lot of our own money in this project. Then we got help from the Indian diaspora which started off in London. A particular mention of the Gowd Saraswat Samaj, a community where I come from, laid a strong unbreakable link into and across the USA to Argentina to Australia. Funds were always available. Excellent hosts had ensured wide publicity coverage in the US and Australia. I will take this moment to thank this Indian community who stood by us and ensured we completed this epic journey.
xBhp: The problems you most often encountered while on this epic journey?
Deepak Kamath: The weather. Due to many factors that were not controlled by us, we started off at a time when India went through the plague epidemic. October 1994, Surat. From then on, the entire project was seemingly over before it started. But we didn’t give up. We braved the chill rains across Europe, fell a few times in the snow, on our way in Pennsylvania (Snowshoe) and gusty headwind’s across the USA, heavy rains in Australia and winds that almost spun our bike off the road. It was a journey that I remember every one of those days.
xBhp: How did you deal with procuring spares and repairing your machine?
Deepak Kamath: This was the least, hardly anything and I am not bragging. We had carried a spare tyre, a couple of clutch cables, a couple of sparkplugs and a couple of primary drive sprocket. We ended up changing the plug in Europe for better firing, used the tyre in Argentina and discarded the rest in Australia before boarding. However, due to a wrong design of the seat, we did ask Ideal Jawa to ship a seat unit and a set of rear shockers. This is ALL that we changed during the entire epic journey!
xBhp: Which country was the most memorable and why?
Deepak Kamath: USA, 20070 km in 21 days, with the longest travel in a day covering over 1600 km! This is a country that had its roads ready back in 1994 for the next 50 years! The Interstates are so well planned and designed that it makes me go there again. The European roads are good too, but we paid toll through our nose, the fuel was expensive, when compared to the USA. No tolls, in less than $4 you had the tank full, then what more could you ask! There were days when we spent less than $10 in a day, and that was for the both of us!
xBhp: Travelling with a pillion over so many days. Did it strain your friendship or help it grow stronger.
Deepak Kamath: This is a good question and I have two answers. Firstly, both Basavaraj and I were from the same locality in Bangalore, so coordination was easy. I knew him to be a good mechanic and voluntarily asked him to join my first expedition in 1990. From then on, we bonded for the other 2 projects we did, one within 100 days of the first and the epic journey.
However, there were differences of opinion, but nothing that needs a highlight. The very fact that we did 3 successful projects is a testimony of our friendship and it is still strong today. Unfortunately, Ideal Jawa shut shop and I could not think of any other bike that enthused me. Life took its own turn by way of marriage and other responsibilities and the adventure in me slowly faded then. It is once again on now!
xBhp: Do you still ride a motorcycle and where would you like to ride to next?
Deepak Kamath: I recently bought the Benelli 600 GTS, 100th customer in 90 days of launch in Bangalore. I had been closely watching the launch of this bike, not merely for its performance and looks, but also the pricing, which has been killer. With the xBhp team on your Thank You Ride, I got an opportunity to have a touch and feel of this bike even before its launch and this sealed my interest to close in on this bike. My wife was with me and encouraged me to go for it and handed me the down payment. As they say, there is always a woman behind a successful man. Mom in those days and my wife, Anitha, now….cannot thank them enough. I have plans to repeat what I have done and will start off with a visit to the Leh region. If there is heaven on earth, it is there. And I have experienced it thrice already, will want to visit again, albeit in a more relaxed “touring” style. I will want to do something new that I have never done, explore un-ridden paths; there are so many. I have just got myself the bike. Plans will be galore!
PHOTOS COURTESY: Deepak Kamath
That was then this is now! –
This article was first published in the August 2015 issue of the xBhp Magazine