A judder to the top of the world
It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.
Gokulram Vasanthi does not seem to know he is heroic. It is refreshing to observe that there is no swagger, no smirk and especially, no hint of ‘nose in the air’. The last, perhaps an exception when he was trying to catch a breath or two at Marsimek La and Khardung La, two of the highest motorable points in Leh. How is it that among several thousand travellers who have gone to Leh, Gokul’s journey is associated with heroism? That is because he travelled from Chennai to Leh and back on a low-powered 76cc Bajaj M-80.
After making essential modifications to the scooter, like installing a petrol tank larger than the three-litre one that the M-80 is fitted with, on July 6th 2011, Gokul set off from Chennai on a wing and a prayer. Obviously, when you choose an M-80 over a Royal Enfield or a 250cc Jawa, you are not about to do things in half measures – Gokul was the only one riding all the way from Chennai. His friends, who he was scheduled to meet a few days later in Delhi, were taking a train and planned to join him on the ride there.
Gokul was delayed by nonstop rains on the way, which meant he could only catch up with his friends in Amritsar. His journey is peppered with stories of kind dhaba-owners offering him free food and stay, and helpful strangers happy to help a brother out. Almost all of Gokul’s photographs have only people in them: old friends, travel buddies and people he met along the way. It is easy to see what kept him going in the cold, through harsh rains and rough roads.
Of course there were difficult days. Gokul sheepishly laughs off the time he had to sleep outside a tea stall – he had worn the same clothes for five days straight and smelled so bad that no one wanted to give him a room; a tyre was nearing retirement and no one in the North seemed to have spares for an M-80; there was also the time when his riding jeans were torn so badly that they were no longer fit to a make public appearance in. But Gokul had friends for all seasons, happy to assist their brave and slightly barmy friend whenever they could. One such friend, who was flying over to join him in Leh, was instructed to buy a tyre and two pairs of jeans. A not-so-ordinary shopping list for an extraordinary man.
Gokul talks about his extraordinary experiences like every day happenings, but something happened towards the end of his journey, that took him totally by surprise. At the end of his ride, just as Gokul entered the outskirts of Chennai, he was greeted by a welcoming party of over 50 supporters, all wearing t-shirts displaying his number plate and a route map of his journey.
“They had even started a Facebook page called ‘Fans of Gokul,” he said, astonished by the support and that people thought him worthy.
For his next journey, Gokul plans to cover the same route on a diesel Bullet, something else that has never been attempted before. And will he retire the M-80 anytime soon? The answer is a definite no.
Despite having done over 1,25,000km on the Bajaj, he has no intentions of calling it a day with his old faithful.
Rides: Bajaj M80
Travelled around India:8,000 km
A congenital birth defect that has him wearing two prosthetic legs and a machine accident that robbed him of three fingers from his right hand do nothing to deter this intrepid traveller