YEZDI CASTROL CONTINENTAL RAID
It’s not very often that travelers manage to circumnavigate the world on a single cylinder, two stroke, air cooled motorcycle. But my friend Bassu and I did just that on a Yezdi Roadking, and within a span of 47 days! And this was way back in 1994! Of course, the planning and paperwork took almost 4 years, which finally paid off.
This project that I christened The Yezdi Castrol Continental Raid went on to become the first ever attempt by Indians to set a new World Record in traversing all the 6 Continents in the shortest time on a two wheeler..
The plan was to create a Guinness world record based on the car circumnavigation that was being done by Indians and the British Army, but we had not come across mention of anyone even thinking about doing it on a two wheeler.
The Yezdi Castrol Continental Raid was an endeavor to cover the length of the equator – 24,901 miles or 40,075 kms – across all 6 continents with a minimum of 1,000 miles in each continent and without using the same road twice! The mode of intercontinental transport was left open as long as the start to finish gave the desired miles in the shortest period of time. The log book and photographs were our evidence to substantiate our claim..
Though Ideal Jawa was going through trying times since the onslaught of the 100 cc bikes, they decided to support this dream as the primary sponsors. Castrol agreed to be the secondary sponsor and then there was no looking back. Canara Bank, Addon Horns, Crompton Greaves Batteries, Vega Helmets, Yenkay (VDO) Instruments, Timex Watches, Rolon Chains, and CEAT Tyres all lined up, along with numerous family members, friends and well-wishers.
For The Record
We bought paper maps from the American Automobile Association (AAA), since there was no GPS / Satellite phone or any technology then to assist in travel. Internet and mobile phone were yet to kick in. That a 250 cc bike was at times an object of mockery in many countries.
We left Bangalore for New Delhi on Oct 8, 1994, with Shiraz Irani, wife of Managing Director of Ideal Jawa and Tehmton Irani, flagging us off. We reached New Delhi on Oct 10 and 4 days later took a Gulf Air flight to Egypt, minus our bike. When we left India, a plague had hit the country in Surat, Gujarat. We were quarantined in Bahrain and subsequently in Cairo. My bike did not get past customs as perishables were prioritized. Gulf Air tickets and cargo was sponsored by a Rotarian in New Delhi as that was the only airline flying and by the time we could coordinate the airlift from Egypt, we had lost a large number of days – almost a month – and ALL our Visas had expired.
From Oct 15 till Oct 18, we toured (read as killed time) Cairo until the bike arrived two days later. The Egyptian Customs authorities insisted on registering the bike with new number plates. The task took 4 days and we finally got the bike on October 24, that too only after “greasing” the palms of some Customs officials! There was a time when I thought that the project had died before it even started. But without losing heart we connected with the Record authorities, got guidelines on the documentation and hit the road.
Our real-time riding began, finally. The second leg was the African leg, which started on 24 Oct from Alexandria towards Cairo and down south of Egypt towards Luxor / Aswan. Hardly 100 km into the ride the local Military Police stopped us and asked to see our papers. We had had our fill of Egypt’s bureaucracy and we vented our frustration on them about how the image of Egypt and its people had been tarnished. To kill time, till the next steps were being decided, we listened to our “Walkman” with Kishore Kumar songs. The Military Police were keen to hear what we were listening to and the moment they heard it, they exclaimed “Yemitabh Bachan”! Yes, they have a craze for our Superstar! To our surprise, the chief officer smiled and told us that he would arrange 2 convoy cars, one in the front of our bike and one (a gunner mount car) following us to escort us wherever we wished to go in Egypt.
Covered 2,063 km Egypt leg in 3 days of riding; about 700 kms with the convoy!
The European Leg
Europe beckoned and we took an Alitalia flight on Nov 4, 1994 from Cairo to Rome. We were much behind our scheduled itinerary, thanks to the bureaucratic hurdles in Egypt and the plague factor, and had to stay back to get the Visas renewed. The Alitalia Airlines were very helpful and thanks to the Carnet De Passage, we cleared the Customs in 5 minutes flat! We assembled our bike to normalcy and then sped to the Youth Hostel where I had stayed during my World Cycling Expedition a few years ago (1989).
I had planned my European route meticulously; Italy, Austria, Republic of Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and then the UK, but I had to skip Spain and Portugal due to the deteriorating weather condition. What immediately strikes you about Europe are the fine roads. We managed to open up the bike to 120 kmph with ease. The only problem was the chilly weather, constant fog and continuous drizzle. Travelling by road is fun in Europe; there are self-service gas stations, easy to read road markers, motels on the highways, and constant cheerios and thumbs up from the passersby in cars and on bikes. What was not factored was the super-expensive tolls that left us drained of money
We covered the entire European stretch of 4,551 km in 5 days of continuous riding in the thick fog, rain and cold wind. We even experienced a few close calls; once while riding in the tunnel, Bassu bent over to adjust the carburetor and he lost balance, tipping over the right shoulder. Fortunately, we tripped on the right, for a truck whizzed past on the left. In the Republic of Czechoslovakia, we visited the Jawa factory, where we were taken to see the museum, production and assembly lines, and dispatch sections. We even got an opportunity to meet Stanley Valez, the person who designed the most famous Yezdi Roadking. We headed towards Germany from there and then to Paris, where among other places, we visited the Eiffel Tower, for the record. We just made it to Calais in time for the last ferry to Dover that evening. It was a relief to come across English speaking people finally. We had been through some hilarious language lessons in other countries.
In London, we got an opportunity to meet many Indians who voluntarily wanted to help in every possible way. With funds almost running low, all help was embraced with both arms.
Air India had agreed to take our bike on its flight, but mistook it for a cycle. There was a little hesitancy when we approached the check-in, but the Indian influence was a little too good to let us down. A few formalities later, we were asked to push the bike into the passenger lounge of Heathrow! We met the Commander who would fly us across the Atlantic, Comdr. Menezes. He just could not take his eyes off the bike and eventually stopped to ask if it was a Jawa. I told him that it was Yezdi, from the Ideal Jawa stable and also took this opportunity to tell him briefly about our project and requested him if there was any chance of us walking in to see the cockpit. He told us that he would call for us. Once the boarding pass was given to us, the airline staff asked me to take the bike into the passenger luggage compartment and place the bike. And soon, we were flying over the Atlantic! An hour into the flight, an airhostess came by and escorted us to the cockpit; a beautiful technological marvel and for the next 4:30 minutes, I was merrily chatting with the airhostesses and the Commander,
As the bike came out of the plane on a conveyor belt, people kept staring at this crazy thing. Knowing that we flew together, many helped us get the bike off the conveyor belt. As we started to push the bike through the Green Channel we heard the Immigration Officer say, “ONLY YOU INDIANS CAN DO IT”. I could clearly hear the sarcastic tone over my shoulder. I politely, for fear of getting stopped for more questions, said, “YES, YOU BET!” and gave him my most wide smile!
Touchdown USA was on Nov 17, 1994. The UK Indians had by then connected with their friends and families in USA, who helped us in every possible way during our stay there. Once we got the Insurance and Road Worthiness Certificates necessary for our ride across USA done, we hit the road.
Our American leg began on November 23 on Interstate I 80, which starts from New York and ends in San Francisco. Cloudy conditions prevailed and the weather report had predicted snow flurries. On the road, we made friends with a number of truckers who kept us informed of the weather forecast. They also told us that we were crazy to ride exposed to the elements, that too on a small and puny bike like the Yezdi! We soon realized that bravado was uncalled for as the snow started to fall faster and the flakes turned to ice on the road. The bike began to skid and fell a few times before we decided to rest a while at certain marked zones on freeways, where every civic amenity was available. We finally took shelter at a gas station which was run by an Indian. He welcomed us and insisted that we stay the night there as the snow would clear by morning. We hit our sleeping bags early that night, were up early in the morning and warmly thanking our friend, and were back on the road by 07:00 am.
We took the Interstate to Hudson, Ohio. We stayed overnight at a friend’s place where we enjoyed a Thanksgiving Dinner, then via Kalamazoo headed towards Chicago. The day we undertook the trip to Chicago was a very cold and wet one and by the time we reached we were soaked to the bone and very cold. The Indian community in Chicago had arranged a dinner for us, which turned out very memorable.
We were back on the road with some good riding towards Los Angeles, San Fransisco, San Diego, Houston, Dallas and headed towards Orlando.
Here we visited the famous Universal Studios, the only sightseeing outing after covering a total of 20,030 kms in 21 days of riding (39 days overall).
I really liked travelling in the USA because it is a country meant for that. The road network is so huge and extremely good for riding. Petrol was cheap – topping up the tank with 18 ltrs cost less than $4; that was less than INR 130! Food was also cheap and the people there are very friendly. What we liked most was that despite being busy, the people that we came to know gave much of their time and were thrilled to know more about the Yezdi. It was here in the USA that Ideal Jawa’s commitment to the project came through. The uncomfortable step seating and shock absorbers had to be changed and the chain adjustor had snapped. Our fax to Ideal Jawa’s Director, Boman Irani, brought out a prompt response and the required spares were couriered to us on priority
On December 28, 1994, we started on our South American leg.
Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina, reminded us of Bombay! The roads there are very much like in India, though gas was somewhat expensive. The local Indians guided us to a route that stretched 2,908 km that we covered in 3 days! On New Year’s Eve, we returned to Buenos Aires to a BIG surprise, a party hosted for us by a very enthusiastic Indian working for a Hong Kong-based company.
The weather was hot and we rode without our usual riding gear. Even though the roads are single lane, the drivers were very disciplined. Though language was a hindrance, hospitable kitchen doors solved all problems of food. Even the gas stations were always equipped with food.
In the meantime, a friend arranged for tickets from the USA to fly us and our steed out to Australia, our last leg of the Continental Raid. Thanks to him, we got our tickets at half the usual rates. We had to skip Brazil and Chile, because our Visas to those countries had lapsed. The Argentinean Customs released the bike and we prepared ourselves for the long haul flight to Australia, across the Pacific Ocean.
After about 18 hours of nonstop flying, we reached Auckland, New Zealand where we changed over to Australia’s national airline, Qantas, arriving at Sydney at 07:30 am on January 7, 1995. Of course, we had to rely on others for the date, as we had lost track of time! In Australia, an ex-Australian RTO staffer guided us in completing the formalities regarding the road regulations in that country. And while checking the Yezdi into Customs, we made sure the bike was clean and gleaming, knowing the Australian penchant for quarantining anything that is dirty and unworthy of being on the Australian soil. Thanks to the then FMSCI President, Mr. Anand Swadhi (fondly called Dada), who had written to friends in Australia to help us out, we managed to keep our bodies and souls together, with some good scenic tours thrown in for good measure.
We started from Sydney on an 800 km stretch to Melbourne, from where we made it to Perth – on the other side of Australia – a distance of more than 3,500 km away. Our experience of riding on Australian terrain was quite different from elsewhere in the world. The road surfaces are very rough, the roads are clear of vehicles and temperatures are prone to sudden changes. Leaving sunny weather behind in one town, we would often reach another drenched to the skin, where the sun would make an appearance again. Knowing these conditions, people in Australia prefer to use the local airlines rather than use the road across the country. We also saw other things typical to Australia – huge trailer trucks, known as Road Trains, crisscrossing the continent and boards displaying the population levels in certain towns. Some even had a total population of 5!
And the kangaroos – we avoided travelling by night for fear of running into kangaroos! We had our share of falls too! Once, just after the Nullobor Plains, when we were doing about 120 kmph, the rear tyre gave way sending us flying off the bike! Our helmets saved our lives and I am quite sure that while falling, I could distinctly hear my helmet being dragged along the rough surface.
The bike was damaged, but after working on it and installing a new tube, we were back on the road again. That evening we camped in a backpackers lodge, and then moved on to Perth, where our Australian leg ended. We had covered 4,934 km in 5 days, with a total stay of 15 days in Australia.
Back on the Asian leg
We flew back to India to a thunderous welcome by the Jawa Club of Madras and Yezdi dealers in that city. With detours in Europe and missed opportunities to cover more miles in South America, we were behind by about 3000 km due to which we started to ride towards New Delhi, then to Jaipur and Bombay before finally calling it a day in Bangalore at the lawns of The Holiday Inn on February 9, 1995.
We had circumnavigated the world in 47 days of actual riding – 119 days in all – covering 42,038 kms, across all the Six Continents!
Republic of Czech
The Yezdi Castrol Continental Raid Route
Asia > Africa > Europe > North America > South America > Australia
My list of people to thank is endless. There were so many Indians, family, friends, new friends whom I knew I may never meet again, foreign locals, all of whom stood up to help us at every stage of this historic ride. There are a few without whom the Project itself would not have taken off and stood the test of the most trying times during the Raid. I have nothing but the most sincere heartfelt gratitude towards them.
Tehmton, Shiraz, & Boman Irani – Ideal Jawa India Limited: Without their confidence, there was no project!
Dilnaz Anklesaria – Castrol: Who believed that we could and stuck with us with their sponsorship even though the initial sign-off was in 1991 and the project materialized only in 1994.
Rohinton Commissariat – Ceat: Who helped us with the special compound tyres and ensured we got the required coverage in most of the major newspapers around the world.
His Excellency, P.A. Nazreth, the then Indian Ambassador to Egypt: Incidentally, brother of erstwhile Union Minister, Ms. Margaret Alva, from my hometown, Mangalore. The common language helped in him speaking to his counterparts to get most, if not all, the Visas renewed.
Air India: For having included our motorcycle in the passenger baggage compartment as accompanied baggage with the bike being rolled out on the conveyor belt in JFK, NYC! Only we Indians could have done it!! And the large Indian Community at London who influenced Air India to be a part of this event.
The Yezdi Castrol Continental Raid Route
I am proud, very proud of having accomplished this and it makes me hold my head high in pride that I did it as an Indian, when there were many from countries with more luxuries than us who did not dream of achieving this.