Friday, October 03, 2014

Seeing The World on Four Wheels

Corporate Consultant Suresh Joseph recounts his experiences of his 27-country journey on his Ford Endeavour from Kochi

Photos: Suresh Joseph (left) with the film director Lal Jose; Suresh Joseph

By Shevlin Sebastian

In Lhasa, Tibet, Corporate Consultant Suresh Joseph encountered the hotpot meal. At a table for four, with a recess in front of each seat, a big bowl is placed. In the bowl, there is a frozen stick. There are a few knobs at the edge of the table to operate the burner. When you turn up the knob, the flame comes on, and slowly the stick, which is actually frozen soup, melts. Then you go to the counter where there are different types of raw fish, meat (shark, beef, octopus, lamb, chicken or pork), and vegetables.

You take your pick and put it into the bowl of soup at your table. Then it will get cooked. “You can make your own sauce, from various ingredients like olive oil, soya, different types of chillies, and pepper,” says Suresh. “Once the food is cooked you dip it into the sauce and have it. It was one of the tastiest meals I have ever had.”

On June 16, Suresh had embarked, from Kochi, along with director Lal Jose and journalist Baiju Nair, on a Ford Endeavour on a 24,000 km journey, across 27 countries (see box). On August 29, Suresh and Lal Jose completed the journey on schedule when they arrived in front of the Gandhi statue at Tavistock Square in London.

We did an average of 400 kms per day,” says Suresh. “But on certain days we covered as little as 80 kms when we travelled from Vienna to Bratislava.” But they also did 1300 kms when the team travelled from Almaty, the old capital of Kazakhstan to Astana the new one.

Meanwhile, every day, Suresh would get up between 3.30 a.m. and 4.30 a.m. “I would write my blogs and update my documentation,” he says. Thereafter, he would get the car ready by cleaning and hosing it down. At night, after the sight-seeing was over, he would update the expense accounts, and reconfirm the route for the next day.

All along the route they received affection and hospitality from many Malayalis. “Out of the 75 days, we only spent 31 days in hotels,” says Suresh. “Many friends allowed us to stay with them. At many Indian restaurants, we did not have to pay the bill. People took us for sight-seeing and bore the cost of the tickets. We also got a lot of help from the Indian missions abroad.”

Interestingly, the place which had the most impact on Suresh and the group was Tibet. “The bare mountains, lush vegetation, blue skies, and the waterfalls, it was wonderful,” says Suresh. “I was much taken up by the mysticism and humility of the people.”

At the border between Tibet and China, a local Tibetan came up with a white prayer flag. He bowed before them, tied the flag on the bumper, and then took leave. “We did not exchange a word since we did not know each other's languages,” says Suresh. “But he knew that we were on a tough ride and wanted to wish us well.”

Many people wished them well, although they belonged to different races and cultures. And looked so different. “In China, you saw Mongoloid features,” says Suresh. “In Russia, the men are tall and handsome, while the women are beautiful. Then when you reach Europe, you see Caucasian features.”

The country which impressed him the most is China. “They are a century ahead,” says Suresh. “They can build infrastructure in the blink of an eye because they have the money and a huge population.”

Unfortunately, there is a restriction on the media. Suresh got the shock of his life when he discovered that he could no longer access Twitter, G-mail or his blog during the 15 days he was in China. “In China, if you ask the people whether they will support a dictator, they will say, 'what is wrong?',” says Suresh. “But we will say, no, it is not right. We are a democracy.”

Meanwhile, the trio faced an unexpected crisis, when Baiju fell out with Suresh, and opted out of the trip at St. Petersburg in Russia. But Suresh has no regrets. “I had made it clear from the beginning that I was the team leader and my decisions would be final and binding on the group,” he says. 

Suresh had planned this journey - a dream for 17 years - into which Lal Jose and Baiju had asked to be included. “In the end, I felt that a dysfunctional team member would affect the team's morale,” he says.

But there was good news for the group, also. On July 25, when they were in Helsinki, the news came that Lal's film, 'Vikramadityan', which had just been released, had been declared a hit. “From there on, Lal relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the trip,” says Suresh. “He had taken a big risk because it was his first home production.”

Back in Kochi Suresh is already already planning his next trips. One is a three-month drive across 49 states of the USA in 2015. The other is a coast-to-coast drive in Australia. He will go to Perth, buy a car there and travel around. “This is going to be fun, because travelling is a passion for me,” he says.  

The 27 countries
India, Nepal, China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Estonia, Finland,
Latvia, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Austria, Italy, Slovenia,
Slovakia, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, France, Holland,
Belgium, Ireland and United Kingdom. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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