A bad night, when sleep deserts me, is when plans undergo revisions and changes. The Himalayan Expedition has been on my radar since 2012. In my communication with the Limca Book of Records I learnt that the expedition has never been attempted solo, and that fired me; doing something that has not been done before. The All-India, Coast to Coast, East to West and Kochi-London expeditions fall into that category; never before done solo expeditions. The North-South and Golden Quadrilateral expeditions sought to improve existing records. These expeditions were personally enriching and fetched nine certificates from Limca Book of Records. I almost did the Himalayan Expedition in 2013. However, lack of funds put paid to the planning efforts. In hindsight, it was divine intervention, I realised. Planning the Himalayan Expedition is a tricky matter. Weather conditions play a major role since they vary widely across the nearly 7000 kms of the proposed route. While the Manali sector is ideally tackled end-May, the eastern parts receive copious rainfall by that time. In May/June 2013 Arunachal Pradesh suffered from major landslides and segments along the Himalayan Expedition remained cut off for weeks on end.
The itinerary I have for the South East Asian Odyssey details the return to Manipur by 10 May 2015. Since I anticipate at least 10 days of clear weather before the monsoon breaks over Arunachal Pradesh I have decided to dovetail the Himalayan Expedition to the South East Asian Odyssey. Thus, there are three legs in the extended expedition - the first is the travel to Indonesia, the second is the return to India and the third is the Himalayan expedition. Key stats of the trip are 2 Expeditions, 11 Countries, 20 States, 28000 kms and 100 days!
Logistics for such a trip is naturally a matter of great importance. Finance, accommodation, visas, travel rules, border controls, packing and preparing the car assume various degrees of importance. The initial budget of INR 25,00,000 was drastically pruned due to absence of sponsors. Despite my best efforts at belt tightening I still had to factor in the expensive journey through Myanmar and agency fees. Kiran of Tyrex, Cochin outfitted the car with brand new Hankook tyres and a friend chipped in with INR 150,000 for accommodation. Thomas Cherukara of Kairali Ford serviced the car and provided spares. Friends and Facebook acquaintances have offered hospitality en route in India and abroad. Indian Missions quickly confirmed appointments sought to meet the head of missions. Lifestyle Services, Delhi and Air Travel Enterprises, Cochin worked efficiently to put visas together.
I never miss an opportunity to share my travel experiences, in private or public. One query that is common in all interfaces is: How did you convince your wife to travel alone. It is so predictable, especially when the audience has males aged 40 plus among them! When I tell them about my concept of redundancy, and the art of getting away by oneself, they gape and then confirm that the plan is so simple. Well, the concept of redundancy is to ensure that people with you are empowered so as to make your absence provide a platform for their growth. In a professional environment it is making sure that there is a well defined succession plan. At home it is ensuring that your wife and kids have the space to grow and become independent and confident. The concept should not be taken speciously. It is something that should flow from your heart and become firm as a value system. Professionally and personally one has to shed the notion that you are the centre of the ‘solar system’; that everything and everybody revolves around you. It is not easy. When practising the concept of redundancy, there will be times when you experience ‘nothingness’. If you give into the feeling you will slip back into the ‘art of dependency’; a certain clinginess that makes you feel ‘inexpendable’. I believe that if you do not find your successor and groom him in office, you will always be the ‘best man’ and never the ‘groom’. At home, you will be eternally condemned to carry grocery bags and inanely watch from vantage perches how deals are struck in ‘Kalyan Silks’!
As part of the preparations for the journey, a visit to Stylx, the hair stylists in Panampilly Nagar, was part of the 'to do' sequence list. I have been a regular client there since 2007. Invariably, I seek out Gopakumar to make me look presentable, at least forehead upwards! This time when I reclined on the chair he told me his personal story. He grew up in Mundakkayam, Kerala, where his father worked in the TR&T estates. His father spent his handsome earnings in wine shops, gambling dens and houses of ill repute. Gopakumar said that he vividly remembers waiting eagerly with his mother and brother for their bread winner to return home with provisions, so that a wholesome meal could be had at home. Most often, their wait was in vain. His father became the butt of jokes and derision in the community. An intemperate person is often ‘comedy’ for others while for the near and dear it is great ‘tragedy’, he said. Such behaviour went on for years and the family despaired. Gopakumar and his brother were negatively impacted by their father’s behaviour. But their mother kept hopes and the hearth alive. As luck would have it, his father decided to attend a church retreat, as suggested by some local people. And that changed him a full 180 degree, in due course. He gave up drinks and his other vices and turned to religion to provide him succour. He and his family converted to Christianity 20 years ago when Gopakumar was 17. The family was baptised in the local church. And Gopakumar became Alfie Francis. Gopakumar told me that besides that he does not remember learning prayers or that anything else was forced on them. There wasn’t any resistance from others in the extended family, because they saw the transformation that Gopakumar’s father went through. However, he said, that he found it difficult to find a match, as proposals would hit a roadblock once it is mentioned that they are a converted family. So, he did the next best thing that was in his control. He romanced a young girl and they were convinced that they are made for each other, for a life together. It was not easy convincing the families. They came around, eventually, despite threats from some members of the girl’s family. He said that the confidence of youth carried the day and they are a happily wedded couple with a lovely child. Over a period of time, Gopakumar became totally acceptable in the family; his character, the love for his wife and child and his affable ways became more important than religion.