A couple of weeks before I hit the road for the South East Asian Odyssey, the Trans Himalayan Expedition was added on to make it a mega double header. The overarching reasons for it were two. First, the weather conditions and the season to undertake the Trans Himalayan Expedition are extremely crucial. The passes have to be open while, at the same time, rains shouldn’t play spoil sport with landslides and unmotorable road conditions. The months of March-April and October-November would be ideal from the monsoon point of view. But many passes are not open then and the Leh-Manali route is closed during these months. Therefore, the months of May-June and August-September emerge the best bets. However, the risk of rainfall is high during these months, particularly in the north east of the country. There can never be ideal conditions; they have to be met and overcome as they happen. Second, I have a very large ‘non-compete’ drive from Cochin to start and end the expedition. I would have to drive nearly 4000 km to the start point from Cochin and a similar distance from the end point to get back to Cochin. Thus, clubbing the South East Asian Odyssey and the Trans Himalayan Expedition would shorten the ‘non-compete’ portion, at least in one direction. By going from Kohima to Tezu, the start point of the expedition, I would transit only 600 km instead of 4000 km!
Thus was born the double header; twin expeditions across 11 countries, 20 states of the Indian union spanning 28,000 km in 100 days. The car was branded accordingly, the driver’s side for the South East Asian Odyssey and the passenger’s side for the Trans Himalayan Expedition. Different sets of clothes were packed for the two legs of the double header because warm clothing was an additional requirement for the second leg, as also altitude related medication, camping gear and such other. While making a comprehensive packing list was absolutely critical packing them into different bags was another challenge. Also to be kept in mind was the overlapping gear required for the two legs and how one had to be repacked before the start of the other. All these were done and the Odyssey cum Expedition was flagged off at an impressive ceremony at Tyrex, Cochin on 28 February 2015.
The South East Asian Odyssey was going on as per schedule, except for minor readjustments, necessitated by the refusal by the Customs authorities at the Vietnam border to permit my car into Vietnam till I had what they called ‘proper documents’. The drive through Vietnam had to be abandoned. However, the adjustments did not prove to be either financially or physically expensive. By the time I reached Siem Reap in Cambodia I had attained the original trajectory. Thereafter, the rest of the South East Asian Odyssey went as per script. On 25 April I crossed over from Malaysia to Thailand; from the little known Malaysian town of Kuala Perlis to Ko Lanta, the Thai island resort centre. On that day, unknown to me, disaster struck in the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal. A violent earthquake rattled the country which, besides the destruction and misery, resulted in the death of thousands. During expeditions, I normally do not get time to surf TV channels or scour newspapers. It was the same on 25 April; I didn’t know the convulsions that gripped the country I had travelled through during the epic expedition to London. The next day I had frantic messages from family, friends and well-wishers wanting to know if all was well with me and my Odyssey. There were appeals to call off the Himalayan Expedition, if it was not already on. At that point I did not consider it necessary to take a call on the second leg of my expedition because there were nearly three weeks to go before the Himalayan Expedition began from Tezu in Arunachal Pradesh. Surely, things would be alright in the time, I reasoned. That false sense of comfort was, as I later understood, because I did not have details of the disaster, which I got when I reached Tak in Thailand. The tragedy and the scale of it hit me full blast when I was pointlessly skimming TV channels in the hotel. Ghastly pictures of the quake, rescue efforts and misery of the human tragedy made me decide against the Himalayan Expedition. That could be done another time. I made necessary changes in the itinerary to return to Cochin after crossing over to India. The second leg of the expedition was aborted.
In the media interaction in Cochin, on return from the South East Asian Odyssey, I declared that I would not be taking up any more expeditions for at least a year. I was low on surplus funds as two international expeditions had lopped off a healthy chunk of my savings. “You are born for expedition”, came the message from Hetal Shah, a Facebook friend from Surat. That was a call to shake off any apathy that may have set in and to explore new frontiers. Those words played over and over again and took me to the office table yet again to cast plans for the next twelve plans. How such a call to action can energise the mind and grow you wings is one to be experienced.
‘Matah, Pitah, Guru, Daivam’, the adage from the ancient, has been variously explained. One of them is that the mother points the father out to the child, the father to the teacher and the teacher to God. The other is that parents and teachers are the true representatives of God on earth. I adopted the latter from a very early age and put my parents and teachers on a pedestal different from others in my life. They were the role models who shared and instilled values and principles of life and those who were, for me, benchmarks to better. I remember verbal duels in school, and sometimes even physical exchanges, to establish whose parents and teachers were better. Those were the days when humans walked tall in this world. Then technology took over. Today the verbal duels and physical jousts are to establish which child has access to the most ‘awesome’ technology! Machine replaced man. Cold technology replaced warm human emotions. However, one cannot, and should not, be judgemental about such developments in the continuous evolution of the human race. “After me, the deluge”, is a megalomaniacal cry. But, I consider that there are certain values that transcend time; Matah, Pitah, Guru, Daivam is one such. I wanted to do my bit to rejuvenate the age old wisdom. I made out a plan to walk from the south of Kerala to the north – Kovalam to Kasargod – to spread awareness of the adage. Over 600 km to be completed in 30 days by foot! The plan was to walk over 20 km every day, between 4am and 9am, terminate the walk in a school chosen in advance, where students, parents and students from neighbouring schools would gather. I would then address the unique assembly sharing the concept behind the walk. Spending the rest of the day with people of the area would also help me gather varied views on a variety of subjects, pick up local folklore, beliefs and superstitions, flavour local cuisine and make new friends, I reasoned. The walk was planned to be done in September-October partnering either the Rotary or the Lions Club.
The Trans Himalayan Expedition that had to be postponed due to the Nepal earthquake remained an unfinished agenda. And that had to be attempted in May 2016, which completed a twelve month plan. Whilst I was working on details to execute the walk my sister, Geetha George, called up to say that she would be visiting us in September. She was coming to India from the US after two years and was juggling dates gingerly to accommodate her vacation. Moreover, the unpredictable monsoon rains could be a wet blanket enveloping the proposed walk in September-October, I gathered. In a short while I rearranged the twelve month plan – undertake the Trans Himalayan Expedition in August-September and the walk in February-March. The plans were thus recast and the Trans Himalayan Expedition – the unfinished agenda of the double header in early 2015 – would begin from Jammu on 21 August, for which I would leave Cochin in the Ford Endeavour on 15 August 2015. Thus I dreamed today for a few of my tomorrows.