All of us have dreams. For most of us they are just dreams, for a few they are meant to be pursued through sweat, determination and self-discipline. Most of us wake up to think that dreams will somehow, magically, transform into reality. No, they won’t. Dreams are just outlines of what can be pursued and tuned into reality. Between a dream and reality lies unwavering focus, unbending resolve, undiluted effort and uncompromising self-discipline. It is Walt Disney who said that “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them”. It is thus that I pursued a ten year old dream of driving around India in a car and a seventeen year old dream of driving to London from India and realized them in 2010 and 2014, respectively.
It is not always that we dream original dreams; we may adopt the dream of another. The Trans-Siberian Expedition which I am now setting out to experience is an example of that. In mid-2012, when I was in conversation with Baiju Nair, a co-passenger on the London drive, in a small tea shop in Ernakulam, we happened to exchange our dream travels. I told him how I was planning to drive to London. He latched on to that dream of mine and ultimately got me to agree to a group drive instead of a solo trip that I had been planning. The rest, as is said, is history. The partnership, which included the celebrated movie maker Lal Jose, had turned sour midway through the drive and I was taken to the cleaners in the media as the villain who broke up the team. For me, personally, the objective was fulfilled of being the first to drive an Indian registered car from India to London. However, it saddened me somewhat too. What should have been termed an epochal expedition was virtually confined to the dustbins of history, thanks to the controversy the team breakup generated.
During the same conversation in which I shared my dream, Baiju shared his too. He told me that he had been planning for the past ten years to drive to Siberia with his good friend, Santhosh George Kulangara, the Malayalam travel channel Guru. That shared dream remained in the sub-conscious. By end 2015 I relocated from Cochin to Chennai as part of a job change. I had told my new employer, Ali Ashraf (who I had met in Almaty during the London drive), that car expeditions had been kept on hold for a couple of years – despite having many of the plate. But in a few months the yearning to do something daring and difficult surfaced. By chance, in early February I read an article about the ten longest highways in the world and the Trans-Siberian caught my eye as the third longest in the world. As soon as I read that the conversation that I had had with Baiju in 2012 stood to attention, as it were. I started thinking to myself, “This is something that has not been attempted before from India. Why not try and do it?” Another’s dream was becoming mine.
I did a lot of research and found meaningful material on the Internet, which reinforced the fact that the drive from India to Russia, from Chennai to St Petersburg would indeed be more challenging than most that I had yet undertaken, particularly the dense forests on the Amur highway. I got in touch with old travel agent contacts in Myanmar and China and finalized the route through those countries. Silver Hills, the agency in Myanmar, warned me about the treacherous road conditions on the route to China border, which is notorious for hold ups for days together. The problem is aggravated in monsoon. Hence, I had to choose a ‘window’ avoiding the monsoon. Navo, the Chinese agency confirmed that the travel in China posed no problems as it was mostly through highways. I had to cut their suggested itinerary of fourteen days to ten, to save time.
It is planning the Trans-Siberian stretch that was most challenging. Not knowing fully the current road conditions and the facilities available en route added to the planning challenge. From the small pieces of information I stitched together from the Internet I made a tentative overnight halt plan and sourced hotels as close to the highway as possible. This was finally concluded after I got inputs from Uwe, a close associate of Ali. Uwe, a German based in Dusseldorf, seemed to know the Trans-Siberian area better than the back of his hand. His valuable inputs about the towns to rest and the driving conditions finalized the route and the places of overnight stay. Uwe is truly one of the Guardian Angels of this expedition.
The Trans-Siberian Highway is a 11,000 km network of seven highways that run from Vladivostok to St Petersburg. It spans the width of Russia from the Sea of Japan of the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea of the Atlantic Ocean. The Trans-Canada Highway and Australia Highway 1 are the longest highways, with Trans-Siberian coming in third. The romantic part of the Trans-Siberian Highway is that one will move from Asia to Europe, somewhere along the Ural Mountains. I have read that the toughest part of the Trans-Siberian drive is between Khabarovsk and Chita, the Amur highway; over 2000 km through dense forests, poor roads and sparse facilities. These roads are said to have been completed by prisoners who were exiled to Siberia during the Stalinist era and incarcerated in Gulags.
Thus, another’s dream had become my own and I am all set to drive 22,000 km solo across four nations and two continents in forty days. And like earlier dreams accomplished, my friends and family feel that this one too is beyond what is practical. There is a certain sense of fulfillment when you do what others think are impractical or impossible.