Most of us want to travel around the world, but often, factors ranging from parental concern to budgetary issues act as impediments and deter us from even planning such trips.
Delhi-based Amarjeet Singh Chawla had similar dreams, and it took 40 years for them to come true.
In July 2018, the 60-year-old set out on his Toyota Fortuner SUV from Delhi and went on an epic road trip, covering nearly 40,000 km across 33 countries before he reached London in December.
Going by the name ‘The Turban Traveller,’ Chawla’s passion for travel took root in 1979 when he became friends with a backpacking couple from Holland.
“I was so fascinated with their travel stories that I wanted to go on a trip like them. Some of my friends and I even planned a trip on our motorbikes, but my parents would have none of it. It was purely out of concern, but that put an end to my travel dreams,” laughs Chawla, while speaking to The Better India.
Time passed by, and Chawla’s garment export business took priority. However, in the back of his head, his travel dreams still glided about.
Finally, after handing down the business to his son last year, he began to take those dreams seriously. And he had an interesting motive.
“Although I’d become friends with that couple while they were here, we did not maintain any contact; I only knew the city where they lived. So, a larger part of my travelling agenda was to locate and surprise them. That’s how the motivation behind the trip started. I spent roughly about three to four months planning it and then came up with an itinerary covering 23 countries across 23,000 km and 120 days,” he recalls.
But given his age and health restrictions, Chawla figured that he wouldn’t be able to drive every day and would have to extend the duration of the trip.
On 7 July, he set out in his car, and it would forever change his life.
From India, his first pit stop was Nepal, from where he then drove down through China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia.
Following this, he travelled through a significant part of Europe, across countries like Poland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, Monaco, France, The Netherlands, and Denmark, before finally arriving in London.
So, how was this experience like?
“It was magical—that is the only way I can explain it. One thing I learnt through this journey is that people, irrespective of their country or creed, are generally warm and kind-hearted. For them, seeing someone in a colourful turban and a car full of signatures and writings was even more fascinating and they would come forward to interact. They’re all just like us! I truly understood the essence of the Sanskrit phrase, ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,’ (the world is one, big family)” shares an excited Chawla.
What is more, he also stumbled upon the legendary actor and politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger during his journey!
However, Chawla is most happy about meeting the couple he had befriended in the seventies. He managed to locate them and gave them the surprise of a lifetime.
He also does not shy away from mentioning the setbacks he faced during his journey.
“As I was nearing Moscow, I realised that my visa was nearing its expiration. Fortunately, the Indian ambassador helped me with that. That was the beauty of the trip. At any point throughout the journey, whenever I stumbled upon precarious situations, help was always nearby,” he adds.
At one point, Chawla also had to return to India for a brief period because of his health conditions.
“I was in Estonia when the left side of my body went entirely numb, and I understood that I wouldn’t be able to proceed further. But things luckily worked out for me, as I was able to find an Indian family in Estonia who readily agreed to keep my car until I returned. I had to be hospitalised for a brief while, and while the doctors advised me to refrain from too much activity, I was back in Estonia in two weeks to resume my trip!” he happily narrates.
Chawla is a vegetarian, so food was also a big concern.
“Except for the 16 days that I travelled through China, I was surprised to find a plethora of options available throughout Central Asia and Europe. In China, finding food was an issue, as one can’t find much other than salads or bread and that too from roadside vendors,” he says.
His family, including his old parents, has been incredibly supportive of him.
“They had come to receive me in London. Around the time I was away, my son and his family took care of my old folks, while my daughter looked after my wife. They would always check on me, and it was their belief and support that kept me going,” Chawla says.
He also shares an incident that happened when his family was travelling to London.
“It is understandable that I receive some privileges, owing to my expedition. But upon hearing that my family was aboard the London-bound flight to receive me, the cabin crew in British Airways upgraded them all to business class. That was very heartwarming!” Chawla shares.
Chawla now intends to cover all the remaining continents in the future.
“This trip got me through much of Asia and Europe. I am planning one which will encompass Northern America, Australia, and New Zealand in the future, and am quite motivated and excited about it,” he concludes.
With the intention of documenting his trips, Chawla was accompanied by a crew comprising a director and a cameraman in his epic journey, the footage of which will soon be used to make a documentary.
Chawla’s passion for travelling, truly proves that age is just a number, and it is never too late to chase our dreams—in this case, wanderlust!
You follow the travel exploits of The Turban Traveller on Facebook here.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)