It takes a lot more than just courage to give up life as you know it, and embark on an around-the-world-in-500-days journey. That sense of adventure must run in your veins, and that’s what Atul Warrier, 38, discovered about himself one random day nearly four years ago when he biked around South India for a month. Around three years later, he quit his cushy corporate job in Bengaluru and was out of his house, adrenaline his fuel, uncertainty for an anchor and a modified 2002 Royal Enfield Thunderbird as his travel companion of choice.
The first phase kicked off in Kanyakumari, India, on June 6, 2015 and took Warrier across seven countries in Southeast Asia and the northern and eastern coasts of Australia before culminating in Melbourne. The thirsty traveller began the second phase of his journey recently from Oman, and stopped by Dubai en route. We catch up with the man and his machine – they’ve traversed nearly 19,000km so far - and talk about what makes him tick.
When did you start biking and what inspired you to journey by road?
Two-wheelers always fascinated me and I started biking at 18. My first machine was a 1987 Yamaha RX100, which I still own. I have travelled by other means, but for this journey, I opted for a two-wheeler as I felt I could connect with the world better. The way others react to you in terms of coming forward to help when you are stuck in a situation is a lot different from when you travel by other modes of transport.
What is your trip about and why are you doing it?
I’ve always loved to travel, and the mode was never a critical part of it. I did my first solo trip in 2012 and that exposed me to a different aspect of life. I met people who are living their passions and experienced life beyond the four walls we create for our convenience. This journey is all about exploration - seeing places, spending time with people of other cultures. It has made me a better human being.
How do you fund your project? Was it a difficult choice?
Making the decision to sell everything and just go out into the world was what mattered. Once I knew I was going to do this, I sold my flat and all other assets to raise just enough to go on this journey. I have put everything on the line to live this dream.
Kong Lor Cave, Laos
How is your family coping with your travels?
My family had deep reservations about such a big journey initially, but I sat down with each one of them and convinced them to let me do this. Their greatest concern was the risks involved as they’d never heard of anyone doing something like this. But now, they are a lot more comfortable with the idea and extremely supportive.
Halong Bay, Vietnam
What documentation did you need to make this journey?
I had to get two types of permits. The first is tourist visas for me and the second is the permit for the bike, called Carnet De Passage. It’s like a passport for the bike, issued by the Automobile Association of India.
Sa Pa, Vietnam
Have you been travelling non-stop, or do you take breaks in between?
I pace my travels as I find comfortable. The distance between one city and the next is usually 350km-450km, and that’s when I take my breaks. If I really like the city, I stay back for a couple of days, exploring the surroundings.
Where have you been so far and where are you headed next?
I have been to Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, Oman and the UAE. It has been fabulous! I head to Iran, then Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, the UK, Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany. I aim to cover all of Europe.
What are the things that have stood out for you?
The people have been the biggest surprise. I always stay in hostels or guest houses, and meet amazing travellers, some of whom are pretty intimidating by virtue of everything they’ve done and achieved. For example, in Malaysia, I came across a woman from South Africa who has been cycling solo for the past eight years, and has covered a massive 130,000km. She was heading to Rishikesh when we met. Then, I have been stuck in random villages where there were no hostels/guest houses/hotels and the villagers welcomed me like family and invited me to stay.
Solitude would come next. When I stayed in Ayuthayya, 90km north of Bangkok, what got me hooked was the prevailing silence all around. In the evenings, I used to go for a stroll and find a place to sit in one of the old temple ruins – Ayuthayya is one of Thailand’s most popular historic sites – and experience pure silence, although children would be playing nearby, or shops would be doing brisk business. I ended up staying for five days amid this bliss.
The visuals have also been spectacular. The mountains of Thailand, villages of Laos and Cambodia, volcanoes of Indonesia, islands in Malaysia, the Australian countryside – everything had such character.
Java Island, Indonesia
What culinary pleasures will you remember from this road trip?
I am a vegetarian so this immediately filters out 80 per cent of my options. But surprisingly, I found veggie sandwiches in Laos and street food in Penang that were delicious.
Byron Bay, Australia
Why did you associate yourself with Make a Difference and project Propel?
Make a Difference (MAD) is a non-profit organisation that aims to provide better lives for children in orphanages and shelters across India. It works with nearly 5,000 children in 77 shelter homes across 23 cities through a fellow-managed volunteering model of 4,000 young leaders.
Propel by MAD aspires to provide a broad spectrum of career/academic options to high-school children from shelter homes, and ensures they are directed towards their chosen fields of interest and not moulded by their socioeconomic backgrounds. It pairs them with a volunteer called wingman to motivate them and facilitate their development. I thought the project fascinating, so I tied up with a crowdsourcing company called Ketto to raise funds for the cause. I’ve raised Rs99,940 (about Dh5,480) so far, and use my blog and personal interactions to spread the word.
What challenges and dangers have you faced so far? How did you overcome them?
I got stuck in a village in Laos, which got cut off from the world because of heavy rainfall and an overflowing river. The villagers helped me cross the river anyway on a small boat eight feet long and one foot wide, with my bike, luggage and me aboard. It was a scary, dangerous experience, but we made it - without speaking a word of English.
Another time, I met with an accident on my way to Bangkok from Cambodia. Fortunately, only the bike was damaged, and some villagers immediately helped me off the bike and out of the slush, and found a mechanic in the next town for me. They came along and explained everything to the mechanic, who fixed my Thunderbird and didn’t charge me a penny!
Have you felt like giving up?
Yes, I have. This was in the first month of riding. I was exposed to new people, new cultures, and didn’t know the languages...and it was my first experience. In addition, there were stretches where I was the only soul on the road for hours. It all added up to the feeling of loneliness. The first month is crucial, I’ve heard that many travellers quit within that period. It’s the loneliness that can really test you.
Tandem Cairns, Australia
How’s the second phase been so far?
It has been a great experience until now and I don’t regret my decision to do this. I have met some amazing people, bikers, and travellers and look forward to more such experiences.
Have you travelled with others?
Yes, I met a French couple riding from France to Sydney in Penang, and we decided to ride together through Indonesia. It was great fun.