Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Reading travel stories and in particular articles in older motorcycle magazines of the overland trip from or to Europe whetted my interest and as I finally approached completion of my long running part time tertiary education course, plans were made with my close friend Jim Day to ride to Europe. I did the paperwork and together we built large luggage panniers for our bikes and I imported a 32 litre petrol tank from Germany for my 1971 BMW 500cc R50/5 motorcycle.
At the end of January we took the motorcycles to QANTAS and arranged to airfreight them to Singapore ( it was then, the cheapest method).
Judy and I together with Jim and Val, flew to Singapore a day or so later and collected the bikes, took in some sightseeing then set off across the land bridge for Malaysia to ride up to the island of Penang where transhipment to India occurred.
Many people are unaware that you cannot travel across Burma by motor vehicle The borders closed during WW2 and this remains the case even today. My BMW being craned aboard the MV "Chidambaram" at Penang.
Most overland trips start from Europe and doing it that way, you are introduced to the poverty, begging etc gradually. Doing it in reverse as we did meant you we introduced to the daily life of Asia suddenly and it can be a shock. Prior to this trip we had only toured NZ by Velocette in 1968...that may make an interesting story..? The sea trip was 4 days across the Bay of Bengal to the port of Madras in S.India. Customs when we arrived was a new hindsight "greasing palms" with money was what was required to expedite matters, but we were green and did it the hard way. Two days later saw us travelling south to the very tip of India at Cape Comeran, where several oceans meet and where the sun rises from the sea to the east and sets into the sea to the west...Originally plans were to tranship to Ceylon/Sri Lanka and tour there, but storms had washed away the facilities for loading on the indian side for an indeterminate time, so we re headed north. 1974 was the first of the major oil shortages world wide and India was hard hit. Often petrol stations had no fuel for weeks. Both bikes had large fuel tanks fitted and the range on my BMW, travelling at 80kph was around around 800km a tankfull so we largely avoided this problem.Judy at a petrol stop, surrounded by the enevitable crowd when we stopped. The south of India, especially Kerala State was different to the area of Madras, largely Roman Catholic to the more common Hindu it featured many waterways with small villages.
Travelling north we ended in New Delhi, were we had to wait for several weeks as an Islamic conference in Pakistan meant the borders were closed. We met up with an NZ couple in a Kombi van and so left the BMW in the campground and travelled to Agra, Jaipur and back doing a tourist bit.
Above shows a time we became "lost" due to indifferent directions.
Judy in the Red fort at Agra with the Taj Mahal in the background.
Travelling through Pakistan, we came to the Khyber pass, the infamous passage from Pakistan into Afghanistan, which is closed during the night...naturally the hill tribespeople ignore this. There is a charge to enter the pass and traverse it...

The Khyber gorge. Arriving in Kabul we spent a week there and travelled by mini bus with some other overlanders to the most northern city in Afghanistan, Mazar-i-Sharif, near the Russian border to view a special National celebration day.
This involved travelling over the Salanger Pass, some 12,000' high.Judy in Kabul with the usually armed locals....

The Hindu Kush mountains on route to Mazar-i-Sharif.
Mazar-iSharif at dusk
Mazar-i-Sharif was an experiance. It was claimed over a million people were there. Rooms for the night proved impossible to get. We finally slept on the flat roof of a hotel under the stars for several nights. The pic is taken from our "bedroom".
The trip across Afgahnistan to the Iranian border proved uneventful, although negotiating the borders was a different matter. You needed to arrive at a border crossing in the morning as it invariably took 5 or more hours and most borders closed around 4pm. There was often a "no mans land" between the two countries of up to a kilometre and it frequently happened that you exited a country only to find the other border closed and unable to return spent the night between countries.
Iran, still under the rule of the Shah also proved uneventful, athough late snows forced us back to Tehran for an extra week to await suitable weather. Camped at Gol-e-Sahra camp ground in Tehran.
Centre of Tehran.
Reaching the Turkish-Iranian border near Dogubayzit we just got through before the border closed for the night, but in doing so an error occured with the Carnet-de-Passage et Duoane, effectively the passport for your vehicle. Issued by the motoring oranisation in your country on behalf of the countries requiring it..then India,Pakistan,Afghanistan,Iran,Turkey, it had a monatary bond attached to it, released when the vehicle was finally "exported"...this meant for us Turkey. A page had been removed by accident and months later the carnet was considered to be active, despite our being in Germany. For once a Customs dept., rather an official, in Munich assisted with the necessary paperwork to "prove" the BMW was in Germany & reason prevailed- we got our bond back.
The weather turned sour in East Turkey, quite high and near Mt. Ararat, reputed site of the biblical Noah's Ark final resting place. Approaching a one lane bridge in light snow, disaster struck....we were forced off the road by an overtaking bus.
We end over ended, crashing... I was knocked out and Judy took charge, erecting the fly of our tent to aford some cover from the snow.
Briefly stopping, the bus sped off, leaving us to our own devices.
Phew...both front fork legs bent, the wiring loom around the ignition switch burnt out...
Some hours were spent jury-rigging the bike and we rode on slowly to Erzurum where enquiries for truck or rail transport for us and the bike to Istanbul proved fruiltess. The idea of riding the damaged bike over several snowed in passes, up to 12,000' high seemed not an option.
Finally a local gas station owner, speaking English arranged for his brother, who didn't speak English to transport us in his car. Money changed hands... then the car arrived..a small Fiat 124, with an equally small boot/trunk. Phew! Out came the front forks and wheel and the BMW squeezed in. Our panniers and Judy squeezed into the back seats and we were off... three days continuous driving finally saw us into Istanbul at the BP MotorCamp.
Enquiries with Turkish customs over importing the parts for the bike revealed a 200% import tarriff plus an additional sales tax. Making our way back to the motorcamp we came across a British registered semi-trailer. Eventually we arranged for the bike and ourselves to be transported to Munich. We slept in the spare bed in the truck cabin and our bike was strapped under the trailer to the from jacking legs. Seven days later and we were in Munich and at Krauser's, a BMW shop I'd purchased parts from over the years, I repaired the bike and we finally arrived into London.
Vienna-Salzburg autobahn.....
Back in Munich at Krauser's in 1975 with friend Brian Anderson.
Left click on photos to enlarge.

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