Blue Ele­phant to In­dia

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From Ber­lin to goa on two Vespa scoot­ers

Fer­di­nand is a small ele­phant. about a me­tre tall and dis­tinctly blue. His com­pan­ions are Clau­dia sup­per, Chris­tian rapf, and Wolf­gang Pröhl. This small team was on a mis­sion. They had to take Fer­di­nand from the marvel­lous city of Ber­lin and in­tro­duce him to the sandy beaches and palm trees of Goa. a com­bi­na­tion of ex­pen­sive flight tick­ets and some­thing about Fer­di­nand hav­ing to travel in the lug­gage com­part­ment made them dis­miss aero­planes as an op­tion. it was set­tled then: 20,000-plus kilo­me­tres would be cov­ered by road us­ing a cou­ple of bright red Vespa GTs su­per 300s. it looks sim­i­lar to the Ves­pas avail­able in in­dia and that is about all. The GTs su­per 300 is pow­ered by a 278-cc en­gine that pro­duces 21 Ps. We need one of those in in­dia, don’t we? That is not all. each scooter was fit­ted with a uni­cy­cle trailer that housed spare parts, lug­gage, and liq­uid courage. nearly four months af­ter em­bark­ing on their mam­moth trip, the trio made a pit-stop in Pune for a day and we hap­pened to be in the vicin­ity. We met and got talk­ing. Here is what they had to say. First of all, the name “Ele­phant to In­dia” is in­trigu­ing. Why did you choose it? Ele­phant to In­dia (EI): We have an ele­phant with us. His name is Fer­di­nand and he wants to take part in the next full moon fes­ti­val in Goa. now it is win­ter in europe and Fer­di­nand said, ‘it is too cold, take me to in­dia.’ We agreed and de­cided to ac­com­pany him. That is why we are called ele­phant to in­dia. Be­sides, Fer­di­nand has a pur­pose; to make the peo­ple cu­ri­ous. i can see it works be­cause your first ques­tion was about the ele­phant (laughs). With so many op­tions avail­able in the mar­ket, what made you choose a Vespa? (EI): Well, Vespa is a brand-name and it has a cult fol­low­ing. Fur­ther­more, Ves­pas have style and his­tory and we felt it would be spe­cial to do this trip with them. Be­sides, we don’t think any­one else has trav­elled from europe to in­dia on Vespa scoot­ers. We no­tice you have mod­i­fied your scoot­ers a bit and fit­ted them with cus­tom­ized trail­ers as well. Very nicely done. Did you do that your­self? (EI): That’s right, we have a cou­ple of trail­ers and they are con­nected with a cou­pling that al­lows tor­sional play as well. We de­signed it but a com­pany built them for us. We did the wiring by our­selves. To be spe­cific, Chris­tian did it. He is the most tech­ni­cally sound mem­ber in the group.

How did you plan your route? (EI): There were two pos­si­bil­i­ties. Through Tur­key, iran, and Pak­istan or through Cen­tral asia, China, Ti­bet, and nepal. We chose the lat­ter be­cause we wanted to ride through Ti­bet on our Ves­pas. China and Kaza­khstan also seemed quite in­ter­est­ing, so we de­cided to in­clude these places in our route. at the end of the day, we think it was a very good de­ci­sion, al­though our route was about 5,000 km longer. One of the high­lights of our trip was rid­ing through the desert of Gobi (part of it) and the Tak­la­makan desert. When did you em­bark on this trip?

(EI): We started on 14 July 2018 from Ber­lin. To be pre­cise, from a curry sausage stall. so we told our­selves, ‘We start at the curry sausage stall and then go to the land of curry.’ Four months later, here we are. If you had to sum up this once-in-al­ife­time ex­pe­ri­ence in a few words, how would you do it? (Wolf­gang) it was hot and cold. it was low and high. it was desert and rain­for­est. it was ev­ery­thing you can imag­ine and we had it on this trip. From places with­out any vil­lages to one of the most so­phis­ti­cated places in the world like is­tan­bul, Vi­enna, and Varanasi. it will take a long time to let it all sink in. (Clau­dia) For me, it was an ad­ven­ture of a life­time. i would have re­gret­ted it for the rest of my life if i had not taken part in the trip. (Chris­tian) it was in­ter­est­ing to see new and won­der­ful things and it was an un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence. Can you each tell us about your most prom­i­nent mem­o­ries of the trip? (Clau­dia) it is dif­fi­cult to com­pare the places be­cause ev­ery place in it­self was a spe­cial one. While we crossed the Caspian sea, i was the only woman on board the ferry among nearly 70 truck driv­ers. Of course, it was not a high­light (laughs). (Wolf­gang) i had two. One was cross­ing the bor­der from nepal to in­dia. it was our last in­ter­na­tional bor­der on the trip. When we crossed the bor­der and saw the board that said, “Wel­come to in­dia”, we knew that there were no more bor­ders to cross; just 4,000 km left. The sec­ond was when we crossed the Toru­gart Pass from Kyr­gyzs­tan into China. Once that was done, we knew that we were ready to face the rest of the trip. Did you have any dif­fi­cul­ties with your ma­chines and if so, how did you solve them? (EI): We picked up a few punc­tures and some dam­age to the wa­ter hoses. about five kilo­me­tres into the trip, the clutch had to be re­placed. For­tu­nately, Chris­tian was able to sort it out. Both scoot­ers also lost the trail­ers on a Chi­nese high­way and, fun­nily enough, one of them rolled by us (laughs). Our only night ride dur­ing this whole trip was in China and on that night, Chris­tian’s trailer broke. The next day, he welded it back into place and we were on the road again.

Smile to the world and the world smiles back

Was there any part of your trip where you did not know what was go­ing to hap­pen next? (EI): When we waited for the ferry to cross the Caspian sea, we had no idea when the ferry would ar­rive, be­cause it had no timetable. strong winds pre­vented the ferry from com­ing into port and so we had to wait for three days. since we had cold beer, we were all right. (laughs) You have crossed a num­ber of bor­ders and met a lot of peo­ple. Which coun­try’s food did you like the best? (EI): since we did not go to italy, it was def­i­nitely the in­dian food. We do not say this just be­cause we are in in­dia. We re­ally en­joyed the flavours of in­dian cui­sine. Which peo­ple did you like the most?

(EI): The ones that in­vited us (laughs). i must say, wher­ever we have been, the peo­ple have been friendly. some­times i thought it was a friend­ship tour. Wher­ever we stopped, peo­ple waved at us and asked us where we were from. some­times they even took pic­tures with us. smile to the world and the world smiles back. What was the long­est stretch you cov­ered in one day? (EI): We cov­ered 604 kilo­me­tres non-stop in Kaza­khstan. af­ter that, i was walk­ing like a duck! Which was the most chal­leng­ing ter­rain you en­coun­tered? We see you also have dual-pur­pose tyres. Did you use them any­where? (EI): We needed them in nepal. The roads were ter­ri­ble in nepal, es­pe­cially from the Ti­bet bor­der on­wards. Once in Kaza­khstan, we were in­formed that there was a 25-km-long stretch of bad road ahead of us. so there also we used our off-road tyres. Was there any point dur­ing your trip when you felt you should stop this and go back home? (EI): no, not at all. Is this the first time you are in In­dia? (Wolf­gang) i have been here a cou­ple of times. i was here for the first time in 1979. i trav­elled around in­dia by train for two months. now in­dia has changed so much. (Clau­dia and Chris­tian)

First time for both of us. We have al­ways heard sto­ries about in­dia and when we crossed the bor­der into the coun­try, it was amaz­ing. Wolf has told us that you don’t see in­dia; you smell in­dia and it is true. There are a lot of aro­mas to take in. What would you take away from In­dia?

(EI): Tanned skin (laughs) and thou­sands of mem­o­ries. The other day, a lady we never met be­fore in­vited us home for din­ner in mum­bai and that is just one of the many peo­ple who were very kind to us. Given a chance, would you do this over again? (EI): Cer­tainly. We will take a dif­fer­ent route, though. Why is Goa your des­ti­na­tion? (EI): since we are mak­ing a film about our trip, we wanted to choose a place that was fa­mous. it also had to be a place where we could stay for a month and have fun. Goa is fairly well known in europe and it has beaches, res­tau­rants, and bars. We de­serve a good hol­i­day af­ter all that travel, don’t we? (laughs) Will you be rid­ing back home again?

(EI): ab­so­lutely. We will take the easy route. We will ride back in an aero­plane and the ve­hi­cles will be shipped to us.

Wolf has told us that you don’t see In­dia; you smell In­dia and it is true. There are a lot of aro­mas to take in

Ele­phant to In­dia in front of the world fa­mous Po­tala Palace in Lhasa, Ti­betLEFT: Cross­ing the Danube via Ferry in Hun­gary (Eastern Europe) RIGHT: The first higher passes on the way to Ti­bet

ABOVE: Vespa-rid­ing is fun. Even if this photo might show some­thing dif­fer­entLEFT: Fer­di­nand is the name of the blue ele­phant. Here you see him en­joy­ing the river Ganga ABOVE: Rid­ing through New Delhi’s Par­lia­ment Dis­trictLEFT: Jaipur, the Pink City RIGHT: Rid­ing into Varanasi

LEFT: Only 400 more kilo­me­tres till Mum­bai BE­LOW: We did it. Goa’s fa­mous Aram­bol beach! Done af­ter 20.000 kilo­me­tres

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