Blue Elephant to India
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