Part 2: The First Indians to Motorcycle Around the World on a Royal Enfield
As told by Subhash Sharma
This incredible story marks the 50th anniversary of the first Indians to ride round the world. In 1972, when motorcycle travel was unheard of in India, Subhash Sharma and three friends rode 67,000 miles across the globe on two Royal Enfield motorcycles. They did this at a time when motorcycle travel was unheard of in India.
Today, Subhash is 75 years old and has lived in Fort Worth, TX, since 1975. At present, he rides a 1982 Honda Silver Wing. Motorcycles are his passion and he enjoys their company. The three friends who accompanied Subhash on the world tour were Sampuran Singh, Manmohan Singh, and Ashok Kher. Ashok died in late 1980s and Manmohan was 82 when he passed away in 2015. Sampuran is 85 and still lives in Jamshedpur, India.
Not a day goes by that Shubash doesn’t reminisce about their adventures. This second part of their incredible story recounts their adventures after leaving India, as told by Shubash himself.
Becoming Company Representatives
The first day on the road after leaving our hometown of Jamshedpur was easy. We knew the highways and were familiar with our surroundings. We covered 235 miles and decided to stop at an Indian roadside truck stop called a dhaba. The owner offered us free food and asked us to spend the night. The kindness of strangers had already begun.
It took us three days to get to New Delhi, where we stayed with Manmohan Singh’s wonderfully kind family. Then we spent a few days getting the visas for the first five countries on our route and the Carnet de Passages papers for our two Royal Enfield Bullet 350s.
While waiting for the paperwork to come through, news came in that terrorists had highjacked an Indian Airlines plane and flown it to Pakistan. The next thing we knew, India and Pakistan had shut their borders to vehicle traffic. We had to react to the situation fast and dashed to Bombay so we could get onboard a ship and get out of India.
The company we all worked for—Tata Engineering and Locomotive Co (Telco)—was headquartered in Bombay and the export office manager got us onto an East German ship leaving for Kuwait. It was carrying Telco-manufactured buses and we could sneak on as “company representatives.” It was a stroke of luck. We stood on the deck watching India disappear into the ocean. Our journey was about to start.
Crossing the Middle East
After a few days at sea, our cargo ship arrived in Kuwait. We unloaded our motorcycles onto foreign soil and rode through Iraq to Iran. It was easy to find accommodation because it was so warm. We could just stop off at small gas stations and ask to spend the night. The food was good and fuel cheap—$0.15 a gallon. The farther north in Iran we rode, the colder it got, so we swapped to indoor shelters, like small tea houses and mosques.
We made our way to the religiously significant city of Qom and then on to Tehran, which was surrounded by snow-covered mountains by the time we arrived. But our first big shock was encountering sleet for the first time when leaving Turkey. We rode for seven days through rain and bitter cold along the Palandöken mountains. Almost all of the roads in the east of Turkey were dirt tracks back in 1971. Not knowing the geography, we hoped we’d hit flat ground sooner or later, but it was mountain after mountain. So, we moved south toward Syria and Jordan in search of warmer weather.
Crossing borders had been easy and visa requirements in the Middle East were relaxed. Immigration officials gave us a visa to get into Lebanon on the border. Everyone was friendly and very helpful toward us—possibly because both Sampuran Singh and Manmohan wore turbans, so the Arabs thought of them as fellow Muslims.