The Jajabors: 18 Nations, 20K kms and the open road
A story about an Assamese couple motorcycling across 18 European nations in 120 days
With nothing but three bags and a dream to see the world, Manas Dewan and his wife Dr Anuradha Dewan put their prolific corporate careers on hold and set off to travel across 18 exotic locations in Europe in their “strong, fast and reliable” Italian Ducati Scrambler.
“Sometimes life gives you a golden cage and if you stay in that cage for a long time, you forget about your dreams. Then one day you wake up and suddenly you realize that you are growing old, and that life has gone by and your dreams are still dreams,” said Dewan, with a hint of seriousness in his voice, as if wandering back to the moment when he decided to embark on his great adventure.
The duo did not want to be standing on the other side of their path and regret not taking an opportunity to travel and fulfill their dreams. Thus, they returned to India from Oman in March of 2017 and started preparing for their travels.
“We wanted to travel the world, explore it, experience it and also get to know people from different cultures, regions and learn about their traditions and customs,” said Dewan.
After coming back to India, the first thing that the couple did was buy their mode of transportation, the Ducati bike. They made some modifications on it and put it on the ship to Valencia, Spain and three weeks later, it promptly reached its destination. In the beginning of June 2017, the Dewans started their journey.
“From Spain, we travelled to Portugal. From there, we headed to France, then Switzerland, Germany, and then we moved up to Czech Republic, Austria, Lichtenstein and Italy. After that, we made our way to eastern European countries of Slovenia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Croatia, Albania and Macedonia. Then,we headed down to Greece, which was country number 17 and from there onwards, we went to Turkey. We spent a full month in Turkey,” said Dewan.
When talking about the highlights of their trip, Dewan mentioned that there were quite a number ofthings that set their trip apart from regular tourists. One of them was that in all their travels, the biker couple never stayed in hotels. Instead, they chose Airbnbs where they could stay with local people.
Every place they visited, they wanted to connect with people; thus they stayed with a host, someone who understood the place and wanted to interact with new people from different cultures.
“We stayed in little towns, villages and countryside and we stayed with the locals as one of them. It really teaches you about culture, about people, about nationalities and most importantly, about how people think,” mentioned Dewan.
Another thing that was important to the duo and that set them apart was their lack of a definite itinerary. To wholly experience their surroundings, the couple never made a concrete plan regarding their destinations. They decided which countries they would be visiting, but not the route or the exact city or village.
“Throughout the trip, we travelled from one place to another based on recommendations of local people and in a way, the route shaped itself. You can say that we went where the road took us,” mentioned Dewan.
Dewan and his wife loved every country they visited and even learnt a lot from their travels. When asked about a favorite place, Dewan could not really pick one at first but he did come to a consensus when probed.
“If I have to pick a favourite, I would say in terms of natural beauty, my favorite is Croatia because the waters are so blue and deep green. There are mountains and they are lush green. For me, Croatia turned out to be an amazing place in terms of natural beauty. And in terms of people, Turkey turned out to be the most amazing country. But then again, when I think of experiences and people, every country has got so many beautiful experiences, it’s hard for me to pick just one place,” he said, with both excitement and nostalgia in his voice.
However, as it goes with everything in life, not all was happy and jolly during the duo’s trip. They faced many challenges. The most challenging being getting their paperwork sorted by customs for their bike in Valencia.
“We experienced a lot of paperwork issues in Valencia for clearing customs of our bike. At one point in time, I almost thought that we will not be able to do this and that we should go back home. It was that difficult,” said Dewan.
The situation was so severe that they had to get in touch with the local dealer of Ducati in Valencia and the dealer had offered to help them. He was even willing to give them a brand-new Ducati, free of cost for their multi-nation adventure.
“We never knew each other until we met. The dealer offered us a brand-new bike and said that what we are doing is a dream for everyone,” said Dewan.
Another challenge that they had to face included navigating the extreme temperatures. In 2017, Europe had its hottest summer because of heat waves that were flowing in from Africa.
“Temperatures would rise up to 60 degrees and we were biking out in the open, so it was a little difficult to manage with the heat. This was mainly in Spain and across the Bulcan region in areas such as Macedonia and Albania,” he mentioned.
And speaking of heat, the duo had to cross a 60 km stretch of land that was raging with forest fire.
“We had to cross through the forest fire on our route along the border of Spain and Portugal. We did it because if we did not cross this route, we would have to give up our trip and we certainly did not want to do that,” he added.
On the flip side of having to deal with heat waves and forest fires, Dewan and his wife also had to overcome harsh rains and cold weather. When they were riding in the mountains in France, the temperatures would drop to 2-3 degrees, not taking into account the wind chill factor. The couple would be completely wet and had to brave the cold winds and rain smashing on their faces.
Apart from extreme temperatures, the duo also had to pack light for their trip as they were going to be riding long and hard terrains and had limited space in their bike.
“We carried limited luggage as we only had space for three bags, one for me, one for my wife and one for accessories such as spare parts for the bike, paperwork, documentation, laptop, camera etc. We put the bags, one in the back and two on the side of the bike. All our bags were cabin-size luggage. So, for four months, we survived on only two small bags,” said Dewan.
The couple even shared a pair of shoes amongst themselves.
“Through this experience, we learnt that we actually need very little to be happy as those were some of our happiest days, and they were not filled with material possessions, but experiences. We realized it’s not about how much you have, but about if you are really happy in life,” he said.
He added that to do a trip like this, they needed money and could not have done it without their savings. However, the important thing for them was to be able to do the things they dreamt of. That is the real use of money, according to Dewan.
During their trip, Dewan was blogging and his blog became quite popular. It even featured among the top 100 travel blogs of the world and because of this, he was asked to write a book. Therefore, when he came back, he wrote two novellas.
“The first novella, called “Dear Journey Freewheeling” is a compilation of 25 short stories from our ride and are about the experience of travel and how it broadens one’s mind. The second novella, “Dear Journey Within,” is a compilation of 25 short stories, which are all abstract pieces. They include life lessons in the form of abstract stories,” he mentioned.
These books together have been made into one volume and has been published by Crossword, India’s largest retail bookstore. The press launch for the books happened recently in Guwahati on March 11, 2019.
“Since we’ve come back, it kind of changes the way you look at the world. I thought this deserves to be shared as a story because there is so much negativity in the world as people always think that the other country is bad, that people are trying to hurt each other, but what we experienced is that the world is beautiful, it’s big. We realized that there is humanity and beauty all around, and the world is full of nice people,” he added.
Currently, Dewan is working as an independent business consultant in Pune and his wife is a philosophy teacher and has her own counseling and consulting organisation.
“Both of us are getting back to ‘normal’ life as it is called. But yeah, we are hoping that sometime in the future, provided we are able to save some money, we do another big trip like this. So, we are working in order to fuel our dreams,” said Dewan in closing.