Travelling gives Suresh Joseph a high. He went alone in a car, covering all the States in the country, in 124 days,entering the Limca Book of Records
One way Suresh Joseph unwinds is by hitting the road. When life and work turn hectic, when his creative batteries need a recharge, he hits the high road.
The former General Manager of Dubai Ports World, Suresh, who earlier served the Indian Railway Traffic Service, recently entered the Limca Book of Records for undertaking a solo expedition in a Maruti Swift car touching the capitals of all the 28 States of the country and the headquarters of the 17 Zonal Railways, covering 23,355 kms, becoming the first person to do so.
There's no better way to explore a country than by taking a drive. “This drive helped me connect with friends and with ordinary Indians that make this country what it is. Travel is education. I realised how hospitable people can be. In small villages I found the people so simple, contented. It made me realise how complicated we have made our lives,” explains Suresh, who now works as MD of a private concern in Hyderabad.
The decision to travel solo was deliberate. “This was a trip without systematic planning or detailed maps. This meant, if I had someone with me, it would have ended with discussions and delay. Moreover, few others would have been able to spare four months for the trip. Another reason, I knew it was going to be dangerous and risky. I did not want someone else to be put into that position because of me.”
Everything was not smooth during that 124-day drive. Suresh encountered problems in the West Bengal-Assam and Mizoram-Manipur borders and certain parts of Madhya Pradesh. At the chicken head entry to the North East from West Bengal Suresh was witness to the unholy nexus between politicians, check post officials and local goons. “The queue at the check post was unbelievably long. I was told that this was the entry point for stolen vehicles to Nagaland. I was forewarned that you could be harassed and even looted. And it almost happened. A group of goons surrounded the car, kept banging on it. I managed to inch close to the check post office, called the SP of Dhubri and his intervention saved the day for me. For a while it was terrifying. Also in certain parts of Madhya Pradesh it was unsafe to drive after 5 p.m.”
For this trip he set a timetable of covering around 300 km everyday. There was adventure in finding his way without maps, or the GPRS system. And everyday he posted details of his travel on his blog: railwaymansj.blogspot.com. After the journey was completed Suresh put together these posts, included photos he took on the way, into a book he titled ‘Ek Swift Bharat Yatra: The Journal of a Railwayman's Journey Through India.'
“I did have the advantage of being a civil servant. I renewed friendships and made new ones during this trip. I can proudly say that I'm the only person to have friends across this vast country,” Suresh says with a laugh.
The idea of travelling long distances by road was sown quite early in Suresh's life. Long journeys in their car along with his parents and siblings were a must during vacations. “So much has changed. But one thing I miss is stopping by the shade of a tree and having those mouth-watering ‘idlis' with steaming coffee that Ammachi (mother) carried for the trip”
A ‘passionate traveller', Suresh has jaunted extensively in India, Europe, Far East, UAE, undertaken a 20-day solo drive across Karnataka and an exalting 14-day tour of the United Kingdom (UK) in a Fiat Punto, ‘even sleeping in it for 12 days' during his days in London School of Economics. “This time I had my Japanese friend, Yasutora Watanabe, with me. Like all Japanese he was an excellent navigator. You know, they teach this as a subject in Japanese schools. We hired the Punto and began our journey from London. We planned it in such a way that by evening we would drive into a parking lot and sleep in the car overnight. We used the washrooms of fuel stations in the morning. The car was new and despite our best efforts we could not locate the reverse gear. So whenever we needed to park we did it in such a manner that we could drive forward all the time. We drove right across England, without the reverse gear. This must be some sort of a record. When we returned the car we told them about the reverse gear. To our chagrin the company attendant just pulled the gear up a bit and, hey presto, it fell into reverse.”
Suresh now plans to undertake a solo drive from Leh to Kanyakumari this May. “The record now stands at 79 hours 15 minutes on this route. I intend to complete this solo in a time of 72 hours.”
Coffee table book
In between Suresh completed a coffee table book ‘From Reclamation To Exclamation: The Making of ICTT A Photo Journey.' “The construction of the International Container Transshipment Terminal in Kochi was another journey. And my stint with Dubai Ports World made me part of it. I have attempted to put together photographs and text to record the history of this project, the hard work that went into it, the diplomacy, frustration and success for all those who worked for this.”
Suresh Joseph can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org