How I Quit My Job and Took a Three-Year Bike Journey Back to India
Taking off my helmet at a petrol station in Argentina, I’m approached by a curious local and the inevitable first question is always, “Where are you from?”
I usually enjoy the shocked reaction when they hear “India.” I quickly add in that I started in the US – which doesn’t help reduce the shock value.
Vanakam. My name is Jay Kannaiyan, and in March 2010, I quit my job in the US, sold my house and other worldly possessions and began a one-way motorcycle journey back home to India. The three-year and three-month journey took me 1,00,000 km through 33 countries across North and South America, Europe and Africa.
All through this journey, my steady companion was sanDRina, my Suzuki DR650 motorcycle who was my home on the road. Her panniers held all that I needed: a few clothes, minimal camping equipment, some gadgets to document the trip, and spares and tools to keep sanDRina maintained.
Being such an extended journey, it wasn’t possible to know where I would be staying every night and what my exact route was going to be. In the months leading up to trip departure, I pored over maps and travel blogs and tried to learn as much as possible about the route down the Americas and Africa – but I also realised that you can’t plan it all and just have to go with the flow.
From the start in Chicago, I got through Mexico and Central America and then worked for my passage on an old fishing boat from Panama to Colombia as there are no roads connecting North and South America.
It felt grand to be arriving into Cartagena on a boat, a hark back to the old days of reaching a new continent by ship. There was to be no plane travel on this journey and all water bodies were to be crossed by ship. This was going to be a slow journey.
Colombia was a country that I was a little apprehensive about initially but once on the ground, I realised that all was fine. I got in touch with the local biking community and they took care of me across the country – which also made me realise that what’s reported on the news is just a small slice of what’s actually happening on the ground. Also? Happy news doesn’t get as much coverage as scary news.
My father would warn me of every country that I was entering based on the news he was reading and I would tell him that “just based on the news, India doesn’t sound like such a safe country, Dad!”
I traversed across the Andes and after hiking up to Machu Picchu, I dipped down into the Amazon. The world’s largest rain forest has a single, remote, mud road cutting across it from the west to the east and I spent two weeks making my way across the jungle.
There are no cities for 3,000 km and I just pitched my tent where it felt safe and enjoyed the disconnect from civilisation. Emerging on the other side, I cruised down Brazil’s coast, meeting lots of friendly locals, and learned to speak Portuguese. It’s one of the countries that I’d want to go back to and live in at some point. There’s a good vibe there; the people are happy, the weather is nice and the beach is always near.
After touching the southern tip of South America at Ushuaia, sanDRina and I boarded a cargo ship for our voyage across the Atlantic.
It was a 26-day journey across the ocean to Hamburg. After getting some paperwork done in Paris, we caught a ferry from Venice and crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Alexandria in Egypt.
The timing was just perfect as I arrived in Egypt about three months after their revolution and luckily for me, most of the tourists were still scared to visit Egypt – meaning that I was by myself inside the Great Pyramid – a rare experience.
From Egypt, I crossed into Sudan and was once again surprised at how the people on the ground were so different than how the news would have us believe. In Kenya, I took an extended break and explored the power of using food to connect with people.
On a journey of such long duration, homesickness is a real concern and since I didn’t have a home, I had to create one wherever I went. My sense of home was tied to cooking this chicken curry made with my mom’s spices, which I was carrying with me all through the journey.
I stayed with local hosts and in exchange for their hospitality, I would cook my chicken curry for them. The experience of having an Indian – who arrived on a motorcycle – cook delicious, exotic food in their home was such a mindblowing experience that it formed strong bonds between recently met strangers.
I continued through Southern Africa, and from Cape Town, we crossed the waters to Chennai. Then began the last leg of the journey, from Kanyakumari to Kargil. I saved the best for last and felt incredibly proud to have the Himalayas of Ladakh in my backyard. I rode into New Delhi in early June 2013 and finished the trip at India Gate.
I’m so thrilled that I actually managed to get to the end. I met so many wonderful people from various cultures who have reassured me of the general goodness of humankind; a feeling that is lost sometimes by our fast-moving globalised society.
I saw vast wildernesses where the only touch of humans was the dirt track that I was riding on. There was also ample opportunity for me to appreciate the grandeur of nature – making me want to protect it for future generations.
My life on two wheels has been all that I have dreamt of – and much more – and I hope that by sharing my story, others will find the courage to pursue their own dreams. Ride on!