Ioannis Ioadinidis on his BMW outside Victoria Memorial on Sunday. Picture by Amit Datta
- Rocky desert of Kazakhstan. Check
- Treacherous mountains of Pakistan. Check
- Flood ravaged terrain of Uttarakhand. Check
- Jessore Road and VIP Road. Checkmate
One bike, 65 days, 15,000 kilometres, 14 countries.
Ioannis Ioadinidis’s motorcycle diaries from London to Calcutta has been a saga of endurance, skill and strength, all of which were fiercely tested on Saturday during his entry into Calcutta through the perilous Jessore and VIP roads.
The 36-year-old Greek based in London as a computer engineer spoke to Metro about his Herculean journey, surviving the Taliban, sleeping under a desert sky and enduring the roads of Calcutta.
“While approaching Calcutta, the GPS had warned me about the heat but not about the condition of the roads,” he said.
Ioannis’s faithful companion is a monstrous 1,200CC BMW that is closer to the Batmobile than a motorcycle. A biking fanatic, he took six months off to set out on his two-wheeler through Europe, central Asia and the Indian sub-continent where he would unite with his girlfriend, Katie, who is holidaying in Bangladesh.
He will proceed to South-East Asia with Katie and take a ship to Australia and finally end the journey in New Zealand.
“I had harboured a strong desire to undertake such a journey for a long time and planned the trip meticulously for six months before finally setting off,” he said.
He had bought the bike for £14,000 (about Rs 14 lakh) in 2006 and travelled extensively through Europe and parts of Africa. But a road trip to India remained uncrossed on his bucket list. On June 29, the engineer packed his bags, put on his helmet and bid London bye.
From England to France to Italy to Greece to Turkey to finally crossing the Caspian Sea from Azerbaijan and setting foot in Asia for the first time through Kazakhstan in two weeks required 14 hours of riding every day. India was still a month away!
“It felt surreal to suddenly find myself in the middle of nowhere in central Asia with literally nothing at all but the magnificent desert and mountains for hundreds of kilometres on end,” said Ioannis.
No hotels, no toilets nor any restaurant meant he had to spend the night under the stars with vodka-chugging Russian truck drivers for company and set out at sunrise.
China, the twelfth stop, arrived at the end of July after a daunting ride through Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyztan. Non-stop riding through the rising superpower got him into “perhaps the most thrilling part of the journey”.
Stop 13, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). The disputed territory was also the most breathtaking for the biker. However, the journey through the mountains, waterfalls and valleys was interrupted at a checkpost where police informed him that just a day before a few high-ranking Pakistani officials were massacred by the Taliban. It wasn’t safe to travel alone, so a police officer rode pillion for about 150km. “When a landslide blocked the path, I had to take shelter inside a police station for the night.”
“My parents and girlfriend were very tense about my journey through Pakistan but it was the beauty of the land and warmth of the people that took me by surprise,” said Ioannis who travelled to Lahore through Islamabad.
August 19 was when he finally moved across the Wagah border. From the mustard fields of Punjab to the ice-capped terrain of Himachal to the flood-ravaged remnants of Uttarakhand, Ioannis reached Bengal through the Grand Trunk Road that he took in Uttar Pradesh.
Ioannis reached the Bengal-Bangladesh border at Petrapole on Friday only to be told that he would not be allowed to take his bike into the country because of customs restrictions.
Having spent the day trying in vain to convince the border officials and the night with a dozen rats in a shady hotel in Haripur, he headed for Calcutta on Saturday morning.
“I reached this long road (Jessore Road) which is barely a road. I could see the airport at a distance. The craters, mud and broken surface reminded me of the terrain in the mountains of Pakistan,” said Ioannis.
Unable to figure out the way to his friend’s house on Sarat Bose Road despite his faithful GPS, the exhausted biker caught hold of a taxi and asked him to guide him to his destination.
“I followed the taxi through VIP Road but this too was quite perilous. Cars kept overtaking me from both sides on the cratered road and I just kept hoping that I get past it without an accident,” said Ioannis.
After travelling through two continents, he said Calcutta’s roads were the most challenging.
For about 20 minutes on Sunday, tourists outside Victoria Memorial treated his 300kg monster like a movie star. “Arre ye toh Dhoni wala bike hain,” gushed a teenager.
“It’s a little embarrassing but feels nice at the same time. The innocent curiosity and warmth of the people here is very touching,” the biker said.