Have you ever just wanted to quit your job and travel the world? Well on the 28th of March 2009, that is exactly what my wife and I did. Now I have to say this was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. The story unfolds nearly 18 months earlier one Sunday night while watching one of Michael Palin’s travel documentaries.
My wife and I love adventure travel and watching programs on exotic destinations. Having been inspired and facing another boring week at work we both started to talk about our own travel dreams.
It seemed we both had very similar ideas about what travel meant to us. Jet aircraft have revolutionized the way we travel today and made the planet a much smaller place. They have opened up the world to the masses and conveniently allowed us to reach far-off lands all within the space of our precious annual leave.
You can travel from Singapore to London in 12 hours, but what about if there were no planes? What if we went back in time and traveled the world overland like explorers of the past. The proposition made us both very excited.
All of a sudden the world seemed a much larger place. The map we held in front of us so small, started to take on much larger proportions. Different colored shapes represented ancient and foreign cultures, and while our fingers glided effortlessly from one to the next, would it be that simple in real life? What stories would unfold?
We started saving at a prodigious rate and gave ourselves 16 months to come up with what we expected were the necessary funds for such an undertaking. The concept of leaving our careers behind was frightening but we both believed that fear traps us all and stops us from reaching out.
A person can only grow if they embrace uncertainty and swim in the river of new encounters. We both felt so empowered, and so alive knowing we were going to turn our dreams into a reality.
Time became both an enemy and friend for the next year. We were both so impatient to begin this next chapter in our lives and each month dragged like a plow through thick mud. It did afford us the opportunity however to consider our route from Singapore to London. There were, after all, many logistics to take into account. One important factor was going to be the weather.
For many months in developing parts of the world, land-based transport does not operate or is simply not possible. If we were to be successful a loosely structured plan was going to be necessary. We are both very keen trekkers and wanted to maximize our time in various parts of the Himalayas.
With this in mind, our plan took shape like so. Travel through South East Asia during April and May before crossing into China and onto Tibet for the summer in May and June. This was critical, as crossing Tibet all the way to Kashgar is only possible during the summer months.
The Trans-Himalaya Highway is in fact, a 3000km ribbon of dirt that never drops below 4500m and crosses dozens of passes over 5000m. It travels through the middle of nowhere and past where the hell am I?
From the Silk Road capital of Kashgar, we would turn south along the Karakoram Highway (or KKH) over the world’s highest international border crossing the Kunjerab pass into Pakistan. The KKH is an engineering marvel carved through impossibly deep canyons. The geography is not of this planet. The pass is only open from May to September before early winter snows cut off China for 8 months. From Pakistan, our plan was to cross into northern India and travel through Kashmir, a part of the world that is renowned for its beauty and sadly for its danger. From there we would continue onto Nepal in time for the autumn trekking season of October and November. Nepal is a country we have visited before and we were looking forward to having unlimited time in this beautiful Eden.
After Nepal, we would turn west again and head back across India into Pakistan and through to southern Iran. Quetta in Pakistan is only a short distance from the Afghan border and is regarded as a dangerous “wild west” frontier town. The road traveling to the Iranian border is bandit territory and many buses have been robbed with some western tourists occasionally kidnapped. It was going to be a 600km “running of the gauntlet” through an empty mountain desert. There was no other option, getting through here and Iran was our corridor to the west. This was the key to our success if we wanted to make it all the way to London without flying. Upon reaching Turkey we knew the rest would be relatively easy so we tried not to think too much about plans beyond this point.
Finally the big day arrived our bags were packed with what we hoped would sustain us for a year; it did not seem much. Driving to the airport our hearts were beating hard, my mouth felt a little dry, but the smiles on our faces stretched from ear to ear. We passed through check-in, customs and into the bar for a quick drink to steady our nerves and celebrate. It all seemed very surreal, were we really leaving for 18 months? The lounge seemed to go quiet; in my mind, I could hear sitars, calls to prayer, and camels growling. Iconic monuments like the Taj Mahal, Pyramids, and Angkor Wat filled my mind's eye. I could smell incense, cardamom, saffron, and noisy bazaars. Ahead lay great rivers like the Mekong, Ganges, and The Nile; a million stories unfolding every day. Towering mountains like Everest, and K2. Fabled cities from Saigon to Cairo, Kathmandu to Rome.
Who would we meet, would we make it or would we be defeated, we just did not know? For us it was the ultimate way to travel, for nothing is more damaging to the spirit of adventure than a certain outcome. What followed far exceeded any expectations we ever imagined possible.
Below we have a taster for you from our trip.