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Madhav Sharma: NEPAL TO EUROPE, ON A HONDA CG 125, IN ‘97

AL-v-4-i-1-Outlander-105The line between determination and stubbornness is very thin. People’s opinion on which side of the spectrum Madhav Sharma falls under can vary. Some could also presume that he is highly ambitious, so much so that it might have gotten the better of him while others could commend the fact that he achieved something many commoners couldn’t even think of attempting.

We talk to Madhav Sharma about persistence, failed attempts, accidents that could have been fatal and his refusal to quit; all in an epic journey from Nepal to Europe on a Honda CG 125. Something no other Nepali has been able to replicate till date.

AL-v-4-i-1-Outlander-117AL: When did the tour start? Whatsparked the idea?

MS: I started this tour from Shahid Gate on Chaitra 29, 2053 B.S. As to how this tour started, I always had the desire to do something more for the nation than just for myself. I wanted to introduce Nepal in the world by doing something distinct. I started making some plans and went through books and research papers as references. While doing so, I came across the Guinness Book of World Records which sparked the idea of setting a world record by travelling across the world in a Honda CG 125.

AL: How was the biking culture back here in Nepal when you started the trip?

MS: There were no things as such. There were no clubs and nobody cared about going on for an adventure trip.

AL: So you were the first man from Nepal to ever do so?

MS: Yes, the first and the only one to do so. At least till now!AL-v-4-i-1-Outlander-115AL: Tell us about your plans? How did you make it happen?

MS: Back then, things weren’t as technologically developed as it is today. The concept of touring was not very refined. It was extremely difficult. When I tried to communicate my plans and dreams to others, they would tell me I was crazy because it was impossible. Even the official documentation processes were challenging and the government was not even close to interested about such matters. I talked to the government for a year but all in vain. In addition, I had another dilemma; I was riding a CG which was already 15 years old at that time. Plus, travelling on some highways in Europe and other parts of the world required a 250cc capacity minimum. I was expecting the government to help me get a new ride for the tour, but it didn’t happen.

AL: Well, it doesn’t look like you were off to a great start.

MS: But, I had my mind set on doing this no matter what. It was either a ‘do or a die’ situation for me. My ego got the better of me. If the government wasn’t going to give me a bike, I would take my own CG.AL-v-4-i-1-Outlander-116AL: Wasn’t taking the CG difficult for you? We believe that the bike is appropriate for city riding but isn’t it rather difficult for the highways?

MS: I would have loved to have a higher capacity motorcycle, but I did not have a choice. I wish I had more support from Nepal government, but they disappointed me the most. 19 years later, the situation has not changed.

AL: So how did you manage the whole ride?

MS: To keep it short, I did it all illegally.

AL: Illegally?

MS: In order to cross international borders in a personal vehicle, you need a document called Carnet. The Carnet system allows you to temporarily import and re-export your vehicle without paying the customs duties (import taxes) normally associated with a permanent import. And like I said, I didn’t have that. And I didn’t have a 250 cc engine which was a requirement for some international highways.AL-v-4-i-1-Outlander-114

AL: Didn’t that cause problems?

MS: The problems came in hard and fast. I managed to beg and plead with the officials at the Indian border to let me pass without the document, but they warned me that I wouldn’t be able to get past the Pakistan border without it. I took a chance and ventured forward, but the inevitable happened. The officials in Pakistan weren’t as lenient and sent me right back.AL-v-4-i-1-Outlander-113AL: What happened next?

MS: The officials at the Pakistan border suggested that I get the documents from the concerned authorities in India. So I went back to India to the place where the officials from Pakistan had advised me. On reaching there, the Indian officials told me that I had the bike registered from Nepal so they couldn’t really do anything about it. They further added that Nepal had no such provisions. So clueless, I came back to Nepal and decided to knock the doors of the government yet again. I found out that carnet was organised by the Alliance International de Tourisme (AIT) in Switzerland, and administered through agents worldwide. I realised that some agency from here would have to contact them. I went to the Ministry of Sports who, as it so often happens in Nepal, promptly directed me to the Transport Ministry. There I was sent from one department to the other looking for a solution. This went on for a month, still no luck. But I was determined to complete my trip, so I went back to Delhi, visited the Federation of Automobile Dealers Association, they convinced me that they still could not help. I wasn’t turning back; I went to the Pakistan border again. On reaching the border, the officials asked me if I had been successful in attaining the carnet. I gave them a plain no. I told them how it was impossible in Nepal. I told them that I wasn’t going back. After around three to four days of effort, I managed to talk to their head of department. Finally they let me pass, but only after issuing a stern warning that if I get stopped at Pakistan for any reasons, my bike would be seized. Taking the risk yet again, I continued the tour.AL-v-4-i-1-Outlander-108AL: You’re riding around with a Nepali number plate in Pakistan. We’re guessing you were noticed.

MS: I did get stopped at Pakistan but I talked my way out of it. I got really lucky despite all the trouble.

AL: How much time did it take for you to reach Pakistan?

MS: It took me close to 4 months to reach Pakistan so you can imagine the hassle. They let me go further by officially writing on paper how and why I had been permitted in my Passport.AL-v-4-i-1-Outlander-106AL: We might already know the answer, but, was it smooth sailing after that?

MS: No, I was stopped at every country. And whenever I did, I would have to convince them that I had no bad intentions.

AL: Aren’t the laws and restrictions stronger in other countries? How were you able to convince them?

MS: After crossing Pakistan, I crossed Iran then headed to turkey. Now I had reached the European border. The Europeans were used to welcome riders coming to and fro from other countries. So it was easier there.AL-v-4-i-1-Outlander-118AL: Were there any other obstacles?

MS: On reaching the European countries, the first difficulty I faced was right hand driving. The implications of the 250cc engine minimum came into action on their highways. Well, I had to take the highway route because if I took the local ones I’d just get lost. So, despite being illegal, I travelled the highway anyway and got caught several times. After getting caught I would be sent back to smaller tarmac, but then again I would sneak my way through. The cycle continued. I completed the whole thing so illegally that if in case I had an accident, there would be no way I would be able to claim for anything.

AL: You did have accidents didn’t you?

MS: Yes, I had one major accident in Turkey. It was 5 or 6 in the evening and I was riding to Istanbul on a highway. Out of nowhere, a car came flying towards me from the opposite direction. It hit me hard and I was unconscious. After gathering my senses, I witnessed that the casualties inside the car that had hit me were taken to hospital, but I was still there. After a long time, a pickup truck came and picked me up and took me to the hospital. I got lucky yet again, the doctors checked me and told me it was a small injury and got me bandaged and that was it! It was a narrow escape.

AL-v-4-i-1-Outlander-107AL: What about the bike?

MS: The bike was heavily damaged. After getting discharged from the hospital, they took me to an army training centre. The handles of my bike were broken, the wind visor was all smashed and the bike didn’t look like a bike anymore. However, I was lucky again. The army officials took the bike somewhere and repaired it. After staying at the training centre for 3 days, I continued my trip anyway. Upon reaching Istanbul, a university professor took me to the university hospital because my injured foot wasn’t looking too good. There I was diagnosed with two fractures in my left leg. There I had to get it plastered. I was stuck in Istanbul for more than a month.

AL: Did you ever think of giving up?

MS: The trip did not go as planned as it took a lot of time, yet I never thought of giving up. I knew I had not chosen an easy task but I was determined to complete it.AL-v-4-i-1-Outlander-111AL: Of all the places which country did you like the most?

MS: I loved France as a country, and I found Switzerland had the friendliest people.

AL: What did you do in case of engine breakdowns?

MS: Well, I had learnt mechanical tips in case of emergencies; however I had no clue about the engine. So, whenever I had an engine breakdown or just clutch problems, I would just wing it to the nearest workshop. At one point, I had to ride a long way stuck in the first gear.

AL: What happened after the Euro Trip?

MS: I had planned to go to Canada but I couldn’t. The legal restraints were significantly tighter because I wouldn’t be travelling inland any more. If there was any wiggle room I would have definitely gone forward, but it finally looked like I had reached the end of my road.AL-v-4-i-1-Outlander-112AL: If it weren’t for the documents, you would have made it.

MS: Yes, I gave it my all. Sadly, some things were just out of my control.

AL: Are these documentation problems solved now?

MS: Shockingly, after all this time (to be precise 18 years), our country still can’t provide a Carnet. No ministry or institution is authorised or has taken the responsibility of doing so. Because of this many dreams like mine must have been shattered. I would have been able to complete the world tour had our government been more proactive.AL: How much time did it take you to complete the whole trip?

MS: Initially I had planned to do so in three months but it took me a year.AL-v-4-i-1-Outlander-109AL: Did you have a dream bike; you wished you could have taken for the trip?

MS: I was promised a 250cc Honda by he government which didn’t happen, so it was my 125cc CG all along. I would rather spend Rs.6 lakhs on the trip rather than on the bike alone.

AL: So how did you manage the financial aspect? Travelling that distance must have been expensive.

MS: I sold my house and my factory. I sacrificed everything to chase my dream. To this day, I am trying to recuperate from the financial blow of this trip.

AL: Was it worth the sacrifice?

MS: Had I not made those sacrifices and backed out from this road-trip, it would have haunted me throughout my life. Even though I could just limit the tour to Europe, I still know deep in my heart that I did what was possible from my side.

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