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The great South East Asian road trip

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ROAD LESS TRAVELLED Suresh Joseph with his Ford Endeavour. — PHOTO: B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

While stuck at a traffic signal in Vishakapatnam a couple of days ago, Suresh Joseph noticed that a motorcyclist was trying to get his attention. “I rolled down the window and asked him what the matter was. He said, ‘Sir, I follow your travels online. What you do is really amazing!’ He had recognised my car and followed it for three km just to talk to me,” says Suresh. The white Ford Endeavour does stand out — it is plastered with a plethora of stickers and a representative map of his latest journey by road, which, when he reaches Kochi on Saturday, would have covered 21,500 km in 77 days.

The 57-year-old left Kochi on February 28 and has driven through nine countries in what he calls the South East Asian Odyssey: India, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and back. According to Suresh, such a trip has never been attempted before, and certainly not by someone driving alone; he has meticulously logged his journey for a shot at entering the Limca Book of Records for the eighth time. He was also slated to go on a Himalayan expedition, but due to the recent earthquake, that leg of his journey was cancelled.

Applying for multiple visas, charting the route and arranging accommodation in advance was the most time-consuming part, he says. “It took a lot of time to explain why I was undertaking the trip, and for the embassies to understand and issue visas accordingly. Apart from this, obtaining the Carnet, a travel document used to identify vehicles travelling to foreign countries, was another big task,” says Suresh, who is passing through Chennai, the last stop before getting back home in Kochi.

Having driven around the country before on five separate solo expeditions, he has also undertaken a one-way journey to London with director Lal Jose. But he prefers travelling alone. “I get quality time for myself and it helps me work out the kinks in my armour,” he says.

With a rigorous schedule that most often starts at 3 a.m., and little to no nightlife, Suresh’s road trips don’t sound easy. He plans his driving route so that he reaches the day’s destination by 2 p.m. ; this gives him enough time to do some sightseeing, fill out the log book, update his blog, catalogue photos and videos and upload them on social media (Record Drive on Facebook), write his expense accounts, do his laundry and contact people at the next stop.

Simply listing it out could be tiring for us, but it’s all in a day’s work for this former Indian Railways officer, who worked in Chennai till 2005, and is a graduate of Loyola College.

Suresh got behind the wheel at a rather young age. “Mani, the driver on my grandfather’s rubber plantation, taught me to drive a jeep when I was 15. My father was a police officer; so of course, I was not allowed to drive in public till I got my license. I consider Mani my guru and I still speak to him or meet him before I set out on a trip,” he says, reminiscing with a smile.

His road trip tagline being “Goodwill knows no boundaries”, Suresh says that he has experienced several random acts of kindness from the most unexpected people. He recounts how a young Vietnamese immigration officer gave him a safe place to leave his car while he had to travel more than 500 km from the border to Hanoi for some documentation for his car. In Malaysia, a woman official took two hours off to help him get foreign exchange and car insurance. “These interactions are what enrich my trips,” he says.

Apart from driving, he enjoys watching sports and listening to songs of Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Yesudas and Jim Reeves. “The voice quality and lyrics are in a different league. I don’t like today’s singers,” he grimaces.

While trips like the ones he has undertaken are not to be viewed lightly, as they involve a lot of planning and can be expensive, Suresh says that youngsters should travel. “I feel that there’s a lot of intolerance now simply because people don’t really know each other. Travelling broadens horizons and makes one more accepting of other cultures and mindsets.”


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