“In August 2005. Simon Roberts, a freelance Graphic Artist set off…to Kathmandu, Nepal”. Everyone has their own reasons for setting off on a trip like this. The death of my wife Julie from cancer in 2002 certainly played a huge part in why I left that August. We’d traveled far and wide around Europe – our final carefree trip together had been in 2001 to Morocco, “the nearest far-away land”. A wonderful experience. She died twelve months later.
You slowly get used to the idea of traveling alone. At first, the thought of sitting in miserable East European Hotels – alone – after years of traveling together was something I simply could not contemplate. But slowly, you thumb through old guidebooks…peruse old maps …rekindle old ideas…and something bites you. You feel a shiver go through your body and “The Trip” is born.
What follows, dear reader, is what I would call the Illustrated draught of the forthcoming book ‘The Road to Kathmandu’.
As I’ve mentioned already, I soon realised that material was unfolding before my very eyes – incidents…landscapes…characters…and I needed to record it somehow. Photographs were not enough and a scenario had often gone by the time I’d pulled up and got my camera out. Draw it! That was the answer. So, I would often spend evenings in cafes sketching that day’s ‘visuals’ and putting loose cartoon strips together. I’d found the perfect pastime for the lonesome traveler.
Day 1. Bristol to Calais…
The cartoon should tell it all. Every biker knows that smug feeling of superiority that comes over you when you roll off a ferry. You are the free spirited biker. No 4x4 with 2.5 kids for you. No. No saloon car and caravan..just the wind in your hair and the glint of sun on your sunglasses as you ease your way through the backpackers down the ramp…and on to foreign soil. That is – unless your starter motor fails.
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A hotel near the Rhine.
Dull and overcast - as was I. I'd envisaged a picturesque hotel on the banks of the Rhine for my first overnight. Alas, as would so often be the case, this was not to be.
"Hotel? I thought he was roughing it?". I know, I know, but I felt I needed to er, ease myself into life on the Dusty Highway. But, no riverside Biergarten for me. No flirtatious blonde serving wench. No jovial BMW v Triumph banter. Just a 'schnitzel und bier' in a dark and smoky bar.
Colditz. 'Well-known in Britain for its 16th century castle where Allied prisoners were held during WWII and whose daring escapes later became the subject of a TV series' states the Lonely Planet (LP). The boy in me had to go. I'd lived in Germany for seven years and am somewhat embarrassed about the fact that I'd never been to East Germany. The time had come to put things right. And not before time - in the eyes of the 'Hotel zur Post' restaurateur.
Many hours of rain soaked Autobahn riding had me crossing into former East Germany later that afternoon. I'd expected a monotone landscape but found a surprisingly green and colourful scene. It wasn't long, however, before I had my first encounter with a Trabant....
The cartoon below depicts my visit to Colditz. More or less. I am an Artist and, therefore, in possession of an Artistic Licence and I'm not scared to use it....
But, rest assured dear Reader, I will not be illustrating every single day of this journey and promise to be in deepest Transylvania in the cold shadow of Dracula's Castle within two pages.
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For more in depth analysis and 'Question Time', click on MORE (below).
These early days were just that. Early days. The bike felt overloaded. The starter motor had already let me down and I was questioning my choice of bike. Choice? I'd had no choice! This was the bike I'd bought many years before for just this kind of trip. A 1989 BMW R100GS. Winner of Paris Dakar rallies. It was the right choice. A little long in the tooth but a machine that could be repaired by back street mechanics in Lahore,Pakistan....Little did I know.
But, despite these fears, I felt light. Free. It was all so simple compared with the previous six months of preparation... Equipment... Finances... Visas...Inoculations... All I needed to do was to get up, pack the bike, and ride off. Simple. It's a cliche, I know, but I just felt SO alive! The Road to Nirvana? Maybe.
"So, why Kathmandu, Si?"
OK. The Overland Route to India. The Hippie Trail. The Silk Road. Too many Capital Letters? Probably. As a boy, I'd always been fascinated by the illustrated travel journals. The mystical East. Moustachioed men clutching knives under their robes..Seductive women clutching men under theirs... Sun, Heat and Desert. Not much of any of these in Sutton Coldfield in the late 60s. OK. There was the Asian Grill restaurant. But even so. It was the desire to ride from my own front door to the vast spaces of Iran and Pakistan that called me... The Caspian Sea. The Persian Gulf. The Khyber Pass...."Roberts! Are you daydreaming again? See me after the lesson."
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