Our route…
Journey to Dakar

Trip statistics

in Journey to Dakar by on September 20th, 2010

Distance: 12,269km

Time: 1 month 22 days (including 10 days waiting for our bike’s custom clearance in Delhi)

Countries: 13 (India, Pakistan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Germany!)

Potholes: countless!

Mountain passes: 9 (highest was Khardungla Pass 5,604m)

Flat tires: Front tire – 3 (60km before Khiva, leaving Budapest and entering Vienna); Back tire – 1 (Gulmet along the KKH); Enfield – 1 (in Bilaspur)

Broken bike cables: Enfield throttle cable – 2 (near Bilaspur and near Pang)

Bike rack welding: 3 times (near Pang in India, Islamabad and Besham in Pakistan)

Incidents of crime: Major – thankfully none!; Minor – theft of MJo’s riding gloves by workshop assistant in Samarkhand, Uzbekistan

Injuries: Major – thankfully none!; Minor: Sabby’s sprained ankle in Khiva, Uzbekistan

Photos: over 3,000 (and that’s not counting the roughly 5,000 we deleted!)

Most distance covered in a day: 860km (Kungrad => Beynau => Atyrau)

Longest day on the road: 15 hours (from Khorog to Dushanbe in Tajikistan)

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Willkommen Daheim – Welcome Home!

in Austria, Border crossings, Germany by on August 27th, 2010

WE DID IT … 12,269KM AND 13 COUNTRIES LATER, WE ARE IN BALINGEN, GERMANY!!

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Our day started early at 7:30am.  We decided to take the route via Tirol home because it was more scenic, and probably also because we were not quite ready to end this wonderful trip and wanted to prolong it for just a little bit more.  We drove through beautiful Alpine landscapes of mountains, pine trees and lush green grass with cows.  One could almost imagine the Von Trapp family singing “the hills are alive…with the sound of music…”

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We took our final stop in the town of St Johann in Tirol.  One last knödel desert for us, one last magnet for Sabby and one pair of lederhosen for MJo later, we left and drove almost non-stop the last 400km towards home.

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4 hours later, the one moment we sometimes thought was almost unimaginably far away, was here, when a very welcome sight greeted our eyes. Home at last, where we were greeted very warmly by our welcome party!

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The reality that this trip has come to an end has not yet quite sunk in for us yet. It will take months to digest everything we were fortunate enough to have experienced. In the meantime, we will drink a toast to having made it through, despite the many challenges along the way. We thank our Lord and guarding angels for having brought us back in one piece, as we for sure know it wasn’t always us getting us safely to the end of the day. We also drink a toast to you, dear readers, for having joined us on our journey by following this blog. Until next time, when we set out for new horizons once more…

Yours truly,

MJo + Sabby

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Second last day on the road…

in Austria by on August 26th, 2010

Leaving the bright lights of the city, we headed for Bad Mitterndorf, a ski resort town in the Austrian Alps also famous for its thermal waters.  More importantly, this is the town where MJo spent many a happy winter skiing when he was growing up.  30 years on, this would be a trip down memory lane for him.

We went up to the “Tauplitz Alm” where all the skiing takes place in the winter, followed by a short ride to the Kochalm which had some of the greenest looking meadows we had ever seen.

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A short 15km away is the famous Grundlsee, where we took a boat ride followed by Sabby’s favourite pastime, trying Austrian desserts.

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Oh and no trip to the Austrian Alps would be complete without a visit to an original Austrian “Heurigen”. We went to the Eselsalm for dinner and were treated to a live performance by a traditional Styrisch duo. They really liked Sabby as she was the only Asian in the house.  There was much boisterous singing and clapping over the course of the evening.

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We are writing this now from a small wine bar reminiscing about our long ride as this is after all our last night on the road. Tomorrow we will arrive at our final destination. Many thoughts crossed our minds as our trip that seemed like such a big and long undertaking just a short while ago, will actually be coming to an end very soon.

But for now it is still 600km to go across beautiful Alpine countryside tomorrow.

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Spotted!!

in Austria by on August 26th, 2010

Spotted:  MJo in Austria with his latest obsession, cows!!

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What a difference a month makes

in Journey to Dakar by on August 25th, 2010

25 Jul 2010 in Besham, Pakistan


25 Aug 2010 in Bad Mitterndorf, Austria

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Vienna: cake and culture

in Austria, Slovakia by on August 22nd, 2010

As we were leaving Budapest, we discovered that our front tire was losing air very quickly.  The repair job we did in Khiva ten days ago had finally given way, quite remarkably it held for some 3,800km!  Luckily our tire repair foam spray worked its magic and we were soon on our way to Vienna.

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Tire repair foam to the rescue!

About 80km from Vienna, we spotted a sign for Bratislava and spontaneously decided to change our route to go via Bratislava.  We sped through the border, riding past buildings which once upon a time, housed border officials, but now lie empty thanks to the European Union policy of free borders.  In no time, we were in Bratislava, Slovakia!

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No more need for border control - Hallelujah the European Union!

Driving into Austria was similarly uncomplicated until we entered the city boundaries of Vienna.  The bike started vibrating more than usual and we realized the foam had given way too (after 300km) .  We had no option but to keep going.  Luckily, we made it to our hotel just as the last bit of air came out of the tire.  1 more km and we would have to start pushing the AT!

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That's how flat our front tire was when we rolled in front of our hotel

The next day, we set about being tourists in earnest.  Vienna was one of the two capitals of the Habsburg-ruled Austro-Hungarian Empire and where the Habsburgs made their home. Vienna was also a cultural centre and home to famous composers and artists.  Not to mention that Vienna boasts of a café tradition including some very yummy desserts.  There was much for us to see and do in Vienna and we managed to fit in quite a bit.

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Sacher Torte

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Wiener Schnitzel

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Imperial Palace of the Habsburgs

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Klimt's most famous work, The Kiss

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Schloss Belvedere

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Sabby and MJo at the Staatsoper

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Wiener Mozart Orchestra

But we didn’t forget our AT.  Whilst in Vienna, we got new “shoes” and new “sunglasses” for her.  Check out the new front tire and the new windscreen!

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New "shoes"!!

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New "sunglasses"!

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A beautiful evening in Budapest

in Hungary, Video by on August 21st, 2010

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Blue Danube

in Hungary by on August 21st, 2010

Crossing the border into Hungary was a great welcome to the European Union.  Once we got past this border, no more explaining to customs officials that our bike was from Singapore and that we were only driving it through their country with no intention of importing it.  A process made slightly more complicated by the fact that we did not have the original registration documents for the bike, relying instead on a faxed copy which got more faded each time we had to pull it out at the borders.

Luckily, entering Hungary was a breeze and getting to Budapest from the border was even more straightforward.  The highway brought back memories of the M2 in Pakistan, although Sabby did miss the Ukrainian roadside vendors a little.

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Almost the M2!

In Budapest, we decided to treat ourselves a little and cashed in some frequent traveler points to get us a room with an awesome view across the Danube.

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The amazing view across the Danube from our room at sunset, nightfall and sunrise

In our opinion, Budapest is probably one of the loveliest cities in Europe with beautiful historical architecture which has been very well-preserved and well-integrated with modern buildings.  We took a stroll through Castle Hill in the evening, wandered through the Festival of Folk Arts at the Palace and enjoyed some excellent Hungarian wine at the Fisherman’s Bastion.

In the morning, we had a lazy brunch on the Pest side.  It was a proper brunch with muesli and brie sandwiches, very much unlike the simple breakfast of coarse peasant bread and coffee we had at Karakul Lake (Tajikistan) just weeks ago.  We almost had to pinch ourselves to make sure we were not in a dream.  In retrospect, the decision to travel from East to West was a very wise one, as it has been so much more pleasant rediscovering creature comforts than it would have been losing them.
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What a difference two weeks make!

MJo also went to check out the baths that Budapest is famous for.

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Ukraine – a pleasant welcome to Europe

in Ukraine by on August 20th, 2010

It was in Ukraine that we started feeling as though we were really in Europe. In spite of its history as a former Soviet state, there were not that many grim and drab Communist-style buildings around. Instead, the cities of Kiev and Lviv, where we spent a night each in, turned out to be lovely European cities with beautiful historical architecture. And indeed, Lviv has a UNESCO-listed Old Town.

In Kiev, we hired a cab with a super enthusiastic driver, who once he understood we were on a tight schedule, drove us to see all the top sights in the city, even giving us instructions on where and how to take our photos! In Lviv, we walked around the Old Town and soaked in the atmosphere, especially with many locals out and about as it was Friday night.

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Our super enthusiastic cab driver in Kiev

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The Golden-domed monastery in Kiev

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Intelligentsia at a cafe in Lviv

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Soviet relic Lada cars on the streets of Lviv Old Town

Riding in the Ukraine was also a pleasant experience, particularly considering that only two weeks before this, we were riding dirt/gravel roads in Tajikistan! In the Ukraine, we had highways for almost all the way from the Russian border to the Hungarian border. And probably uniquely to Ukrainian highways, there were fruit and honey sellers on the sides of the road every 20km or so. Even on a rainy day (as was the case when we left Kiev), the fruit sellers retreated but an enterprising vendor set up a stall for hot coffee instead. Furthermore, there were restaurants, cafes and motels which appeared along the road in such numbers that it seemed that Communist-style central planning clearly had not been applied here. There is no way one could stay hungry or tired on the Ukrainian highways.

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One of the numerous motels/cafes along the highway in Ukraine

The Ukrainian highways also seemed to be in the midst of what is the longest stretch of road repair we have experienced so far. All along our way, there were long sections where one side of the road was closed for repairs, leaving vehicles with a one-lane highway instead. Sabby was very excited at seeing all the road construction crews and equipment, though the Chinese road construction crews will always remain her first (construction crew) love. MJo, on the other hand, had a lot of fun overtaking trucks on the one-lane highway sections.

Final point about Ukrainian highways – there seemed to be a super high concentration of police lurking around with radar guns waiting to catch speeding drivers. Indeed, we had heard many reports from other foreign drivers/riders about Ukrainian police and how corrupt they were. But MJo quickly developed a keen eye for them and figured out that they tended to hang out at the entrance/exit to towns, hoping to catch drivers who did not pay attention to the changing speed limits at these points. Whenever we approached a town, MJo would deliberately slow down. We got through the whole of Ukraine without getting pulled over a single time, except one time when MJo simply ignored the policeman swinging his baton and just kept riding ahead. Their Soviet-era Lada cars were no match for our AT so no one came after us.

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A scene we would see many times - cars pulled over by the police for "speeding"

On our way out of the Ukraine, it certainly felt like Europe (Austria to be precise) as we rode through the Carpathian mountains. The landscape of pine trees and mountains, as well as the Alpine-style buildings, could definitely have passed for Tirol. Turns out that this part of the Ukraine used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. We found it fascinating to think that many of the European national boundaries that we take for granted today, did not exist a hundred years ago.

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Guess where? Austrian alps? Nope, it's the Carpathian mountains in Western Ukraine

Being in Europe is an interesting experience for both of us given MJo grew up here but has not lived here for the last 20-plus years whereas Sabby lived here for the past decade. An Asian European and a European Asian in Europe together…hmmm?

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Tajikistan Water Crossing

in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Video by on August 19th, 2010

It took 5 countries to find a fast enough internet connection to upload the video of our experience with the washed away road in no man’s land between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. So here is the raw footage of what happened on that day!

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