On the profile page of his blog The Railwayman who sold his Maruti, Suresh Joseph has listed his favourite movies; one of those is The Man Who Would be King, a 1975 adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s eponymous novella. In the film, two ex-soldiers set off on an adventure trip from 19th century British India to the remote Kafiristan, where one of them is made their king and worshipped as god. Penchant for adventure is what Suresh has in common with the lead duo of the movie. The former Indian Railways officer, during his decade-old adventurous journeys, has so far completed 12 car expeditions, half of them national and the rest, international. He also holds 15 national and an international record recognised by the Limca Book of Records and the India Book of Records.
Currently on the mission to cover the Trans-Canada Highway (TCH), the third longest highway in the world, at over 8000 km from Victoria Zero Mile in British Colombia, the western most province of Canada, to St. John’s Mile One in Newfoundland and Labrador, the eastern most province, the sexagenarian is excited about the journey. “The TCH seeks to fill a gap in the expeditions I have done so far,” says the adventurer, who holds the international record for the solo drive on the Trans-Siberian Highway, the second longest highway in the world, being the first person to have ever driven from India to Russia via the highway connecting Vladivostok and St. Petersburg. Last year, he had covered the Australia Highway, the longest highway in the world, at 16,500 km and six years ago, the fourth longest one – the Golden Quadrilateral. Naturally, the latest journey, as he says, fills the gap in the list.
The wanderlust fire was ignited in young Suresh by his paternal grandfather. “In his spotlessly maintained Ambassador car, during summer vacations, we used to travel from school to our hometown and nearby towns, which laid the early foundations of wanderlust in me. I used to admire the driver’s skills and the trouble he took to keep the car shipshape in appearance and performance. Later, the Christmas vacation car trips from Thiruvananthapuram to Chennai with my parents kept the travel embers glowing. Staying in college hostels in Chennai and Delhi during formative years and having friends who liked to travel furthered my interest in travel. I even took part in a cycle rally from Chennai to Bengaluru to visit the Garden City! My job with the Railways kept me on the wheels. I made it a point to avail annual leave to backpack and explore places.”
It was in 2005 that he ended his 24-year stint in the Indian Railways after which he joined Dubai Ports World in Kochi as the general manager. When he left that job in 2010, he joined an infrastructure firm as its director, a post which earned him the luxury of ample time to pursue ‘serious car trips’. “In 2010, in a borrowed Maruti Swift, I went on a 124-day all-India journey. Since then, there have been 11 more expeditions. In 2014, I travelled from Kochi to London, covering 27 countries and 25,000 km in 27 days. In 2015, I travelled from Kochi to Singapore and back, followed by a Trans-Himalayan expedition. The next year, I undertook the Trans-Siberian trip from Chennai to St. Petersburg in Russia. In 2017, I covered the four corners of India – Tezu, Leh, Koteswar and Kanyakumari – and the next year, travelled north to south of New Zealand. Most of the trips were solo, only the Kochi-London and New Zealand expeditions were done in a group.”
Five of the expeditions were undertaken in a Maruti Swift, three on a Ford Endeavor, two on a XUV500, one each in Mitsubishi Outlander and Toyota RAV4 hired in Australia and New Zealand, respectively. For the TCH, Suresh has hired a Toyota Corolla in Vancouver. “After Asia, Europe and Australia, North America will become the fourth continent I have driven in. Hopefully, South America and Africa will follow suit in the next couple of years,” says Suresh, who has documented it all in the Railwayman’s journals book series Ek Swift Bharat Yatra, Record Drives and then Some!, An Unforgettable Endeavour and A Unique Odyssey.
Experiences have been both good and bad. Hundreds of kind souls have helped him with hospitality and guidance. He recalls, “On a wintry night in a border village of Mizoram in 2010, a pastor offered me room in his home without even wanting to know who I was or where I came from or what my religion was. A similar sentiment made Muan, an amputee Manipuri, to throw open his modest wooden house in North East Khawdungsai for my rest while he repaired my car. An immigrant from Kyrgyzstan, operating a food kiosk on a sidewalk in Khabarovsk, Siberia, upon hearing that I am from India broke out into Mera Jootha Hai Japani… and said, ‘Who can forget Raj Kapoor?’ As I was taking leave of him he handed over a freshly minted coin of the region and said, ‘This is to remind you of our friendship, my friend’.”
It wasn’t always the best of people that he got to experience. During the Trans-Himalayan expedition, his car met with an accident near Srinagar, but by the time he returned with a tow truck, the car was vandalised and all his electronic devices were stolen. But wherever he goes, Suresh has found human beings the same. “Man laughs and cries the same way and has similar emotions of love and fear — it is just clothing, culture, tradition, cuisine, climes, religions and languages that differ.”
Having globetrotted a lot, Suresh’s expeditions are based on ‘plans for success’. He says, “For me, the alternative to Plan A is Plan A itself. Once you make alternative plans, you get into an unending cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies. Research, research and do more research. But even the best plans can go awry. That is when you have to think on your feet and find a solution to it. The situations I have faced during my travels have helped me conquer the fear of the unknown and enjoy the unexpected. We do not attempt most things we wish to do due to unnecessary fear of the unknown. The more you let the unknown guide you, the less you will achieve. The unexpected has to be welcomed. That makes every journey, including that of life, most enjoyable. Travels have conditioned me to forget the past by learning from it and enjoy the present by living in it.”...