Life changed as soon as we entered Queensland. The remote, lonely terrains of Northern Territory were replaced by
dairy farms, agricultural fields, hi tech farming equipments, lush green lands and cool breeze. It seemed a different world compared to what we had seen in the last week driving through the remoteness of Northern Territory. It was a welcome change, it was getting back into civilization, but for some strange reason, it felt foreign. It was to some extent a bit suffocating and uncomfortable. Ah, the traffic. We had forgotten that other people are also allowed to use the roads. We had adapted ourselves to driving on empty, lonely roads. Seeing regular, routine traffic on highways was unpleasant. We adapted ourselves swiftly and slowed down our pace on our way to Brisbane.
Brisbane was a destination we were very excited about. Not for the city itself, but for
meeting Sanjiv Sawhney, an Indian doctor and a very generous, selfless, humble and warm human being. He and his wife Ela had taken a road trip to Ladakh with us a couple of years back and on learning about our drive through Australia, he went out of his way to help us plan our journey Down Under. He took over the responsibility of planning the entire route, identifying accommodation in different places, carefully planning the entire journey to ensure we experience all terrains, found out the documentation and permits required etc. We stayed in his palatial house in a posh suburban locality of Brisbane. His family including his wife and daughter welcomed us at their home by putting up banners and posters all over the walls.
After surviving on bread, butter and jam for a week, Ela prepared a feast for us and we ate like we had never eaten before. The entire family just looked at us and smiled as we ate.
In the evening, they had organised a get together at their home where a lot of people were invited to meet us and we happily shared our tales from the road with everyone. Of course, my focus was more on the food than on the people. Next day, we visited Gold Coast, one of the most famous beach resorts of Australia. A bright sunny day, crystal blue waters, holiday makers sunbathing, it was Australia in all its glory. Evening was spent doing the ‘Australian thing’, a bar be que. Esha, their daughter, got down to cooking marinated bar be que chicken for us.
Spending a couple of days with Sanjiv ji and his family had rejuvenated us. It was exactly
what we needed. As we hugged and said goodbyes, our emotions were mixed. We were a bit sad to leave after spending such a lovely time with each member of his family but we were also looking forward to the journey ahead. We were off towards Woolgoolga, a town where the first gurudwara in Australia was built in 1968. On way to Woolgoolga, we first stopped at Byron Bay, the Eastern Most point of Mainland Australia. Shimmering blue ocean, a lighthouse on top of a hill, it was a beautiful sight and a very important landmark in the smallest continent of the world. As we went back to the parking lot from the light house of Byron way, we spotted a group of young Australian girls curiously looking at Forrest. When we reached the car, they all smiled and started firing questions which we were used to by now.
“Are you guys really driving all around the world? Are you enjoying Australia? How long is it going to take? Can you afford it? Are you going to be on TV? Can we come along?” It was fun chatting with them and we got all of them together and asked them to shout “Great Indian World Trip” for the camera. Australia is all about outdoors, people look athletic, they love camping, everyone is involved in some sport, no one has reservations of approaching strangers to have a chat. Every day we find motorists waving at us, curious onlookers approaching us to know about the journey and people smiling at us. It is inspiring, it is encouraging and it makes us feel that people feel happy seeing us doing a journey on this scale.
We carried on towards Woolgoolga and as we approached the town, a massive Gurudwara on the side of the highway was hard to miss. A gym in front of the gurudwara was full of local Sikh community who were preparing for ‘Australian Sikh Games’, a local event where Sikh people from all over Australia gather once a year for various sporting competitions.
“Sikh people started coming to Woolgoolga as early as 1900s to do Banana and Blueberry farming. We are hardworking farmers and we saw the fertile lands in this area and a bright future. Slowly the word spread and more and more Sikh people starting moving here” Zorawar Singh, one of the early Sikh settlers in Woolgoolga told us. We spent a couple of hours visiting the gurudwara, the Punjabi language school and some traditional shops but were not allowed to leave without tasting the delicious ‘langar’ food at the gurudwara.
So far, so good. We left Woolgoolga feeling very happy, proud and stuffed in our stomachs. But what happened in the next few hours was something that threw us out of our comfort zone, well, at least for a few hours. We had to drive to the ‘Blue Mountains’ in New South Wales, a beautiful hilly region a few hundred km away from Woolgoolga. The drive to the mountains was lovely and it was a break from the flat lands on which we had been driving since we started from Darwin. However, we didn’t pay much attention to the time and distance and before we realised it got dark. We broke our rule of not doing night driving in a foreign land. In small towns and villages in Australia, everyone seems to retire for the evening very early. It soon dawned on us that we were all alone driving through thick fog, high mountains, lonely roads and dense forests in the night.
“We have taken a wrong decision today, we had decided to avoid exactly such situations in foreign countries” Sanjay said
“Yup” I nodded
The situation got worse when we almost lost our way. It was midnight already, we had 100 km more to go, and the thick fog was making it very difficult to read the sign boards. We were not using a GPS so the road signs and our map was the only source of finding our destination. Due to the fog, we were reduced to driving at a snails’ pace. We remained calm, focused and our eyes were glued on the road. Slowly but steadily we reached our town and miraculously after driving back and forth on the streets, at 1:30 AM , we finally found the caravan park where we had booked our room. The offices at caravan parks close by 8 PM and there is no one you can call to ask for directions or help. We promised never to take our journey for granted again and crashed in bed.
Our journey over the next few days was completely a food and social affair. We reached Sydney where we stayed for a few days with my childhood buddy Karan. His wife Ishu also got down to feeding us.
“What, do we look malnourished? Wherever we go, people just want to feed us!” I laughed
“We are Indian people, food is the only way by which we can show our love” Ishu replied.
Sydney is known as the Harbour City. It is the largest, oldest and most cosmopolitan city in
Australia with a reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful and liveable cities. We donned our tourist hats, took the local train and visited Harbor Bridge and Sydney Opera House, two of the most iconic structures in the world. It was very relaxing to sit in a coffee shop at Darling Harbor and just watch people walk by after work. Karan joined us and told us about an incident he had at work that evening
“One of my collegues is very stressed. His postman walks over his garden on a bicycle every morning and that is giving him sleepless nights. He is planning to move the post box somewhere else.” he told us while shaking his head in disbelief
“Umm, Im sorry? What’s there to stress about in it? Not such a big deal, isnt it? And if he has such a problem, why cant he simply tell the guy to not go over his lawn” I asked
“Haha, mate, these are first world problems, I don’t get it myself, so don’t bother. ” he laughed
We all shared a lot of laughs with Karan and Ishu in Sydney. It was also the first time on the journey when we actually did some sightseeing. But as travelers, we cannot drop our anchor and get comfortable in any one place. As much as all of us enjoyed spending time with Karan and his family, at the back of our mind, we were always looking at the journey ahead. We left Sydney with hoards of memories. It was a bit heart breaking saying bye to one of my best friends and I promised Karan and Ishu to come after the world trip and spend a week in Sydney with them doing nothing.
Our journey to Melbourne took us through the ‘Snowy Mountains’. An incredibly beautiful
region, green mountains, absolutely crystal blue shimmering lakes, cool breeze, small towns and villages, Snowy Mountains seems to be set back in time. If there is one place where I would definitely want to spend a few days in Australia, it will definitely be the Snowy Mountains. We drove through the mountains, hit plains once again and reached Melbourne later in the evening. Melbourne was no different where we stayed with one of my cousins, Akriti and also got a chance to catch up with lots of old friends who had settled here. She too had prepared a feast for us as we arrived.
“What would you like for breakfast tomorrow morning and what about dinner for tomorrow?” she asked
“Umm, Akriti, can we focus on today? I know we look hungry and starved, but believe me, we have eaten a lot of food in the last 1 week.” I laughed
Melbourne has been rated as the world’s most livable city so there is no surprise that a lot of Indian people amongst other nationalities choose Melbourne as their home. A vibrant, bustling city, known for performing arts, music, culture, walking on the streets itself will give you a good idea about the buzz that is always echoing everywhere. Melbourne is also known as the Street Art and Graffiti capital of Australia and just by luck, we spotted a few guys spraying paint on the walls of a small alley in the city centre.
“Hey guys, what are you painting?” I approached and asked one of 2 guys who were busy working on their art.
“I am painting a devil today” he replied
“Just curious, how did you get into doing Graffiti?” I asked
“Umm, actually this is not Graffiti, this is street art. Graffiti has a bit of a negative connotation so we prefer to be known as street artists. I like painting my emotions on the walls, that’s why I became a street artist” he replied
“Umm, can I try my hand at it and do a bit of street art?” I asked hesitatingly
“Sure, go ahead” he smiled and handed over a can of spray to me
I painted ‘GIWT’, initials of the Great Indian World Trip on the walls of Melbourne. It was very exciting, and maybe the beginning of a new career for me! If you happen to visit Melbourne, go to Bourke Street and look for a tiny alley on the left and search for my ‘artwork’.
We also squeezed in a couple of hours to visit the Indian High Commission where we met Shri Surinder Dutta, the Acting Indian High Commissioner to Australia. The look in his eyes on seeing a Delhi registered vehicle parked in Australia was priceless.
“So proud, I am so proud, call me anytime for anything we can do for you in Australia” he said as he beamed with pride
The last of the cities on our Great Social World Trip was Adelaide. A couple of weeks before reaching Adelaide I got a call from an Indian Senior Citizen living in Adelaide called Avi. He wanted to write a story on our journey in his newspaper column. But he didn’t stop at that. Avi, a complete stranger, took care of our hotel bookings, somehow managed to get a meeting with the Lord Mayor of Adelaide and also arranged a dinner with member of the Senior Citizens of Indian Community. In addition, we were also invited for lunch with the members of Indian Taxi Drivers in Adelaide.
Stephen Yarwood, The Lord Mayor of Adelaide met us in the historic Town Hall of Adelaide. We were expecting to meet an uptight politician but the Lord Mayor was a very humble, down to earth man who drove a regular electric vehicle to work.
“I am probably the only Lord Mayor in Australia who drives a little electric car to work.” he
smiled and said. He also arranged for a tour of the Town Hall which is a historic 200 year old building. A historic study, banquet rooms, meeting rooms, pictures of all previous Lord Mayors, a signed portrait of Queen Elizabeth II were just some of the special things about the Town Hall. Lord Mayor also introduced us to Natasha, his counsellor, also an elected member who was the only elected Indian in the Adelaide City Council. After our meeting with the Lord Mayor, we met with members of the Indian Taxi Union who had invited us for lunch to an Indian Restaurant. 80% of taxi drivers in Adelaide are Indian people.
“Indians are hard working people and we don’t mind working long hours during the night also because we can make good money” said Deepak Bhardwaj, President of Indian Taxi Drivers Union in Adelaide. Almost all the guys were from Punjab and they got very excited on seeing Forrest.
“Since we can get private number plates in Australia, some of us have got our Punjab vehicle numbers on our Australian cars” they said proudly. It was a great feeling to meet young hard working Indian people who were making an honest living and were very proud of embracing Australian life and culture too.
Later in the evening Avi took us for dinner to another Indian restaurant where senior citizens of Indian community were waiting to have dinner with us. After a half an hour photo session, we finally sat at the long table amongst 20 other people. The usual conversation at the table was about the world trip. It was a mixed group of Indians, some who had emigrated from India, some were from Fiji, others were born and brought up in Australia.
In one day, we had met so many people from different walks of life and eaten so much food, it was all getting a bit too much to absorb. The day started and ended very quickly but it took a while for me to digest everything that I had experienced in Adelaide…both people wise and food wise. Our journey from Brisbane to Adelaide was all about meeting wonderful people. Every single person we met went out of their way to make sure we were taken care of.
“We are living our dreams through your journey” is what Sanjiv ji said to us in Brisbane. Others had similar encouraging words for us and it only strengthened our belief and once again brought home the fact that no matter how tough this journey is, no matter we are struggling with money and resources, but the moments, the conversations, the experiences, the highs, the feeling of satisfaction, the smiling and proud faces that greet us, the Australians waving at us on the streets and walking to us to know about our journey, people showing thumbs up signs from their cars, all this was enough for us, these are the moments that we will remember, these are the moments that money can’t buy, so thank you, to each and everyone who fed us, gave us a roof, patted on our backs and simply wished us well for the journey ahead.