Riders for a cause: Taking the high road

Two motorcyclists manoeuvre Pakistan’s image in the right direction

Kifah Qasim/Fazal Gilani September 07, 2014

How do you get people to sit up and take notice of basic issues, such as health, education or human rights, when even the most devastating of conflicts have a shelf life of a few hours? You take your car or bike, whatever is within your means, and set off on a journey to spread the message on your own. If you are lucky and do the job right, you may even raise money for the cause you are championing. A few adventure-loving Pakistanis have done something similar recently and proven that sometimes the only solution to a big problem is a creative one. 

Riders for a cause

Thirty-year-old Khitab Khan has spent a good part of his life ensuring that the adage of “the spirit for adventure is dead!” never applies to him. Building on his childhood appetite for adventure, he embarked on a motorbike journey across the globe along with his father, Burhan M Khan, this year. And if the duo successfully completes this voyage, they will be the first Pakistanis to have gone round the world on motorbikes.

Khitab Khan embarks on a motorbike journey across the globe to raise awareness for the LUMS National Outreach Programme which provides financial assistance to talented students. PHOTO COURTESY: KHITAB AND NATASHA KHAN

A mechanical engineer by profession, Khitab, from Lahore, lived for nine years in USA studying engineering at Penn State University and then went on to work for Harley-Davidson. After working for a few years, however, he realised that the monotony of corporate life was not something he wished to settle into. He, therefore, left engineering and pursued his first love — adventure.

With his father having worked in the air force, the spirit to explore was not alien to the Khan household. In 2012, Khitab travelled from Lahore to London on a motorbike with his father. “I’ve been riding on motorcycles since I was very young; I prefer them over other modes of transportation,” he says, adding that aeroplanes are boring and trains are a passive mode of travel while cars are just pointless. “Motorcycles provide the freedom to truly feel the place one is passing through [and] to engage with the environment.”

The goodluck charm presented to Khitab by a boy while passing through Russia. PHOTOS COURTESY: KHITAB AND NATASHA KHAN 

The duo is looking for tough routes and remote roads, such as the Road of Bones in Russia where slaves perished, to make their self-funded expedition as unusual and unique as possible. Khitab, who prefers to spend money on moments and experiences that will last a lifetime, says, “Death is inevitable. It is not how many seconds I live that counts, but how fully I live the seconds I have.” Their mission this time, however, is not just limited to experiencing new things but also to promote education — a cause close to their hearts. They aim to raise awareness for the Lahore University of Management Sciences’ (LUMS) National Outreach Programme (NOP) which provides scholarships to talented students in need of financial assistance. Their jackets and bikes proudly bear the NOP logo.

Khitab Khan proudly poses next to a signboard after crossing the dreaded Road of Bones in Russia. PHOTOS COURTESY: KHITAB AND NATASHA KHAN 

On June 20, they took their first steps towards completing their 104-day world tour, and after crossing the China border and travelling through Mongolia and Russia, they are now in Seattle, USA, to deliver their bikes, lovingly named Bassanto and BG, to their dealership for repair and service. From here they will go on to ride across Canada, England, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran and then back to Pakistan. “It’s been a revelation of how beautiful the world can be,” Khitab says about his journey thus far. From Pakistan’s snow-capped mountains to the breathtaking night skies in Mongolia, he claims to have experienced some of the best moments of his life surrounded by nature.

Khitab Khan with his father Burhan M Khan, who shares his passion for adventure.  PHOTOS COURTESY: KHITAB AND NATASHA KHAN 

Acts of kindness from complete strangers have been equally encouraging for Khitab and his father. While riding through a remote area in Mongolia, they saw a group of wild horses and stopped to admire the beautiful spectacle. There was nothing in the vicinity but a small tent, from which a girl emerged carrying two cups of tea which she offered to them silently. Her parents then gave them food, again silently. No one spoke the other’s language and yet they enjoyed a comfortable moment together. Similarly, at a rest stop in Russia, a boy handed Khitab their patron saint of luck as a thank-you gift for allowing him to sit on his bike and pretend to ride it. “They (the boy and his mother) knew we had an arduous journey ahead. And while they were in the middle of nowhere, it was not their own safety that the boy thought of,” he says, touched by the boy’s gesture. “There existed no inhibitions, no racial or class differences, or any language barrier in that moment. It was only the purity of his soul that made him do something so kind for two complete strangers.”

Such stories of kindness and adventure are replete on Khitab’s Facebook page where he keeps his followers updated. “The drive for humanity to push limits has simmered down compared to the past,” Khitab insists, adding that the blame mainly lies on the emphasis on security by our education system. “We have killed the spirit that took us to the moon. We went there in the 1960s and we haven’t gone any further.” Having grown up in an environment that encouraged independence, Khitab was fortunate enough to pursue his dreams without being judged. And the bond with his father has only strengthened after this shared experience.

But this is just the beginning of one of Khitab’s many adventures. He fears turning 70 and not having done enough in his lifetime, such as trekking to the North and South Pole, sailing across the world, climbing the highest peak in every continent, driving from Cairo to Cape Town, going to space, scuba diving with the great white sharks, riding a 12-feet high wave and then writing a book. He wants to experience the thrills of life without having to regret later, and he’s only getting started.

Kifah Qasim Memon is a freelance writer based in Karachi. She is majoring in Sociology.

A man in the right direction

The small-but-visible Pakistani flag stitched onto Muhammad Iqbal Ghangla’s prominently red-and-black riding gear tells a mostly positive story. Just as his uniform suggests, the man literally wears his heart on his sleeve when talking about his country and riding bikes.

Ghangla, who originally belongs to Multan, recently completed a successful 60-day tour of Pakistan, called ‘Peaceful Pakistan’, on the back of his motorbike. The journey was funded mainly by himself along with some support by the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation to promote a resilient image of the country worldwide. And by completing the 20,000km journey in just 55 days, from April 20 to June 14, he now holds a national record for the feat.

Ghangla parks his motorbike at the side of the road to rest before resuming his journey. PHOTO COURTESY: MUHAMMAD IQBAL GHANGLA 

“I made my first 12-feet long bicycle and toured from Multan to Islamabad on it,” says Ghangla, who was 18 years of age at the time. After reaching his destination within just four days, on February 24, 1992, he received a warm welcome from the sports minister who also awarded him Rs2,000. “I realised that this is exactly [the method] I can [use to] promote my country’s beauty,” he adds. And by the late 1990s, he was ready to take his passion to the next level and pursue long and short bicycle tours across Pakistan.

Just when Ghangla seemed to be heading in the right direction, his bicycle was burnt to the ground in Multan during the unrest that followed Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in 2007. “This was the time when I forgot about my dream of a bicycle tour of the world,” he says. Although disheartened by the incident at first, it didn’t take long for Ghangla to get back on track and pursue his dreams — this time on the back of a motorbike. He saved money over the next couple of years and bought a Sukuki 150cc motorbike on a six-month installment and from 2006 to 2012 covered a total of 60,000km doing several tours of Pakistan.

Ghangla poses with the poster he carried throughout the journey to prove to the world that Pakistan is a peace-loving nation that is safe for tourists. PHOTO COURTESY: MUHAMMAD IQBAL GHANGLA 

“I have done plenty of awareness tours, including care for the blind, relief funds for earthquake and flood victims, disease control and educational awareness,” says Ghangla. Having set his mind on promoting his country next, he bought a Yamaha Tenere 660cc motorbike along with a camera and a travelling kit for Rs1,700,000 in 2012, after selling a piece of land and set about on the 2014 ‘Peaceful Pakistan’ tour.

Muhammad Iqbal Ghangla embarks on a 60-day tour of Pakistan titled ‘Peaceful Pakistan’.  PHOTO COURTESY: MUHAMMAD IQBAL GHANGLA 

Before embarking on the long journey, Ghangla did a warm-up 12,000km tour called ‘Welcome to Pakistan’. He left Multan on November 5, 2012, and reached his final destination, in Islamabad, after 30 days. Fully prepared, he set out for his big mission from Karachi, travelling through numerous cities in Sindh and Punjab, and then from Azad Jammu and Kashmir to Naran, and concluding in Multan. Throughout the tour, he kept his followers updated by posting pictures and statuses on his Facebook page. He held his ‘Peaceful Pakistan’ poster high wherever he went, asking others to do the same, and managed to depict an unfiltered picture of Pakistan. His invaluable experiences, shared with people from diverse cultural backgrounds and ethnicities, have been documented along with Pakistan’s impeccable landscape.

Ghangla crosses a stream to successfully complete his peaceful tour.  PHOTO COURTESY: MUHAMMAD IQBAL GHANGLA 

Although Ghangla’s journey was mostly peaceful, there were a few bumps along the way. Several tyre punctures, mugging and an accident on the way to Kashmir didn’t deter him as much as the demise of his father during the last leg of his journey. Recalling that day he says, “I tried a lot to get a flight from Gilgit and even from Islamabad, but when all my efforts went in vain, I kickstarted my motorbike and reached home riding all the way from Gilgit to Multan.” This was the toughest 25-hour journey of Ghangla’s life, but despite the impact on his health, he managed to accomplish what he had set out to do. 

Fazal Gilani is a freelance journalist and former news reporter. He tweets @Gilaniism 

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, September 7th, 2014.


Parvez | 7 years ago | Reply

Gosh!......how I envy people like this. They are the ones who make this world a better place.

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