PREPARED TO GET LOST
Born in Abu Dhabi, Zubin Jaafar moved to the UK when he was 13. He spent 7 years of academia in Oxford and 12 years professionally in London. In 2018 he decided to call it quits with the 9-5 corporate life and engineered his redundancy before leaving the UK to commence near four years of un-scripted skate, surf, driving and motorcycle adventures. Interview below.
Trip Route: Kathmandu, Pokhara, Khalopani, Ghami via Kangbeni, Lo Manthang, Samar, Thatopani, Pokhara and ending up back at Kathmandu.
Favourite road: The stretch between Khalopani and Jomsom.
Favourite Place: Hands down Lo Manthang. The objective of this expedition was to reach Lo Manthang despite the harsh terrain leading up to this once autonomous region of the Himalayas.
Located within the intimidating but beautiful landscape of the Upper Mustang, this area was a restricted demilitarised area until 1992, which makes it one of the most preserved regions in the world due to its relative isolation from the outside world, with majority of the population still speaking traditional Tibetan languages.
A mystical, forbidden kingdom which for centuries lay hidden in an otherworldly mountainous valley in the northern Himalayas. You can only understand why it’s worth it once you have journeyed through the arid, colourful and harsh landscapes which are unlike anywhere else I have experienced.
When you have stripped away the beauty and mysticism of this town, the harsh reality of it all is quite sobering as sadly the landlocked kingdom of Lo is on track to vanish into folklore due to a geo-political/economic sword that would cut the heart out of this Forbidden kingdom Forever.
Whatever my views are of the current political climate in the region, I cannot stress enough how breathtaking the visuals were making the journey a physically and emotionally charged experience. I wish the district of Mustang and its amazing people all the best.
“We humans tend to put all our lives into boxes, the older we get, the more boxes we have..
and these boxes tend to get smaller. I strive to get out of this box,
because then I’m exposed and have no choice but to confront what is out there.”
Malle founder Jonny Cazzola interviews Zubin Jaafar on the return of his Nepalese adventure.
How do you physically prepare for a long adventure?
Physically I’m quite disciplined with my exercise routines, purely because I am not disciplined with my diet! My weaknesses are my lower back and knees, so I spend most of my time planking to strengthen my core, and focus on stretching, strengthening my quads/hamstrings so that I won’t be uncomfortable on long journeys. My average daily distance for the Lo Manthang expedition was averaging 140km per day and the off-beat tracks required a lot of strength and a decent heart.
When travelling I do my best to do 15min on the Jump ropes and aim for 100 reps of squats, sit ups and push ups each day. This is not always possible as whilst travelling you are physically knackered as well as at times mentally fatigued, but you do your best!
How do you prepare Mentally?
I tend not to think about it, I start tackling it once I board the flight and when I have my leg over the tank. You prepare yourself for the logistics of it all but I don’t set out expectations as such. It’s best when you don’t let expectations determine your sense of happiness. Before getting out of bed every morning, I attempt to meditate between 5-10 minutes, I’m still relatively weak at this but my days tend to be better when ever I do follow this routine. I try to do the same during my travels.
What is it you look to get from your adventures?
Whatever comes! I don’t have an agenda. Whatever happens, happens. This may not be applicable to everyone, but I’m quite easily pleased. Give me an empty matchbox – I’ll find something awesome about it. I don’t know if it’s a survival mechanism of sorts, but to me the smallest and most mundane things can be exciting and new – I try to see things that way because that outlook makes me feel I’m truly living, and that’s when I look forward to everyday.
How do you meet people in your motorcycle community?
I’m just genuinely curious about people and interested with what they get up to – I find socialising with random folks and forming a connection easy, so I get them talking and find out more about them and their community(ies). I guess this particular attribute of mine is a testament to my love for riding and travelling. I find everyone interesting and pick out the best in the folks I bump into, it’s a huge part of the drive to do what I do – travel on two wheels.
What kit do you carry? How do you divide up your kit?
My permanent vices during my travels would be the Edward Backpack, Moto Hybrid Pannier, Expedition trousers and the Ltd Edition Racer Jacket. I find myself ‘comfortably cool’ with being branded with Malle apparel. I’ve had my Revit Ankle boots (steel toe and ankle protectors) since ’16 so I guess it’s time I swapped them for something that looks (and smells) fresh.
Head Gear : I used to sport the Hedonist & Heroine from Hedon, these days however I prefer the Biltwell Gringos & DMD’s for longer journeys, easier on the neck & shoulders. I prefer Goggles over visors , The Fuel Motorcycle Coyote & Rally Raid Goggles are my favourites, and have been using their Rodeo gloves for a couple of years now.
How do you fund your adventures?
Let’s just say the Universe and I have an understanding and have come to an agreement of sorts 😉
What is it about travelling by motorcycle that you feel is unique to any other form of travel?
Travelling in all forms are great, some safer than others, I would not judge any folk who choose comfort over it’s antonym, but to me, Motorcycling and Long-boarding are the two best ways of exploring something and somewhere new. The latter does have its restrictions and sorting out a torn lateral meniscus is not as straight forward as changing brake pads – But we are exposed out in the open when riding or skating.
We humans tend to put all our lives into boxes, the older we get, the more boxes we have.. and these boxes tend to get smaller. I strive to get out of this box, because then I’m exposed and have no choice but to confront what is out there.
What is it about the natural world that inspires you?
I was born in a beach town, but I feel at home surrounded by the mountains.
Do you prefer Camping or Hotels? And Why?
It depends if I am travelling solo or with a group of close friends. On my own what I tend to do is bomb it down the A roads everyday to reach Point B. I get tired, worn out and perhaps a cozy lodge and being looked after is great. It’s good to have company after a long stretch on your own.
I’d rather camp if we’re in a group. Coming from a culture where we have a tight social network of relatives, neighbours, and friends, I would feel less isolated putting up a tent and making dinner as a group. A joint effort with my besties would put a smile on my face.
Any advice would give to new riders embarking on long motorcycle trips?
The two things: respect your machine and respect nature. Basically, make sure your bike is in good nick since the general health of the engine between your legs determines whether you die or not, and be equipped for whatever weather conditions that you come across. Be well informed about the local forecast since not all countries are equipped with roads that deal well with adverse weather conditions. Be safe and don’t mess with mother nature!
Once you feel that you’re not in control it’s hard to get your confidence back. Solving problems while travelling on my own have given me the confidence to get on the road without much fear & anxiety – its all part of the adventure
Advise to New Riders in general:
It’s not about fitting into a scene, its about your love for riding – focus on your experience rather than following a trodden path – do it the way you do it and whatever tickles your fancy.
What has been your biggest mental challenge while on an adventure?
I was Riding from Barcelona to the Basque region On a Triumph Street Twin with Paneers, and had my Hedon Heroine with tinted visor. I was basically cutting across from South east to North west Spain. During September, you’d think this would be straight forward..
It was a 7 hour ride from Barcelona to my point B Madrid. I left a bit later than expected, 2:30, but was confident I could reach the city not too long after sunset. After being on the N22, and passing through the beautiful desert of Zaragoza – I came cross the hilly/mountainous town of Medinacelli, where the temperature dropped a bit. Gradients on these windy roads were 8% descent and 11% ascent. The tarmac on these roads are not equipped for wet weather – just my luck, In the distance I noticed apocalyptic looking clouds lurking behind the hills, and the closer I got to the top the more I could hear the brontide. Within a matter of seconds, the clear blue skies at 8.30pm turned to complete darkness. A bolt of lightning struck right next to me, so you can imagine how loud the thunder was.. As if that wasn’t enough, I had MAC trucks on the side zooming down the road while I was doing my best not to aquaplane constantly over the stupidly wet/flooded roads.
I guess what got my anxiety to crazy levels is that this was all happening in the middle of nowhere – A-Roads without street lamps – and the visor was useless in the wet as I couldn’t see F-all. I love thunderstorms, but its scary when you’re actually in one and not watching it from the comfort of your own balcony. For the first time in my life, I thought nature had my number. I wasn’t in control and I didn’t think I was going to be. Wet, cold, helpless – I finally saw a bridge, carefully parked on the shoulder, got off.
It wasn’t the best place for respite as still had thunder booming overhead, MAC trucks and other vehicles zooming past me. Somehow I managed to call my girlfriend in London, played it cool and kinda joked about the scenario but she knew I was stuck. My heart wanted to complete the remaining 150km to Madrid but my head was like ‘Shut up, we’re calling it a day.’ So the other half found a homestay not too far away from where I was (Whatsapped her my location) and waited till the rain subsided a bit. By that time it was dark, and I still wasn’t in the best state of mind to get back on the road, but I powered through as I was done being out in the cold. The 7 minutes to the homestay felt like an eternity. I was so cold and wet, I rode hugging the tank with my legs and gripping the handlebar for dear life.
Eventually I made it, checked in, got to my room – boots all soaked, water resistant trousers drenched, and my confidence shattered. I ran a bath, got into it and didn’t get out for another 2 hours. I felt defeated as I’d never before not made it to a particular destination that I’d set out to.
A thought that would haunt me for a while. Lo and behold, I woke up the next day feeling great and carried on with my life. I guess one thing I took from that episode, is just be cautious, respect mother nature, keep your ego in check and follow your gut feeling with pragmatism.
Is there a time that stands out as your biggest physical challenge?
SO.. on the 4th day of my trek with Motorcycle Expeditions (Manali/ Leh/ Ladakh/ Srinagar) I had a 90kmh crash – summersaulted for the first time in my life, landed on Tarmac, my fingers got run over and the side of my head got bumped by an oncoming Bike. Fortunately my Helmet saved my cranium. Even after all that, I came out of this ok.. Swollen fingers and bruised shoulders/elbows/knees. Nothing was broken. For once I’d listened to sound advice and worn proper bike gear for the trip and I guess Someone is deffo watching over me.
The next day, it was fancy pants Friday and I decided to hitch a ride on the back up van towards our next destination as needed a break from all the riding, and I wasn’t in the mood to ride in psychedelic pants along the Himalayas. The driver; Feroz is a nice chap but doesn’t say much, more of a listener. I had no wi-fi connection for about 6 days and wasn’t able to update anyone -I told him that I hadn’t told my mum (who was living in India) that I was riding around the Himalayas and wondered if she’d be worried, or just busy watching her favourite TV shows.
20min in – driving along the empty roads towards Sarchu (Ladakh), with nothing around us but the Himalayan beauty, Feroz shouts out ‘Sir! STD!’ – I’m like: ‘Dude.. I know it’s just you and I here.. but I don’t want any..thanks.’
Feroz ; ‘STD Sir!’ He points out to a sign which shows STD – Subscriber Toll Dialing (A type of telephonic system which allows users to make trunk calls independently without the assistance of an operator.) Sounds archaic but this is how it is in this part of the world. Feroz was basically saying that I ought to call my parents from this supposed phone booth.
At closer inspection – this phone booth was a half built tent, guarded by a mountain goat. I had to double take and asked Feroz ‘You want me to go inside here.. past this beast.. to make a call?
Feroz ; Hanji . (Yes sir in Hindi)
Inside I go, and I see this nicely decorated interior with patterned Rugs and a picture of the Dalai Lama in the background, along with two Ladakhi woman manning a telephone made in the early 90’s… They dialled the number for me, I got trough to Dad – and despite the shoddy line, I was able to speak to him for 5 min and tell him about the trip and that I was safe.. Made me realise how much I missed my folks. The trip was emotionally draining in many ways.. But rewarding nonetheless.
What got me was that the charge for the call came to ’15 Rupees’ (1.5 Sterling Pence). A penny was how much it cost me to have my day brightened up by these two Ladakhi ladies.. And Feroz.. and that beastly mountain goat.
Godspeed to the people (and Animals) of the Himalayas.
Follow Zubin’s adventures here: @zubin_Jaafar
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PREPARED TO GET LOST?
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