I once heard someone saying that the world is like a book. And if you haven't traveled, then you've read, but only one page. We are fortunate that photography has allowed us to read quite a few pages of the book of the world in our own living rooms, through the eyes of others. Most of us however, will certainly want to go out there and see it with our own eyes. And I started doing that in the early nineties, initially by bike, and later in a 4x4 that can drive through or over almost anything. I opted to bail out of the rat race in 1999, and that allowed me to seriously travel and shoot pictures purely for pleasure.
I first rode my bike to China from Malaysia in the mid nineties. I was then among a few avid bikers who set up the Superbikers Club of Malaysia. Our aim was to ride our bikes beyond the boundaries of Malaysia. And we did. In 1995 we were the first bikers ever allowed to use the new Friendship Bridge over the Mekong between Thailand and Laos on our way to Kunming in China. A bike is quicker, and can go through many tracks that a car couldn't, so it was my preferred mode for exploring almost all of Sumatra, Java, Sulawesi, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Southern China in the nineties, until that time in 2001, when I was invited to be a co-driver in the Petronas Adventure Team, to drive a 4x4 from Istanbul to Malaysia along the Old Silk Road. Losing 4 biking buddies in 4 separate accidents, and seeing a few badly injured, and the discovery of how comfortable air-conditioned 4x4 can be, compared to a bike, gradually made me prefer a 4x4 for inter-continental exploration over a bike, even though nothing could beat the sick satisfaction, nay, the stupidity of getting a speeding ticket for 253 kph on two wheels along the N-S Highway. My Kawasaki ZZR 1100 at that time was the world's fastest production motorbike. And I've always had this sick secret wish to strap a video camera to my chest, to record my speedometer dial as it climbs from zero to 300 kph in less than two minutes. But I guess that part of my bucket list will have to be put on the back burner for a while, although I think I should try that now, because I've just acquired a tiny extreme sports HD Go-Pro Video Camera, and on the box it says, HD Go Pro Video...Be a Hero. It might be stupid, but boy, that would be a spectecular way to go.
Since that Old Silk Road adventure, I've garaged the bike in favour of a 4x4, and I've done the Old Silk Road several times now, driven twice from London to Malaysia, and driven over the Himalayas several times too, to Tibet, Nepal and India from Malaysia, and the other way round as well. I've hiked the Annapurna Trek, and I celebrated my 65th birthday by jumping the bungee into the gorge of Victoria Falls. I've camped in minus 5 degrees Celsius in the shadow of the North Face of Mt Everest, and the Torres del Paine in Chile. It wasn't that cold on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro of Africa, or Aconcagua of Argentina, and Nanga Parbat and Rakaposhi in the North West Frontier of Pakistan. I've slept in hotels of a thousand stars while driving through the Sahara Deserts of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria, to Spain and Morocco, from Khartoum in Sudan. And I've also driven from Cape Town to Cairo a couple of times, and presently I'm finishing a coffee table book about that last drive for my sponsor. Here's a picture of the ancient Pyramids of Mero in Sudan, which are not as well known, and not as much visited as the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, although they are older.
I've also driven across most of the major deserts of the world - the Salar de Uyuni,the largest salt flats in the world, in the altiplano of Bolivia, and the African version, the Makgadikgadi Salt Pan in the middle of the dry savanna of north eastern Botswana, the Atacama in South America, the Taklamakan in Xinjiang Uyghur, the Gobi in China, the Namib and Kalahari in Namibia, the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, and also the Dasht-e-Kavir and Kavir-e-Lut of Iran. I tell you, the 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser is one of the most amazing, go-anywhere vehicle, in the world. It will still work in -5°C or +55°C, in waist deep water or soft mud and sand, at -200 meters below sea level in the Turfan Basin, or +5500 meters at the Lalung La Pass in the Himalayas.
And this is the Flaming mountains, one of the hottest places on earth, at the northern edge of the Turfan Basin in Xinjiang Uyghur. Surface Temperatures of the rocks and sand can go over 70° Celsius. You can actually hard boil an egg by burying it in the sand for about 5 minutes. There is not a single blade of grass, or any traces of any animals or birds here. From a distance, the red rocks look like they are flaming fireballs, hence their name, the Flaming Mountains.
In 2006 I needed nearly a hundred days to drive from Buenos Aires in Argentina, to Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Patagonia, Ushuaia to Punta Valdez and back to Buenos Aires, also in a 4x4. In Chile, a highlight of my life was to para-sail in tandem down the Andes in freezing temperatures, sharing the same updraft with an Andean Condor beneath my feet. The adrenalin rush was exquisite, much better than I got from piloting a two seater Cessna 150 from Kuantan to Hua Hin in Thailand, for an Air Rally there in the seventies. Here's a view of the face of the Perito Moreno Glacier in the Patagonia ice fields, something that will warm the heart in spite of the cold.
When we were living in the UK in the eighties, I made it a point to imbibe the joys of travelling to my wife and kids by regularly exploring nearly the whole of Europe with them, in a motor-home. We couldn't go to Eastern Europe at that time because of the Cold War, and it was a highlight of our time in the UK, to be witness to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. And on a more sinister note, the tragedy of Chernobyl. I was then working in London for a multinational Oil and Chemicals company, and commuting regularly between London, Rotterdam, Breda and Marseilles, so Europe was like my back garden. Of course a motorhome is more leisurely and comfortable compared to traversing the Indonesian archipelago on a bike. I'm fortunate to have been able to see Egypt from the deck of a luxurious cruise ship on the Nile, and another time by driving from the Pyramids of Meroe in Sudan, along the Red Sea coast & deserts, to the Pyramids of Giza in Cairo. I've also backpacked in Bangladesh, and did Sri Lanka in a dilapidated van, in between picnic drives through New Zealand and parts of Australia, but probably my most audacious test of endurance was driving from London to Malaysia, not once, but twice. Each adventure took more than 90 days, with the first trip going in a northerly route through Europe, Poland, Belarus Russia, Kazakhstan, and China to Malaysia, and the second time through a more southerly route passing Europe, Switzerland, Italy, the Adriatic Sea, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan to India, and crossing the Himalayas again through Nepal and Tibet, to China, Laos, Thailand, and back to Malaysia.
Here's a typical view of the northern Himalayas as we begin the ascent to the Kardung La Pass, the highest motorable pass in the world at more than 5000 meters.
I've also had the privilege of driving through nearly all the great game parks of Africa, starting in Johannesburg, and driving through Lesotho, Swaziland, South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania, visiting old Zanzibar, and then to the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater and the Masai Mara, and Kenya, where we shipped our vehicles back to Malaysia from Mombasa. Apart from the Serengeti, the Ngorongoro Crater and Arusha National Parks of Tanzania, and the Amboseli and the Great Masai Mara National Reserve of Kenya, the other African Game Reserves and Wildlife regions that we drove through, included the Kruger National Park, the Hluhluwe, Umfolozi and Mkuze Game Reserves, and St Lucia Wetlands Park of South Africa, the Okavango Delta, the Chobe, the Moremi and the Savuti of Botswana, the Fish River Canyon, the Skeleton Coast, the Etosha National Park and and the Namib Desert of Namibia, and also the North and South Luangwa National Park and the Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park of Zambia. It was like driving through a National Geographic Documentary of Wild Africa, truly an awesome experience of a lifetime. When I was young and collecting stamps, the names of these these mysterious countries in Africa which I knew about only from their postage stamps, were simply that....a total mystery that was simply beyond comprehension. And to be able to drive through this region and see and photograph at close range, the amazing and varied creations of God, is to realize how critical it is for us to try and conserve this bio-diversity for our children and their children's children, to behold and to enjoy during their lifetimes in the future. And the spectacle below of Lake Magadi or Makat to the Masai,is an example of what I mean. This Lake and the marshy depressions around it, are the main source of water for the 50,000 animals, who call the Ngorongoro Crater their home. The lake is extraordinary, being the gathering point of tens of thousands of pink flamingos. It is a spectacular sight indeed when they darken the sky as they take to the air in their thousands when they are spooked.
The Ngorongoro Crater is the eighth wonder of the world, a fascinating international Biosphere Reserve where the Masai, their cattle, and the Big Five (Lion, Hippo, Elephant, Buffalo, Rhino) co-exist amicably together. Unlike the Serengeti and the Masai Mara, which sees the seasonal migration of millions of animals in search of water and grass, the animals in the Ngorongoro Caldera rarely move out of the area because there is water in Lake Makat throughout the wet and dry seasons.
Here is a picture of my encounter with a Bull Elephant in the Serengeti. This giant sauntered close to our camping area, and it will always be a dream for all red blooded photographers to one day get a full frontal shot of a Bull Elephant, and I was determined not to let this opportunity go by unexploited. So I asked our guide how I could safely shoot this elephant. He said that if I were to creep into a convenient thicket nearby, and position myself at all times downwind from the big animal, and not make any sudden moves, or noise, it would be quite safe to make a few shots. Thankfully our guide came with me into the thicket to ensure that I didn't get killed, and the picture below is one of several dozens I have of this big animal. This picture was shot from less than 20 meters when the big fellow walked towards us before nonchalantly turning away;to continue feeding. And I swear to you, the wet patch in my crotch was not my involuntary pee, but the ground on which I sat was actually wet. Incidentally, its quite safe to camp in the open in most parts of Africa. They say, and and you should believe them because I'm still alive, that when you are camping in the wild, and if you stay inside your tents at night, the animals usually will not bother you as they perceive your tent as only a solid mass without anything edible inside....which is why you normally go on safari in Africa in open top vehicles.
And below are two huge White Rhinos that nonchalantly crossed our track as we drove through the Umfolozi and Hluhluwe Game Reserves of KwaZulu Natal. They are not actually white, but they are grey. White is a transformation of the word wide, which describes the mouth of this rhino species. The other type of rhino has a more pointed snout, and they are known as Black Rhinos. Rhinos eat only grass.
The maps below trace the routes I drove through in Africa in 2004 and 2008, and South America, in 2006
Below, and on the left, is the route I took in 2001 when driving from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, to Chennai in India. It was the first time I crossed the Himalayas and saw the North Face of Everest in real time. And on the right, is the Old Silk Road route that I drove through in 2002 from Istanbul to Kuala Lumpur. I took 80 days and we drove through Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan, and did a detour to the Khyber Pass in Afghanistan, then back again to the North West Frontier of Pakistan, along the inappropriately named Karakoram Highway.
In many places, the Karakoram Highway is nothing more than a single lane track dynamited along the sheer cliff faces of mountains which are cousins of Everest. 1200 people died building this 300 km link between Pakistan and China, or an average of 4 people for every kilometer. Today, it is still one of the most dangerous roads in the world, killing at least 1 person every 10 kilometers, every year. The picture below is typical of the Karakoram Highway. There was a rockfall, and bulldozers had only just cleared the rubble from the "road".
The track snakes across the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush, the Pamirs and the Western edge of the Himalayas, rising to 4200 meters at the Khunjerab Pass, one of the highest motorable tracks in the world. Being in the crush zone between the tectonic plate of the Indian sub continent, and the unyielding Asian tectonic landmass, there are frequent landslides and rockfalls here, and the track is often closed for several days when clearing work is carried out. The Karakoram Highway is also closed in winter when the area is completely snowbound, and when some of the longest glaciers outside the Polar Regions creep right up to the sides of the road. And when there are rock falls, you can pick pieces of rocks from the ground, literally studded with raw rubies. The Karakoram Highway is awesome and should be in the bucket list of all red blooded adventurers. When we passed through the Khyber pass and the Karakoram on the way to China in 2001, we didn't know that Nine Eleven was going to happen just two weeks after we left the Khyber Pass, and we were shocked when we saw that tragic event on TV at a hotel in Kashgar in Xinjiang Uyghur. If you try to go through the Karakoram highway today, add bombs to rock falls, accidents, and AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness) to the list of life threatening but adrenalin inducing events that you can find aplenty here.
And below are the two routes I drove through during my two drives from London to Malaysia in 2005 and in 2007 respectively. The first one needing around 70 days was through France, Germany, Poland, Belarus and Kazakhstan, crossing into China at Almaty & Urumqi, and then south easterly to Kunming, Laos and Bangkok to Malaysia. On this trip we also had 6 masochistic bikers following us. You can see one of the bikes, ridden by my good friend Jimmy Tee, permanently and proudly displayed at his hotel resort, the Eagle Ranch Resort, in Port Dickson, Malaysia.
And on the right side also below, is the route I took when we did a second drive from London to Kuala Lumpur, on a more Southerly route starting in London, and going through Paris, Switzerland, Rome, across the Adriatic Sea to Greece, and Turkey, Iran and Pakistan again, but this time entering India at Amritsar, the site of Sikhdom's holiest shrine, the Golden Temple, westerly to New Delhi before going north to enter Nepal and to cross the Himalayas again towards Tibet and China and swinging south again towards Laos, Thailand and home to Malaysia.
In March of 2011, I did the Annapurna Trek in the Himalayas, in Nepal. And in April to June of 2011, I completed another drive through Africa which took nearly 90 days. That journey, my fourth through Africa, covered 14,000 km, starting at Cape Town on 24 April 2011, and finished in Cairo on 24th June 2011. I drove through South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, the Kruger Nation Park, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt. I have driven through almost all of Africa's National Game Parks including the Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti, the Savuti, Moremi, Chobe, the Masai Mara, Falls, etc. etc. The map below, which I constructed for my latest coffee table book, Yusuf Hashim-African Journey illustrate the routes I have driven through Africa over the last 10 years:
And below is the cover of my latest 260 pages Coffee Table Book, Yusuf Hashim-African Journey, which contains my impressions and pictures shot in Africa on my journeys through that continent during the last 10 years. The book is available for purchase online on a print on demand basis, as well as an eBook on the Apple iTunes Store. I am now working on another coffee table book based on several journeys through the Old Silk Road. And after that, it will be yet another book, Yusuf Hashim- South American Journey, to showcase picture I shot while driving around South America, from Buenos Aires through Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Patagonia, Terra del Fuego and back again to Buenos Aires:
I now have a collection of some 500,000 images in 16 TB of Hard Disks which I plan to sort and compile some into coffee table books, when I no longer have the physical capacity to travel. I've done four books of pictures shot by participants of the Learning-Photography Photosafaris I now conduct regularly for people wanting to learn photography from me, and have a taste of what its like to travel and shoot pictures for fun. You can join my photo safaris by clicking at my Photo Safari Website for details. You can preview, (and buy my modest coffee table books online if the spirit should move you), by clicking on the bookcovers below. If you have an iPad, you can also buy and download an eBook copy of my books below by clicking on the bookcovers::r you can click on the book covers below for a and free full screen on line review of those books. I have also just finished another book containing selected pictures and rants from my travels titled, Sa copy.
The pictures here are only a tiny bit of what I have. They are my digitized memories of places I’ve been. Frozen moments of stuff I've seen. They are placed here as a teaser and simply for your viewing pleasure. To show you what a fascinating place our little blue planet is. Hopefully you'll be moved enough, to quit working and making so much money, and instead, be like me, spend our children's inheritance (they are going to spend it anyway) and go see, smell, taste, hear and feel our little Blue Planet in person, before the march of modernization will make every place sterile and uninteresting, just like our own cities at home.
I leave you with a thought to think about. At my age, several of my friends have passed away, from heart attacks, strokes and cancer, and Denggie. That certainly drives home the point that time may be running out for us in the same age bracket. One good friend died in bed in Genting after an all night session at the Casino. Most were professionals - doctors, lawyers, accountants . And you know what? The day before the day they died, all of them were still busy in the office, making more money for who knows what. I say to you, the man with lots of money but has no time to spend it, is exactly like the man with lots of time but no money to spend. Both of them will never go anywhere. And do remember, your money is not your money until you spend it. If you dont spend it, your children will......when you finally go to that one place everyone will get to go to....one fine day.....
Oh, by the way, I've also lost a few friends in tragic circumstances in motorcycle accidents. Eddy died in Thailand while riding home to Kuala Lumpur from Bangkok. We've done that stretch many times before without serious problems, so I suppose it was just his luck that his time was up. Kassim had a nasty accident on the same route and is slightly crippled and still enjoying life although he cannot ride any more. Another friend died near Taiping while riding from Kuala Lumpur to Penang for lunch, and yet another, died in an accident on a Sunday evening ride to Kuala Selangor. I remember well, and fondly, Sharman, a good friend who had a heart condition, but insisted on joining us in a two weeks ride from Jakarta to Bali. His dear wife followed us in a support vehicle, and dispensed all sorts of pills for his heart condition each time we stopped. Now that is a man with spunk, and we dont have too many men like him any more, including his Model T wife, which are also no longer in production. Fortunately I also have a wonderfully understanding wife who doesnt seriously stop me from doing these things that I have to do. She just prays I'll be OK each time I head out for these little excursions. So far her prayers have been good...
I do hope that puke bucket wasn't necessary after all. But now that you have it out anyway, why don't you start filling it with your own bucket list instead.........