This is the tale of a small, blue elephant, his companions, and their epic journey to India
Ferdinand is a small elephant. About a metre tall and distinctly blue. His companions are Claudia Supper, Christian Rapf, and Wolfgang Pröhl. This small team was on a mission. They had to take Ferdinand from the marvellous city of Berlin and introduce him to the sandy beaches and palm trees of Goa. A combination of expensive flight tickets and something about Ferdinand having to travel in the luggage compartment made them dismiss aeroplanes as an option. It was settled then: 20,000-plus kilometres would be covered by road using a couple of bright red Vespa GTS Super 300s. It looks similar to the Vespas available in India and that is about all. The GTS Super 300 is powered by a 278-cc engine that produces 21 PS. We need one of those in India, don’t we?
That is not all. Each scooter was fitted with a unicycle trailer that housed spare parts, luggage, and liquid courage. Nearly four months after embarking on their mammoth trip, the trio made a pit-stop in Pune for a day and we happened to be in the vicinity. We met and got talking. Here is what they had to say.
First of all, the name “Elephant to India” is intriguing. Why did you choose it?
Elephant to India (EI): We have an elephant with us. His name is Ferdinand and he wants to take part in the next full moon festival in Goa. Now it is winter in Europe and Ferdinand said, ‘It is too cold, take me to India.’ We agreed and decided to accompany him. That is why we are called Elephant to India. Besides, Ferdinand has a purpose; to make the people curious. I can see it works because your first question was about the elephant (laughs).
With so many options available in the market, what made you choose a Vespa?
(EI): Well, Vespa is a brand-name and it has a cult following. Furthermore, Vespas have style and history and we felt it would be special to do this trip with them. Besides, we don’t think anyone else has travelled from Europe to India on Vespa scooters.
We notice you have modified your scooters a bit and fitted them with customized trailers as well. Very nicely done. Did you do that yourself?
(EI): That’s right, we have a couple of trailers and they are connected with a coupling that allows torsional play as well. We designed it but a company built them for us. We did the wiring by ourselves. To be specific, Christian did it. He is the most technically sound member in the group.
How did you plan your route?
(EI): There were two possibilities. Through Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan or through Central Asia, China, Tibet, and Nepal. We chose the latter because we wanted to ride through Tibet on our Vespas. China and Kazakhstan also seemed quite interesting, so we decided to include these places in our route. At the end of the day, we think it was a very good decision, although our route was about 5,000 km longer. One of the highlights of our trip was riding through the desert of Gobi (part of it) and the Taklamakan desert.
When did you embark on this trip?
(EI): We started on 14 July 2018 from Berlin. To be precise, from a curry sausage stall. So we told ourselves, ‘We start at the curry sausage stall and then go to the land of curry.’ Four months later, here we are.
If you had to sum up this once-in-a-lifetime experience in a few words, how would you do it?
(Wolfgang) It was hot and cold. It was low and high. It was desert and rainforest. It was everything you can imagine and we had it on this trip. From places without any villages to one of the most sophisticated places in the world like Istanbul, Vienna, and Varanasi. It will take a long time to let it all sink in. (Claudia) For me, it was an adventure of a lifetime. I would have regretted it for the rest of my life if I had not taken part in the trip. (Christian) It was interesting to see new and wonderful things and it was an unforgettable experience.
Can you each tell us about your most prominent memories of the trip?
(Claudia) It is difficult to compare the places because every place in itself was a special one. While we crossed the Caspian Sea, I was the only woman on board the ferry among nearly 70 truck drivers. Of course, it was not a highlight (laughs).
(Wolfgang) I had two. One was crossing the border from Nepal to India. It was our last international border on the trip. When we crossed the border and saw the board that said, “Welcome to India”, we knew that there were no more borders to cross; just 4,000 km left. The second was when we crossed the Torugart Pass from Kyrgyzstan into China. Once that was done, we knew that we were ready to face the rest of the trip.
Did you have any difficulties with your machines and if so, how did you solve them?
(EI): We picked up a few punctures and some damage to the water hoses. About five kilometres into the trip, the clutch had to be replaced. Fortunately, Christian was able to sort it out. Both scooters also lost the trailers on a Chinese highway and, funnily enough, one of them rolled by us (laughs). Our only night ride during this whole trip was in China and on that night, Christian’s trailer broke. The next day, he welded it back into place and we were on the road again.