A journey of 13,560 kilometres, all the way from Kerala to Holland in a Mahindra van. A road trip that lasted four months.
Meet Joerik and Pauline, the couple from Netherlands who came to India last year on a backpacking trip, and embarked on an adventure that few would even dream of.
Joerik and Pauline had been together for four years, before wanderlust struck them. In July 2015, they quit their jobs and backpacked to India, Nepal, and Indonesia.
Before the trip, Joerik and Pauline had no plans of getting married, especially because Joerik believed marriage was an old-fashioned institution.
But somewhere along the journey together, he changed his mind and proposed to Pauline...on the banks of the Ganges, no less. A simple wedding followed at Bali in Indonesia.
At the end of the backpacking trip which lasted six months, they came back to India to spend time in an ashram in Kerala. It was then that they decided to drive all the way back to Holland. They even started a Facebook page to document and crowd-fund their travel.
In an email interview with The News Minute, Joerik and Pauline share their passion for travel, their views on marriage and life, and the great drive across countries and continents that brought them home.
You both quit your jobs for a backpacking trip. What inspired you?
In Western Europe, it's very popular for young people to travel for long periods like three to six months, or even a year. Because Asian countries, and especially India, are cheaper than Europe, we are able to travel longer with the same budget. We think it's very beneficial for our personal development to explore countries with different cultures. Pauline and I had to save for two years and then quit our jobs. I was working as a PE teacher in high school, while Pauline had several small jobs.
The thought of seeing new countries, the adventure of not knowing where we would be next week was just very appealing. Like the opposite of knowing every week would be the same.
Eating "salad" (chaat) on the beach in Kovalam.
Why India, specifically?
Both Pauline and I have always been interested in India. The photosâ€¦.the rich historyâ€¦.. maybe the contrast with the place where we live. This and the idea of finding spiritual answers in life made India a logical choice. We'd both visited India earlier separately, as volunteers to work with street children. Our experience was great, but we had seen only a small part of India. That's why we chose to return together for a longer time.
Why did you decide to get married on your trip?
Marriage in a country like Holland is a different tradition, unlike that in India. These days, most couples even decide not to get married, but just live together as long as the relationship benefits both. We were sure about our relationship, and wanted to have a wedding with our own conditions. Because we believe wedding is a celebration of something special between two lovers, we planned our very own ceremony.
We got married during our trip to Bali. On that day, there was only Pauline and me. We prepared beautiful words for each other that we exchanged during a simple ceremony. Three days after the wedding, six of our best friends stayed with us to celebrate. Our parents and family will be honoured with a small party, now that we are home.
The wedding in Bali.
Why did you decide to drive all the way back to Holland?
We spent two months traveling in the Himalayan parts of India. We hitchhiked, took local buses and rented Royal Enfields. I wanted to buy a Royal Enfield and ride home, but Pauline didn't want to be on a motorbike for four months. That's when we decided to drive back in a car or mini-van.
Our motto was that we have nothing to lose...it would be amazing if we reached Holland. But if the car broke down half-way, that would be fine too. Because it's better and more fun to try and see how far you get, than just dream and not do anything.
How was the response to your appeal for crowd-funding?
The crowd-funding had a good start. We had full support of friends and family. We didn't want to beg for money, so we always tried to offer something in return. It's very hard to explain to Indians on the street how it works, and that made it more difficult on the way.
Why did you begin your journey from Kerala and what preparations did you make for it?
After six months of backpacking, we wanted to go back to India and spend some time in an ashram. We heard good stories about the Amma ashram in Kerala. When we reached there, we participated in the daily life, which we enjoyed a lot.
In between meditation, seva and other activities, we started planning our trip. We expected to be in Kerala for around six weeks, but it took three months to arrange all the paperwork and modifications to the vehicle. We had to find the right vehicle, buy it, register it in my name, change it to private vehicle, arrange paperwork to take it out of India, arrange visas, and gather all information about the route we were taking. We were not in a hurry, because Amma's ashram is a wonderful place.
The Kerala registration van in Turkey.
What was it like to be on the road for four months?
We fell in love with this Mahindra van when we first saw it in Madurai. It seemed a good size. And we loved the â€˜frontâ€™ look. We found that it was just within our budget. The fact that old cars still ply on the streets proves they are reliable. It has a simple diesel engine with just basic options, and lesser parts that can break down.
We easily covered 10,000 kilometres without major problems. The funny fact is that only in our last 2000 kilometre-stretch did real engine problems start. I'm a â€˜hobbyâ€™-mechanic, and one time when the V-belt broke, I had to improvise by making a new one out of Pauline's nylon stockings. This was sufficient to reach a mechanic 30 kilometres away.
We were very lucky not to be involved in any car accident, robbery or other dangers. We would like to state clearly that our experience of traveling independently in India, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey was safe. We people are more alike than you might think.
Now that you're back home, what happens next?
Now we are back. I will start working next week. I found a job in the five months that I was traveling. Pauline is five months pregnant now, and will focus on being a mother.