(April 28, 2022) Age is just a number – the adage perfectly fits this “61-year-young” retired garment exporter Amarjeet Singh Chawla who travelled from Delhi to London by car at an age when most hang up their boots. The passion to travel the world in his gaadi took him on a journey across 33 countries, and earned him the moniker of the Turban Traveller. “It was a life-changing journey. Everyone has dreams, but not many fulfill them as they don’t have the keeda (urge). I knew I had to do it, and it changed my perspective on life. Such journeys change you within, and what is life without growth,” Amarjeet tells Global Indian.
As a youngster, he wanted to go backpacking around the world. Yet the 70s were different. So, he put his dream on the back burner, for when he retired. At 59, he decided to take a journey that not many take – he drove 40,000 km across the world. “I think 45 is an apt age for retirement. You are healthy enough to travel. I retired late at 58. But being on your own, interacting with the locals, and chasing your dreams at that age. It is worth the wait,” adds Amarjeet who has been on several spiritual journeys in the past few years spreading the message of Guru Nanak Dev and Sikhism.
A chance meeting changed it all
Born in 1959 in Kanpur to a businessman father, and homemaker mother, the Delhi-based Amarjeet was raised by his maternal grandfather. Passionate about cars since childhood, he loved bribing his driver with his meagre pocket money to let him drive at just nine. “I had my first accident at 13,” laughs Amarjeet whose love for adventure saw him hop on his Royal Enfield to the mountains. A chance encounter with a couple from Holland changed his perspective. “In 1979, I met a couple who was backpacking across the world and were in Faridabad. Their adventurous journey triggered something. So, with my best friend, I decided to travel the world on a bike. But bauji (grandfather) nipped my dream in the bud saying, “Puri zindagi hai dream pure karne ke liye. Abhi kaam karo (you have your whole life to accomplish your dream, now it’s the time to work),” reminisces Amarjeet who listened yet the dream was alive in his heart.
“Life went on. I got married in 1981 and started a family. I travelled the world, did cross country in rented cars, yet that dream to travel the world kept nagging at me,” says Amarjeet.
Chasing his dream at 59
After retiring from his garment business in 2018, Amarjeet resolved, “I had this paagalpan (madness) to fulfill my dream. I think one should try to do everything they couldn’t, and tick their bucket lists,” adds Amarjeet. Jumping into his Toyota Fortuner, four months of preparation later – visas, permits and permissions, he was ready to rev on a journey of a lifetime. “I make short films, and decided to make a web series, and explore the route from Patiala to Paris. I knew this was the best opportunity to fulfill my dream,” says Amarjeet, who obtained seven visas from India. “It’s better to plan from India as getting permissions and visas is a tedious job,” adds the turban traveller.
In July 2018, he kickstarted his journey from Delhi and moved through Nepal, China, and Uzbekistan to Russia, Poland, Estonia to Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and France to reach London in January 2019 which cost him between ₹35-₹40 lakh. “Those 145 days on the road changed me. Travelling by road throws you out of your comfort zone, and that’s when growth happens,” says Amarjeet who befriended many, stayed with locals, and shared meals.
Yet, the reunion with the couple from Holland tops his memories. He had tried contacting Judia on social media – and found her in the Netherlands, “It was such a surreal experience and so emotional,” says Amarjeet who thrilled to meet his inspiration 40 years later.
His turban and his car with personal messages scribbled all over purred across Europe and Asia. Onlookers were undoubtedly curious. Infact, leaving Delhi, his father scribbled his blessing on the car. Slowly, others scribbled in, and today, it’s an art and blessing cornucopia on wheels. Overwhelmed with the love, he believes he carried those well wishes on the journey as well. “Europeans care about dreams, so they were mesmerised,” adds the Sardar who wryly admits that his turban and car grabbed eyeballs. “My colourful outfit and turban invited many inquisitive souls,” says the turbaned traveller who met Hollywood actor Arnold Schwarzenegger in Budapest.
View this post on Instagram
From adventure to spiritual
His spiritual journey is inspired by Guru Nanak Dev’s four udasis (travels). “Guruji travelled by foot for 28 years, we just did the same journey by car. It coincided with his 550th birth anniversary, and I wanted to pay him a tribute. I travelled 44,000 km across 29 states including six countries – Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in his footsteps,” says Amarjeet who has stacked 245 episodes that were telecast on a Punjabi TV channel, adding, “It was a symbolic journey to spread the message of brotherhood, equality, peace, and love.” On song, he took two more spiritual journeys across India with his wife Sweety. “I realised that jeene ke liye sirf roti and chhat chahiye (to live, one only needs food and shelter). Rest is luxury,” smiles the travelling Sikh. When a German reporter asked, “a world tour? Yet, had I seen India?” So, the turban traveller decided to go desi too. Originated in the 15th century, Sikhism preaches devotion, truthful living and equality of mankind. And Amarjeet is keen to spread this across as much as possible through his journeys.
“Every journey is a life lesson, and learning,” says the turban traveller who is in the US to buy a caravan for his upcoming big trip – Patiala to Paris in 2023.
An inspiration to any dreamer, “Junoon (obsession) is what keeps a dream alive. Nothing is impossible. The water doesn’t boil at 99°C, it needs that 1°C. 99 percent is 100 percent failure. So go for that 1 percent,” advises Amarjeet the travelling Sikh who declares, “go chase your dreams. The world awaits.”
Vroom across the globe:
1. Get visas in advance from India, it saves time and helps at borders.
2. An international driving license is a must. Get it by submitting passport, visa and a form at the Regional Transport Office (valid for a year).
3. Rented or borrowed cars require a letter from the owner.
4. International car insurance is a must. While you cannot apply from India, it can be done at a country’s border.
5. Carry tents to save on lodging.