In 2011, Moin Khan, a recent graduate of San Francisco State University, challenged himself to do something different to promote a positive image of his native Pakistan. After seeing only negative media coverage of his country, Khan decided to ride his motorcycle from San Francisco all the way to Lahore, making sure to tell all the people he met along the way that there's much more to Pakistan than terrorism and oppression.
The 25,000-mile journey took him through various parts of the United States, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and Iran. Khan documented his travels on his website, A Different Agenda, and his Facebook page of the same name, which has over 10,000 fans.
The gallery above showcases some of the photos Khan took on his six-month-long journey across three continents. Via email, Asia Blog interviewed him about his epic undertaking:
What motivated you to make this trip around the world on your motorcycle? And what makes your journey different from other people who undertake similar adventures?
I moved to the United States in 2006 and finished my education from San Francisco State University in 2010. During those four years I hadn't heard a single good positive thing coming out of Pakistan. It was just Lal Masjid, Musharraf, Bugti and then the drone attacks. It just kept getting [more] negative, and when I discussed this with a group of my Pakistani friends in California we all felt helpless.
That's when I decided to take my passion — motorcycles, of course — to the next level. I decided then that I would ride across the world to show that Pakistanis are regular peace-loving people and the extremists are a very small minority.
The journey tested my will power and determination to the maximum. It's special to me because I gave everything for the sport I love and for the country I adore. The journey has made me stronger and I truly hope that it has inspired at least one more person to get out of their 9-to-5 life and do something crazy, do something amazing that they have always been thinking about.
How long did it take you to complete your journey, and what kind of challenges did you face as you rode through different countries?
The initial plan was to be on the road for three to four months at the most. It took me six months, as I met with a few accidents. I broke a few ribs, my left shoulder, my right thumb and also damaged my wrists.
However, that wasn't really so challenging, the hardest part was leaving the house and committing to what I had in mind — from it being on paper to actually getting out, selling everything thing I own — EVERYTHING, including the TV, furniture, Playstation, my car, my other motorcycles and even my old clothes. Everything I owned had to go to raise funds, I worked for 18 months without a single day off and ate boiled rice and ketchup for 18 months to save up. Two months before the departure date I had anxiety attacks from the fear of the unknown. There was too much to worry about, but I discovered that the best thing to do is to not worry about anything.
What did you do on this journey to help present a different image of Pakistan, and how successful do you think you have been?
I carried a Pakistan flag with me, actually three of them, two on my bike and one on my jacket. People randomly asked where I was from and I made it a point to tell anyone that I talked to that I'm from Pakistan, and a Muslim, so that they would know that Pakistani Muslims aren't just yelling and killing each other, we ride motorcycles too.
I think I've been successful because I received help from all over the world. The accident in Romania [slides #3 and #4, above] had left my bike totally useless, that's when people sent me motorcycle parts from Poland, Bulgaria, the United States, Romania, basically from all over the world. They helped a Pakistani and that was amazing. The whole world was following me on my trip, it was amazing. A bunch of people even emailed me saying they would love to visit Pakistan soon.
What kind of a reception did you get from the people you met on the road?
I can't even describe [it] in words. People I didn't even know took me home. Once I was in Switzerland and the hotels were $200 a night, it was around -2 degrees Celsius outside and very windy. I didn't have any money to get a room so I decided to spend the night on the bike. I put my helmet on and a guy walked by and said something in French. I asked him if he spoke any English and he did. We talked for five minutes and I told him that I'm from Pakistan and I'm going around the world. A while later he called someone, spoke in French and after hanging up he said that his wife had given the permission to bring me home. I went to his house, had dinner and slept in a warm bed rather than my tent after a long time. The following morning I was out on the road again, but this happened a few times throughout the journey. People around the world are AWESOME!!!
Do you have any plans for applying your experiences from this journey to creating positive changes within Pakistan?
I have big plans for 2012 and I already have two projects planned. The first project is for women's empowerment. I'm going to give motorcycle riding lessons to girls, women, aunties and dadi ammas (grandmothers). The first few will be free, and I'll teach them on my bikes, and I'll provide the protective gear as well. I want to see Pakistani women be as free as men. They should also use the best, fastest and most efficient transport available.
My second plan is to ride across Pakistan and document it so that people around the world would can see what Pakistan has to offer. I want to invite the world to come ride the Karakoram Highway, to visit the Hunza Valley, and gorgeous Baltistan. We are in heaven and the rest of the world needs to know about Pakistan.