‘India The Shimmering Dream’ by Max Reisch

India The Shimmering DreamThis is the story of Max Reisch and his passenger, fellow student-adventurer Herbert Tichy and the first motorised journey overland from Europe (Austria) to India in 1933/34.

First published in 1949 and having been through several editions in the original German, Alison Falls’ first English translation is published in the UK by Panther Publishing – specialists in “interestingly different books on classic and vintage motorcycles”.

The tale told is rich in texture and detail, the voice and phrasing translated in a way that is convincing despite the passage of decades. Not unusually for a story of this vintage, there is more talk of consular receptions and letters of introduction, fine dining and hospitality than today’s overlander might find familiar. It was an era when ‘expedition’ meant more than a trip to the outdoors hyper-market, before notions of personal mobility and deferred gap-years – you needed serious backing and preparation.

Reisch wasn’t in a position to browse Google Earth and Horizons Unlimited, so spent about a tenth of the total budget on a trip to London so he could consult the Royal Geographical Society and Automobile Association.

Reisch had already ridden through North Africa and was simply following in his father’s overlanding tyre-tracks: in 1905 Reisch senior rode a 0.5bhp Puch on a then-epic 2,000 kilometre journey through Italy (claimed to be the oldest preserved overland bike, this and Max’s later ‘India Puch’ are both preserved in the family museum at Bozen/Bolzano in the South Tyrol).

Guided by railways, telegraph-lines and dead-reckoning rather than GPS, this may have been Max and Herbert’s big adventure, but their Puch 250cc two-stroke split-single is just as much a hero of the piece. Though barely powerful enough to move the combined weight of itself, rider, passenger and their contemporary high-tech equipment (including several cameras, a portable type-writer and camping gear such as airbeds and a 2kg tent) it carried them all across deserts and mountain ranges.

‘India The Shimmering Dream’ is presented in 6×9 inch soft-back format, the type is easy to read over 216 pages interspersed with fascinating highlights; maps describing both an overview and detail of the route, facsimiles of unique items such as the motorcycle riders licence Reisch claims to be the first issued in Persia, an itemised budget (total £80,000 at current prices), lists and illustrations of how Reisch had the bike modified to stowed their equipment.

Around ninety black and white photos add another set of perspectives to the story. Modern notions of ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ seem alien when viewing the world Reisch and Tichy captured on film. Among the posed portraits and action-scenes, faded architectural and social photo-studies, it is possible to feel a vivid sense of the sights and encounters that lay along the dirt roads and no roads, a mere seventy years ago.

If you’ve enjoyed other historic motorcycle travel tales, such as ‘The Rugged Road’ (also published by Panther) or Robert Fulton’s ‘One Man Caravan’ then you won’t be disappointed. If this is your first foray into vintage-era travelogue you’re in for a treat.

ISBN 978-0-9556595-9-1 Panther Publishing