a shot of man on his motorbike looking back at the mountains of pakistan

How Many Kilometres Does it Take to Change a Stereotype?

Moin Khan rode from the USA to Pakistan because he wanted to show the world something, but as it turns out the world had something to show him instead.

Along the coast of Northern California, the parks, beaches, and streets of San Francisco call out to thinkers, dreamers, and creators. Among its iconic landmarks is the Golden Gate Bridge, overlooking the blue waters of the bay, and it’s a beautiful place to reflect. It was from here that Moin Khan, the founder of A Different Agenda, set off on a journey around the world to change the way people viewed Pakistan.

In 2011, Khan travelled from the USA to Pakistan on nothing but a superbike, and as he puts it, the kindness of others. He wanted to disprove the stereotypes perpetuated about Pakistan in the media by riding across the length of the world and speaking to everyone he met, but along the way, the script was flipped. He wanted to show the world something, but as it turns out, the world had something to show him.

A man doing a handstand on the rocks with the mountains in the background in the north of Pakistan
Khan wanted to show the world something, but the world flipped the script | © Usman Khan

After riding north from San Francisco along the Pacific Ocean and crossing into Canada, Khan went east, from where he put his bike on a ship to Europe and resumed his ride. He learnt that not everybody perceived him the way he thought they would.

After this and many other lessons on the road, his journey eventually brought him to Pakistan, where he settled and established A Different Agenda. His company takes travellers to Pakistan’s spellbinding north on motorbikes, bicycles and foot. We chatted to Khan about what the world can teach those who take the time out to discover it.

What’s going on in your life at the moment travel-wise?

MK:Winter is just coming to an end in Pakistan, and travel-wise, the winter is my downtime from taking tours up to the north. I usually spend these few months enjoying Lahore with my family and friends, but this past winter, I also decided to establish Pakistan’s first motorcycle race track along with a training facility. The track is ready and every weekend bikers of all ages, from five to 65 come along with their bikes and practice at my track. It’s not a business, I’m building a community where like-minded people can gather and share their love for two wheels. It has grown from just me at the track alone to 40-50 bikers every Sunday. It’s a great atmosphere, we have a BBQ and get to know each other while riding our bikes!

What drove you to venture to Pakistan from the US on the back of a superbike?

MK:While I was studying at San Francisco State University, the constant negative news out of Pakistan started bothering me. I wanted to prove to everyone there that there was more to this country than what they saw in the media, after all, being from there myself, I wasn’t a bad guy. After a few years of feeling this way, I decided to ride around the world on my motorcycle and let the world meet a Pakistani and make up their own mind. I received love and nothing else. It was beautiful.

Thinking back to those early motivations, what kept you going when the journey got tough?

MK: It sounds really cheesy, but Pakistan was something that pushed me every day. It all started when I fell in love with the country after I left. San Francisco is a fantastic melting pot of different cultures, people, religions, and diversity, but the thought of going back home was something that I could never let go of. I was a proud “Paki” at my university and loved it. Throughout my journey, whenever I was faced with a situation, I never once thought it’s over — my default was not to panic because I knew I could figure it out. My crash in Romania put me in a hospital bed for 1.5 months. I didn’t once think of not carrying on. The plan was to carry on even if I had to do it in a wheelchair, and that motivation came from my love for the country I so dearly missed.

a man relaxing under a truck, looking very cool, with a pakistani flag on his t-shirt
Khan’s always been a proud ‘Paki’ | © Usman Khan

You relied on the kindness of others to get you through your trip. How do you decide which strangers to accept help from and which to turn down?

MK: Trusting strangers is a big thing while travelling, especially when doing it solo. As I wanted the world to meet a Pakistani, from the very day of my trip, I made a promise to myself to trust everyone who offered to help me, thinking what’s the worst that could happen? I’ll lose my motorcycle and a few personal belongings? Is that all? I accepted the fact that these material things come and go and decided not to worry about this stuff. It made life so much easier. I didn’t have GPS or paper maps on me. My phone didn’t have the Internet because I had no money for it. I had to rely on strangers to guide me. It was funny asking a random guy in Vancouver for directions to Pakistan. I ended up staying at his family’s house for a couple of nights. I met genuine people like this throughout my trip.

What’s changed about you most since you first started your journey on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco?

MK: I have become fearless, I’m not scared of the future anymore. I don’t worry about what will or won’t happen. I take each day as it comes and it has really been an eye-opener. Life is really all about being happy. Keep yourself happy by doing what you truly love doing, even in a small way, in your free time, if it doesn’t pay the bills, do it long enough, and one day it will. You have to stick it out with full force.

Have you ever experienced something bad while travelling which led to a positive experience?

MK: The right attitude changes everything. My crash in Romania was bad. Head on in a car at 200 kilometres (124 miles) per hour, I flew like Superman, about 60 feet away from the place of impact. I landed on my left side and broke a few ribs, a joint in my shoulder, and both my wrists were severely damaged. It hurt, but I’ll never forget my time in the hospital. My father called and said, “Don’t be a bakri (don’t chicken out), Pakistan is waiting for you, you have to finish what you started, I’m not letting your mother come and see you because I feel that will make you weak. Get up, fix your bike and start riding.” He’s a mad man, but I became best friends with my father that day. He had already lost his eldest son in a car crash, and there he was, standing tall and not letting the fear of losing another son get to him. Jalal Khan is a hero to me.

What are the greatest differences and similarities you’ve noticed between the people you’ve met from countries?

MK: On my ride from San Fran to Lahore, I crossed 22 countries over 6 months, that’s around 40,000 kilometres, and I met a lot of people and became really good friends with most of them – eight years later we’re still in touch. I noticed that nobody cared if I was a Pakistani or Muslim. I thought it would freak them out, but instead, they all invited me into their homes or would offer to pay for my meal. Not a single negative incident in those 6 months on the road. Not one. Which is hard to believe I know, sometimes even I think it sounds too good to be true. Maybe I got lucky, I don’t know, but my experience proves that every city, every country, every religion, every ethnicity, has more good people than bad people. The world is not out there trying to get you. If you smile at strangers, they smile back. Americans, Europeans or Iranian people, they all took me in like I was one of them. It was pure magic.

a group of people stand in front of an arch holding a green and white flag waving at the camera
Khan on one of his tours with A Different Agenda | Courtesy of Moin Khan

What’s your advice for someone who wants to travel the world but is holding themselves back?

MK: The one piece of advice a stranger gave me on the 10th of July 2011, the day I left San Francisco, was not to panic. That stayed with me throughout the journey, and it’s something I tell myself even now. Things somehow calm down. Nobody is out there to get you, get out and explore this beautiful planet. Doesn’t matter if you don’t have money. Two years ago I bought a bicycle for $50 USD in Lahore and rode it for 81 days from the border of China to Karachi, a distance of 2600 kilometres. I stayed with random strangers in interior Sindh, in south Punjab, in the tribal areas of Waziristan, in the notorious Kohistan area and everyone just wanted to help a crazy guy on his bike. Go, just go and explore.

What made you realise Pakistan was your passion and not motorbikes?

MK: I went to Vietnam, rented a motorcycle and started exploring. After about 10 days it started to get boring, I felt betrayed by my passion. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I loved motorcycles, and while exploring the jungles of Vietnam on one, I couldn’t stop asking myself what the hell I was doing. I rode that bike for another month and came home quite depressed. But being in Pakistan made me happy, so I went up north on my motorcycle with a few friends from outside Pakistan. Showing them the country made me happy and I realised it’s not the motorcycles alone, it’s Pakistan. Since then I’ve invited 60-70 foreigners to Pakistan every summer to come ride motorcycles with me here or go on a trekking tour with me. I love this country, and I will make it the top tourist destination in the world one day.

two men on vespas on an open road
Riding junk in paradise | Courtesy of Moin Khan

How has travel shaped your passions and day-to-day life?

MK: It’s made me fearless. I’m not scared of being broke anymore, and that feeling is incredible! I live each day like a warrior.

If you could take a tour anywhere in the world, where would you go and what would you do?

MK: A tour in Africa on my bike. Maybe even a year on my motorcycle in Africa. I’ve been saving up for a few years but then I got married last year, and you know how things go after that. If anybody rich is reading this, I think you should sponsor me, you won’t regret it.

Based in Toronto, Sahar is a full-time content editor for Days to Come and part-time travel junkie.

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