The Great Journey

A journey of 30 years – the longest expedition ever documented in human history, that’s the aim. Denis Katzer and his wife Tanja, adventurers, film producers, photographers, and authors in one, have in the meantime already devoted the past years since 1991 to their lifetime project “The Great Journey”.

They’ve covered no less than 340.000 kilometres, be it on the back of camels, horses, or elephants, or by foot, or even using local means of transport. They’ve started a journey which keeps reaching and crossing frontiers; frontiers between countries and continents, ethnological frontiers, as well as cultural frontiers – and, of course, physical and mental frontiers, the limits of one’s own self.

Tanja and Denis Katzer’s Great Journey tells about the probably longest expedition documented in the history of mankind. It tells about an exciting life on the road at the turn of the millennium, and of an enterprise no longer heard of since Marco Polo. It begins in 1991 in Germany, taking Denis and Tanja to Austria and Italy at that point, and then on the ferry across to Greece and Egypt. In Egypt they make their first acquaintance with camels, and ride on their backs through the Desert Sinai. Then they cross the Gulf of Aqabah to Jordan by ship, followed by a bus ride through Syria, Turkey and Iran.

A smuggling train, filled to the roof with merchandise, takes them over the border to Baluchistan, where they decide to buy camels, and continue their trip on to Pakistan on their backs. This dangerous expedition takes them along the Indus, the father of all rivers, along the Afghan border, and through tribal areas, as far as Peshawar.

Once again they take the train, this time taking course to India. They explore India – the country of extreme contrasts – for 11/2 years on an old Indian motorbike. They then make a quick trip to Sri Lanka, and shortly afterwards set off by ship, heading for the Andamanes.

On this archipelago in the Bay of Bengal they succeed in what is rarely achieved: they make contact to a tribe, which even nowadays still lives a stone-age way of life in the midst of a military restricted area. The armed forces find out about the two explorers, fact that forces them to pack their bags and make a quick getaway. Once again their route takes them to Pakistan, then along the old Silk Route as far as West China. Once there, Denis and Tanja set up an expedition with the aim to cross the Takla-Makan Desert, also known as Death Desert, from South to North for about 1000 km by foot and on camels.

After this successful but equally risky undertaking, they next head for Tibet. However, due to the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, the borders to Tibet are closed. Wrapped in blankets and coats, Tibetan monks smuggle the two of them to Lhasa by bus in 36 hours. After crossing the roof of the world in a jeep, they reach Nepal, and travel through its lowlands on the back of an elephant. Then they take a train through China up to Mongolia. They ride through Genghis Khan’s lands for 1.600 kilometres from East to West. On this trip they survive an assault, and are exposed to the severe and merciless nature, but at the same time experience an impressing hospitability.


(The longest camel expedition in the Australian history)

Within the scope of their Great Journey, Tanja and Denis Katzer have spent the past four years travelling through the endless lands of the Australian outback. They travelled 7.000 kilometres through the continent from South to North and from the West coast to the East coast, by foot as well as on their own camels. It was a risky venture with an insure outcome from the very beginning. At the same time, it was a magnificent adventure, a voyage into the yet unknown interior of a mysterious country. An expedition under the perspective of two loving persons, who deliberately overstep the limits of their physical and mental ability. As a result, Denis and Tanja are now in the fortunate position to offer their readers genuine, captivating and instructive information on a country which in its beauty and size can hardly be grasped by the human mind, thus increasing the appreciation for this country.

Denis Katzer: “It was a trip through heaven and hell, through ups and downs. Sometimes we thought we wouldn’t see the next day. Yet, this trip also united us with the red soils of Australia, and with Mother Nature. It was a time we would never want to miss. It was a time that brought us closer to infinity. This never-ending march was an incredible challenge to our soul. The art was to live for the moment. This way we experienced one of the most wonderful emotions mankind can feel on this earth. It’s both the greatest possible gift and the highest goal, and for us it means nothing else but to sense life and to inhale it with every breath we take.”

Their journeys across the Sinai Desert, the wild Pakistan, the Death Desert in West China, the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, as well as Australia from one end to the other, add up to almost 12.000 kilometres taken on the back of a camel. A world record in the history of human expeditions.

Altogether, within their life project, the two of them have by now travelled 250.000 kilometres in the past 13 years. The next 20 years the “Great Journey” will take them through Poland, Russia, Siberia, China, Burma, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, New Zealand, and across the ocean to and through Latin America.

For Tanja and Denis, the focus of their journey does not only lie in the act of travelling, but also in the aspect of opening the approach of the western world to other cultural and philosophical values and qualities.

Denis Katzer: “Naturally, we are also breaking out of a society commanded by laws, rules and obligations. For us, our way of life is like a migration, where the search for the own self, the own roots, and the ability to deliberately live for the moment play an important role.”

Why? The motivation.

Our aim is to live our lives the way we do, in order to be able to give a detailed account on what it means to be alive; in order to be able to write about what it means to be a human being. For instance, what it means for us to inhale the burning smoke of a bush fire, or to listen to the rarely heard cries of a dingo. The sole aim of our journey is to create a means of counterbalance to a world which keeps trying to turn faster day by day; to contribute one’s share of the puzzle towards finding a way back, remembering, reflecting about oneself. Towards slowing down, having an aim, achieving the aim. Towards finding a sense of direction in this disoriented and drifting world. Towards living a dream, making a dream come true in a world that will tell you that what you’re doing is impossible. Our experiences also help to remind people that there are other, more important things that make life worth living, besides their work, their alleged obligations, their chase after money, the stressed panting of a manager. Our journey is a great journey, an important journey for our selves. It’s an open, plain and genuine report of a self-discovery, a self-awareness, a renewal and exploration of the own ego, soul and body experienced by us and made public for all. Even the tiniest contribution we can make to inspire others with our way of life makes this life of expeditions and travels on our Mother Earth worth living, and makes up for all the strains this way of life requires. Naturally, there will be the one or other differing opinion, people representing another point of view. However, even that has a positive aspect, because that way our life on earth will always remain interesting, versatile and varied.