Not many know of this ace rallyist known as the “Flying Sikh”. The journey of Joginder Singh Bhachu from the small town of Kandola Khan in Phillaur in Jalandhar district to a motor rallying legend in Kenya is a story that has inspired an entire generation. Joginder was the first Kenya Indian and the first […]
Not many know of this ace rallyist known as the “Flying Sikh”. The journey of Joginder Singh Bhachu from the small town of Kandola Khan in Phillaur in Jalandhar district to a motor rallying legend in Kenya is a story that has inspired an entire generation.
Joginder was the first Kenya Indian and the first Sikh ever to win an international rally. He also had the distinction of being the first man to win the Safari Rally three times. He died of heart failure in London, aged 81 on October 20, 2013.But mention his name anywhere in the east African continent and you will hear stories of the man who was known as the “Simba of Kenyan safari world” and the “Flying Sikh”.
Bhachu was synonymous with speed in Kenya. Kids idolized him, adults loved his daredevil driving.His successful rallying career took off in 1958 and spanned 22 years.Late president MzeeJomo Kenyatta gave him the title “Simba wa Kenya or Simbya of Kenya”.
In the late 70’s he was seeded and ranked as a World Class Priority `A’ driver. In 1995, he was inducted into the Coco-Cola Hall of Fame – a tribute given only to Kenya’s top sportsmen. The same year, the Sikh Supreme Council of Kenya bestowed their appreciation for his distinguished service to furtherance of Sikhism. He made history in 1965 with his younger brother Jaswant, when they became the first men of non-European race to win a major international rally driving a Volvo PV544.
His elder brother, Davinder Singh recalls, “I remember our mother say ing that Joginder was very keen on cars even as a child. He joined as a patrol man rescuing stranded people whose cars had broken down. In due course of time he began to participate in motor rallies. He lost his left thumb while greasing the chain on a diesel powered generator in his earlier days, but that didn’t stop him from driving.” His wife, Satpal Kaur Bhachu, shares, “We were together for the last 57 years.. Underneath all the toughness, there was a vulnerability that I saw from the first day I met him..”
His son, Jatinder Singh Bhachu says, “He was respected for his humility , his down-to-earth approach to life, his warmth, frankness and sincerity . He worked very hard throughout his life, against all odds, to achieve what he wanted.
Ashok Bhalla, general manager at the East African Safari said Joginder was a close friend. I had the opportunity to navigate for him in a local rally in 1970. During surveys, he would be very particular on how to grade the corners and the roughness of the route. He would always dictate his own understanding of the route in order to maximize his speed during the event. Very soft spoken and humble, he was always available to teach and guide anyone on rallying.
Nairobi-based motorsport photographer Anwar Sidi, said Joginder was the Sim ba (lion) for Africans. “His fame grew like wild fire, especially in 1965, when he entered a Volvo P244 and won against the white drivers. It was only in 2001 that we met in the Rift Valley and struck friendship. Joginder was a genius. ‘Always respect religion,” he told me in 2005 when he flagged off the East African Classic Safari Rally.”