Rigby rifles were always part of the family when Rajat Singh Shekhawat was growing up in the north west Indian state of Rajasthan. Now 46, the owner of the Suvasa apparel and furnishing company has dreamed of visiting Rigby headquarters in London for as long as he can remember. This month he made his dream come true. Combining his love for Rigby with his two other passions in life – motorbiking and travel – he rode 20,000km from his home city of Jaipur in India to Rigby HQ in London. Here he describes an experience of a lifetime…
Why did you decide to make this trip?
I did this journey for myself. It was something that I’d wanted to do all my life, since I’ve always been interested in travel. It’s been in my family as well. The Dundlod family has quite a heritage in Rajasthan and we’ve had a couple of adventurers and pioneers among my relatives. My uncle from my maternal side, photographer Aditya Patankar, hitchhiked from Kabul to London in the 70s. He went on to photograph and travel with British travel writer Mark Shand on his adventure across India on an elephant. The book is called Travels On My Elephant and became a bestseller. So I come from a family with a strong heritage, steeped in tradition and several centuries of influence in Rajasthan. We’ve always owned Rigby rifles in the family. But when I decided to ride my motorbike to Rigby, the motivation was personal.
Did you have any support?
It’s very difficult to do this type of trip with friends because of the time it takes. It’s a long journey. It took me 60 days and I visited 17 countries. So I did it with a group of people I didn’t know, which was nice. So random people got together, each with their own desire and passion. It was interesting because none of us knew each other.
When you’re not making trips of a lifetime, what is your regular routine?
I run a fashion brand of clothing and furnishings in India called Suvasa with outlets across the country. Typically, we design and manufacture our own apparel and furnishings using the ancient art of hand block printing. That is what we specialise in at our factory in Jaipur. In my spare time, I am a recreational shooter and have been doing so regularly for about ten years. I’m a national shooter in skeet as well as 300-metre rifle. Besides my shooting, I am an avid wildlife enthusiast with a passion for motorbiking and travel. That’s what keeps me busy.
Which countries did you visit on the way?
I actually travelled 20,000km altogether from Jaipur to London. It was a long distance to travel with all kinds of adventures. I started in India, of course, and rode east to Burma, Thailand, Laos and then China. Starting in the south and going up to the north west, it took me 19 days to get across China into Kyrgyzstan. Mostly, we stayed in hotels along the way. Sometimes, when the journey was difficult and we had to stay randomly with a host family. That happened in In Kyrgyzstan. From there I visited Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and then Russia, staying in Moscow for three days. From there, I went to the Latvian capital of Riga. I went through Lithuania in a day to reach Poland. I spent two nights in Warsaw and then went to Berlin. Then I went to the Netherlands. The day I left, I had breakfast in the Netherlands, lunch in Brussels and dinner in Paris. From there we took the ferry from Calais to Dover and rode up to London. I spent two or three nights in some places, like Moscow. More or less, we tried to cover the big cities in each country. It was spectacular, very beautiful and the experience of a lifetime.
How much shooting do you do?
I’ve always been fond of shooting and in India it has been a popular sport for some time now. I shoot skeet recreationally. It is a personal hobby that I’ve been indulging in regularly for about ten years now. I also shoot 300-metre rifle in the national shooting championships in India. The talent in our country is on the rise. We have some very good shooters.
What Rigby rifles did you have in the family?
We grew up with Rigby. My grandfather and his brother owned a beautiful Rigby .350 and .416. At one time in India, everyone had a lot of beautiful guns. After a while there was a lull. It was different. There was less value for such beautiful arms. There was a phase when it had died down and it was not so popular to own such rifles. But it has come back again. It is nice to see Rigby’s heritage returning in the country.
Why are you such a devoted fan of Rigby?
For me, Rigby has always had the finest rifles. In India, it is a big name and the brand has a special heritage. Throughout my childhood we read tales such as the famous Jim Corbett adventures which mentioned Rigby rifles being used in shikar (hunting) and taking down man eaters. As you may know India had some of the finest game shooting in the world. A lot of the rifles made by Rigby were also specifically made for Indian royalty. Among our families and other households, each had spectacular personal experiences of shikar and man eaters. They were the perfect camp fire tales to captivate and leave an impression on us growing up. Everyone is enamoured with the Rigby brand. When I finally got to Rigby headquarters in London a nostalgic feeling came over me as I walked into the store. It was very nice to meet Marc Newton, the managing director, and his team at Rigby. He had found out about my trip from friends in India so he knew that I was coming.
Describe what if meant when you arrived
Visiting the headquarters was a personal experience and there was an instant affinity I felt for the place. My grandfather, the late Thakur Rattan Singhji of Dundlod, was an excellent game shot, both in rifle and shotgun. He deeply influenced me and developed my passion for rifles and guns. He always spoke highly of the double and bolt rifles of Rigby. So when I walked through the doors it was very nostalgic for me and those memories came flooding back. I’m very happy that the company is doing well and is back in London. When I held the Rigby rifle I felt I was holding a precious part of history present in the finest craftsmanship of rifle making.