When I finished high school and was home for the holidays, dad taught me how to ride. It was on his treasured BMW that I learnt the nitty gritties. Both my brother and I enjoyed riding motorcycles, and being the youngest in the long line of cousins, we always had motorcycles to steal from older cousins and ride around Coorg.
Being a woman on a motorcycle has its fair share of stares and glares. There were people who encouraged me and there were those who told me “you are a lady, motorcycles are for boys”. It can be a little daunting as there is no dearth of mindless intimidation as compared to the occasional encouragement. One learns to adapt, be cautious and have fun!
Riding through India is not without its challenges. People are overcome by curiosity to discover a woman riding alone. On rides to Coorg alone, I have been asked strange questions like “This bike runs on diesel?” when I am on the BMW f650!).
While riding in Ladakh, I have been asked by foreigners “You are an Indian? Really?” But in spite of being a woman rider, I have not had any negative experience on the highway. People by and large are always helpful, more often too shocked to react when they see a woman on a motorcycle.
People’s reactions are based on our attitude. Help and kindness sometimes comes from the strangest quarters. And the charm of a motorcycle never fails to enamor.
My first big adventure was my ride to Bhutan with my friends Sherry, Monisha and Abhijit. Our adventure began in Siliguri, West Bengal. We rode into Bhutan through Phuntshoeling and exited into Assam at Samdrup Jhonkar. I was on a Bajaj Pulsar 180. Since it was my first big ride, the experience was simply unforgettable.
Bhutan was unique, and there were many firsts for us all – there were no ATMs in Bhutan and no credit cards accepted in those days. So all the money we had to carry was in cash, and only in smaller denominations. We learnt the hard way about the importance of having puncture kits handy. Towns are huge distances apart and getting help was tricky! But, as I always say, “bikers are blessed” – at every step there was help at hand. For instance, on our last day, before our permits expired, we were faced with a massive rock fall. The GREF, after hours of work to clear the rock, all but managed to get a crack across. Once it got dark, and the workers decided to call it a day, we realized we were stuck! But, the lorry drivers and cleaners, seeing us (the only people on bikes), decided visitors must not be inconvenienced and extended their hospitality by carrying our motorcycles over the rock! And we were on our way home.
Another memorable ride I did was riding 4000+ kilometers through the Pamir Highway. This was part of the old Silk Route in Central Asia. The ride began in Almaty, Kazakhstan. We went through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan all the way down to the Afghanistan border. It was fascinating to be in parts of the world that was so deeply connected with India historically and yet so distant. The experience was totally exhilarating. I was riding a Suzuki 650. It helped being on a bigger motorcycle as distances covered were large and there were places so remote that sometimes I felt I was the only person on earth! Like all mountainous terrains, there were no roads through the mountain passes! But if one has ridden in Himachal Pradesh and Ladakh, it is really no surprise.
While on the road abroad, one gets to meet travelers from all over the world, doing what lots of us wish we could do – ride a motorcycle to see the world.
As Mark Twain said – “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”