Get, set, go: Women bik­ers on an ad­ven­ture trip to Ladakh

The Sunday Guardian - - G-style - SHAMS NAQVI

The Royal En­field Hi­malayan Odyssey is known to be an an­nual pil­grim­age for bik­ers to the land of moun­tain passes, Ladakh. The Hi­malayas have been the Mecca for mo­tor­cy­clists since time im­memo­rial, and the Odyssey has been their cho­sen jour­ney to ride through the mighty moun­tains. Every year Royal En­field rid­ers from across the world gather to thump all the way to 18,000 feet to Khardung-La, the high­est mo­torable road in the world to ex­pe­ri­ence one of the most grat­i­fy­ing mo­tor­cy­cling jour­neys in the world.

The Chennai based bike maker, the old­est in the world with con­tin­u­ous pro­duc­tion or­gan­ises the Odyssey to make it eas­ier for bik­ers who would oth­er­wise dread to un­der­take the chal­leng­ing jour­ney on their own. A set itin­er­ary, ser­vice & med­i­cal back up and lug­gage free rid­ing are some of the highlights that at­tract En­field own­ers to ex­pe­ri­ence the Hi­malayas as a part of this so­journ. And of course rid­ing and stay­ing for two weeks with a group of like-minded trav­ellers is an added bonus. The 13th edi­tion of the event was flagged off on Satur­day morn­ing from In­dia gate in New Delhi, tak­ing the bik­ers on a 17 day ride that will tra­verse through some of the rough­est ter­rains and high­est moun­tain passes cover­ing a dis­tance of more than 2500 kms.

Nor­mally the com­pany takes around 50 par­tic­i­pants every year, but this year is spe­cial. This time Royal En­field has also or­gan­ised a women's only Hi­malayan Odyssey pow­ered by STRE (She Trav­els on a Royal En­field). STRE is a com­mu­nity of women mo­tor­cy­clists who ride a Royal En­field across the globe. In its maiden edi­tion, Hi­malayan Odyssey - Women (HO-W) will see lady rid­ers'ride on the ‘holy grail' of mo­tor­cy­cling. And it's not just re­stricted to fe­male rid­ers, the en­tire con­tin­gent com­prises of women who in­clude ser­vice staff, tech­ni­cians, doc­tors and crew.Both con­tin­gents will ride on dif­fer­ent routes be­fore fi­nally con­verg­ing at Leh. The an­nual ride is an op­por­tu­nity for these men and women who seek to look be­yond the ob­vi­ous and ven­ture into the un­char­tered ter­ri­to­ries of one of the most chal­leng­ing ter­rains in the world. A jour­ney of self-dis­cov­ery for many, the Hi­malayan Odyssey has been in­spir­ing sto­ries that be­come a part of mo­tor­cy­cling folk­lore.

While some of these 20 odd women have been to Ladakh be­fore on mo­tor­cy­cles, it was lot who was head­ing there for the first time who sounded most ex­cited for the jour­ney. As­mita Misra, a rider fromHy­der­abad said, “The Hi­malayas have al­ways been a part of my life goals. Every year I hear peo­ple tak­ing their mo­tor­cy­cles to the mecca of rid­ing. This is how I have al­ways pic­tured my jour­ney, me on a Royal En­field look­ing at the moun­tains, rid­ing on the twists and turns of the roads and breath­ing their clean and chilly fresh air. I know these two weeks are go­ing to be tough and noth­ing like rid­ing on city roads but I am work­ing hard, train­ing, prac­tic­ing and pre­par­ing and I feel ready to face the ele- ments of na­ture.”

An­other rider from the group is Sharada Sas­try from Mysore. This me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer by pro­fes­sion and an avid trekker by pas­sion said, “Rid­ing was al­ways meant to be. Es­pe­cially the Hi­malayas, back then my mother used to dis­cuss a lot of spir­i­tual scrip­tures about the moun­tain passes and Lord Shiva! So rid­ing my fam­ily pedi­gree up the leg­endary moun­tains is truly my child­hood fa­ble com­ing to life”

In fact just like Sas­try, a lot of other rid­ers owe their good rid­ing skills to their fam­ily mem­bers. Al­la­habad girl Pr­erna Goswami has been rid­ing over 100 kms ev­ery­day to gear up for her maiden jour­ney to the Hi­malayas. She says, “I took to rid­ing my brother's Royal En­field in class XII and since then noth­ing has caught my fancy ex­cept bikes! I want more girls to ride and have been in­tro­duc­ing women to mo­tor­cy­cling, off-road­ing for some time now. I hope see­ing me com­plete this ride, more girls from my city will take up this pas­sion.”

The pe­riod be­tween the months of May and Au­gust is the ideal time when hun­dreds of Royal En­field mo- tor­cy­clists ride up to the Hi­malayas. On the jour­ney, the rid­ers will be map­ping di­verse ter­rains rang­ing from plains of Delhi to snow clad val­leys of Ladakh. The weather would shift re­mark­ably, from scorch­ing hot to icy cold as rid­ers will make their way to the pic­turesque re­gions of the Hi­malayas, which house within them­selves one of the most hos­tile en­vi­ron­ments for mo­tor­cy­cling. Each turn ex­poses the rid­ers to a new land­scape like no other, even­tu­ally get­ting them sur­rounded by the over­whelm­ing beauty of the great Hi­malayan peaks.

The lure of the moun­tains and go­ing there on a Royal En­field has brought Jilmil from Guwa­hati to ex­plore Ladakh once again. “I owe my es­capades to my fam­ily, for all the en­cour­age­ment and un­wa­ver­ing sup­port. I think the fam­ily be­lief is cru- cial for any of us to re­alise our dreams! Dur­ing a ride, we ride as a fam­ily. We have dis­agree­ments but we also help in over­com­ing hur­dles on every step. Moun­tains can be un­nerv­ing but if you have 10 more peo­ple with you, there is less to worry about.”

Meghana Wavhal from Pune is a teacher, a Cricket & Kho Kho player, Gym­nast and the first lady who reg­is­tered for the Hi­malayan Odyssey this year. She has not rid­den to Hi­malayas but rode up to the high­est peak of South In­dia – Doddabetta. “I'm to­tally look­ing for­ward to rid­ing in the Hi­malayas and it's an ab­so­lute priv­i­lege to be part of the maiden Hi­malayan Odyssey spear­headed by Women. In­spi­ra­tion is self-driven, you ei­ther pur­sue your dream or you dunk it in cold stor­age.” she said.

At a time when most lives have come to be de­fined by our pro­fes­sional selves, Hi­malayan Odyssey ap­peals to the free spir­ited trav­eller in one­self and quin­tes­sen­tial seeker of life be­yond con­crete jun­gles. A jour­ney that be­gan in 2003, the ride em­pha­sizes on har­mony with the ter­rain while at the same time en­cour­ag­ing one to over­come their per­sonal bar­ri­ers and re­al­ize the po­ten­tial that lies within them. Over the past decade, scores of rid­ers have had the plea­sure of rid­ing their mo­tor­cy­cles through the pic­turesque land­scape of Ladakh to Leh and then be­yond to Khardung La. With so many women on wheels, this year will truly rate high, as high as the mighty Hi­malayas.

This time Royal En­field has also or­gan­ised a women’s only Hi­malayan Odyssey pow­ered by STRE (She Trav­els on a Royal En­field). STRE is a com­mu­nity of women mo­tor­cy­clists who ride a Royal En­field across the globe.

Shams Naqvi is an an­chor/pro­ducer for the News X mo­tor show Liv­ing Cars.

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