One week into their road trip, Nidhi Tiwari, Soumya Goyal and Rashmi Koppar hit their first bump in the road in Manipur. They entered the state to discover that the roads had been blocked by local protests. A spirited man approached them, asking them questions. Once he learned that they were from Delhi, he invited them home for lunch. The women were wary, but they agreed.
Then, five other men joined them “By this point, we were worried. But as soon as we arrived at his house, his mother and sister greeted us with a warm hug. They cooked us a three-course Manipuri meal, and later, we all went for a picnic at a nearby lake,” recalls Goyal. The incident taught them an important travel lesson — to have faith in people.
Geared for adventure
They journeyed across 17 countries in three months to spread the message of Women Beyond Boundaries (WBB), a community that aims to empower women by encouraging off-road driving. For Delhi-based Tiwari it was an extension of a lifelong interest. “I had my first Himalayan expedition when I was 11,” she recalls. “My father was a phenomenal driver and we did lots of road trips in our Fiat. So long-distance travelling came naturally.” The idea for a trans-continental drive occurred when she was researching new routes to explore. “As a driver, you’re always looking for new highs and challenges,” she says.
She pitched the idea to Goyal and Koppar, her childhood friends and avid drivers. They immediately came on board. The route was formidable, but getting sponsors was harder. “We were told that we were women, attempting something that had never been done, and there were security concerns,” says Tiwari. After six months of planning, permissions, and a sponsor in an Indian car manufacturer, the trio set off from India Gate on July 23, flagged off by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.
Crossing over to Myanmar and then to China, the women covered Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan before moving on to Finland, Estonia, Poland, Germany, Belgium and France, before winding up in London on October 27.
Despite the relative unpopularity of Central Asia, they were intent on covering the trail. “The history of the Silk Route is so fascinating and visiting Samarkand and Bukhara was a dream,” says Goyal, a consulting physiotherapist. Tiwari was the designated driver, while Goyal and Kopar managed navigation and logistics. With no men in the car, Tiwari states that they attracted a lot of attention, but the trip showed those in the car and those it passed “what women can do”.
Russia was rough. Few people spoke English, and they had to pay 200 euros to a police official who alleged they had crossed a median. But largely, it was a smooth ride.
Tiwari was particularly excited about driving on the Autobahn in Germany. “We were 200 metres into the highway when a police car started tailing us. We pulled over, a hefty policeman asked to see our documents and then said, ‘I would like all of you to step out of the car... because I would like a picture!’ He claimed that we were the first Indian car on the Autobahn, which felt amazing,” says Tiwari.
Just like home
The trio hold fond memories from Central Asia. “Mithun Chakraborty is huge there and an official actually broke into song and dance when we told him we were Indian,” recalls Koppar. “Before we got to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, we were weary and had not seen Indians for about a month. Then, at a restaurant, we bumped into the Indian Bodybuilder Federation team and they took us all around the city,” she says.
On some days, Tiwari clocked over a 1,000 kms a day. “It was never overwhelming. I’m calmest at the wheel and it’s almost therapeutic. You can reflect on so much,” she says.
As WBB develops, Tiwari’s aim is do away with stigma associated with women driving. “We don’t see too many women changing tyres or driving on highways. That should change.” Meanwhile, the next trip is already on her mind. “I’m thinking the Northern Lights.”
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From HT Brunch, December 13
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