Piya Bahadur may come across like a regular Hyderabadi woman who loves her chai, morning newspaper and sunshine.
But it is only when you start taking to her that she reveals of the leap of faith she took to decide to go on a road journey, a fascinating 56-day journey through the East Indian Coast and the Northeast of India, weaving through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, along the river Mekong, finally to Cambodia, and culminating in a meeting with the Prime Minister.
Before the motorcycling bug bit her, Piya was Regional Officer at the US-India Education Foundation and before that, worked at the Indian School of Business. She is currently working at her startup, which makes software to help small businesses, especially women-owned, run more efficiently.
Although she did the journey in 2018, her book which is out now is creating a buzz and that’s why road trip loving Hyderabadis and travellers across the country are curious to know more about how she managed to do it?
"I must confess that the decision to take up the journey was more arduous than the journey itself. I am 46, mother of two girls in colleges with their board exams coming up during the time I wanted to travel. My mind raced through all those stereotypes. How will the girls manage with their father when I am not around. Is it fair for me to leave them to their devices during such an important exam phase? What will others say? But my family said that when an opportunity comes calling, one must embrace it. In fact my daughters Aditi and Anu said they want me out of their hair. They said that I should trust my upbringing and that they would do a great job with their exams while I took up this journey," she shares.
"In fact, I also told them I would do it for a week, get a taste of it and return home and they chided me saying go big or go home. So I took up this journey that gave me a new perspective in life," she adds.
A private person who doesnt believe in putting up her life on social media, Piya silently did the trip and has started telling the world after a few of her readers reached out to her telling her how her decision inspired them too, to take vacations, if not a road expedition.
"I felt the need to really talk about it as I find that my journey is now like a beacon of light for many people, especially women, who want to do what they choose to do without getting burdened by stereotypes or the ‘log kya kahengey’ syndrome.
Piya, who has worked in the US for over a decade and came to India in 2003 and again went back for a stint and finally settled down in Hyderabad in 2013 and calls herself a Hyderabadi now has been a part of the famous Bikerni group which was for women on bikes and short vacations by road.
"However, I had never done such long ones, but when the idea to do a trip like this and we got Bajaj to lend us the bikes and Telangana Tourism to fund us. I felt that everything was falling in place and it was the right time to take the leap. Isn’t true empowerment about the abilty to choose?" asks Piya who recalls how her dad inspired her when he travelled cross country in 1979.
It took the four women nine months of paper work and preparation for the 56-day journey and all the experiences are now in the book. Piya believes that it is easy to fly one from place to the other, hire a car and do the tourist thing and come back with some pictures.
But it is road travel that puts you in touch with the real world. "When you enter India through Mumbai and then travel to Assam by road, you will see that the landscape, the food, the culture and the ethos changes every 200 kilometres in India," he adds.
So what are her observations or lessons from the trip? "That comforts such as beds, ACs, fans, plated meals etc are highly overrated and that you can do away with all of these and still have a fabulous trip. That the kind of importance that public spaces give to women is actually a reflection of the kind of freedom she enjoys in the society. I have noticed how states where the quality of life of women is good actually have decent public restrooms for them while states where their quality of life is compromised resonates with dirty restrooms," she says.
On that note, how did they manage their biobreaks on long stretches without rest rooms? Piya guffaws and says, “We did pee all over the world as sometimes we could not help it. Luckily, we never have to meet the onlookers again so it was okay. We used to laugh nervously if were caught in the act and that humour would defuse the tension,” she says.
About falling sick or meeting with untoward incidents during the journey, she said, "We spent a lot of time planning and that really helped. Well, we did get lucky but then I guess we four women, all in our reproductive ages, did go through two sets of periods during the journey. Yet, nobody whined or was down. It was the spirit of freedom that egged us on."
However, for her the best part of the travel was feeling like ‘female Rajinikanth’ whenever she had to get off her bike, take off her helmet and walk up to the fuel station and ask for a refill. "I used to play my own background music to add to the swag," she quips.
Road to Mekong - Four Women, Six Countries - 17,000 Km- AN ADVENTURE OF A LIFETIME by Pan Macmillan india
For 46 days, four women left their ‘regular lives’, homes, families and comfort, to ride their motorbikes through scenic landscapes, inhospitable terrain and diverse regions. In this process, they covered 17, 000 kilometres through six countries. What inspired them to follow this dangerous, and at times maddening, adventure trail? In Road to Mekong, Piya Bahadur recounts her once-in-a- lifetime journey through Southeast Asia.
With little prior experience in expeditions of this nature, the group successfully planned and executed an exhilarating trip from Hyderabad, through the East Indian Coast and the Northeast of India, weaving through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, along the river Mekong, and finally to Cambodia. By the time they returned, the lives of these audacious women had changed forever. Piya takes the reader along on her travels through places she visited.
(The writer works at email@example.com)