December 9, 2019

Piya Bahadur talks on her unusual dream of being part of the biking team travelling six countries in 56 days

Meet Piya Bahadur a mum who has two grown up daughters, chose to go on an unusual expedition last year and even write a book on the trip. The book Road to Mekong has been released recently and this hugely inspiring mom travelled biking from Hyderabad to spaces like Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, entering back at Moreh and ending at Hyderabad via New Delhi.

Piya shares with Mums and Stories, “ I had a rather idyllic childhood in Jamshedpur where the most important things in life were basketball, swimming, reading and friends. My father, an avid traveller himself, would often with enviable spontaneity, would put my sister, mom and a few neighbours in a car and drive to nearby destinations like Ranchi, Puri, Bhubaneswar, Chandil etc. I think I have retained my fondness for spontaneous adventure and the road travel from him. My favourite memory is of a week long drive from Delhi to Jamshedpur along the Ganga, stopping at Agra, Kanpur, Banaras, Gaya. It was the first time I spent so much time on the road and engaged with other travelers and truck drivers at various stops.

(Piya Bahadur)

I used to bike in college, but hadn’t for several years while my kids were growing up. I started riding again about 4 years ago with a group of riders in Hyderabad. We had been taking small rides, about 200-250 kms around Hyderabad when we got an opportunity from the Telangana Tourism department to go on a longer trip under their sponsorship.  The trip taught me to approach life with less fear of the unknown, to be able to live with ambiguity of plans and uncertainty about the future. It serves me well in my next journey of working on my startup.”

Talking on how her kids have been encouraging all throughout the journey she shares with Mums and Stories, “Actually it was one of my daughters who pushed me the hardest. I was contemplating going some part of the distance with the team just to enjoy the ride for a few days, but my daughter raised the question of dreaming bigger. Fortunately, since my dad had been an avid motorcyclist, the family sort of understood my driving need to be on the road. My husband, mother, in laws and kids were not just supportive, but quite convincingly encouraging.

We lived in the US for a while and after my masters and the kids, I stayed home till the kids were about 8 and 10. But upon returning back to India the second time in 2011, I have been working mother outside home too.”

Talking about the trip Piya shares, “It’s interesting how we all manage to make our own social economic bubbles and live most of lives within them, meeting the same kind of people with similar sensibilities and life experiences.

The trip brought home the fact that the world is a much larger place that what is seen from our limited viewpoints. Also we need to understand that  there are multitude experiences and truths out there. And after it all, we, as a species, are still very similar while seemingly different on the surface.

On deciding to write the book – The road to Mekong she shares, “ I used to write short snippets from the road while traveling for my family and friends. When I saw how much they all enjoyed reading about these tales from the travel, putting them together as a story of my experience seemed like the next thing to do. It came about rather seamlessly. It also seemed like a story that needed to be told. It has, after publication, found its place in the imagination of a lot of readers.

The book is about the plans, the riding, the people we met, the sights we saw. But mostly it’s about the time I spent with myself. It’s about me stepping out under the conditions of a harsh expedition discipline, ostensibly to explore new roads and finding out that I like talking to myself.

Apart from me as the biker mom, we had two other women in the team who aren’t married yet and Shanthi another biker mom who is a constable in the Hyderabad Police. Her daughters are still young yet her family supported her wholeheartedly.  The trip was sponsored by the Government of Telangana and Incredible India. The motorcycles and gear were provided by Bajaj Auto.”

Talking about women taking up to travelling as a means of freedom and expression, Piya shares with Mums and Stories, “ Yes. I think women, singly and in groups are traveling a lot more. In fact, one of our driving motives was to push the agenda for women travelers. As the world gets more used to seeing women travel by themselves, it will grow to accommodate them more. Well, frankly, women on 400 cc motorcycles do not come across as people one wants to threaten or intimidate. But other than that, the affection we saw from men along the dhabas that line our highways, autowallas, petrol pump attendants etc leads me to believe that the world is a lot safer than what the 9 o clock news claims.

We were often riding 12 hours a day. On an average we covered 200-500 kms a day for 56 days. So yes, it was strenuous. The day started everyday at 4:30 am with all of us on our bikes and ended when we reached the assigned destination.

Yes, while Loas and Cambodia might seem very similar from Hyderabad, they each have their own personality, culture, food, climate and history. As we traveled over land to approach them instead of flying into Bankok or Siem Reap, we experienced closely the changes.

Lastly I would say that we need to venture out and challenge ourselves. It’s a beautiful world out there to explore.”

An excerpt from the book-  Road to Mekong

Things weren’t going well. The back wheels were skidding on the now clayey surface. For the nth time I cursed myself. I knew I wasn’t doing something right because while I could see the others struggling too, I had taken three spills since morning. Of course, in a 8-week journey I had expected some days to not go well, but today had been exceptional. We were approaching Kohima in Nagaland, less than 300 kms away from Moreh. Moreh, that small outpost on the Indian border which had occupied all my waking hours for the last six months, was finally visible on my google maps without needing to enlarge the details.

JB, Shilpa, Shanthi and I had ridden our brand new 400 cc Dominar Motorcycles about 2800 kilometers from Hyderabad. We planned to ride about 14,200 kilometers more, more than half of them through the Southeast Asian peninsula through the Mekong basin. It had taken six months of proposals, budgets, Visa documentation, CarNet formalities and presentations to finally be here. These muddy roads are what I had fought for.

Right now, I could see the uphill slope easing out ahead. A few meters more and I would get the chance to stop and put the bike on stand and, be privileged to either Shilpa snapping at me for being in the wrong gear, or soothing my already miserable life by saying that well, this is expected. Depends on how her morning had been, I suppose. Shilpa was this ride’s most experienced member, and, Shanthi, its gentlest. I could bet that the first cup of tea passed out of the tea shop would be handed to me. Shanthi had a way of expressing affection. Unlike JB, our strong and silent leader, who mentioned 3 days later that she changed the order of riding that day, because she couldn’t bear to ride behind me and watch me fall so many times.

I wonder what it looked like from her vantage point? Much later, on the final 200 kilometers outside Hyderabad, I had seen JB weaving in front of an oncoming truck. I had had to signal for a stop to calm my shaking legs. To be fair, it’s a lot less scary taking a spill off a skidding bike at 20 kmph than getting out of the way of traffic heading towards you on the newly laid, smooth Golden Quadrilateral offshoot at 90 kmph.

But the bad roads, the occasional spills, the long hours of riding and the pedestrian food was the stuff of my dreams. JB and I had spent long hours in the power corridors of Delhi and Hyderabad before we had managed to get the resources for this expedition. The Road to Mekong, as we called this 17,000-kilometer motorcycle ride, took us through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, entering back at Moreh and ending at Hyderabad via New Delhi. While charting the route, I had asked her why New Delhi, it was almost a 1000 kms off the straight route we could have taken through Chhattisgarh. “Chalo, Modi ji se milke aatein hain”, she had said. I had learnt not to roll my eyes at ambitions by then. I was no longer sure, which was the more implausible idea – me, the quintessential mom-wife-9-5 employee with minimal riding experience taking off on a motorcycle through the mountain passes in Burma, or, meeting the Prime Minister of India?

Both happened, I did ride the 17,000 kms, not just through the high Burmese mountains, but also over the hauntingly desolate plateau in Laos, along the mighty Mekong in Vietnam and through North Indian mofussil towns. And, we did get to meet the Prime Minister of India, on a short but significant afternoon.’

The book is available here- https://www.amazon.in/Road-Mekong-Countries-Kilometres-Adventure/dp/9389109124

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