"Logon ko ab aadat daal leni chahiye ladkiyon ko road pe bike chalate dekhne ki."
(People should get used to seeing girls riding bikes already!)
Riya Yadav, a 19-year-old Enfield rider from Delhi, said this after she came back from her 13-day long road trip to Leh, and possibly became the youngest Indian female rider to scale one of the highest motorable passes of India.
Her passion for riding was unearthed when Riya's father gifted her a bike for her 19th birthday, sparking a thirst for road tripping adventures. Within seven months of getting her gift, Riya rode to Khardung La, situated at an altitude of 18,379 ft, on her Royal Enfield Classic 350. Riya is still awaiting a response from the Limca Book of Records to confirm her status as the 'youngest Indian female biker to ride to Khardung La'. But this record-breaking achievement is not her only takeaway from the trip.
"I think those were the best 13 days of my life. After crossing Manali, my phone didn't have any network, and I had no contact with my parents."
Given her daring expedition, it's hard to believe that Riya had never travelled alone anywhere else (sparing an NCC camp in Class IX) before, let alone taken a road trip through such treacherous terrains.
"I needed to do this. I have never gone anywhere alone except to an NCC camp when I was in Class IX. I remember I cried a lot back then, but this trip changed me completely. I only had my bike and the determination to conquer the highest motorable road – it was an experience of a lifetime for me."
Riya found out about the ride to Ladakh from Facebook and immediately decided to put her skills to test. In her interview to Times of India, Riya also talks about the challenges she had to face on her trip.
"I have learnt to ride only recently, so there were problems. I would always panic if the road had too much traffic, but this trip taught me to be calm and face hurdles. I went along with Sarah Kashyap (an off-road rally racer) and she helped me a lot during this trip. I had all my belongings in only one bag, had problem breathing and didn't get to wash my hair for days. But when you think about achieving something, you do it without thinking about anything else."
After garnering immense support from her classmates, teachers and the principal of her college, Indraprastha College for Women in Delhi University, Riya is ready to tackle Raid De Himalaya, the world's highest rally raid, next year.
In the interview with TOI, she also talks about the lack of exposure women are given towards adventure activities. From learning how to ride a motorbike to driving to destinations near Delhi, Riya had her parents and brother supporting her at every step; which she says is essential if we want to see more women hitting the road in equal numbers. And her experience on the road also introduced her to the world of travellers and riders who are always willing and eager to lend a helping to a fellow rider, irrespective of their gender.
"I don't think female riders are in anyway better or worse than male riders. Women riders are always appreciated more than male riders. I am sure that soon there will be more female biker groups. Logon ko ab aadat daal leni chahie ladkiyon ko road pe bike chalate dekhne ki."