City women bikers — Jai Bharathi, ASD Shanthi, Shilpa Balakrishnan and Piya Bahadur — got a standing ovation on their return to Hyderabad recently after ending their eight-week expedition ‘Road to Mekong’.
The 56-day road trip was flagged off on February 11, spanned 17,000 kilometres (8,500 within India and 8,500 outside India) across six Southeast Asian countries (Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and India) through the newly-constructed India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway.
Jai Bharathi, the freelance architect who led the expedition, says, “Staying away from my professional and personal life for two months was demanding, so when we returned home, I just couldn’t wait to see my family. The trip, which had a 11-member crew (including a four-member production team to document the entire expedition), has changed me a lot! Earlier, I was calm and composed, but since I took the initiative to lead the expedition I need to be tough on my colleagues, so I behaved like ‘Hitler’ most of the time (smiles) because of the deadlines.”
Interestingly, these bikers were only acquaintances until they embarked on this expedition. The first two weeks saw the riders cover 15 states in India, after which they started the Southeast Asia leg of their journey by crossing into Myanmar from Manipur.
“One of the main challenges was to drive on bad roads amid changing weather. It was so tedious and physically draining. Fortunately, there were no motorcycle breakdowns and what kept us constantly motivated was the support lent by people. Whenever we use to stop, people used to look us strangely and then mobbed us asking for the details about the trip. It was really heartening to receive such great encouragement. The journey only broadened my horizons of thinking,” says Shilpa Balakrishnan, a tourism consultant.
ASD Shanthi first kissed her six-year-old daughter who was waiting to welcome her. “Although I was in touch with them over phone, staying away from my two kids was tough. But if you want something, you need to sacrifice another,” she shares, adding, “We celebrated Ugadi in Cambodia. We hired a restaurant and prepared the festive delicacies like Ugadi pachachadi, paayasam, pulihora, etc., and distributed it to the locals. We organised cultural evenings at selected pit stops and spread the word about Indian culture, Bathukamma, etc.”
Piya Bahadur states that the trip shed all her inhibitions, if any. “The whole objective was to promote adventure tourism and that women can pull off any task. There were a few apprehensions initially since we were new to such long expeditions, but as the trip progressed, we only grew stronger. We also had to face language problems but overcame those barriers and completed the expedition. Even after we returned, we showed no signs of exhaustion, fatigue or niggles, we were still fresh.”...