As I wait to meet the protagonist, the one who went on an ambitious solo ride across the country, covering 16 States in 110 days—on the bustling MG Road, in Bengaluru, I wonder if India is really a safe country for solo women travellers. It was to answer that very question, 37-year-old Esha Gupta took on the huge responsibility of proving how India is safe for women, and made her way to the most unusual places.
Discovering the hippie
Esha hails from Lucknow, though her roots also run through Kerala, where her mother hails from. Right after her education, Esha joined the Oberoi Group and then worked for a multinational firm for a while. She then wanted to take a sabbatical from the usual chaos and chose to travel. With the help of a few friends around, she taught herself to ride a bike and she was very soon a proud owner of ‘Mickey’, her Bajaj Avenger. In 2012 she flagged off her newfound love, the one that brought Esha the much-awaited solace and identity.
Though her journey has stood out in the biker community, her latest stint to earn the tag of ‘Longest journey on motorcycle in a single country by a female motorist’, has gained her a much desired identity. That’s not it. Esha raised the bar when she chose to challenge the stereotypes women travellers and backpackers internalize on how India is an unsafe country for women. She says,
I want to send a message out there to all who say India is an unsafe country for women, that it’s definitely not so. Having travelled alone extensively, I negate that line with my full will. That doesn’t mean I am challenging the miscreants. It just means that we, as a country, are concentrating so much on the negativity that we have forgotten that we are surrounded majorly by positive and good people around us and my solo ride is meant to shift people’s focus to the positivity and strength amongst our countrymen.
Paving her own way
This journey started on January 26, 2016 from Bengaluru. Esha fought against all the odds for the next 30,000km and returned on May 14, 2016. During this journey, she covered 16 States including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Seemasandra, Telangana, Orissa, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. She used her love for photography to capture snapshots of her trip around the country. Her journey was supported by Throttle; a community for avid bikers, OSS GPS Tracking Solutions, Indian Oil, BAC (Bajaj Avenger Club) and Flipcarbon.
Nuggets of wisdom
Esha believes that nothing teaches one more than travelling. Sharing instances from her repository, she recollects how at her pitstop in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, a local family slept on the floor just to make her feel at home since the household had only one bed. In another instance, at Orissa, the State was enjoying the initial showers for the season, and the bike’s speedometer wire got disconnected on the slushy roads. The journey got trickier from there and Esha lost her mobile connectivity and had no access to the routes. She finally stumbled upon a hotel that was closing, but looking at Esha and learning of her journey, the hotel staff took her in and offered her their food.
All through her journey, Esha’s faith in people and their reactions towards a solo traveller had grown stronger with every ride. From welcoming a stranger into their homes to sharing their food and clothing. From applauding you when you make it to the headlines to sympathising when you fail, there are different types of people. The ones that slap and clap at a drop of a hat, but all that has kept Esha going is the initial drive to challenge societal perceptions.
If you have to prove anything wrong, first fight the fear of being proven wrong. Pick your strength and work towards the goal. Fear of failure will never take you anywhere, Esha quips.
The fact that media tends to shine the spotlight primarily on negative instances has diminished its global stature as a safe country for women.
India has seen other women motorists like Roshni Sharma and Veenu Paliwal challenging stereotypes. The former was the first woman rider through Kashmir to Kanyakumari, at a distance of 5,453km, and the latter was on the last lag of her 10,000-km journey, when she met with a fatal accident.
When someone said a woman can play multiple roles, each better than the other, may be they meant this. Esha is an inspiration to many women across the globe. Her intent to challenge her own comfort zone and to rise against all odds, for a bigger purpose, indeed creates an impact for a better tomorrow.