Nidhi Tiwari_Women Beyond BoundariesLast year, Indian newspapers and social media was abuzz with the news of India-Thailand Highway opening up. Just when adventurers, travellers, bikers and roadies were beginning to discuss and explore this route, Nidhi Tiwari and her team of two fellow women travelers broke the internet with their achievement of driving from India to London. Travelling 95 days on road, clocking 23800 kms and covering 17 countries without a backup vehicle was a BIG DEAL for anyone! That they crossed countries like Myanmar, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Finland, Czech Republic, Germany in their journey to United Kingdom made everybody sit up and say wow!

Here is Nidhi from Women Beyond Boundaries recounting her journey on the road to adventures. Power to you Nidhi for going beyond boundaries and setting an inspiring example for men and women alike!

Nidhi Tiwari_Women Beyond Boundaries

At home on road

Share with us your story. How did you develop interest in outdoors and travelling? Before this expedition, what kind of adventure activities had you taken up?

I was drawn to adventure from a young age. At 11, I went on my first Himalayan Expedition to Bhutan’s Mount Trulmulhari. Bangalore, where I grew, had a culture of adventure and youth clubs. As a part of those, I would go camping almost every alternate weekend. By the time I was a teenager, I knew I wanted a career in outdoors. I pursued outdoor education and took to travel writing. These assignments took me across the western ghats and many exploratory routes.

I married an armyman from Uttarakhand. My husband’s postings up North gave us an opportunity to explore Ladakh.  This bit about pushing oneself to the limit, learning, reflecting was already a part of my personality and when my two sons happened,  I had to find myself a medium where I could take my children with me on expeditions. That’s how Jeeping happened .

Women Beyond Boundaries

An exciting journey

Building a Jeep from scratch

A friend from Bangalore, who was into jeeping got me a chassis and we started building the jeep. We would spend weeks at the workshop, finding parts from ‘GUJRI’, a market known for old car parts in Bangalore.  That helped me learn about the machine. We had a group called ‘Jeep Thrills’ and we would jeep to test our driving skills as well as test the strength of the machine. Jeepers firmly believe that the jeeps are not meant for the tar roads, they are far more powerful and that’s why we do a lot of driving off the road.

On the road to many adventures: It started with that and went on to become long distance driving. Since my husband was posted on the northern frontier, I drove Bangalore- Delhi frequently. In 2007, I took the vehicle up to Ladakh for the first time with my two kids and mom. My husband was serving there at that time. It was on this trip my confidence grew and I was hooked. Since then, I have been out every year driving in the hills.

I have studied outdoor education and am trained in navigation, map and compass, orienteering, and so on. I am also trained in white water canoeing.  Recreationally I have done bungee jumping, sky diving and cycling. Professionally I have been a backpacker, taught wilderness skills and outdoor based leadership.

Nidhi Tiwari_Indian Women Adventurers

No country too far for Women Beyond Boundaries

Three women on the road, traveling 23800 kms, 17 countries, 95 days without a backup vehicle. At the outset, did you realize the scale of this expedition?  In the hindsight, which aspect of your planning, would you say went off really well and what did you miss out and would be better prepared in your next trip?

I did not realise the scale of expedition because I had done so many of these within India and it seemed like just one other expedition I was heading out on. When I started working towards it was when I realised, “Oh My God, the quantum of work never seems to end.” That’s when the scale hit me. People around me always felt it was big and ambitious. It sounds humongous when you say Delhi to London but honestly, it was just everyday driving.

Here are some of the learnings from the expedition that I would be better prepared with the next time around.

Visas for Visiting Countries:  In most countries we had visas of about two weeks. We did not anticipate the four week delay that happened at Myanmar border due to cyclone in Bay of Bengal. By the time roads cleared, most visas had expired. I tell people that they should have visas for minimum one month to cater to delays en-route.

Documenting the Trip: I could have done better with videography and photography. At some point these were portions got neglected, given that I was so focused on the basics, like getting visas, the vehicle in place, to see that food and stay and all of that was organised. These are some things I will improve on for the next trip.


Nidhi Tiwari_Women Beyond Boundaries

Towards another milestone

Other than a dream and steely determination, what was it that you ladies were carrying with you in your Mahindra Scorpio? Tell us what was in the boot of your car? 

This is really an interesting question and nobody has asked me that. So what was there in the boot of our jeep? Ok let me tell you. We had a spare tyre initially which we loaded on top of the vehicle later. It had a lot of spares, right from engine hoses to brake lining to lubricants, oils, air compressor, starter cables, nuts and bolts and a well equipped tool kit. It also had two specially fitted diesel cans that I was carrying on the outside of the car. It had 40 litres of extra diesel.

In addition, the boot had our personal bags. It also had this huge bag that my team mates, Soumya and Rashmi were carrying. It was almost like a gunny sack that they kept loading.

And of course, we carried water and food and because we liked munching. We also had jackets which had to be kept away in the boot when it became warm.

What kept you going? What kind of challenges did you face? What were the most arduous parts of your expedition?

Fragile Socio Political Situation: One of the challenges we encountered was the fragile social political situation in certain places. Like in Manipur we got stuck in protests with respect to Inner Line Permit. Once we got stuck in the outskirts of Imphal and got delayed by a day. The other time we were stuck due to natural causes.

Nidhi Tiwari_Women Beyond Boundaries

Facing cyclone fury at Moreh

Stuck in a Cyclone: A bad cyclone in Bay of Bengal caused landslides on the way. On one occasion we were stuck in between two landslides. I slept in the car and my friends slept in an accommodation provided by the village head. These natural calamities gave us anxious moments.

The most testing part was at Moreh in Manipur.  Imphal to Moreh is about 110 km, and it would have taken just 2-3 hours, whereas we took five days from one landslide to another land slide to another. On reaching Moreh, we thought we were past the worst, but the damage on the Myanmar side was much more. Many bridges were washed away. There was plenty of uncertainty around when will the roads open. These countries are reeling under immense stress and we had no clue as to how long will it take to rebuild the roads.

I wanted to do this mission and reach London. I wanted to wait it out. My team mates decided to go back to Bangalore, while I stayed at Moreh for about four weeks. When the roads cleared, I drove to Mandalay, Myanmanr,  where we regrouped for the journey ahead.

Diesel in Uzbekistan: The other portion that was really trying was around getting diesel in Uzbekistan. Can you believe, there was no diesel in the capital Tashkent! I went from one station to the otherlooking for diesel and there was just no diesel anywhere! We realised that there was an underground network of illegal diesel selling. These people sold diesel two to three times the rate. We had to procure diesel like that. Even getting that was difficult.

Nidhi Tiwari_GoMissing

Meeting resilient women along the way

Share with us some learnings from your trip that would help anyone preparing for an expedition like this. What did you get back from your expedition? 

Competent Team members: With respect to choosing a team, one thing that I figured out was that everybody out there needs to have a competence and needs to have earned their place. It doesn’t really help to just have friends or family. For the next expedition I would definitely want certain skill sets in the team. That’s one of my learnings.

You meet all sorts of people: We met some incredible people all over, like in Manipur where we were stuck, in Uzbekistan when we were looking for Dielsel, in Krygystan, vehicle broke down, we met this wonderful person called Ryan who helped with the vehicle. Similarly in Rovanemi , Finland, there was this girl who went out of her way to see we got accommodation late at night. So I guess people good and bad are there all over.

Unique Experiences in a single trip: With respect to cultures, I think Uzbekistan was closest to the kind of people we are. It was loud, family oriented place; people are very keen to develop, they are a young country, lot of energy, lot of youngsters, I felt like I was home there.

I was always fascinated by Mughals and foreign invaders who came from Central Asia and this was one of the biggest reasons why I undertook this journey. I was fortunate to be at Andijan, where Babur was born and it was overwhelming to know that his army had actually scaled the mighty Karakoram to come all the way to Delhi.

The second place that stood out for me was Finland, thanks to the fact that there were just so few people and such stunning landscapes. We saw some of the prettiest sunsets in Finland. Can’t forget the evening sky!

Nidhi Tiwari_Women Beyond Boundaries

Bactrian camels on the way

What’s your special message for our women readers? What kind of women did you come across in your expedition? Would you like to share some experiences of women you met in your travels?

Don’t hesitate. Reach out for the mountain: I have led this very outdoorsy, rebellious, fiercely independent life, led trips in the outdoors, sometime all men trips… so I have fought this perception battle, stereotypes and all of that. Somewhere down the line after having children, about 2-3 years ago, I caught myself saying, “ you know what when I was young I was like this and would just take off.” This conversation was at a social gathering and later I kept thinking how everything was in past tense. I began reflecting on that. Nothing had changed, maybe the circumstances had changed. I wanted to connect to the core of myself and this journey helped me do that. I think it’s is important to take these journeys in whatever medium works for different people because they connect you with yourself. They keep you happy and that’s important. So go out there, and reach for the mountain you wish to. For me it was driving, it could be something else for you.

Reassuring resilience in women across countries: I met different kinds of women. There were plenty of underlying commonalities that I would like to share. I was sitting in a park across a huge monument in Registan in Samarkand. (Registan  means ‘Sandy place’ or ‘desert’ in Persian.)

There was this whole family, among them was a young mother with a three year old very cranky son. It was around 7:00 in the evening. The lady had two older girls, who too were irritable. The husband was nowhere around and she was going crazy pacifying the younger kid while trying to make the older ones see some sense. I was like wow! Women are same all over in terms of duties.

Similarly, in Moscow, we were getting back from Red Square in a metro. Sitting close to me was a young mother with a 7-8 year old kid. He reminded me so much of my boys. He had a bag and a book on his lap.  I figured that the mother had picked the kid from daycare and was heading home. We got talking and I gathered that she was a single parent. I asked her what would she be doing in the evening and she told me that she was going to get off at the station, pick vegetables on the way home, cook and feed the little one; put the kid to bed and maybe spend half hour watching TV and then sleep and get ready for the next day. Isn’t that what a whole lot of us do? That’s the kind of life I lead. I guess, women are the same everywhere. We have the same emotions, we deal with the same problems, we find creative solutions to those problems in whatever geography we are located in.  That’s the beauty about being women, the resilience that I saw across borders was very reassuring. I am happy that I got a chance to do experience all this.

Nidhi Tiwari_Women Beyond Boundaries

Reach out for your mountain. It’s closer than you think!

What’s the mission of Women Beyond Boundaries? Tell us how did WBB begin and the projects you want to undertake in the coming months?

When I started planning this expedition, I shared the idea with a close friend, Smita Mazumdar Rajaram who has been working in the social and development sectors for more than a decade now. She has done assignments in the domain of Maternal and Child Health, Child survival, human rights, social security, health insurance, road safety among others.

When I told her about my dream journey, she said that she too would do this journey with me. We decided to form a platform for women and that’s how women beyond boundaries came about.

WBB is primarily a platform for women drivers who want to undertake long distance, difficult drives through difficult terrain. We want to be able to enable, empower and encourage women drivers. The mission is to train, build skills, provide opportunities and facilitate women drivers to plan, undertake and execute such drives. We do workshops like, Know your car and all of that and at some point question stereotypes.

In so many years, one of the things that I have noticed is that there are very few women driving, especially on highways. I think there are two reasons for that.

One is lack of skills to be able to manage a vehicle. Undertaking a long distance/difficult terrain drive is not so much about the gut and courage and determination as it is about the confidence that you will be able to manage a situation, if it goes bad. For example, if a vehicle breaks down, one should know what to do and figure out the problem. Confidence comes when you have a skill.

The second is the opportunity. While women drive for shopping, activity classes and other errands, on holidays, it ends up being typically the man’s preserve. If you aren’t driving enough then how will you be good at it? It’s about honing skills and that comes with practice.

Women Beyond Boundaries wants to serve both these purposes. It is a platform for women drivers to reach indigenous communities living in remote habitats. Through expeditions, we wish to undertake research studies to document the connect between people and land in a social, cultural or environmental context.

This was WBB’s maiden journey. We have a long way to go.

Picture copyright: All pictures used in this article belong to Women Beyond Boundaries.

GoMissing Spotlight: No mountain too high, no road too long; No country too far, no milestone that cannot be surpassed. Our women adventurers are made of sterner stuff! All through the month of March 2016, GoMissing Spotlight section will be dedicated to saluting women heroes whose achievements or passions were once thought to be the preserve of men. Here you will meet passionate inveterate enthusiasts recognized for their fearlessness, determination and wanderlust. Read exclusive interviews, know heartwarming stories, get ready to be SURPRISED and INSPIRED!

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