For motorcycle rider and techie, Piya Bahadur, 17,000 kilometres, and fifty-six days on the road have conjured up enough patronuses for dull days. In an account of her travels titled, Road to Mekong (published by Pan Macmillan India, 2020), the rider traces her journey through Southeast Asia on a 400cc Bajaj Dominar motorcycle.
Route map of the trip
Accompanied by three other adventurous women, Jai Bharathi (JB), Shilpa Balakrishnan, and Shanthi; Bahadur navigated, planned, and executed a road-trip from Hyderabad, through the East Indian Coast and the Northeast of India. Supported by Telengana Tourism, the four riders weaved through the high mountains of Myanmar, the neon colours of Thailand, the deep basins of Laos, and history-infused Vietnam, along the river Mekong. They eventually ended their international travels in Cambodia, and rode to Delhi for a meeting with the Prime Minister, before heading back to Hyderabad.
With PM Modi and MPs from Telangana
“There’s something so physical about the memories attached with riding. The sense of air pushing you, as you cut through your surroundings,” shares Bahadur. For the wanderer, soaking in her immediate surroundings was the highlight of the trip, as it was the off chance she could leave her life behind, and focus on the present. “Beyond the road, the rest of the world seems to blur,” she elucidates.
(L-R) Shanti, Shilpa, Piya, JB Outside Bagan UNESCO World Heritage Site, Myanmar
During her travels, Bahadur sent daily updates over Whatsapp to family, and friends, which eventually served as a backbone to the chapters in her book. It only took four-months after her return to pen down her travelogue, which is interspersed with Hindi music through its pages. One of her favourite moments was rather filmy, as she pretended to race with a train at 5.30am on the West Bengal Highway. “I mean, how could I not think of the iconic scene from Kati Patang starring Rajesh Khanna?” she laughs. Interestingly, each playlist from her trip is named after the towns they stayed in, before setting out again at 4.30am the next day.
For a mother of two, who works a 9-5 job, the opportunity to be a part of such a dreamy expedition was a real eye-opener. “It helped me reiterate that biking goes beyond the leather jackets, and tattoos. It’s really open to anybody with the drive for the ride,” says Bahadur. Having been a part of Bikerni (a pan-India women’s biking organisation), the author has found solace in other enthusiasts, who thrive-off the adrenaline associated with riding.
Enroute Bago, Myanmar, Shilpa, JB, Piya, Shanti
Here’s where Bahadur met JB, who was leading this expedition along the Mekong. It was JB’s leadership qualities, Balakrishnan’s knowledge of mechanics and solo riding, Shanthi’s unfazed bravado, and Bahadur’s storytelling strengths, that made an otherwise strenuous journey rather seamless. Through numerous chai stops, shared silences, and the occasional meltdowns, the women learnt to co-exist without invading one another’s personal space.
Taking a breather in Hue Citadel, Vietnam
Bahadur recalls the overwhelming feeling that collectively wafted through them as they saw the Mekong for the first time. Drifting through the blue smoke of the Opium halls, and the Burmese mountains in the distance, the river stood glistening in mellow light. The rider also writes about how a ten-minute halt to dip their feet in the Mae Sai River, in acknowledgment of finally entering the Mekong basin, turned into a long water fight. She tells me about the continuous tears streaming down her face as she saw the Indian flag on their return from Moreh, and how the waterworks continued for the last 500 kilometres of the home stretch. When asked if she could describe what riding past this rich heritage of a civilization felt like, she pauses and says, “Well, one is not immune to the romanticism of rivers.”