“The chance kindness of strangers is seen by a fortunate few, and we were fortunate enough to find it, again and again.”
Books don’t just take us to new places. They give us a chance to see the world through someone else’s eyes. And for that reason I wanted to include some non-UK/US writers, who travel with a whole other set of cultural baggage, in this advent calendar.
And I really wanted to read something by a rider from India, a country which is often presented in overland literature as a challenge to be overcome rather than somewhere with its own thriving motorcycle scene.
Twitter introduced me the brilliant Bikerni, the all-female motorcycle club who ride for the joy of it and also to empower women, and from Urvashi Patole’s tweets I heard about last year’s four-woman expedition from India to the Mekong, taking in six countries and 17,000km in just 56 days.
Two books have been written about the trip – one by Jai Bharathi, the expedition leader, writing in her mother tongue of Telugu, and this one, by Piya Bahadur, in English with a regular infusion of Hindi slang.
Like The Perfect Vehicle, or even Zen, this is more a meditation on what the trip meant to Piya than a straightforward travelogue. Like many women, she lacked confidence in her riding skills and was unsure about committing to the whole ride – until with helpful bluntness her teenage daughter called her out: “are you afraid you can’t do it?”
“I realised how the world we dwell in is so small and how easy it is to create echo chambers. The challenge really is to embrace the unknown and the unfamiliar.”
Piya finds the ride liberating, encouraging, and thought-provoking, and her book brings us along with her. There’s so much in it that I recognise in my own riding life – even they way that at her lowest points it’s other bikers that provide encouragement and support – not just the other women on the expedition but bikers from the places they are riding through who come forward to support the travellers. At the end of a particularly challenging day with another 3 hours of riding ahead, “meeting the headlights of riders from Imphal on the dark highway was a relief and the rest of the ride was rejuvenating. It was a warm welcome to Manipur indeed, not by a gang of motorcyclists, but by a brotherhood of bikers united by their love for the road.”
It’s a joyful book and I have really enjoyed reading it.