The rhythmic thump of the Royal Enfield Bullet Classic 350 beats in unison with her heart, and plans for the next big ride is always on her mind. But this wasn’t always the case for Abhinaya Natarajan, an avid biker (Yes, we know you know now!), and also the founder of The Abhinaya Store.
Then again, if one of your first-ever bike trips is to the stunning Ladakh with a group of equally passionate women, we think it’ll be really hard to not fall in love with riding and traveling. Here’s how Abhinaya unstumbled into this world!
“As a child, I’d always been fascinated by the feel of a bike and by the guys who’d zoom around, there was such a ‘cool’ aspect about them,” Abhinaya reminisces, “that fascinated me to pick up riding. It took me a couple of years to convince my dad to get me a bike, and in 2014 I got it. They did have their apprehensions, but my friends in particular were so thrilled for me. Looking at me riding around, a couple of my guy friends also decided to get their own Bullets, maybe I helped them find their calling!”
Abhinaya didn’t initially intend to travel far and wide on her Bullet, preferring to use it to commute and ride around Mumbai. But destiny had other plans for her in 2018 when she chanced upon an advertisement for the Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey!
“I didn’t even know about the Himalayan Odyssey and was never part of any of these biker groups. I stumbled upon this ad on Facebook just 10 days before the ride. It was too close; I had no riding gear and winter wear, preparing for all of it was stressful! Then to figure out how to reach Delhi on the train with the bike on it, all at the last moment, that’s a task on its own.”
Abhinaya’s train journey to Delhi started with a slew of many more misadventures. But a combination of luck and pure determination helped her complete her first leg of the trip!
The Royal Enfield Himalayan Odyssey of 2018 was an 18-day journey from Delhi to Ladakh to Chandigarh. The image of a bunch of guys riding to Ladakh on Bullets is all-too-familiar to all of us. But what’s unique about this particular trip was that it was an all-women trip, including the support crew!
Being a person who’d had no prior knowledge or experience of hardcore riding, Abhinaya may have been in a spot of bother while traversing the treacherous paths of Ladakh. But she didn’t worry. She didn’t have to, not when she was accompanied by 12 other women with whom she’d forged a bond that’s unique to bikers!
“The trip was very organized, if anything were to happen to any of us or we got stuck, there were always pros to help us out, especially our tour lead, Hema Choudhary. She’d give us a brief every morning and keep guiding us through difficult terrain. This trip was an on-the-spur decision and I hadn’t done enough research. But with all the plans and people who knew what they were doing, I didn’t have to worry at all!” Abhinaya says.
Ladakh is definitely a breathtaking place - figuratively and literally (pun intended!). So Abhinaya and the women rode all the way from Delhi to Sarchu, a town nearly 5000 meters above sea level, and stopped there to acclimatize.
“We stopped at Sarchu and stayed in tents there. We were surrounded by mountains and at that height, altitude sickness had kicked in for me. I wasn’t able to talk or do anything. I just wanted some peace and quiet, so I went to this hill nearby and sat in the sun. And that’s it! 2-3 hours in the sun and I was fine and I didn’t have an issue after that at all!”
Abhinaya has always been the one for peaceful and quiet places. And the extreme desolation of Ladakh was something she’d never experienced. For her, that was one particularly amazing experience!
“Generally most riders and tourists go to Pangong Lake on their way back from Leh. But the Himalayan Odyssey had other plans. The decision was to go to Tso Moriri and Tso Kar. The other riders with me were all like ‘Why aren’t we going to Pangong?’ I didn’t know any of those places, so it didn’t make any difference to me. But then they said that Pangong is more commercial, and I was glad we weren’t going there.
Facilities aren’t important to me, the place must have fewer people. Having a quiet, peaceful time in amazing places like these rather than people trying to click pictures and selfies, that’s a good experience.”
With that, the group set out on the road to Tso Kar and Tso Moriri. Or rather, a path to these lakes.
“When riding, we always made it a point to see that someone is always ahead or behind you, never out of sight. After a while, there was simply no road, just barren ground. Only because Hema and one other rider had a GPS, we could go to these destinations. There’s no road, no one to guide you and no houses, almost like riding on a different planet altogether. And these two locations were AMAZING!
Especially living in Mumbai all my life where it’s always crowded, it was simply overwhelming.” Abhinaya says in complete awe, “There was nothing at all for miles on end. Totally barren and empty. And hanging out with the group in total isolation, it was awesome! This was the place for me during the Himalayan Odyssey.”
While going on a Ladakh ride, it’s practically impossible to not experience bad roads. Abhinaya did get into a spot while going through the Rohtang Pass, where a section of the road was washed off and flooded. She firmly believes that if you think that you’ll fall, you will fall. She did fall in this section, but for an unusual reason!
“There was a water crossing section where a landslide had occurred before. One patch of the landslide rocks had been cleared, but about 10 inches of muck remained. The focus should have been to move ahead, but all I wanted was to prevent my shoes from getting dirty! So I tried going really slow without keeping my feet on the ground.
I had to stop. I still didn’t put my leg down. I fell in the muck.” Abhinaya sighs.
Probably the best thing that happened to Abhinaya on the Himalayan Odyssey was the memories and the friends she made along the way. And of course, the recognition of being a biker in a community that’s still male-dominated.
“When we’re in riding gear, no one can figure out whether we’re women until we remove our helmets. That happened in Khardung La; the other riders who were already there were amazed and conversations with them were fun!
The same with my riding group. Only a few of us were from Mumbai, but I connected with each of them so well! Be it food, place, or any random thing. At the end of the day, we’re all riders, so I shared moments with every one of the group.”
As we mentioned above, Abhinaya is also the founder of The Abhinaya Store (@theabhinayastore), where she upcycles old clothes and turns them into something useful, or clothes made out of tailoring scrap. She started this venture with an ambition of reducing waste, and has done so beautifully. You don’t need to simply believe us, check it out!
Her efforts for a more sustainable lifestyle was noticed by Royal Enfield, which is why she was among the few women who were featured in an ad to promote their women’s gear!
Let’s find out how Abhinaya travels sustainably:
“Instead of buying packaged water, I make it a point to carry my own water bottle. If you want, you can always go to a restaurant and ask them to refill it!
In small roadside hotels, they'll serve you in a 'paper' plate, but it has a lining of plastic on it. So it cannot be recycled, it's just gonna be there forever and ever. So I choose to carry a container and a glass and ask to serve food and drink in them.
You could also ask hotels or dhabas to give you a cutting chai glass, and they'll give it to you. Such little things are all that you need to do!"
“In places that are far-off or not accessible, I'd choose the locals' staple food instead of, say, packaged foods. The carbon footprint on that would be less - they get the grains in big sacks that will be reused, unlike packaged foods. You may not see the package, so you may assume it's package-free but it's not! That plastic package is going to stay there forever."
“When staying in hotels, we tend to waste a lot of electricity and water because we've paid for it. But we need to remember that these are resources for everyone to use. We're only privileged enough to be able to pay for it.
I carry my own toiletries because hotels give them in small containers. Every day they keep changing the shampoo bottles and soaps. If you use it once, that's it. They'll replace it. What you can also do is take that bottle and keep refilling it for your other trips!"