About New Delhi to LondonWBB expeditions involve 2 critical components – extreme driving, given that we reach difficult-to-reach areas and hands-on documentation, documenting people’s lives, transitions, cultural and ecological footprints. Our maiden journey to announce capacity to undertake such difficult travels was our expedition from New Delhi to London.
Flagged off on: 23rd July 2015 from Major Dhyanchand Stadium, India Gate, New Delhi in a grand ceremony organized by Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India by two cabinet ministries
Team Leader and Single Driver: Nidhi Tiwari
Participants: Soumya Goyal & Rashmi Koppar
Mahindra First Choice Wheels Ltd.
Reached London on 27th Oct 2015
95 days (including the 29 day wait at the Indo-Myanmar border
India, Myanmar, China, Kyrgyztan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium, France, United Kingdom
1200kms (China, from Dali to Chengdu), the range of distance driven every day - approximately 400-1200kms.
1st Woman Driver to drive from Delhi to London
1st All Women team to travel from Delhi to London by road
Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports,
Government of India
various ministries in Government of India:
Ministry of External Affairs
Ministry of Tourism
Ministry of Shipping & Roadways
Ministry of Civil Aviation
Mahindra First Choice Wheels Ltd.
Radio One 94.3
MS Ramaiah Memorial Hospital
Social Empowerment by Empowering Women (SEE-W)
Network Facilitators: Indian Women's Network, CII
I am basically a driver at heart. The quest to explore new lands and push perceived limits has been quite intrinsic since the time I have been a child. About 12 years ago, is when I started jeeping. It began with a crazy urge to test self (in terms of driving skills) and the machine (a Mahindra Classic Jeep). One would head out on weekend off-roading trips with other jeepers and I was totally in awe of how much you can achieve and how far you can push yourself and the vehicle.
This love for jeeps kept growing further over the years. My confidence as a driver grew manifold. Started driving long distances, basically across the country. Though I hail from Bangalore, my husband is from Uttarakhand. Being in the Army, most of his postings were in the north. So Bangalore – Delhi was a very often frequented route. It soon became a norm in the family to drive down south every time we were headed to Bangalore. And then came the mountains. My first road journey to Ladakh was in 2007. And then there was no looking back. The addiction to drive, explore off-road tracks in high altitude areas grew by the year. After that nearly every single year, a drive to the mountains either in Ladakh and Himachal Pradesh became a norm. The confidence in self and machine grew with every drive.
In 2014, on a driving trip to Ladakh, I was stuck on a high mountain pass (Baralacha la) on Leh-Manali and I ended up spending the night in the car. That is when I decided that I was ready to take on something bigger and more challenging. Driving trans-continental is something I had only dreamt of.
Originally this was conceived of as a solo drive. I started working on putting together a trans-continental route in early 2015. It was impossible to undertake such a journey without a sponsor, and I knew this only too well. Made presentations, sent emails, called - knocked on many doors seeking sponsorship. Most people found the prospect crazy. Some even mocked at me and the idea. Others thought I was joking while a few others had turned the idea into a joke. Notwithstanding, the only option one had was to keep trudging along in the hope that I would find a sponsor.
Around this time, I happened to share my thoughts with a close friend Smita M Rajaram. Smita is my soul body to have intense conversations about politics, society, human behaviour etc. During one of our evening conversations, I shared with her my interest to empower women drivers and see many more women driving on the highway. I also told her about the dream drive from Delhi to London that I had been working towards. And she suggested that the idea deserved a larger platform. So we created a community called Women Beyond Boundaries (WBB) – which is a platform for women drivers to build skills and push their limits. Smita brought in the social vision. WBB aims to empower women to be able to drive on tough terrain and reach out other women living in far flung areas.
This Delhi to London drive was chosen as an apt medium to announce WBB’s arrival and it therefore became WBB’s maiden journey.At this time, the sponsor hunt was still on; there hadn’t been any success as yet. Finally, after many relentless hours and days and weeks spent on the task, the first people who were for once were willing to consider such a sponsorship possibility was Mahindra First Choice Wheels. I say this with all humility that they were the first ones who gave me a glimmer of hope. I am truly indebted. But they came back with a few expected concerns.
The risk level was one major concern. A drive of this kind hadn’t been undertaken ever by a woman, more over I wanted to do a solo drive, and did not want any back up vehicle either. The ‘what if’ questions mushroomed; also, what was the back up? These issues had to be looked into. The easiest way to bring down the risk was to find 2 or 3 more people who would want to come along. While the word was being spread, Soumya Goyal and Rashmi Koppar wished to be part of WBB’s maiden journey. And that’s how we ended up being 3 people in the car.
To solve other concerns about backup support, one had to reach out to the government. Here, I would like to mention that without the guidance and mentorship of Shri. Anantkumar and Mrs. Tejaswini Anantkumar, I would have remained a headless chicken, not knowing where to go, whom to meet etc. Over the next couple of months, I reached out to him in desperation on many occasions. And each time I would look and sound as harassed when I entered his office, and he would with humor and reason calm me down and suggest ways to solve the situation. I would ask some of the most naïve questions at times and he would patiently answer them, while sometimes he joked saying I was ‘garden fresh’ and needed a lot of guidance. I was truly naïve and to put it plainly, I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor.
As directed, I reached out to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. Shri. Sarbananda Sonowalji, Minister of State (I/C) was kind. While he not only appreciated the initiative and drive to undertake such a journey, he also expressed it could be a valuable journey to inspire more young girls to undertake similar ones. Further, Rajeev Guptaji, Secretary, Ministry of Youth Affairs laid the path. It was an honour that the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports not only recognized, by also supported this journey. A sincere word of thanks for you Sirs.
With the Ministry stepping in, the formalities with Mahindra Choice Wheels was completed. They were now my lead sponsors. It was only Dr. Nagendra Palle’s foresight and initiative, coupled with Mr. Shiv Kiran’s drive and passion to make this work that saw it through. A heartfelt thank you Sirs.
Then came the road permits. Myanmar and China required self-drive road permits which had to be applied for and visa work began. All visas were procured prior to departure. Typically visas are issued only when the applicant has confirmed air tickets and hotel bookings. In this case, neither of these was present. Here, support from the Ministry of External Affairs, especially Dr. Nagpal, who was then the Director of MEA – Coordination really helped. The next 6 weeks, it was a daily ritual to attend to visa work. Thankfully, all visas were procured well in time.
Now to the most satisfying part; finally it was time to meet the 4th member of the expedition team, the most crucial and potential my soul mate – the vehicle. MFCWL identified a vehicle – a 2013 model Scorpio (DL4CNB8899), ivory in colour that had run 68500kms. Ivory coloured, refurbished, he looked super cool. Nikhil from MFCWL handed me the keys. When the vehicle came home, the excitement was palpable. Samik (my elder son) and Avik (my younger one) came running down and they wanted a ride. From the word go, the vehicle was a celebrity and received maximum attention. Interestingly, it stayed that way all through the journey. Prem, my husband, wanted to drive it as well. I like the way he put it “I need to know the guy who is going to take care of my wife for the next couple of months”.
The vehicle was then taken to my friend Amandeep’s (Amandeep Ahluwalia is a very well-known rally driver who is extremely passionate about automobiles) garage in Noida. Every single part was inspected for wear and tear, spares were procured and soon, the Scorpio looked even more handsome and was surely healthy from within.
The final make up was still due. The stickers and Decals to deck up the body. MFCWL took charge and the vehicle went to them for the Decal. When it came back, the day before the flag off, it was unbelievable. How gorgeous! The bright yellow against ivory, this vehicle was a stunner and would stand out from a distance. I was proud and over-awed. And ready to be flagged off.
The flag off took place at the Major Dhyanchand stadium at the India Gate in New Delhi in a glorious function organized by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. Shri.Anantkumarji flagged us off in the presence of Shri. Sarbananda Sonowalji, other senior beaurocrats who had been a part of the journey so far, friends and family.
Amidst the noise, appreciation, cheer and grandeur, somewhere at this point, it was beginning to feel like it was an out of body experience. Once on the road, I was able to see a lot of things in perspective.
Driving expeditions, covering long distances, that too led by a woman and involving an all women crew was unheard of. This was indeed the first all women transcontinental drive from Delhi to London. It was also the first time a woman was driver attempting to cover a distance of this magnitude. This journey meant a lot to everybody. For Mahindra First Choice Wheels, it was a huge leap of faith. They were investing and trusting an idea which they felt genuinely good about and were proud of. For the government, it was a matter of pride and they were truly appreciative of the adventure spirit. For Women Beyond Boundaries, it was about showcasing to the world that it is possible and woman can drive. For other sponsors, while it was a matter of pride, for some it was also advertising and branding that seemed to matter. For my team mates, it was seemed like chance to see the world and be part of an epic journey. For my husband and kids, it was their way of saying - we want you to follow your dreams. For my brother, it seemed like “look what she is capable of”. For my father, it was pride “my daughter” and for my mother, it seemed like she was living her dream through me. She was very proud and she was also the reason I could undertake this, as she committed to being with the kids through this period.
Amongst friends, for some, it was matter of envy, others it was awe, some others it was just being crazy. Mostly, for the larger family and friends, it was a sheer matter of pride and there was immense appreciation.
And for me, what should I say. It was validation – that I wasn’t a crazy, nomadic woman; people actually thought my life was worthwhile. It was validation for the belief that you can dream and if coupled with hard work, you can also achieve it. I was happy from the bottom of my heart. I was also numb outwardly.