Motoring

An all-women adventure drive to Nepal

Nidhi Tiwari, an outdoor educator and a passionate driver from Bengaluru, undertook an extreme terrain journey to Upper Mustang in Northern Nepal. Leading a crew of five women drivers, Tiwari and her group were amongst the first women drivers to reach Lo Manthang (the erstwhile capital of the Kingdom of Mustang). “No women drivers from anywhere in the world had driven up the treacherous road to Lo Manthang. Mahindra Adventure supported our expedition,” says Tiwari, a 36-year-old adventure lover and mother of two.

Such dares aren’t new for Tiwari, who completed her 5,080-km solo expedition last year from Yakutsk to Magadan and back. She land-cruised through the coldest regions of Sakha Republic to become the first Indian to get there. “I dared the route to the icy Russian village Oymyakon, dubbed the Pole of Cold, and Magadan beyond. I wanted to see the coldest place on earth” she says.

An all-women adventure drive to Nepal

One year later, she was bitten by the travel bug again to take up the Nepal challenge. “Upper Mustang, Lo Manthang in particular, is one of the most treacherous extreme terrain routes we have in the Himalayas, with India-Nepal-Bhutan put together. This region is on every adventurer’s radar and our journey with five women’s will and zeal throws the spotlight on gender questions, hovering around driving and expeditioning. We are proud we made it,” says Tiwari.

As the founder of Women Beyond Boundaries (WBB), she specialises in undertaking extreme overland journeys that advocate empowerment via mobility. She talks about her 12-day challenge.

How did you decide on Upper Mustang in northern Nepal?

The road to Lo Manthang is among the top three extreme roads we have in the Himalayan belt — India, Nepal and Bhutan put together. I had heard about how ‘not doable’ it was. So I thought it was time we gave it a shot! And as women drivers had expressed interest to join me, I felt this was a good route to kick-start a ‘team extreme terrain’ drive. I approached Mahindra Adventure whose support extended to a seasoned service team, along with Scorpios in expedition-ready condition.

Tell us about the crew of five.

The other participants on this drive were Rashmi Gururaja Koppar, an academician from Bengaluru; Suneeti Sudame, an IT professional from Pune; Soumya Goyala, a physiotherapist; and e-commerce professional Deepa Krishnan, both from Bengaluru. I loved the leadership and execution from a team standpoint.

Can you describe your expedition, the adventurous and dangerous portions?

It was a 13-day challenging rough terrain drive to one of the most picturesque and remote regions in northern Nepal-Mustang valley. Mustang is an erstwhile kingdom and opened up for tourism in mid-1995. It borders the Tibetian plateau, and harboured the Old Silk Route that descended into Nepal from the Kashgar region (now in China). With an average elevation of around 13,000 feet, the area hosts two of the higher peaks in the Greater Himalayas that stand above 8,000m — the Dhaulagiri and Annapurna. We drove from Delhi and entered Nepal via Gorakhpur to reach Pokhara in two days. From there started the off-road section into the Mustang valley.

An all-women adventure drive to Nepal

In the extreme terrain circuit, it perhaps counts as among the top three most treacherous routes in the Himalayas. From Pokhara, we drove towards Muktinath — which itself is a very challenging drive traversing the hill side and the river bed of the river Kali Gandaki. Ahead towards Lo Manthang, a particular section between Muktinath and Tsarang, though 36 kms, took us 8 hours — that’s the notoriety of the terrain. Further, we reached Lo Manthang, the original walled capital of the Kingdom of Lo. The section from Muktinath to Lo Manthang is ambitious and testing. The terrain is a mix of rock, sand, stone, river crossings, some very steep ascents and descents. The overhangs, blind turns mixed with gradient, make it both interesting and challenging.

For how many kilometres did your energy quotient survive?

We covered approximately 3,000 km. In the mountains, it’s never about the that though. There were some sections of road, where we were covering less than 10kmph! It was a test, skill wise. Those who drive 4WD could well imagine how we drove on a 4-low gear ration for 4 days continuously, and that speaks volumes of the terrain.

Your experience at Upper Mustang?

Upper Mustang is like a lost-and found area. The terrain is cast, mountains are huge, barren, super high — and make you feel small, as you feel a certain invincibility in the terrain.

This was one drive where we followed the Kali Gandaki river throughout — sometimes on the river bed or on a high cliff with the river in the valley. The views were desolate and beautiful.

What are the mental and physical aspects needed to be an adventurist like you?

The whole process of being in discomfort, enduring through it, reflecting and learning from the experience — this cycle is what keeps me going. As for my advice, it’s never give up! What generally helps one take up such tasks would be a strong, stubborn, determined, bullish kind of mind. Over the years, I have worked on myself deliberately, like facing fears or coping or engaging with fear.

What is your next?

I am trying out northern Sikkim to recce some extreme routes with nasty terrain, filled with slush, snow and inclines.

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Printable version | Mar 3, 2021 7:56:17 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/motoring/an-all-women-adventure-drive-to-nepal/article24328622.ece

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