The fateful wintry night in December 2012 when Nirbhaya case shook the entire nation and spurred debates on how safe is India for women, Esha Gupta was about two years old in solo biking. She felt it was perhaps time to show India is not as unsafe as it's made out to be.
In 2013, she embarked on the challenging biking expedition scaling the Golden Quadrilateral, and covering over 6,000 kms as a lone rider. “I met a lot of foreign tourists who were sceptical about travelling in India. All the brouhaha in social media had tarnished the country’s image and I wanted to send a message that was contrary to everybody’s belief. Today, I can definitely say India is not so bad a country for women,” says Gupta.
“My biggest strength is my fearlessness and I stayed at budgeted places like dingy lodges and guest houses and never faced any problem. People always advised me not to divulge that I was travelling alone. But I was upfront and that's how I developed confidence. My experience of trusting people has never gone wrong.”
Gupta's travel tales are full of positivity. She fondly remembers the young man who led her through a detour when she got stuck in the cyclone in Orissa. “I blindly followed him for over 10 kms through a deserted area at the end of which after dropping at the nearest town he called me 'didi',” she says. “Likewise, good people are everywhere.”
A graduate of Hotel Management, Gupta quit her corporate job in 2011 and travelling became her mission. “Since then, I have not been earning. My savings are depleting but I am happy that I am living life to the fullest,” she says.
Gupta likes to call herself a traveller than a biker. “I honestly don’t know much about the fancy bikes or their mechanisms, though I connect emotionally with my bike which I have named as Mike.” Gupta has done solo backpacking to Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. “I interacted with a group of bikers at Ladakh and that inspired me to look at bikes as a mode of travel than the bus. But when I tried borrowing a bike from my male friends, they refused. I was hurt and decided to ride my own bike and soon realised how possessive a biker can be about his or her machine.”
Gupta holds records in India, Asia, Limca and Golden Book of Records, for her Solo India ride titled 'Beautiful India', clocking 32,000 kms across 16 States in 110 days.
“I had planned the entire route and rode nearly 450 kms every day. The idea was to highlight the positive experiences of India. I started from Tamil Nadu, the only State where I was hosted for the eight days I spent here. The State has amazing roads, helpful people and is close to my heart.”
So, being a woman biker, does she face more challenges on the road than her male counterparts? “There are times when I get chased or stared at. But even male bikers are subjected to that. I understand that I am doing something that's not the norm of the society right now and there aredownsides to it. Biking is stereotyped for men but when people realise that I am trying something different they encourage me. “I get more thumbs up from women I meet. The girls take me as an inspiration which is heartening.”