What keeps a motorcyclist going? Who knows… We read their stories and hear about them going off on long road trips. Some in a group, some solo. Some looking for an escape, some looking for a challenge. But one thing that we can be sure of is that they always tend to make a statement. Sometimes it is how motorcycles keep us sane and sometimes it is much more. This story is the latter. The story of Trui Haoulle… and story of WIMA (Women International Motorcycle Association)… a story of Women Riders World Relay. And so, here it goes.
Text: Trui Hanoulle
Photographs: Trui Hanoulle, Dimple Chaudhary, Nirmali Nath
An alarm clock goes off, I roll over, it’s too early. But all of a sudden I’m wide awake. Loud rustling on the roof. Rain, and not even a bit! Pouring, gushing, flooding rain. This is Meghalaya, the wettest state of India, for 70% covered in a hilly, dense, subtropical forest. I open the door and stare at a wall of grey and gloomy. In a pitiful state, our three Enfields stand leaking in deep puddles.
Yet what I didn’t know then, is that we would get much, much wetter a week later, deep in the interior of Bangladesh.
But what the hell are we doing here? Why riding in the worst of seasons for this region, in full monsoon?
On February 27th 2019, a lone rider fights her way through hail and snow to the very North of Scotland. On her back, she carries a case containing a wooden stick, the relay ‘baton’, of what is to become one of the most powerful symbols the motorcycle world has seen in the last decades. Meet Hayley Bell, a 28-year-old, stubborn Britt on a mission, writing history. Or better: herstory.
One year later, the statistics of the Women Riders World Relay around the world read this: 79 countries crossed, 3,528 registered ‘guardians’ (riders of the relay), 333 days on the road, 102,223 approx km. And it’s precisely for this that Nirmali Nath, Dimple Chaudhary and I are here: to carry the precious baton of the WRWR from the border of Nepal through Northeast and into Bangladesh.
THE BRAVE AND THE TOUGH
At first, there was only one woman riding the relay in Northeast: Nirmali Nath, a rare Indian long-distance female biker. The single mother of a 16-year-old daughter rode the entire coast of the subcontinent, crossed the Himalayas West to East, and put herself on the map. A motorcycle accident which fixed her right ankle in a 90° angle did not prevent her from getting back on the bike. But no matter how hard she searched, she couldn’t find any other woman for the WRWR relay in Northeast. Until I signed up.
And then I reached out to another female rider: my online friend from Delhi, Dimple Chaudhary, photographer, poet, openly gay like me, and queer rights activist. “Would you like to join us?” I ask. The answer is swift: she books a domestic flight and a motorcycle rental. After our first live meeting at Siliguri airport, we keep grinning into the night. A new friendship for life.
“Have you been to India before?’ Nirmali wonders. Damn yes, I have! In 1989, when she and Dimple were still in diapers, I hitchhiked across the Himalayas under curfew for months. And in 2002, I rode Ladakh on my own Suzuki DR 650 SE from Belgium, together with my then-girlfriend Iris. But this is the first time I’m back since and it’s a very different India for sure. As enthralling and enchanting as I remembered, now with the added flavour of the biking communities I meet. However lethal Indian traffic is, it’s biker’s paradise as well. I savour every single moment.
READY FOR BANGLADESH
Back to our monsoon morning. ”Maybe we’d better wait,” I suggest with a broad grin staring at the downpour. “Yes, we’ll have breakfast first,” Nirmali announces. She’s the leader, she dictates the timings, arranges the stops, calls those who are awaiting us in the next stage.
Today we hand over the relay baton to Bangladesh at the border in Dawki-Tamabil. The distance we have to cover is a mere 20 km, along a narrow, winding asphalt road through dense jungle.
Tomboy Dimple sings a merry Bollywood song and runs back and forth. Dressed in a black rain cape, she drags the bags to her Classic 350. With the tying skills of a novice scout, she hangs them on the frame, yet as soon as she turns around, the things are already sagging. This construction will never survive the Indian potholes. I offer help but she refuses firmly. “I want to be able to do this on my own!” she laughs.
As we swim towards breakfast and I casually check her bags, everything turns out to be totally sturdy now. Well done! Only much later I learn she had never ridden with luggage and moreover has only been riding for three years. But the skills and reflexes needed for the dangerous cocktail of atrocious roads and ridiculous traffic are ten times what is needed in the western world.
After breakfast, a meek sun starts to glare. Off we go, to the unknown Bangladesh. We don’t know where we will sleep that night, and we have one contact only, the WIMA-Bangladesh (Women International Motorcycle Association) president Israt Khan Mojlish. Our rides will prove to be memorable in the very best sense.
WHAT I DID NOT WRITE…
… yet adds to the numerous reasons to ride in Northeast India and Bangladesh.
I did not write about the most delicious food I ate. About so many small adventures along the road. About the core of this journey: meeting bikers, most of whom women.
About the utmost hospitable guidance, we received from Teesta Thumpers, Brahmaputra HOG and Shillong HOG. About Throttle Fest, a biker and music festival in Arunachal Pradesh. About biker and headmaster Kshounish Guha who invited me to his school in Jalpaiguri. About Ujjawal ‘Uz’ Chettri, the super friendly owner of Reyso Urban Homestay in Darjeeling. About the extremely generous Bengali biker boys of the Sylhet Riding Community who took us to the matriarchal Kashi villages, and about the women riders of Bangladesh Women Riders Club in Dhaka.
Nor could I write about Anita Krishnan, president of WIMA-India who makes her Himalayan look like a toy, about Suparna Sarkar, motorcycle instructor, about Dee Shankar, biker and teacher of self-defence in schools all over India, or about Ankyta Aurore, a high heeled flamboyance on a bright red Ducati.
Nor about Charles G. Mahbert, the quiet and generous head of Montana Vista hotel, motorbiker and collector of historic motorcycles, jeeps and trucks from all over the world. His collection will be shown soon in Garage 65, a museum-annexe-biker hostel in Siliguri.
“Bikers never say goodbye. They say: See you again,” are his words when we part. And he is absolutely right.
Here are some more photos: