#xBhpTalks: Superwomen in helmets and riding gear (Dr. Maral & Asil)

#xBhpTalks: Superwomen in helmets and riding gear (Dr. Maral & Asil)

LIVE: #inConversationWith Superwomen in helmet and riding gear (Dr. Maral & Asil). #xBhpTalks

xBhp द्वारा इस दिन पोस्ट की गई बुधवार, 24 जुलाई 2019

 

In this session of xBhp talks, we had with us two women, who seem like they jumped right out of a superhero flick! The only difference was that they were not wearing capes and did not arrive in a futuristic pod. They were donning their riding gear and they came to the xBhp HQ astride their motorcycles. Talking about motorcycles, let us tell you that one of them has covered all 7 continents and 64 countries on a motorcycle and that too… solo. And the other has come here from Turkey through Pakistan and plans to ride on… We talked to them about their journeys, the difficulties they faced and how they were able to pull something like that off. Here are a few photos and an excerpt from the interview:

xBhp: First of all, a very warm welcome to xBhp. We have done our best to introduce you guys to our readers but we are sure that they’d like to hear it from you. 

Dr. Maral: Yes, I am from Iran. I was born around 37 years ago and moved to India around 16 years ago. Then I completed my MBA and PhD from the University of Pune. 

xBhp: In which stream did you pursue your education? 

Dr. Maral: In marketing and business analytics. Then I worked for around 12 years for a leading construction company as the head of retail and marketing. I am a fashion designer as well. I have my own fashion brand which is called ‘Maral Yazarloo’, launched in Paris, Milan, and Rome. Then I have fashion shows in London, Dubai, and India. That was my life before I left for my world ride. 

xBhp: So you did your recce like that, right? 

Dr. Maral: Yes.

xBhp: You were also selected as one of the top 100 most influential women by BBC. Was that in 2018 or 2019? 

Dr. Maral: In 2018. Usually, they find a woman in the said year and announce it around November. 

xBhp: You have done 64 countries and 7 continents. We’d like to know how this idea came about? 

Dr. Maral: I have always wanted to travel the world. I got introduced to biking around 9 years ago with a Harley-Davidson. That was my first bike. I never owned a two-wheeler before, even the small capacity ones. As you know, Iranian women are not allowed to ride motorbikes and that was my campaign around the world. 

The first bike that I had was a Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight, 1200cc and right after, I went crazy about biking. After that, I bought another Harley-Davidson, a Night Rod Special. Then, I became the first female owner of the Ducati Diavel. And then, I took the BMW GS around the world.

At first, I wanted to travel from India to London. I was a part of another group called ‘One World, One ride’, with Debashish. We went to Leh and Ladakh and came back but our planning was a bit different. They had a different route and I wanted to choose a route which was more… wild. 

After that, I had to leave my job and comfortable life. Then I thought that if I am leaving everything, then why should I just leave for Europe? I decided that I will come back once I have travelled around the globe. Initially, I targeted 45 countries. It is interesting because I thought, “Will I be able to complete 45 countries?” I eventually ended up exploring 64 countries. Initially, I did not start solo. I started with Mr Pankaj Trivedi, who is a renowned documentary maker. We were supposed to document our journey but unfortunately, he couldn’t continue as his neck and lower back started hurting and he had to get that operated. But I decided to continue. 

Everybody was betting that I will quit but to their surprise, I did not. I got married on the way, in Machu Picchu. After that, everybody started betting again that now I will come back home because my husband won’t allow me to continue but that did not happen. After finishing Antarctica, I entered Africa where I got to know that I was pregnant with my baby girl. Not a lot of people knew about this but whoever did also knew that she won’t quit now. I do not quit. I did not even shorten the ride. I completed the whole circuit while I was pregnant. 

Upon entering Iran, I became the first woman to cross Iran on a motorcycle officially, with an Iranian passport. I gave speeches and motivated people, gave interviews and I was in the newspaper. I even requested the Iranian authorities to change the law for women and allow them to ride motorcycles. These are some of the reasons for which I got selected as top 100 influential women by BBC.

xBhp: We know how difficult that is and that is why the goosebumps! We had an Iranian visa because we had to travel from Dubai to Italy. Afterwards, when we went to the US for another ride, they asked us why we had an Iranian visa. We had 50 other visas because we travel and ride a lot. But the only one they noticed was the one of Iran. That’s why we can imagine how difficult it must have been for you to become the first woman to ride through Iran and that too on a large-capacity adventure tourer and not a small-displacement bike. 

Dr. Maral: Asil and I were one of the last people who had the privilege of crossing Iran on a middleweight bike. Asil entered with a 650cc and I entered with an 800cc and after us, the border was closed for big bikes. 

xBhp: Having done something like that, were you a target of any jealousy induced incident while crossing Iran? 

Dr. Maral: Yes! So there is a very big community of girls in Iran who ride motorcycles. They ride with all their gear on. No one is able to identify them as it is very difficult for one to identify the gender of the rider and that is what I love about riding, it is not gender-specific. There was only one incident where that person challenged me and said, “Whatever you have done is not a big deal. If I had a license, I would do the same.” I just told her to give it a try and that once she reaches where I am, she’ll understand. 

xBhp: Were you not concerned about someone sabotaging your tour? 

Dr. Maral: A week before entering Iran, I started receiving hundreds of messages on social media saying, “Don’t enter Iran”. They were concerned about me and they were like, “What if they arrest you? You are doing something against the law.” In Iran, there is always this news of either some reporter getting arrested or someone else getting arrested. To be honest, my experience in Iran was wonderful. 2 km before the Iran border, I called my mom who flew from India to Iran and drove from Tehran to the border to receive me. I was not worried about myself but I was worried about my baby because I was 5 months pregnant at that time. 

I entered the border, put my scarf on, I was all dirty and then I put my Iranian passport and the immigration guy looked at me and said, “Can you speak Farsi?” I replied, “Of course, I am Iranian.” He asked about my dress and I told them that this is my riding gear. Then he asked what I was travelling on and I told them, “On my bike.” This left him a bit surprised and he said, “Alone?”. I replied affirmatively. They told me that this was the first time they had seen a woman who speaks their language and travelling around the world alone and that too on a motorcycle.

Afterwards, a gentleman arrived there who asked me to follow him so that I can answer some questions. We had a nice conversation for about an hour. The questions they asked were mostly related to who I was, what I was doing and such. They just wanted to make sure that I had nothing to do with politics and once they established that, they stamped my passport and congratulated me. They were proud of me. We are very different from the image that the world has created for us. He requested me to click a picture with him. 

After that, I started talking to all local Iranian women and they were so nice to me and so proud of me. After crossing the border I started getting an invitation from the locals for either lunch or dinner. While I was crossing the Iranian states, I was receiving awards and garlands even from the religious communities. The women on the road were hugging me and the men were so warm and welcoming. This was a perfect end to my ride. I also got awarded by the federation of cars and bikes in Iran. The president of that federation promised that he will work towards getting riding for women legalized in Iran. This journey was also about spreading the awareness that there is nothing wrong with women riding a motorcycle because it is not gender-specific because women have been driving cars in Iran for a long time. 

xBhp: You should know that someone out there is probably going to make a movie about this. 

Dr. Maral: I did receive many offers from people wanted to work with me. But I was already 6.5 months pregnant and I had like 3 more months left. So, I decided to spend that time with my family and digest whatever I had done. Now is the time that I should share my experiences and give speeches and so I decided to do that. I am sure there will be a movie on this because I know there are many women travellers but there very few who have mapped this world on a motorcycle. 

xBhp: It is easier to tackle the roads than to tackle the society but seemingly, you have already done that. Now, how about your friend? Can you please introduce her to our readers? 

Dr. Maral: It is really interesting because Asil and I met each other in Turkey as she was my host in Istanbul. We texted each other because the community of female world travellers is not big enough. I texted her that I am coming to Turkey and she said come to Istanbul and you can stay with me. She is the first person who saw my baby girl ‘Naphas’ because she went for sonography with me. I got to know her because the culture in Turkey is pretty much similar to the eastern side of the world. She is the first one to get out of Turkey and travel the world and all over Europe. When I was in Turkey, I told her that I will wait for you in India and she came to India after 1 year. 

xBhp: So Dr. Asil, you can also say anything you want. We can always translate it. 

Dr. Asil: I live in Turkey and I am a lecturer by profession. I have travelled to Asia, Europe, and Africa. I teach physical education to my students because my PhD is in this field. Sport psychology to be precise. 

Dr. Maral: She is crazy. When she was in Iran she was riding in 50 degrees. We don’t go to that part of Iran because we think that our tires will burst due to the temperature. She now wants to travel to South America in winter. 

xBhp: What was the most dramatic or craziest moment while you were on the road?

Dr. Maral: I remember this one time when I banged my rim in a huge pothole in Nata, Africa. I didn’t know where I was as I did not have a fixed plan. I ride from sunrise to sunset. While I was riding in the dark, it suddenly started raining and the roads were filled with potholes. I suddenly hit the pothole and I could hear the air being released from my front tyre. I was not able to get off my bike because I was carrying all my luggage and my tent on the pillion seat which made it pretty heavy. I then saw a sign which said, ‘Do not stop, wild animal zone’. So I had to ride without any pressure in the front tyre.

xBhp: Any accidents while you were on the road?

Dr. Maral: Yes, Mexico. I was riding and the lane suddenly changed and when I tried to change the lane my front wheel got locked and I did a somersault!. I was in my riding gear and that saved me from that impact. The people were very helpful. They picked up my bike and asked me if I was alright. 

xBhp: What bike do you ride?

Dr. Asil: I ride a 650cc but I had to switch it to a 250cc because of the Iranian law. I am now thinking of doing South America on an Africa Twin. I did ask the authorities why they do not allow heavy bikes in their country. They said that they don’t want to promote luxury items such as a Porsche or a Ferrari but that did not satisfy me. 

xBhp: Who was the most interesting person you met on the ride?

Dr. Maral: I met many people along the way, especially bikers. There was this incident that I can never forget and it happened in Indonesia. I saw a guy who was just walking on the road all by himself and I stopped and said ‘Hi’ to him and asked, “Where are you from?”. He said, “France”. He then told me that he was walking from France. For the last 6 years, he had been walking!

xBhp: So, did you face any hostility or some sort of eve-teasing while you were on the road?

Dr. Maral: There were a couple of times where I felt uncomfortable and uneasy just by the way they were looking at me. When I was camping in Chile, I saw two drunk men passing by and they were quite a menace. I was holding my knife and my pepper spray all the time so that I can protect myself from them but nothing happened. Other than that, I never actually faced any problems. People were very sweet and comforting. I even started a hashtag called #beautifulpeople #beautifulworld. 

xBhp: What about your experiences in India?

Dr. Asil: I just know mango from here, I had like a ton of mangoes in one single day in Pakistan. The food is too spicy here, even at breakfast. I told them not to make it spicy and they said okay but it was still too spicy for me. 

Dr. Maral: I told her to stop at dhabas and have dal-rotis because they make tandoori roti which tastes delicious with dal. This is available mostly in Northern parts of India. Once you cross Srinagar and go a little higher, you will start getting momos and noodles which are less spicy. 

xBhp: What about your trip to Antarctica?

Dr. Maral: That was the most difficult part of my ride. I booked a boat, paid in advance for that but that boat never showed up. Everybody told me not to go but I never give up. There is always a way around things in the world and sometimes you even need to break the law. In Antarctica, engines are not allowed and for me, it was very difficult to find a way around that. I did find a guy who was willing to take me and my bike to Antarctica for a little bribe then I had a little conversation with Alex, my husband. 

Alex is not a biker, he knows how to ride a bike but he is not as enthusiastic as me and my biker friends. So, the guy who was willing to take me to Antarctica asked for $1,000 and asked me, “You just want to go to Antarctica and ride your bike?”. I said, “No, I just want to click a picture with my bike.” 

I then met a guy from America who was travelling the world on a sailing boat. He invited me for dinner and we started a nice conversation about our travel experiences. He then asked me where am I going next. I told him that I am going to Antarctica. 

He then told me that there are around 10% of people in the world who are bikers and the rest do not see the need for me to go to Antarctica and disrupt the ecological balance there. And then it clicked my mind. What was I doing? Afterwards, I requested all the bikers in the world to avoid travelling to Antarctica on their bikes because Antarctica is home to many wild animals. It’s so untouched that once you get off the boat, you will have to vacuum all your clothes so you don’t contaminate that continent and then you decide to slide down your bike on that land? That really does not make any sense. 

Then I decided that I will not take my bike with me to Antarctica because the motive of travelling the world is to notice the change in you. You need to see the world becoming your home. I spent two weeks in Antarctica. I was down with flu, motion sickness, and whatnot. I was dragging myself all that time. It was very cold! While returning, I was counting every minute waiting for land. It was very difficult. Everything was falling and breaking because the tides were so high that it was actually making the boat a roller coaster ride. Now, I tell this to Alex that if you and Naphas want to go visit Antarctica, I will stay here and wait for you. 

xBhp: It must have been really hard for you to let go of the last leg of your tour, right?

Dr. Maral: Right. I actually paid every cent so that I could get my bike on Antarctica. Everything was set for me. I could have massaged my own ego and said that I have completed the world on my bike but I decided not to do that because it is against the law and I should respect it. 

There was a woman who landed her bike in Antarctica and created such a negative image about bikers that it was very difficult for us to repair that. There is a certain perception about bikers being tough, rude and carefree but we are the sweetest people around.

xBhp: So, what is the most difficult route you have ever been through?

Dr. Maral: There was one route where we were riding towards the world’s highest lake. Most of the roads in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia are situated in high mountainous regions. It is really hard to remember the name of the lake but it was in Peru. When we were going up, it started snowing as it was very cold at that time. Thankfully, when we were riding towards the lake, the snow was still fresh and soft. In the early morning, when you wanted to come to the city it was like ‘Hallelujah’. It was not biking anymore, it was more like skating. The toughest route I had was in Peru, very tough. It was all slush because I mostly took the off-road and not the highway. I always stayed in small villages and I ate local delicacies for my lunch and dinner. They still make food on a wooden oven, not on a gas-operated cooktop. I have stolen a lot of oranges and fruits from the local gardens. 

xBhp: Where do you want to ride now?

Dr. Maral: I have covered around 1,10,000kms and covered most of the roads in the world. Even if I think about covering any other road, it will be the same thing. One thing that I have thought about it and still want to do, and Asil, you can also join me in that ride, is the ‘Road of bones’ in Russia. It is said that it is one of the scariest roads in the world because this road is made over the bones of actual humans who were building that road because that road is built over a soft marshy land and the bones were actually helping to create a much stiffer base. Even thinking about riding on that road is scary, you might encounter a hand protruding out of the road!

xBhp: Which is the most beautiful sunset you ever experienced?

Dr. Maral: Every sunset and sunrise was beautiful for me. I still remember the sunsets and sunrises in Patagonia. It was beautiful. The sun was rising from the snow peaks and the roads were beautiful and I used to sit on the road with a cup of coffee and enjoy that particular view. 

xBhp: Which is the most beautiful building you came across on your ride?

Dr. Maral: It was in Berlin, Germany. They have so many medieval era churches and they have those old palaces in small hamlets. 

xBhp: Did you visit Dracula’s castle?

Dr. Maral: All these castles look like Dracula’s castle. There was this beautiful church in South America and this church in Thailand. 

xBhp: Did you also meet the King of Burma or Myanmar?

Dr. Maral: I did meet the royal family of Malaysia. I met Sangye, who is a member of the royal family of Bhutan and an avid biker too. He rides a GS and a Harley-Davidson. He married the sister of the king of Bhutan. He is a wonderful rider. He and his cousin actually rode with me and showed me around the country. He is an excellent adventure rider. I also met these two brothers, Iranian, who covered the whole world 63 years ago on a bike and a car over 10 years. They are the most awarded bikers in the world. After them, I was the one who travelled the world from Iran. 

xBhp: Is there anything that you’d like to say to our readers?

Dr. Maral: It is very important for me and the world to understand the importance of dreams. It’s not about riding around the world or being a biker, it’s about having a dream and achieving it. I usually don’t like it when they call me an influencer. I just don’t like that phrase. I think they are really bringing down my achievements. I would rather be called an example to show the world that nothing is impossible. I want to show the world that if an Iranian woman is travelling solo, getting married, and continuing that ride while being 6.5 months pregnant, then nothing is impossible. I want people to realize that they should stop living their lives through social media because what social media portrays is just happiness but life is just not about happiness. It’s equally important to absorb the bad times as well. I am not that active on social media because I have other important things to do.

xBhp: Those were the questions we had for you. Is there anything you’d like to add? 

Dr. Maral: My tagline, even for my brand, says, ‘Made of dreams’. My personal tagline would say, ‘Never give up’. Failures are important because without failures you cannot achieve your dreams. Asil and I are an example in our respective countries. We say, ‘if we can, you can too.’ That’s for each and everybody to take it to another level. Plus, we don’t believe in biking being a gender-specific sport and I really don’t like to see women on a bike in a bikini because if biking is not gender-specific then why don’t you wear your riding gear and pose? Women in India are riding and taking it seriously, I like that. I recently saw this lady who received a license for flying fighter jets. The biking club run by women called ‘Lady biking club of India’. I am glad to see so many women coming out and following their passion. 

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