Negotiating potholed roads in India is easy; convincing parents, friends, lovers and the rest of middle-class India that women are in the driver’s seat is the hard part. Having said that, wanderlust is taking a handful of women onto Indian highways and this emerging tribe of roadies has traveller’s tales that are both hair-raising and exhilarating. Driving through cattle can be easier than arguing with irate male road hogs. Thumbing a ride with the average Indian male is a strict no-no.
Whether travelling with the boys or the girls, travel writer Puneet Inder Sidhu has been voted the best driver. She is always behind the wheel, on a gut-busting trip to Bhutan or a joyride in the German countryside in a sporty Mazda Cabriolet. Sidhu believes that the gender you travel with is not so important, though “taking instructions from a male navigator is admittedly hard”.
Of course, life throws those curved balls at you. Mariwala and Chakravarty found themselves lost in Karanataka, with language not on their side. “None of us speak Kannada and we were trying to find our way to Mandagade where our host for the night was putting us up. We saw a signboard that announced Mandagate, a village. We should have guessed it was the wrong one,” says Chakravarty. They were stuck on a narrow road, looking for a hospital, the landmark that their host had told them about. “With a bullock cart in front of us, all we could do was join the laughter of the occupants of the cart,” says Mariwala.
Sidhu, who was behind the wheel in an old and trusted Maruti Esteem on a Patiala to Delhi trip with a woman friend, faced many stares from fellow travellers on the way. “Some of them made U-turns to race or unnerve us. We actually welcomed the dark, so no one could see who was driving,” she says.
The important thing about being with a group of girls is that there is no ‘head of the pack.’ “There is no man ‘in charge’ and that can be very liberating. The onus of taking care, fixing the vehicle or getting food and drinks was on all of us,” says Timsey Zaveri, (33), a techie who was also part of the Goa group.
She believes that women need to get over their technophobia. “I’ve never done road trips with guys but prefer the company of woman travellers. A lot of women are just scared to drive, my mum has learnt, but not my sister-in-law,” she says.
But if you are looking to seek help, here’s some tried-and-tested advice. “Look for old male truckers, they are more helpful and chances of it turning into a bad scene are remote,” says Lakhmana. She should know. She’s been sneaking out her dad’s car when she was all of 13. Today, Lakhmana is a safe, cautious driver who has travelled 55 cities spread out in 17 countries.