On Deadly Ground

Mumbai’s Sheetal Bidaye is the first Indian woman biker to compete in Raid de Himalaya’s speed and endurance category.

Written by VIDYA PRABHU | Published: October 4, 2013 1:55 am

Every morning,37-year-old Sheetal Bidaye travels from her house in Babulnath to Andheri on her bike. Employed with a portal where she is expected to write about her adventures on the two-wheeler,the seasoned biker doesn’t mind navigating the city’s crowded roads and potholes as long as she gets to ride. The latest in her list of adventures is the 15th Raid de Himalaya rally in Shimla where Bidaye will be the first Indian woman biker to enter the strenuous Raid Xtreme category. “The Raid is being held from October 4 to October 12,but I came to Shimla a few days ahead of the event as I wanted to acclimatise myself to the cold weather and take my bike out for a ride,” she says.

Counted among the 10 toughest rallies of the world,Raid de Himalaya is an annual event that takes place in the rough terrains of Himachal Pradesh,Ladakh and Leh. The two-day scrutiny sessions will begin on Friday,followed by a six-day rally that will test Bidaye’s endurance and speed as she hits the road on a Hero Honda Impulse,the same bike she rides to work every day. “The Raid will start with the contestants travelling from Shimla to Manali before heading to the arduous stretches of Kaza,the Monastery Necklace,Khardung La,Wari La and the Nubra Valley. It will conclude at Leh,” she says.

Encouraged by her father,Bidaye took to biking at the age of 18. The Western Ghats — Rajmachi in the Sahyadris in particular — were her favourite destination until she explored Leh and Ladakh with a group of friends in 2009. “I can never forget the joy of riding my Hero Honda 100cc on that trip where all other women rode pillion,” she recalls.

Ever since,Bidaye has set several records. In 2010,she successfully crossed Marsimek La,the highest mountain pass in the world,which won her a mention in the Limca Book of Records. In the same year she became the first motorcyclist to reach Turtuk,close to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir,apart from riding to Sasoma village on the road to Siachen and to the fort of Hanle,which is in a village near the Indo-China border. “These places made riding a new experience as it was no longer just about the bike but also about exploring a tough terrain,” she says.

At the Raid,Bidaye will ride for close to 12 hours every day. The challenge,she says,lies in dealing with very low temperatures and riding in the mud and slush. “Completing the Raid is an achievement in itself as only 25 per cent of participants are known to reach the finish line,” she says.

And while she doesn’t think her gender puts her at any disadvantage,Bidaye — also a member of the group Bikerni — laments that the field has little or no money. “I am in it for the thrill but monetary support is always welcome,” she says.

vidya.prabhu@expressindia.com

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