Meet the Bengaluru woman who traversed through the world’s coldest highway

This 36-year-old mother of two covered the 5,080 km drive in 14 days.
Meet the Bengaluru woman who traversed through the world’s coldest highway
Meet the Bengaluru woman who traversed through the world’s coldest highway
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Being an adventurer is thrilling: there’s no dearth of adrenaline rush and you never run out of stories to tell.

“However, just because it ties up together to be glamorous experience, doesn’t mean it’s always fun. There are times when you have no one to rely on but yourself. That’s what really goes into it,” says Nidhi Tiwari, an extreme terrain driver from Bengaluru.

According to Vasilieva Tamara Yegorovna, a historian and member of the Russian Geographic Society, Nidhi is the first Indian to traverse Russia’s Kolyma Highway, also known by its ominous moniker “Road of Bones” (more on that later). And while Nidhi has undertaken many expeditions, this 14-day, 5,080 kilometre car ride along the coldest highway in the world was the most arduous one she has done.

The 36-year-old mother of two left India on December 10 last year and took a flight to Yakutsk, in Sakha Republic, from where she began her drive to Magadan, through Oymyakon village, the coldest permanently inhabited place in the world. Oymyakon is also known as the ‘Pole of Cold’. Nidhi stayed there for three days before starting the drive back to Yakutsk.

The average temperature in this region at the time was -50°C, she says, and it plunged even lower on some days. The extreme weather made it impossible for her to stay outdoors for more than eight minutes.

“It’s very difficult to describe that cold. I was able to bear only for 5-8 minutes before I had to get back inside the car. You have to protect your fingers because they are often the first casualties. I think you’d have to stay out for a maximum of ten minutes for your fingers to become irreversibly frostbitten,” she says.

There were days when Nidhi had to drive her Toyota Prado for 14 hours straight to get to a settlement where she could spend the night. Many times, there would be no soul in sight for hundreds of kilometres at a stretch. But she had to continue on the road even if the sunlight faded and snowfall began, because she couldn’t afford to stop her car. There was little connectivity on her cell phone too.

Nidhi explains that in such an extreme temperature, the car wouldn’t start back up if the engine was turned off outdoors. So, she had to map out her route and travel to zero down on settlements where she could stay and also keep her car in a heated garage.

Even though there wasn’t much choice for food (it was just meat and at some places which didn’t have cafes, raw meat), communication wasn’t a big problem for Nidhi even though no one there spoke English. Using the offline version of Google Translate wherever she didn’t have internet connectivity, she was able to convey her message to the locals and vice versa.

There were times, Nidhi said, where it was hard to keep going. “The cold, the extreme and varied terrain, it does take a toll. Some days it had gotten excruciatingly dark but I still hadn’t reached a settlement. I had to talk myself through it, I had to tell myself that I had to keep moving,” she recalls.

Nidhi says she knew what she was getting into and the hardships are part of the journey – she spent four months planning it, mapping her pit stops and places she would be resting at. The knowledge that the foundation of the highway she was riding on was made of bones of the labourers who were forced to mine for gold there under Stalin, was also overwhelming. Even so, Nidhi decided make the journey alone.

“When you plan a high-risk expedition, you do so with a vision of success in your mind. In my opinion, if I took someone along, my energy would also go into taking care of the group or the person with me. That takes the focus away from the expedition,” she says.

During the journey, Nidhi also took lots of photos and videos and wherever she could find internet connectivity, held Skype conversations with 15 schools across India. “We tell kids to think outside the box but I wanted to show them what goes into it - the real picture, where the journey is about more than the victory,” she explains.

This wasn’t Nidhi’s first solo journey either. In 2015, she drove for 97 days from New Delhi to London, covering 17 countries and a distance of 23,800 kilometres. Other expeditions include drives touching the LAC and LOC and a journey to the last point of the Indian soil Turtuk near the North Glacier (Siachen), among others.

Nidhi is also the founder of Women Beyond Boundaries, established in 2015. The organization encourages women to undertake “extreme overland journeys to achieve empowerment through mobility”.

(All photos courtesy: Women Beyond Boundaries via Facebook. Reused here with permission.)

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