As if riding across the country isn’t adventure enough, 35-year-old Shyni Rajkumar found herself driving through Gujarat when the state was recently hit with floods. Riding a Royal Enfield Himalayan all the way from Kanyakumari to Leh, Shyni battled the elements for 42 days with an agenda – to build awareness against violence against women.
Though torrential rains accompanied her through much of her journey, she didn’t stop for a single day. Indeed, says Shyni, “It all boosted my spirit. If I covered on average 300 km per day in the first part of the trip, I could cover at least 500 km a day while returning”, she says.
In all, Shyni covered 12,000km with the slogan ‘Azadi - Stop Violence Against Women’. The ride was flagged off on July 16 at Manaveeyam Veedhi, a cultural corridor in Thiruvananthapuram. Shyni returned to the city on Sunday.
The longest ride of Shyni’s life so far didn’t start off very auspiciously. She met with an accident on the very first day near the Kerala border, while travelling from Madurai to Tirunelveli. “I was a little upset as it was the first time that I was going away from my family. The Bullet skid after hitting a stone and I fell,” she says. The bike was damaged, and Shyni sustained minor injuries.
But the early obstacle was also an excellent example of the possible kindness of strangers. “The Regional Service Manager of Enfield, Bino Job, had promised me any help for my trip. I called him up, and he sent two servicemen from their Tirunelveli service centre, which was 60km away from the accident spot. We went to three villages to get an auto to carry the Bullet to the service centre,” explains Shyni.
The biggest surprise came when it was time to settle the bill. “It cost Rs 30000 for the repair work, but the manager didn’t take money from me. Instead, he asked, “Shyni, the money with you would be just enough to meet your expenses for the trip right?” she says. Her only cost was a day’s extra stay in Madurai.
Shyni took the journey with two other riders — Nash from Kannur and Anup from Kozhikode. But both of them parted ways at Leh. Shyni’s husband Rajkumar, also an avid rider and Bullet fan, also joined her at Chandigarh and accompanied her till Leh. “From my husband, I had taken the promise that he would only ride pillion.But my husband rode the bullet for a short distance when I was not well ,” she says.
In Mumbai, Shyni and her fellow riders kicked off the second element of the cross-country trip – building awareness about violence against women. The trio spent an evening near the busy Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus displaying placards urging people to intervene on the issue of violence against women.
The message spread swiftly, says Shyni, so that at her later stops groups of riders were waiting to meet her to assure support in the awareness-building effort. “I tried in my own way to communicate the message, and I believe that the mission was successful to an extent,” she says.
A member of an all-women riders’ club in India, Shyni says that the generous support offered by other women riders helped make her journey much smoother. Many offered her accommodation in various places. Also, as a member of Sthree Koottayma, a women’s group in Thiruvananthapuram, she managed to secure sponsorship from the State Tourism Department through the group.
While Shyni has returned to Kerala packed to the brim with memories, the one landscape that stays etched in her mind is of Khajjiar in Himachal Pradesh. “Khajjiar is heaven on earth and I felt elated riding through there,” she says.
The other memorable experience for Shyni was riding to the Wagah border. “At the Wagah border, women carry the Indian flag. Songs hailing nationality are played, and only women are allowed to dance to those songs. It was the most enthralling experience of my ride,” she says.
Born in Thiruvananthapuram, Shyni was an athlete in school and a cricket player in college. She played for the Kerala women’s cricket team too. In 2003, her thirst for travel transformed her into a biker.
“My passion for travel connected me to biking, and later to the Bullet. Even my love for athletics and cricket was connected to that. I was able to travel a lot for tournaments and athletic meets” she says. On a 2002 trip to Uttar Pradesh to train students in a school by her cousin, Shyni went from bicycle trips to Bullet journeys. “I began a practice of visiting children living in faraway villages during the weekends. My intention was to travel. Initially, I used to travel by bicycle, then a two-wheeler, and then on an old Bullet,” she says. Recruited to the Delhi police in 2003, Shyni quit the job in only a few months to make room for her passion for travel. But it took some time before people around her grew comfortable with the sight of her on a Bullet. “Many people ridiculed me, and said the worst things. Most of them rode pillion on my bike later,” she says.
Shyni is the founder of an all-women Bullet riders’ club in Kerala named the Dauntless Royal Explorers. She and Rajkumar train women to ride the Bullet at their house in Sasthamangalam, where the couple live with their son.