The 21 year old Zenith Irfan, a student from Lahore, Pakistan, has become a daring bike rider in the past two years. Her father has always dreamt about leaving his home in Pakistan just to travel around the world on a bike. But his early death couldn’t make his wish come true. So, Irfan being his eldest child decided to take up the challenge and fulfill her father’s wish.
She decided to set on a boundary-breaking bike journey around the world, smashing all stereotypes in Pakistan, where seeing a woman venture out on her own is a big taboo. However, this transformation from a 21 year old Lahore student to a female bike rider wasn’t easy for her.
She first had to learn riding a motorbike for making her father’s dream come true. In 2013, Irfan’s younger brother bought a simple bike with a small 70cc engine and taught her how to ride. Her mother always encouraged Irfan to fulfill her late father’s unfulfilled dream.
Irfan says that initially it was very confusing and frustrating for her to manage the gear, the clutch and the brakes but then she got through her big struggle. She started riding the bike during her everyday tasks in Lahore.
Last summer in the month of June, Irfan decided to venture out for a six day solo trip through the Azad Kashmir region, which is a disputed region in northeastern Pakistan that borders India and China. She says she wanted to visit Kashmir because she had heard a lot about it. People title Kashmir as ‘jannat-e-nazir’, which means it’s a paradise on earth and Irfan wanted to experience it for herself on her motorbike,
Irfan started her journey to Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad first and then she rode against an impressive backdrop of mighty mountains, beautiful rivers and lush landscapes, all the way to Murree, which is a suburb located on the southern slopes of the western Himalayan foothills.
From Murree, she then rode her bike to the Pakistan-administered Kashmir’s capital, Muzaffarabad. Then she crossed the region’s forested Neelam Valley riding through a number of beautifully landscaped, picturesque towns and villages including Sharda and Kel.
Irfan says that she felt free, especially during her 3 minute journey from Punjab’s rich culture of Punjab to the frosty mint mountains of Khunjerab Pass. This is C’est Beau and it’s beautiful, says Irfan.
She further says that being on road it felt like her mind, body and soul were coming together. She felt so free being out of the congested cities. She could now meditate properly and it really felt different, very emotional and liberated.
Her first long distance trip gave her the courage to venture even farther. In August 2015, Irfan set herself on a 3,200 kilometers biking expedition from Lahore through North Pakistan up to the Khunjerab Pass on the border with China. She was pleased to know that she was the first Pakistani motorbike rider to have met the locals there.
During her 20 days journey, she travelled to places like the Deosai Plains, which is one of the highest plateaus in the world and Chilas, which is an extremely conservative small village. She shares that Chilas’ residents, who are hostile to outsiders, threatened her with rocks.
She says that her main concern through the biking journeys was about road accidents since she was riding alongside trucks on tough roads. But the danger wasn’t enough to stop her. She says that she wasn’t fearful since if death was to come, it could come even if she stayed at home. The fear of death and accidents thus, couldn’t stop her.
Another matter of concern was the stereotype that ‘Girls don’t ride bikes’. She says that she was concerned as a woman riding a bike could outrage people in conservative places. To combat this, she ditched her feminine clothes and concealed herself beneath her helmet, boots and jacket.
Most of the people thought she was a male. When she had to stop to ask directions, she rather got to see people with their mouth open, because they couldn’t digest the fact that she was a woman asking them directions. Irfan says she was nervous of people’s reactions but she only encountered one negative comment once, by a man who told her that girls don’t ride motorcycles.
At the same time, she also got support and encouragement from a lot of people along the way, including support from other tourists, soldiers at security checkpoints and some of the few women she met. She recalls one woman in Misgar, a tiny village near China, who left a lasting impression on her. She says that they couldn’t understand each other as the woman was talking in her own language but the woman was happy to see Irfan there. And through a local translator the woman told Irfan that what Irfan was doing is unbelievable.
While sharing some of her best memories, Irfan talks about the time when she arrived at Deosai Plains. She says that her ride was very demanding physically but the positive memories of her trip outlast all the discomforts. The best part of her journey was seeing snow on the mountains as she had never seen snow in real life. Even reaching the Khunjerab Pass was a huge achievement since she had to take it up the mountain to reach there.
Irfan is for now focusing on her studies but is still making plans for more trips. She has Mithi, a small town in southern Sindh province where both Hindus and Muslims live together, the Swat valley, known as the Switzerland of Pakistan for its stunning scenery and a journey all the way to Dubai, where she was born, on her list.
Undoubtedly, her biking expeditions would make her father proud.
Article By: Dakshita