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Interview: Meet the World’s Youngest Biker Girl to Conquer Ladakh’s Famed Khardung-La!

Ladakh presents a wonderful opportunity for bikers, but it requires a good amount of skill.

Known as the gateway to the Shyok and Nubra valleys, the Khardung-La Pass on the Ladakh range lies on the north of Leh. Since its opening to public motor vehicles in 1988, it has seen many car, bike and cycling expeditions. The staggering elevation of 17,582 feet, is just one of the challenges candidates have to bear. Crippling cold and barely motorable roads make this an extremely difficult path to traverse.

While the views all around are ethereal, one slip could send you plummeting thousands of feet to your death. Braving the cold, tough roads and the elements, 20-year-old Riya Yadav became the youngest female biker in the world, to conquer this path.

Riya embarked on the journey to conquer ladakh's Khardung-La. Image Credit: Riya Yadav.
Riya embarked on the journey to conquer Khardung-La. Image Credit: Riya Yadav.

A student of Indraprastha College under Delhi University, Riya was accompanied by three friends, and the group began their journey on June 17th, 2017, returning on July 1, 2017, when she was 19 years old.

The Better India spoke to Riya Yadav about her exciting trip, their share of difficult moments and her record.

“The motorbike was a gift from my father,” says Riya, adding that she had only been riding for a few months before undertaking the expedition.

For Riya, her expedition to Ladakh was just 7 months after she got her first motorcycle. Image Credit: Riya Yadav
For Riya, her expedition was just 7 months after she got her first motorcycle. Image Credit: Riya Yadav

The yearning for adventure isn’t surprising. Riya loves sports and has been playing from a young age (mention some sports that she has been playing). Laurels for school and college aside, sports taught her to work under pressure and manage success and failure equally.

“My sister helped me convince my parents to allow me to go,” says Riya, adding that riding to Leh comes with its fair share of challenges, like riding in snow, water crossings and landslides. Her parents had initially thought Riya would use the bike for short distances. Imagine their surprise when she announced her decision to ride to Ladakh.

Riding in the mountains in Ladakh comes with its fair share of challenges, which Riya faced head on. Image Credit: Riya Yadav
Riding in the mountains comes with its fair share of challenges, which Riya faced head on. Image Credit: Riya Yadav

Riding in mountainous terrain, one must always be vigilant, since the road is treacherous. Even if you are constantly aware of your surroundings, a natural disaster is something you cannot avert.

Riya too had roadblocks of her own. A landslide between Pang and Patso caused the road to jam, the water to overflow and the situation to worsen. Cranes cleared rocks, trying to help the vehicles stuck in the landslide. Riya and her group decided to proceed down the path nevertheless.

As luck would have it, the bike got stuck in the middle. Displaying a calm presence of mind, Riya decided to take matters into her own hands and managed to free her bike, eventually crossing the path.

While riding in the mountains, one is also vulnerable to altitude sickness, and Riya herself found the conditions difficult while riding. On one stretch, visibility was so low, that she had to ride with one hand, using the other to clear her vision because she couldn’t see anything in front of her.

“It was sometime during the trip, that I heard about the record,” says Riya, speaking about her record of being the youngest female rider at Khardung-La.

It was during the course of her trip to Ladakh, that Riya learnt of the record of being the youngest female biker at Khardung-La. Image Credit: Riya Yadav.
It was during the course of her trip, that Riya learnt of the record of being the youngest female biker at Khardung-La. Image Credit: Riya Yadav.

However, setting a record is one thing, battling the elements in the mountains is another. Riya says the journey wasn’t easy, especially as she had begun riding just recently. She would panic if the road had too much traffic. However, this trip taught her to remain calm while facing hurdles. The presence of Sarah Kashyap (an off-road rally racer), helped boost her morale as well.

The adventurous Riya is in no mood to rest. However, an accident in March 2018 has forced her to take rest and stay off the bike. She cannot wait to get back on and conquer new territory. As a career path, she wants to join the Indian Army and realises that she will have to juggle her academics and passion well, to make her dreams come true.


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Riya received a resounding welcome on returning from Ladakh to college, where classmates and college authorities congratulated her on what she had accomplished, cheering for her success.
Well, you can never have just one adventure, and Riya proves this.

“I want to participate in the Raid De Himalaya next year,” she says, the world’s highest rally that is known to be incredibly punishing on both man and machine. She used to practice with her brother in her society for the same.

 

Riya doesn't want to stop at just one trip to Ladakh, and wants to go on many adventures in the future. Image Credit: Riya Yadav.
Riya doesn’t want to stop at just one trip, and wants to go on many adventures in the future. Image Credit: Riya Yadav.

Juggling academics and her passion, Riya hopes to explore more of the country with her trusted motorcycle, and if the Ladakh expedition is anything to go by, it seems she is just getting started!

(Edited by Shruti Singhal)

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