Kashmir to Kanyakumari: Two women, a red Skoda, and the countless lives that were forever changed

By Anjali Dedha


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The first time I thought of planning a road trip from Kashmir to Kanyakumari was in 2015. This wasn’t going to be my first trip. I had been traveling before that. I did a backpacking trip when I was pregnant, can you believe that?

Even after becoming a mother to a beautiful daughter, I never pushed aside my love for traveling.

As much as it is true that society loves to put women in a box, I think we do it to ourselves more than others. Because it took me 7 years to do the trip and I can’t even give you an excuse as to why I waited so long for something that I desperately wished for.

Something I knew would make me happy. I think a part of me had started to believe what others wanted me to. Those stereotypes about how women, especially mothers, perhaps should become more “practical” towards life because they have so many “responsibilities”.

Let me just tell you that the single most important thing you should feel responsible for is your happiness. You owe it to yourself to take care of your heart more than anything else.

To break stereotypes, you first need to break the shackles that you put on yourself. Unless you do it, you’ll never realize just how easy it was all along. It happened to me and I will always be eternally grateful.

After years of putting off the trip, my friend Himali finally decided to drive from Kashmir to Kanyakumari all on our own. It was just us, two women, a red Skoda decked in stickers, and the open road. Little did we know that this road trip would forever change countless lives.

The wrong turn on the way to Pathankot

For the first leg of the journey, we drove from Kashmir to Pathankot. The drive was, of course, everything you could imagine. The open road, the mountains in the backdrop, everything was just perfect.

But there were moments where it’d hit us out of the blue that we were two women out on the road. There was a point where we were surrounded by almost 20-30 trucks in the midst of heavy traffic and we were just alone. It was definitely scary at times. There is no sugarcoating it.

Naturally, we were advised to take the safe route but our GPS led us to the route that was labeled as unsafe. We didn’t even take a loo break because of how anxious we were but we kept trying to cheer each other up.

And then as we were driving, there came a turn that opened into a crevice in the mountains ahead of us and it was as if someone had painted the sky in the most beautiful shades of gold, maroon, and pink.

As someone who loves sunsets, I became so giddy that I stopped the car. We got out and just sat there for a while. It’s funny because the fear was still there but something about that moment was so comforting that it seemed too good to ignore.

Once we reached Pathankot, we gave ourselves a pat on the back because apart from that minor hiccup, we did fairly well. It was a successful day.

The first of many chance encounters at Ludhiana

Initially, we had planned to drive from Pathankot to Delhi. But a friend of mine, whom I met when I did the Chadar trek, had a photography exhibition in Ludhiana. I hadn’t seen him in years and I wasn’t sure when the next opportunity would arrive. So, we decided to visit him.

It was then that the first memorable encounter (out of many) happened. Somewhere on the road to Ludhiana, at a petrol pump, we pulled up to refuel our car. We were completely in our zone, jamming to our playlist full of songs that meant something to us. From letting her go by The passengers to Sooraj dooba hai, and all that. (Pro tip: Always have a travel playlist ready when you are on the road.)

Anyway, we are in our car, the red Skoda, completely covered in stickers and maps and all that. It was hard to miss and naturally caught the attention of the guy who was filling our tank. He came up to us and struck up a conversation, asking us where we are from and what it is that we are up to. We told him that we were from Bangalore and that we were doing a road trip from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. He stared at us in disbelief with a hint of amusement, “Just you two women? Are you not scared?”

I smiled and told him that there was nothing to be scared of. “The whole point of life is to conquer your fears and see what’s out there. Things might seem bad but you will never know for sure if you never take that step.”

The conversation simply flowed after that. It hardly lasted five minutes but by the time, it was time for us to leave. He simply said, “mujhe bhi kuch karna hai.”(I want to do something) He told us how he was so inspired after hearing our story and I won’t lie, when he said that, I got goosebumps. It was such a simple moment and yet so profound.

Before we were getting on the road, so many of our friends and peers told us to do this trip with a purpose. To promote it, in one way or the other so that more people can get inspired.

I told them, “The way you live, the way you treat people, the way you embrace your true self should be an inspiration. Until your existence in itself inspires people to do better and be better, then there’s no point in life at all.” To experience that organically, to have someone tell us that he was so touched by our story that he wanted to do something felt like it was all the purpose we needed.

And it only got better when we reached Ludhiana to attend the photography exhibition. The exhibition was being held in Agricultural University of Ludhiana, where I met my friend. He had informed the professors and the faculty about our Kashmir to Kanyakumari road trip and they were so supportive.

It was during lunch-time so they gathered all the students and introduced us as “the two women who are driving all the way from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.” There were so many young women, in their first year of college only and they were so fascinated.

Himali, who was in her 30s, is a fierce single woman and I was married with a kid and we were still both on the road. The idea of it all was so fascinating to those young women. It’s funny how sometimes our mere existence becomes an example.

You never know but sometimes the life you are living, no matter how insignificant you think it is, is literally someone else’s dream. I realized it that day. As a woman, just by being out there, by doing what I love and being true to myself is how I ended up sending the message I always wanted to.

We talked with the students, clicked pictures with the professors and just let ourselves soak in that moment of pride and joy.

The warm welcome from lady of the house in Gwalior

After leaving Ludhiana, we went to Delhi. We met some friends, went on the mandatory food walk and treated ourselves to some golgappas before hitting the road again. The next stop was Gwalior.

Now, throughout our trip, we hadn’t booked any hotels in advance. It was all very spontaneous and I am glad we did because it opened our ways to such diverse experiences. Through one of my friends’ contact, we got the opportunity to stay in this heritage property. A proper, restored haveli! We were so excited because it’s not everyday that you get to spend a night as royalty.

The structure was stunning and had that regal charm. We went there and were greeted by the lady of the haveli herself. She was in her 60s with silver hair and that aura of a royal around her. As soon as we step in, she says to her, “You two girls are driving all the way from Kashmir to Kanyakumari? You all are mad or what?”

She scolded us like a mother would and then immediately her smile turned warm. It was as if we had known each other for our entire lives. Over cups of steaming chai and plates of homemade sweets, she told us about her life. How she was a teacher and originally hailed from Nagpur. She told us all about her days as royalty and how she managed to preserve her haveli.

Beneath her aristocratic façade, there was a warmth and humility that touched our hearts. In her presence, we felt not like guests, but like cherished friends, welcomed into her home with open arms and open hearts. Just having those conversations was so enriching.

One of the things that we realized as we kept meeting more people is that irrespective of the age and time, we all have that innate desire to do something, all of us. Some of us go after it, some of us let it die. So the thing is, don’t let it die.

That’s the belief that kept getting solidified for me throughout this road trip. Everyone we met kept telling us how happy they were that we were chasing what made us happy.

The “COUPLE GOALS” that we should all look upto

Our next stop was Indore where a meet up of overlanders was happening. We had rented a caravan about 3-4 years ago and the guy we had got it from was also a part of the meet up. We really wanted to join and meet people we knew shared the same passion as ours. We were not at all disappointed.

There were some 30-40 caravans lined up. People had customized their vans according to their vibe. People who believe in that slow-pace van life, all gathered together sharing their story. A family had traveled to Leh with their 80 year old grandma in their caravan. It was truly one of the best experiences of my life.

It only got better when we met Sunita Arora Ji. A woman in her 70s who lived and traveled in a caravan with her husband! It was such a wholesome moment to see these people living life to the fullest despite the challenges of age. Mr. Arora who is confined to a wheelchair didn’t let his age or ailments stop him from traveling or living the life he wants to. His motto is simple, one day we are all going to die, but before that happens, live the way you want to, eat the way you want to. When you know death is inevitable, then why worry?

And Sunita ji was such a joy to be around. Here you have a woman, defying all the norms and setting standards for the women of today, simply by just being herself.

These two were truly a couple goals. I mean, we all want to grow old together with the ones we love but to have adventures together as you grow old, that has to mean something, right?

A 12 year old joins the club!

After Indore, we headed towards Aurangabad to see the caves but unfortunately it was closed. Then we headed towards Bijapur and then Hubbali where a friend of mine whom I had worked with 15 years ago asked me to come over and stay the night. It was a lovely evening we spent, catching up on all the lost time and soon it was time to head to Bangalore which is also my home. We couldn’t believe that the trip was almost over.

For the last leg of the trip, that is from Bangalore to Kanyakumari, another friend of mine decided to join. We were more than happy to, the more the merrier right?

So, we left in the morning and were having breakfast at this small dhaba. This was the cherry on the cake moment for me. One girl, she must be around 12, walks up to us and says, “Is that car yours?” We said “yes, it is.” We told her about our trip, how we are driving from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and with every word, we could see her eyes getting wider and filled with that twinkle. And then she said, “I want to grow up to be like you.”

I felt so touched at that moment. We were just having breakfast, being silly and of course, our car did the speaking for us mostly but just the fact that our love for travel was getting validated by so many people, of different ages made us feel that it was all worth it.

As we drove off into the sunset, our hearts were full of gratitude and we simply couldn’t believe that we had done it all. Just like that the journey came to an end. A journey where we laughed, cried, made memories, met people who told us that they were inspired by our journey and what not. This trip surely changed countless lives and most importantly it changed mine.

As told to Adventures Overland by Kushalaja Mukesh

Published On: 5th March 2024


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