This five-foot-one-inch tall, petite, Chandigarh-based girl has seen it all — extreme weather, spectacular sights, challenges and the highs. She is consumed by wanderlust and an adrenaline rush that is difficult to match. Despite several hurdles, Sarah Kashyap has been riding her way through numerous terrains fearlessly and passionately. What started as a pre-30s birthday gift to herself, is now her lifeline. Living up to the aphorism of ‘Live, Love, Ride’ is how Kashyap describes her life.
A female rally-racer and the first-ever Indian woman to have completed the prestigious Raid de Himalaya 2015 (motorcycle category), Kashyap has tamed the world’s highest motorsport route (Manali, Srinagar, Kargil and Drass, among other places). Recently, she became the only woman to have completed the Desert Storm Rally (Rajasthan).
This national level judo player has done her schooling in Chandigarh, and an MBA (Finance) from University of Wales, London, England. She has worked across various fields during her six-year stint abroad.
Non-mainstream and odd jobs have been her way of living — be it a halaal shop, bartending, security personnel at the airport, social support worker or a product trainer at Google in 2013 — she has been at the most unconventional jobs, especially for an Indian woman. Back home, she’s worked as an assistant professor at University of Chandigarh and at a Digital Media house, before joining the automobile industry — Royal Enfield and now at Polaris India Pvt Ltd, an ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle) manufacturing company.
How did riding happen? “I have been riding since the age of 16. My brother challenged me to do so, and I thoroughly loved it, the gush of wind across my face, the adrenaline rush and the power that I could control a machine almost thrice my weight was more than enough for me to understand my desire. I do what I like to do, rather than what is expected of me. A few years after I returned to India, I bought a Royal Enfield (named it Hercules) and rode from Bengaluru to Khardung-La, Ladakh. In a country where women are still kept behind the purdah, I decided to take up the avant-garde road. I chose my passion over my profession and haven’t regretted my decision ever. I joined the automobile industry, these companies didn’t have a strong female workforce and I am now at the leadership level here,” the confident Kashyap answers.
Four wheels move the body, but two wheels move the soul, someone has rightly said. Her love has always been the machines — amidst the smell of oil, painted tanks and the thump of soaring engines. So which one of these have stayed with her? Sarah answers, “Oh! It has to be the Raid de Himalaya. I learnt a lot about my limits, my passion, my love for riding and myself. I slipped on black ice on the last day of the rally, the bike fell on me, and I broke my collarbone, but didn’t quit, rode the last 200 km like that and finished the race. Guess that’s what adrenaline rush is — even with injuries, no back-up vehicle, with slings and painkillers, all I could see was the finish line. All rides have hitches but at the end, the ride is what is cherished forever.”
Her support system, she says, through all of this has been her family and friends. “They play a pivotal role, they are one’s weakness as well as strength. My way of living is uncertain, but my loved ones understand, and in fact whenever possible my brother joins my support crew in the races. My parents know all sides of this field, and in fact they are very proud of my achievements, and never leave a chance to show me off among their peer groups. That’s Indian parents for you!” she proudly exclaims.
Rally racing is gaining decent popularity now but a female rally racer is still rare in our country. When asked about the difficulties she faced, Kashyap says that she says the attitude is changing — for good and bad. “Male riders acknowledge my presence but obviously can’t digest the fact that a woman can also finish the race and feature in the top ten. I have led an all-women’s edition of the Himalayan Odyssey through some of the most challenging terrains in the world and it was so good to see women bikers following their passion and finishing the ride,” she narrates.
“Motorcycling is therapeutic and hence one of the best hobbies one can have. As a sport it’s one of the most challenging and tests everything one’s got from physical fitness to mental fitness. Anybody wanting to pursue riding should believe in themselves and just go for it,” Kashyap suggests to fellow riders. The badass woman now gears up for her next rally race — Dakar Rally in a few years.