"We need to respect the land that is feeding us, make sure it’s real ‘Asmita’ - the pride and the existence is not threatened because of the bombardment of tourism motives," says Adventure Traveler and Biker Twinkle Kapdi
Bitten by the travel bug since a very young age, renowned adventure traveler, Twinkle Kapdi, has been exploring the world through varied means of travel like driving on four wheels, solo backpacking in buses and trains, hitchhiking on trucks and sailing the seas. An absolute new dimension got added to her vagabond lifestyle of travel with the element of motorcycling.
Currently, Twinkle is successfully running her travel venture based in Kutch, Karavaan Network that includes designing adventure and cultural tours for riders and travelers since past seven years.
We had a chance to have an exclusive conversation with the ace biker Twinkle Kapdi. Check out the excerpts of the conversation wherein she talks extensively about her adventures, initiatives related to traveling and current scenario of the travel industry in India!
Tell us something about your journey so far.
It was at a very young age that I was bitten by the travel bug. The diversity of the world we live in, the languages, the cultures and the belief systems always excited me. All these interests culminated in me rolling up for Journalism and Mass Communication for my graduation. During college days itself, I had started traveling for assignments and class projects. After completing my graduation in Mumbai in 2006, I started working as a lifestyle photographer on a cruise ship Galaxy from Celebrity Cruise line. During that tenure, I got the opportunity to explore a couple of exotic island countries in the Caribbean Sea of Atlantic Ocean like Barbados, Curacao, Puerto Rico, etc.
The years that followed, to satiate my itch of traveling further, I quit the job on the sea, returned to India and started accepting photo assignments that enabled me to feel the pulse of every place that I visited through street traveling. In 2010, finally, to give direction to this passion of traveling, I launched my travel venture, Karavaan Network at IIM Bangalore, while pursuing MPWE (Management Program for Women Entrepreneurs). It has been quite a journey working as travel entrepreneur, dealing with various kinds of people right from village folks, travelers, filmmakers, research teams, etc.
After two years of inception of Karavaan, life offered me with the blessing in disguise. I fell down from a staircase and injured my back severely. Soon after the long recovery, an absolute new dimension got added into my travel life as I got introduced to motorcycle riding. My very first ride was to Ladakh in just couple of days of having learnt how to ride a motorcycle. There has been no looking back ever since, and have practically ridden the entire length and the breadth of the country on my Royal Enfield Thunderbird. Have clocked 1.5 Lac kms exploring 24 states of India and 4 U.T.s so far in the past eight years including extreme corners like the Himalayas and North East for more than once.
Anything and everything to do with travel are more than just passion and profession, it is a chosen lifestyle. The journey is still on!
What does Karavaan Network do?
Karavaan Network is the travel venture functioning from Kutch, Gujarat. We design customised travel plans working on a specific requirement for varied kind of audience like research people, filmmakers, documentaries, riding communities, educational institutes, etc. Karavaan is very inclusive of various people who run it right from the village folks, film makers, researchers, students, motorcycle riders, etc. We closely work with village folks from the rural Gujarat, farmers, fishermen, artisans, etc. and participate in projects for community development. The idea is to create experiences and not just tours. Activities like walking in Rann at night, star gazing, interaction with tribals, learning the ancient art of trajva, the traditional tribal tattoos from locals, etc. are parts of our travel plans. In nutshell, at Karavaan one can get wholesome travel experience, which is much more than sightseeing tours of places you visit.
What barriers have you faced, as a woman, in becoming successful in your field? How did you overcome them?
Talking specifically about my field of motorcycling, I would say dealing with the mindset was little challenging. Unlike many women motorcyclists I know, at least I did not face the problem of acceptance from family. I received support and applaud for all the adventures I took from them and society at large. Also, most of the co-riders had been very supportive and encouraging in general. However, the challenges are subtle and very much present as you dig the surface. Like for example, when you are dealing with mechanics for bike maintenance, they tend to take you for granted quoting wrong price or suggesting part replacements when it may not be required. It is assumed that a lady rider may not have the technical know how of the motorcycle. There also might be little soft patronizing that may come from rider friends, or specially those riders with whom you are riding for the first time. They may want to lead you on the road, or show signs (riders’ way of communicating on the road) and do more than just handholding.
It took me a while to break that prejudice in riding fraternity and establish my own name as a seasoned rider. A point came when the odometer of my bike spoke for me. As they say, action speaks louder than words. So I say, if there is a new person aspiring to get into riding, give him/her that encouraging ambience to learn and adapt. The caliber should not be judged on gender even for the hard-core adventure activities like motorcycling.
What is the biggest struggle of a woman entrepreneur today in India?
Well I can’t speak for all women enterprising in various industries as may differ from industry to industry. Talking about tourism industry, there has been no major challenge I faced as far as my entrepreneurial journey with Karavaan. There were general challenges, which any entrepreneur faces irrespective of the gender.
Interestingly, I can say that it has helped me to reach out to village folks more being a woman. They find me more approachable when it comes to ground work. So as far as tourism industry is concerned, especially rural travel, I have not come across any struggle as such, which are gender based. I won’t deny that there may be other women who might be struggling to enterprise in their respective fields.
Largely speaking from observations and hearing stories, one of the biggest challenges women entrepreneur faces is striking the balance between professional and personal life especially in the period of pregnancy and early years of motherhood. There are set expectations from families and to meet that without having to sacrifice the professional life is a big challenge, especially in India.
Travel and tourism is an important industry contributing towards economic growth of our country? Do you think the existing programs introduced by the government to aid the growth of this industry needs enhancement? Any suggestions to the government?
Tourism industry in Gujarat is on a massive boom since past couple of years. Especially after 2010 when Mr. Amitabh Bachchan became brand ambassador and launched ‘Khushboo Gujarat Ki’ campaign. This sudden boom has resulted into sector growing too fast and not getting time to create well-formed systems and organise itself.
While I appreciate the government funding various tourism projects like at Statue of Unity, Ranotsav at the White Rann of Kutch, etc. to make it major tourist attractions and spending crores on that, I would also expect more in terms of putting deliberate efforts to create the culture of belongingness in locals. By locals I mean, the guides, the hoteliers, homestays, horse and camel cart guys, hawkers, artisans, etc. We need to respect the land that is feeding us, make sure it’s real ‘Asmita’ - the pride and the existence is not threatened because of the bombardment of tourism motives.
To be specific, I would like to strongly suggest the people making decisions in tourism industry, to please respect and preserve the wildlife and ecosystems. Be it Ladakh, Kutch or North East - the places where the tourism is growing also happens to be most delicate ecosystems with very fragile nature. If we don’t learn to balance it, we may lose it eventually and entirely. It would be great to see government taking some initiatives where along with the favourable environment for investors. They should take steps to keep environmentalists on board, which take decisions and steps to save the eco systems of these places.
Based on your own experience, what advice would you give to women considering a career as a biker?
There is a difference between motorcycle riding and racing. I would share whatever I have learnt about both and whether to take it as career or not and how.
To women aspiring to get into the world of riding, I would say - do it if you feel passionate for it, not primarily for career. It is a highly demanding form of sport, hobby, passion and even profession. Interestingly I never chose riding as my career. It sprout out more as a means to explore into my already existing passion of traveling.
Contrary to the riding, moto racing is something that you can choose as career option from initial stage. Not to forget even that is passion driven and should not be taken just as it has good scope. There are many racing circuits in South India. And more offload rallies like Raid De Himalaya, Sjoba, Desert Storm etc. keep happening annually. More and more women are joining the moto sports. The best advice I can give is - start early! The participation in these rallies and races needs big financial support. There are companies, which provide sponsorships and technical supports. It is observed that they easily sponsor individuals if they have started early and have long way to go in their racing career. It would be great attend riding events as that helps you connect with riders from different corners of the world. Keep getting exposed to the latest technologies in motorcycles. Most important part is - be open and willing to learn and adapt to innovations!
A woman travelling alone is not considered safe. What is your opinion on same?
I think this is quite an obsolete idea now. I started traveling when I was pretty young when there wasn’t much of technology available. Now, we are living in the world of smart phones and Internet. There are many apps, traveler hostels, online forums out there to equip with right information about places you are visiting, and also for sharing the experiences one has had which further prepares other travellers visiting that place.
In India it is no more a novelty to see a woman traveling solo. However, I think it’s different in rural sector. I won’t deny the facts that many married women aren’t allowed to travel alone, especially those who come from strongly patriarchal background. I have seen their brothers, fathers or husbands always accompanying them. But that also is changing, as I see young girls are traveling to nearby or far cities for higher education and learning the basic safety essentials early on in life. It is just about taking the first step, and then the journey becomes easy as we keep bagging on experiences while we make journeys solo.
What main change would you like to see for young girls in the next generation?
I would like to see one major change in the young girls, but it’s going to take long time. It’s about not succumbing to peers’ or/and society’s pressure to look a certain way to be termed as ‘beautiful’. We need to rise above these conventional norms and perceptions of how and what a beautiful girl or woman should like. In fact, more focus should be given on the aspirations of the young girls and just on looking good or presentable and finding the right groom. It would be great to see young girls acknowledging their true potential. There is immense hidden talent within every individual. I am seeing the change coming in young generation where they define their own idea of beauty, and not accept the conventional definition of fair skin and toned bodies, which are propagated by markets and society at large. The need to create their own identity without loosing on the essence of roots is the challenge that new generation may and should be facing with integrity and confidence.
After achieving so much of success in your field, what are the three most important things you’d still like to accomplish.
First would be Solo Motorcycle Tour around the world. This is more of a future lifestyle than expedition. It has always been childhood dream to travel far and wide to unknown lands and foreign cultures. This may be one continuous journey for few years or I may split it between different continents. It may even happen in yacht and sailing to far off shores. Taking my baby steps towards realising this.
Second would be launching a video channel. I have had privilege of coming across some of the finest human stories, art forms, landscapes and music. It is the time I share that with the world. But traveling extensively and continuously has left me with very little time to work on my postproduction of all the places I have visited. I intend to launch the channel where I can share with the world whatever I have come across while exploring so many colourful cultures, stories and music. This can be in the form of travelogue or series of interviews and music album. The scope is wide and yet working on it.
And last but not the least, I look forward to launch Mobile Karavaan. RV (Residential Vehicle) is a home on wheels. There are so many people who want to travel and can’t. For example, old people, physically challenged, prone to allergies, etc. To enable people to travel and access far off lands, I want to launch Mobile Karavaan. The idea is to take people from different groups, and travel from one place to another in that residential vehicle. This makes it possible to get the real experience on and off road travel.
In your opinion, why are traits such as “innocent”, “sensitive”, “nurturing” etc. Associated with women as compared to more aggressive, competitive terms for men. How can we best promote a more accepting, gender-neutral society?
We live in a constantly evolving world. The idea of associating the softer emotions with women and hard-core raw emotion with men is something that needs to change and would take time, perhaps years and even generations. We need to understand that man and woman both experiences the entire spectrum of emotions at some point in life. The types of emotions felt are also well spread in the life. As a society, we need to work on these hard-wired notions of considering man as strong one who can’t cry and woman to be weaker gender that is sensitive but can’t make rational decision. We need to accept our own strengths and not try to compete to prove equality with other gender.
As individuals, we can start with stopping to judge people if they show some different trait of emotions which are in contrast with general idea of that gender. The first step is education. The need to respect the opposite gender starts from the schools. It starts right in the home. We should create atmosphere in homes, schools and society at large, where an individual is given complete support to be and express their true selves without the fear of judgments. A woman or a man can be strong and weak both depending on life situations and its absolutely alright.
Are there any assumptions about women that you would like to change? Why?
There are many but one I definitely want to change - the whole prejudice about ‘Women drivers’. It is so common to hear jokes when they see women on driving seat of car. I think there can be good or bad drivers in males and females both. This kind of prejudices needs to stop. And definitely there are more and more women behind the steering wheel in city traffic but also in racing circuits, international bike rallies, and 4X4 off-road adventures. On the same note, it is assumed that women are bad with road navigations. I think the reality is different. The woman of the house does the essential navigation to chart the entire course of family in our country and the world. High time the perception changes!
Is social media a risk to woman? In what ways?
Irrespective of gender here, social media can be boon or curse if you don’t know how to use it smartly. Dependency on social media should really be put in check as most of the depression cases coming across these days are because of social media anxiety. Apart from risk of depression, anxiety and lack of attention span, there are other risks on women for sure. Women become easy targets for online stalking. One needs to learn to manage privacy and handling the unnecessary attention. I would say Social Media is like magic wand, you should know when and how to use it if you want to share things with the world, and then shut it and put it in the drawer when not needed.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you? Is it important that we have one?
Personally, I am not a fan of celebrating ‘days’ like earth day, mother’s day, photography day, etc. But yes, I do appreciate the stories of real amazons getting shared on the women’s day. It is sort of celebration where all women from different walks of life come together and raise the toast to the spirit of womanhood. It definitely is important that we have one. It sort of creates bridges connecting fantastic women and celebrating their stories. But we should not forget that the spirit should remain for all the remaining days of the year.
Have you ever been through an experience that made you realize that “woman” and “powerful” were two compatible ideas?
For me, both these are synonymous words. It can’t be seen separated. There is another word, which would answer this question, ‘Shakti’. It is the feminine energy and the power. Every woman is the form of Shakti. It is the energy in motion. Be it woman from cities or rural area, developed or struggling country, all women are the powerhouse of energy. I have experienced this almost on everyday basis when I interact with women. Can’t just point out to one incident as such. The biggest example right in front of my eyes is my mother who after having lost her husband at young age has done the up bringing for my brother and me handling all the fronts of life. We just need to look around and there are so many inspirational stories of women around us, which can make this belief strong that woman is pure form of Shakti.
Tell us something about your upcoming rides, adventure trips.
I wish to explore central India. Planning the ride in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand where there are many unexplored places and cultures. The idea is to meet the tribal, learn their art forms and document it. Also, am working on launching the retreats in Himalayas in little hamlets working with some yoga and meditation experts. Learning new things has been fun and always gets a big thumb up from me. In short, my life revolves around motorcycles, writing, photography and interactions at root and mass level. Lets see how the journey of life unfolds!
Twinkle intends to further the course of her career to next level by associating with organizations from travel and motorcycling industry by offering the bag of professional experience and skills that she has gained in past decade. Apeksha News Network congratulates Twinkle Kapdi for her successful and adventurous journey so far which is an inspiration in itself and we wish her good luck for all her future endeavours!