A broken camera flash, getting caught in city traffic and being escorted by army convoys are just some of the thrills three women -- Sunita Dugar, Parneet Sandhu and Neetha Jegan (pictured below) -- experienced enroute their road trip across India -- from Kanyakumari to Kashmir -- in 10 days.
What was the purpose of this journey? Who are these women? Find out
Life, they say, is all about the journey, not the destination.
Three adventurous women from Chennai decided to taste a slice of life by journeying from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, a distance of over 5,000 kilometres, covering 14 states across the length of the country.
The mission was to celebrate Independence Day in Kashmir.
Well into their 30s, they are neither childhood friends nor college mates.
They bonded over a trekking trip organised by the Chennai Trekking Club about five years ago.
Since then, despite their hectic professional and family life, the trio managed to keep in touch, meeting occasionally for a cup of coffee or lunch.
Sunita Dugar, who spearheaded the trip, is an amateur photographer and entrepreneur, running her own boutique, Kalakruti Sarees at Vepery, Chennai.
Parneet Sandhu works online for an IT company based in the US, while Neetha Jegan heads one of the Regus Business Centres at Chennai.
The trio talk about everything from learning how to change the tyre, getting lost in Bangalore city, understanding navigation apps, crossing the Pench National Park after dark, several breakdowns and the grand finale, being escorted by Indian army convoys into Kashmir.
The seed for this trip was sown almost a year ago, when I read about the daring account of Roshni Sharma, who travelled solo on her bike from Kanyakumari to Leh," says 37-year-old Sunitha.
"I am one of those impulsive types, who loves to challenge life. I have been driving for over 15 years on Chennai roads and felt more than equipped to handle this journey.
"In April this year, I bought a Ford Ecosport and the dream became even more real," she adds.
Sunitha convinced her close friend Parneet Sandhu to join her and duo took a short trip to Wayanad and back travelling a distance of about 1,400 km to reassure themselves.
"I have always had this desire to travel from one end of our country to another. Unfortunately, this remained a dream until I met my dear friend Sunitha.
"Sunitha is a go-getter, if she has something on her mind, she will do it. And with her taking the lead, this trip was destined to happen," says Parneet.
For Neetha, however, it was a last minute decision.
"Getting away from work and family for a road trip with friends for a whole week seemed almost impossible. But things worked out, I managed to convince my office and on the home front, my husband came to my rescue. He encouraged me to take the trip and exactly two days before the journey I informed my friends that I would be joining them."
Talking about preparing for the journey, Sunitha says, "We contacted Mr H V Kumar of the HiVayKing Club, who agreed to support us every step of the way. Besides help us navigate, he also promised to mobilise help in case of a breakdown and handle the hotel bookings.
"I read through my car manual trying to understand its mechanics and we also learnt to change the tyre by ourselves. The date was fixed for June 18.
"Unfortunately, we had to cancel due to the incessant rains in Central India during that time. We were disappointed, but decided to wait out the rainy season."
The trio finally set out on the morning of August 8 from Chennai to Kanyakumari.
The plan was to take some shots of the spectacular sunset and start the journey from the southernmost tip of the country.
Though the journey from Kanyakumari to Dindigul on Day One, was uneventful, Parneet narrates an incident that she says upset them all.
"Sunitha is an avid photographer and one of the reasons she planned this journey was to capture it all on camera.
"She had even purchased a high-end Nikon camera costing about two lakh.
"She set it on self-timer mode on a tripod on a raised ledge at the beach trying to get us all in against the backdrop of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. But it was very windy, and suddenly the tripod toppled, dropping the camera 10 feet down.
"The flash was in pieces and the lens was damaged. This at the very beginning of our journey was quite upsetting.
"In fact, the journey started on a sad and silent note.
We were all feeling a little low, but the fantastic road to Madurai, the breathtaking sights, the huge windmills against the background of setting sun accompanied by our favourite playlist soon got us excited again."
But the road ahead was not without its challenges.
Their plan was to travel via Bangalore to Hyderabad on Day Two covering a distance of about 1000 km.
"Unfortunately, one wrong turn took us deeper into Bangalore city," says Sunitha.
"Traffic was a nightmare and by the time, we got back on track with the help of Mr Kumar, we had lost more than two hours.
"It was midnight, when we reached our hotel in Hyderabad. We had travelled almost non-stop for 11 hours and 40 minutes.
"I got up with sore back the next day, and we managed to leave Hyderabad only past seven.
"We had strict instructions from Mr Kumar, who had meticulously mapped out the route for us.
"However, to our greatest embarrassment and no thanks to Google Voice, which was kind enough to assist us with voice navigation, we found ourselves lost again inside the city.
"We tried to find our way back without informing Mr Kumar of our predicament, but we just found ourselves deeper and deeper into the city.
"Reluctantly, we contacted him with our location and he guided us out, but not before sending us a very embarrassing message asking us to follow the blue line he drew for us on the map.
"It was really upsetting, but in our defense, we have never really had an opportunity or the need to use navigation tools or maps in the past. But after this goof up, we decided to use the map only as a marker and our GPS tracker as a guide to know if we are following the marked line in the map."
The next part of the journey was both scary and fun, admits Neeta.
"The roads before Nagpur got really bad. We were behind schedule and forced to cross the Pench National Park (the tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh) after dark.
"It was almost eight in the evening, when we started our journey after a light dinner in a dhaba on the way.
"A distance of almost 120 km in complete darkness with just our headlights to guide us in a two-lane highway peppered with potholes, making the drive even more backbreaking.
"The journey took almost 3 hours and the entire time we discussed ghosts and planned on what we would do if a tiger crossed our path. But we had no such luck," she says with a laugh.
By Day Four, however, their journey was plagued by car troubles.
Parneet talks of being frustrated by the car service centers along the way.
"They had no clue what was wrong with the car, but pretended to work on it.
"The first time, the car stopped just before Gwalior and we waited nearly three hours for the Ford Service Station to fix it.
"They claimed everything was fine, but just after crossing Delhi, the next day, it stalled again.
"This time they asked us to replace the battery, which we did.
"However, at Pathankot in Punjab, we faced the same problem.
"After getting it fixed, we proceeded to Jammu. We were finally on our way to Leh via Sonmarg, when the car once again refused to budge.
"It was then that we realised that the car was in no shape to go forward, especially on the dangerous ghat roads of Leh-Ladakh.
"After much thought, we decided to abort the last leg of our journey and stay for a few days in Kashmir. It was really frustrating," she complained.
But the journey was not all about getting lost or having their car break down, The Travelling Divas, as they call themselves, have some wonderful memories to share as well.
Sunitha talks of the changing landscape, the incredible sights, taking pictures at the Taj Mahal, the delicious parathas at a dhaba in Haryana, Pesarattu in Hyderabad, pani puri at Pathankot, not forgetting some of the interesting people they met on the journey.
She fondly remembers the two sisters -- Shailaja and Swathi -- they dropped on their way to Adilabad.
"We were just past Nizamabad, when it started to rain heavily. We noticed two women with a child, waiting by the side of the road.
"We stopped to ask if we could drop them somewhere. At first, they refused, but when they realised it was an all-women crew they happily joined us.
"It was fun talking to them; we asked them being Hindus how they felt living in a Muslim-populated area. But they said religion never mattered to them, during Diwali they welcomed them into their homes, and for Id they enjoyed the delicious biriyani of their Muslim neighbours. It was heartening to see such a living example of communal harmony."
Neeta, however, was thrilled with the escort by the army convoy to Kashmir.
"A few kilometers from Kashmir, we encountered a major traffic jam caused by a landslide.
"We were at a tail end of traffic, which had not moved for more than four hours.
"We got to talking to some people from Jammu, who noticed our Tamil Nadu registration.
"When we told them about our trip from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, the news spread like fire and soon a senior policemen came to enquire.
"When he noticed that we were just three women doing the trip, he allowed us to move ahead overtaking all the stranded cars.
"We were then asked to leave along with a few vans carrying Amarnath Yatris, who were being escorted by army convoys.
"Thus our trip ended in plenty of style with one vehicle behind and one ahead of us, full of soldiers carrying guns."
For Parneet, being together was the best part of the journey.
"We met five years ago and have been really close, but this beautiful journey has strengthened our bond. There was so much to talk and to share. We laughed, we joked, pulled each other's legs, and shared our thoughts, feelings and deepest desires.
"We are planning another journey, this time it would be travelling the breadth of the country, from the East to the West, hopefully early next year.
"We did not take this journey to prove anything to anyone, it was something we wanted to do for ourselves and it brought us a lot of joy and satisfaction," she concludes with a happy smile.
All photographs: Kind Courtesy The Travelling Divas