Last year when we interviewed Nidhi Tiwari from WBB (Women Beyond Boundaries), she was just back after spearheading a trans-continental expedition from Delhi to London. It was a team of three and she was the only driver! Well this time, she has outdone her last by a major scale and are we not proud of her! On December 29th 2016, she became the first Indian to drive across the coldest inhabited region of the earth and she did it all driving SOLO! Not impressed? This is a road where even seasoned truck drivers (belonging to that very region) double up because going there alone is like signing your own death warrant. Our lady in shining armor did it alone!
The crazy idea is always mine…..
I caught Nidhi just in time when she was to fly to Moscow after completing her expedition. As promised she connected with me as soon as she landed in India. The first question I asked her was whose idea was it to pull this crazy stunt and she laughed. Of course the ideas that push her limits and land her out of her comfort zone are always hers! After her Delhi to London feat, she was looking for a bigger challenge and this route had been on her radar for some years now. But she didn't think she was ready or even had the confidence to pull it off but things changed after she completed arduous Delhi to London on road. She shares that there are only about 3-4 roads in the entire world that offer such an extreme challenge to extreme Overland drivers, and this route from Yakutsk to Magadan is one such drive. It is dangerous, tricky, unpredictable and takes you through the heart of heartless Siberian wilderness known to be the coldest inhabited place on Earth.
Some cold facts about Yakutsk and surrounding areas
The population of Yakutsk is over two hundred thousand and this region is rich in gold and platinum which is why there are quite a few human settlements here despite the climate! Every girl’s dream? No, not quite. You know when you put some facts with words about this region, it literally makes your eyes pop! Talking about eyes, your eyelids freeze within a few seconds of being outside in this part of the world. Mascara anyone?
So for the starters, it is common to experience a -59’ C temperature here in winters. People who have been here will tell you that a -30 is like a spring summer day for residents here. Only when mercury plunges below -55, they actually close the schools. You cannot wear glasses here because metal would stick to your skin in no time and peel away the skin if taken off. People here leave their cars on for hours when stepping into their offices for work so that they get a warm cabin to drive back home. A switched off car also has a big risk of not starting again. This region was where Stalin and the likes of him exiled political prisoners. Therefore, this place has always been associated with brutality, cold and death. In fact the very famous Kolyma highway more popularly known as road of bones was built by these prisoners and thousands perished during its construction, hence the name.
Back to the story of our Braveheart
So if you followed Nidhi’s story from last time, you would know it was an uphill task for her to get sponsors at that time. But we assumed that this time, corporate would be jumping at sponsoring her next adventure since she proved her mettle last time and how! Surprisingly, no. In fact what started as an initiative for trans-arctic expedition was converted into this particular extreme stretch due to funding issues. This and the fact that they tried to recruit people but found a huge skill deficit. There was no way they could have been prepared for Trans-arctic expedition on time.
Nidhi also blames a little of it on the fact that she did not reach out to many because the budget was small and it was a solo expedition. She dedicated this expedition to education and had backing of 15 schools and self sponsorship that got her going on this one. She discusses the irony of her situation where most of the support is required at the prep stage where everyone is sceptical because of the risk but once you have completed the expedition successfully it is “Tsunami of appreciation” that drowns you! Somewhere it cuts down on the experience of the journey itself.
Apart from the schools, Kyrascope was WBB’s video partner and Iridium technologies the digital partner. They created a digital platform for schools and Nidhi to interact live as she treaded the world’s most dangerous road in most inhospitable conditions.
Preparing the Beast for the route
The route taken by Nidhi started at Yakutsk, Sakha Republic in Russia, also known as pole of Cold and is about 280 miles (450 kilometres) from Arctic Circle. The drive was from Yakutsk to Magadan and back on a slightly different road. This is the route that is called Road of bones and has a notoriety of being one of the most dangerous in the world. What makes it extreme is the sheer weather, remoteness, lack of rescue or repair options. For Nidhi it was indeed the most challenging terrain she has ever driven on which tested her to limits.
Nidhi drove a Toyota Landcruiser Prado which was modified to arctic conditions. She hired an already in-use car as it was important that her vehicle was used to terrain as well as temperature. A new car or the one which has not experienced such conditions could have been a big trouble….and big trouble in these region means a certain death if rescue is even half an hour late. She further shares that when you plan, you plan for success and choice of vehicle is the most important factor when planning for extreme conditions in places like Yakutsk. Yakutsk has quite a few car specialists who helped Nidhi source the right car. She herself had been researching about modification required so knew exactly what needed to be done. Nidhi emphasises on cutting the loose ends and immaculate planning because in such weather conditions, there is a lot that cannot be predicted or anticipated. So for the rest- PLAN!
The Preparations…answers that shocked us!
This question had been on my mind and I was dying to ask Nidhi on how she really prepared for a Siberian expedition considering that Siberian conditions are really rare and unique. I mean there is no Siberia other than the Russian Siberia! So how does one prepare. I can feel Nidhi smiling and answering which sums to “No reference point at all”.
On the Vehicle front, she spent two days familiarizing with the wheels before start. My mouth opens in a big shock…just two days? And by the time I regain composure, here comes next- Terrain wise Nidhi had only driven on some snow and ice sections in the Himalayas in India (which was nowhere close to Siberian conditions she was going to experience) and some bit of snow driving in Finland. The lowest temperature she had experienced was a nice balmy minus 15! At below -50 she had no idea how her body would respond. But the confidence in Nidhi speaks again and she says basics of driving, some tacit experience behind the wheel and driving skills are what helped her most during this expedition. She adds that driving is all about judgement and a skill that needs to be refined overtime with lot of practice.
Tell us the Scary and eerie parts!
Thinking about the whites and colds of Siberian desert gives you chill, but we ask Nidhi what was the scariest experience she had on the way after all it is not easy to intimidate or scare this one. Well, it seems an abandoned town named Kadykchan was something that she found to be very eerie. It was a detour she took to get here and labels it scary. Who are we to disagree! I remember putting an abandoned Nigerian desert town in world’s scariest places and it is time to add one more to the list, I think.
As far as rest of the journey is concerned, Nidhi says that it was not scary but edgy at times. There were times when she felt uncertain but met the situation head on because there was no option really. For her it was a fascinating experience where she would talk and motivate herself. I akin this experience of hers to spirituality….connecting with oneself and finding answers within! I guess she laughed at this comparison when I mentioned it to her, but understood it well. She agrees and says that these solo journeys are both within and outside. Expeditions are very tough inward journeys just as they are challenging outwardly.
While we are chatting, Nidhi remembers the drive from Susuman to Magadan which was extremely long and heavy snow fall made it quite challenging. Similarly the night she reached Oymyakon was difficult owing to a very long drive. This expedition called for a lot of stamina and endurance behind the wheel. Nidhi was driving 12 hours every day on an average. Twelve hours is nothing but add those ungodly temperatures that compete with moon and terrain that is so alien to it, and you have got your own “Hill Climb extreme” version! Nidhi also talks about the cold conditions that actually caught her by surprise. She says it just exceeded the “limits of my imagination and I could have never guessed this level of cold temperature without experiencing it”.
Warm People of the Cold
As we chat on, I can’t help but wonder about the people who have made Yakutsk and surrounding areas their home. Nidhi says they are resilient and it’s hats off to them for living and loving this place. You see these people and your way of looking at life and living changes, it is simply amazing. With our luxuries and abundance that we take for granted, there are valuable lessons in life that “Yakutskians” teach you. They are also great example of what human and human bodies are capable of. Generally termed as fragile, we human being can do whatever we put our hearts into.
Nidhi’s two weeks long (excluding the months of prep) expedition started on 14th and ended on 27th December but her and WBB’s journey is just getting started. When I ask her about her next, she says as of now she just wants to digest this experience. It is always great to get in touch with this inspiring woman and getting to know about WBB’s efforts towards upliftment of women. The chat I had with Nidhi transported me to another world- a world without boundaries, discrimination and menial affairs. A world where human courage and spirit matters and that is what one is valued on. With this feat, Nidhi became the first Indian to drive across Siberian road of bones- alone, fearless and tough. As a woman I feel proud and I feel inspired to do more in life. Nidhi is wife of an Indian Army officer and today she is making India as proud as a soldier does! So until next crazy idea pops, we will leave Nidhi to bask in the glory and prepare for her next (which we hope happens soon), with BIG CONGRATULATIONS from us at Bohotraveller!
Hope you loved this piece as much as we do every single time we read it! I have read it a hundred times already and each time i feel that thrill rushing in. Getting to know these awesome people is the best part of my job! Tell us about how you felt reading this one. If you have missed Nidhi's earlier interview then read it here.