The Motorcycle Girl of Pakistan: Zenith Irfan
After Zenith Irfan’s father died, she determined to accomplish his desire to travel around the world on a motorbike. The trip was a tremendous action for a Pakistani girl in a country where it’s sometimes considered weird for women to travel alone especially on a bike. But Zenith overcomes all the odds and break those stereotypes. This is an inspiring story of ‘The Motorcycle girl of Pakistan.’
Her dad used to dream of leaving his home in Pakistan to tour the world on a motorbike. His unexpected death implied he never accomplished his dream. As his eldest kid, Zenith decided to accept the challenge to fulfill her dad’s dream and along the way break customs in Pakistan as a female rider.
The 21-year-old student from Lahore, Pakistan has become a daring biker in the past two years, traveling through areas of the traditional country where it’s somehow considered shameful for women to venture out alone, let unaccompanied on two wheels. But the change didn’t come easy to her.
In 2013, when her younger brother bought an ordinary bike with a small 70cc engine, her mom inspired him to train Zenith on how to ride and supported her to fulfill her late father’s dream.
‘At the start, it was a great contest for me,’ says Zenith. ‘I was so confused about how to operate the gear, the clutch, the brakes.’
‘It was very confused and thwarted but then I get used to it.’ She started riding the bike to perform different tasks in Lahore.
In June last summer, she determined to venture farther afield with a six-day solo tour through the Azad Kashmir region, a disputed territory in northeastern Pakistan that borders India and China.
‘I desire to go to Kashmir because I’ve heard so much about it,’ she adds.
‘They say ‘Kashmir, Jannat E Nazir,’ meaning it’s a heaven on earth.
‘I don’t want to be that somebody who just sees it in pictures. I want to go and discover it for myself on my motorbike,’ says Zenith.
She rode first to Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, then traveled toward charming backdrops of hills, rivers and green landscapes to Murree, a neighborhood area located on the southern hills of the western Himalayan foothills.
From there she toured on to Pakistan-administered Kashmir’s capital Muzaffarabad. Then she proceeded through the region’s forested Neelam Valley with charming towns and villages like Sharda and Kel.
‘When I was on the trail, it was like a coming together of my mind, body, and soul,’ she says of being out of the overcrowded cities. I felt free.’
‘I could meditate well. I felt changed, very passionate and free.’
After the accomplishment of her first long-distance journey, in August 2015 she chose to go even further, biking 3,200 kilometers from Lahore through North Pakistan up to the Khunjerab Pass on the border with China.
On arrival, she was happy to be informed that while foreign female riders had earlier traveled there, she was the first Pakistani biker the locals had met. Over 20 days, she had journeyed to places including Deosai Plains – one of the highest plateaus in the world and Chilas, a very traditional small village. Her chief concerns were about road accidents as she rode alongside trucks on slippery roads. The ever-present risk wasn’t sufficient to stop her.
‘I’m not so afraid because I believe that if death has to come, it’ll come anyway even if I’m at home,’ says Zenith.
‘I can’t dodge it. I can’t stop my dreams because of a terror of death and misfortunes.’
She continues that her main interest was being a female rider in areas where this can cause offense.
‘There aren’t many female bikers here, it’s a very small part of society,’ Zenith says.
She fought this by abandoning female costumes and hiding beneath helmet, boots, and jackets.
‘They surely thought I was male,’ she reveals. ‘Whenever I stopped to ask directions and they realized I was female, they didn’t know what to do. They just stood there with their mouth open and didn’t know how to react.’
‘I moved away so fast, didn’t give them time to digest the reality that I was a woman asking them directions.’
But while she was worried about people’s responses, she tells she only got one contrary comment from a guy who told her ‘girls don’t ride motorbikes.’
Zenith got great support and motivation along the way from other travelers, officers at security checkpoints and some of the few women she met. Among them, she remembers, one woman in Misgar, a tiny village near China left an enduring impact.
‘We couldn’t understand each other as she was talking in her own language. She told me through a local translator, ‘What you’re doing is incredible.’
While her journey was physically tiring, she says the positive memories of her journey outlive the troubles. No doubt, her father would be proud.
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