“I’d been riding in Lahore for two years when I was invited by some bikers I’d met online to a rally in Cholistan, a famous desert in Pakistan. I went with my brother and met other motorcyclists and told them what I wanted to do next—to ride in the northern areas of Pakistan. I wanted to know what routes I should follow and what I should carry with me.
One of the bikers, who had been riding in the mountains for 15, 20 years, told me, You can’t do this. You’ll be raped. He told me I wouldn’t be able to ride for that long. That I was a woman, and I didn’t have stamina. That it wasn’t possible. He was really discouraging. Hearing this from a biker was heartbreaking for me, because the only place I was expecting a lot of support was from the biking community, and the opposite happened.”
This is a quote from Zenith Irfan, a Pakistani female biker who has demonstrated that no mountain is too high for an aspiring biker to ride across.
In 2013, Sultan, Zenith’s younger brother, bought a motorcycle, and Zenith started taking motorcycle lessons from him, practicing in their hometown. “I would just ride in the city and only knew the basics of riding,” she says. She says that there wasn’t a proper public transportation system route, and rickshaws were charging a lot of money just for a short ride.
Taking lessons from her brother three times a week, on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, she eventually started riding in Lahore, where she received warnings from older, more experienced bikers, telling her that as a woman, she would be in great danger if she rode alone.
After receiving advice on taking a bike trip across northern Pakistan from a fellow biker, she embarked on a trip to the Khunjerab Pass, which was to be the first of many trips. She kept an online diary called One Girl, Two Wheels, where the site grew popular as news channels began to report on her many expeditions.
Her story is famous enough that Adnan Sarwar made a biopic about her journey called Motorcycle Girl, which was released in 2018. Sohai Ali Abro portrays Irfan and the cast also includes Samina Peerzada and Ali Kazmi. Irfan commented that it should not be considered just a film but rather a “dream my father saw and how he hoped to ride across the world on a motorcycle”.
But why began to ride, taking into account all the risks associated, in the first place? Irfan says:
“In the beginning, riding was all about connecting with my father and understanding Pakistan. It was a way to discover myself and where I belong. I never thought I’d be able to do this as more than just a hobby, but eventually, I want to start my own touring company in Pakistan. I also have a dream to build my own motorcycle from scratch and to open workshops where women can learn how to fix cars and motorcycles. I’ve realized I have the power to influence. That I have a responsibility”.