Wind running through her hair and sun kissing her face, Zenith Irfan never second-guessed her 3200 km journey to the northern areas of Pakistan. At the age of 20, she decided to fulfill her late father's dream — to travel the world on a bike.
She is not your average Pakistani girl and she pays no heed to gender role expectations. At 18, she was learning how to ride a motorcycle.
"In 2013, when my brother bought his first motorcycle, he gave me riding lessons. It was then that I decided to journey on a motorcycle adventure — after gaining adequate training,” she said.
She had once asked her mother what her late father had always dreamed of doing, and was told he wanted to go on a motorcycle journey around the world. Thus began Zenith's journey. Remarkably, her mother was the driving force behind the idea.
"My family comprises of my mother, brother and I, we are a small family of three. And it was actually my mother’s idea that I should go on a motorcycle journey in order to leave a legacy for my late father," she explained.
Zenith has traveled up north twice, once when she rode 700km to Kashmir solo in June 2015, and again when she was accompanied by her brother and four other friends in August 2015 to Khunjerab Pass, Attabad Lake, Hunza, Gilgit, Skardu, Deosai, Naran, Kaghan, Saif-Ul- Mulook, Babusar Top, Chilas, Abottabad, and other prominent places in the North.
What is most impressive about her travels is that she gained supporters throughout her journey.
"I mostly met farmers and shepherds. The people were incredibly encouraging and supported me to carry this endeavor even further. It was an amazing experience,” she said.
Wasn't she a little nervous about her trips? A voyage to the northern areas comes with its own security risks, and here was Zenith as a solo female traveller. “No, I was not scared at all," insists the biker. "I don’t let fear come in the way of achieving something I aspire to."
Rather, her journey became an inspiration for others as soon as she created a Facebook page.
“I did not consciously [try to] inspire others,” she said. “I simple opened up a page on Facebook and became a symbol of women empowerment in Pakistan. Now, when I have gained international recognition, people look up to me as role models and inspire to undertake a motorcycle journey too.”
But this comes at a cost. The biker keeps mum about her travels due to security reasons.
"Initially, I did not tell people, and I still don’t tell anyone as to where and when I am going. And I do plan on riding to many other places and meeting new people, but due to security reasons, I cannot disclose my location. It is when I come back and upload pictures on my Facebook page that people discover I have been on a tour. Yes, a lot of people want to join me but I prefer to travel with my brother instead," said Zenith.
Carrying only her father's passport sized picture in her wallet, she explained that her journey brought her closer to her father spiritually and taught her to be more patient and thankful to God. She, like many, has also had a change of heart about Pakistan post her travels.
In a nutshell she explained one such experience she had:
“As a Pakistani, Pakistan has surprised me in ways I never expected it to. I was told by my brother that I have to cover my face since we were en route to Chilas. I asked him why and he replied, 'That's the way it is. No one should know you're a female. Stay alert and stay safe', I did what I was told and rode quietly through the mountains of Chilas.
"During my journey, I remember seeing kids with stones in their hands. They wanted to stop and inquire about our journey, but we had to keep riding since the place has been subject to a lot of violence in the past. I had heard a lot of people saying that Chilas is an area where they dislike tourists or anyone coming inside. I have a habit of not listening to rumors and traveling to such controversial places to see for myself.
"On my way back, I met a man at Babusar Top who said that he was a Chilasi and because of the high illiteracy rate, the people of Chilas don't know how to react when someone who doesn't belong from their village shows up. The man, despite being a Chilasi, was humble and friendly, and that's when I realized that it is not important for a person who belongs to a moot group to be the same as others.
"Yes, there are people who kill thousands, but at the same time, there are many who want to spread peace and love. Never judge somebody's existence on the basis of their skin, caste or religion," she explains.
This fear also explains why most parents are skeptical about letting their children travel up North, but Zenith feels parents need to trust their children more and let them explore.
"Allow your child to explore and relive their experiences. It is very important for parents to trust their children -- we are bound to travel and our inner selves crave to touch the earth’s surface," she explained.
And for those who see Zenith as a source of inspiration, she said: "Listen to your inner voice and follow your dream. If society tells you you’re crazy to do such a thing, tell society you’re crazy and blissful in your happiness."
Although there are many who disapprove of her ventures and lifestyle, this motorcyclist refuses to bat an eye. "The more time they spend hating on me, the more motivated I am to ride and ride. The amount of energy the haters put on hating me, I can use all of it to go on another tour and prove them that the world cannot change by just typing on a keyboard," she said.
Having been a part of one of the most exhilarating experiences in life, Zenith sums up her travels in one word: liberating.
And there’s no stopping this adventurer. Her bike still has a lot more mileage to cover as she maps out her travels to other parts of the country with her brother.