It is considered a quintessential Aussie outback experience – crossing the Nullarbor. Yet the 2,970 km drive from south to west Australia is not one that is taken up readily.
And so when Nilanjana Chakraborty announced she would be driving from Adelaide to Perth, and that too solo, she was described as both “brave and crazy”.
Having done it this past Easter, Chakraborty is exhilarated.
Hey, it’s what any normal middle-aged Indian-origin woman would do over a long weekend – kiss the husband and son goodbye, and take her set of wheels for a spin from one side of the country to another, driving through some of the most remote sites in southern Australia.
Along the way, Nilanjana crossed Kimba, Head of Bight, Nullarbor, Balladonia, Esperance Stonehenge, Ravensthorpe, Mulka’s cave, Kondinin and finally Brabham.
All rugged, treeless, sparsely populated stations, in flat, arid landscape.
All on one of the world’s straightest roads.
With little to nothing in sight.
Nullarbor is Latin for ‘treeless’, Chakraborty explains. And yet it is not eerie: there are limestone caves, sea cliffs, secluded beaches, sand dunes, and the odd ramshackle buildings on the way. Plus camels, marsupials and whales (if you’re lucky) to spot en route.
“Stretching between Ceduna in SA and Norseman in WA, this is one of the most secluded places to cross, through the Flinders Ranges and Eyre Peninsula, before crossing the Nullarbor Plain and Great Australian Bight,” Chakraborty shares. “Roughly it took me 1.5 to 2 days to cross its 1,200 km. You stop by at a roadhouse for rest break, and there are fuel stations every 200 km so that drivers don’t run out of fuel. Crossing the Nullarbor was definitely a major feat for me.”
Chakraborty believes she may be the first Indian woman to have driven solo across the Nullarbor.
“But if there is someone out there like me, I would love to know.”
A pop-up tent, camper’s mattress, two utensils, a stove, and an esky for ice, sausages and fish, were part of her travel gear.
She avoided driving after dark as several animals tend to cross during this time. Dawns and dusks were cue for breaks and rest.
Sure there was the odd obstacle. Like a ‘run flat tyre’ indicator appearing on her dashboard…
“It was my first night, that too!” Chakraborty laughs. “I just knew I wouldn’t be able to make the rest of the trip. But a lucky and quick fix at a nearby garage set me going and look how far I’ve come.”
The 5-day trip taught Chakraborty many life lessons – one being that she has to make all the decisions and later live with them, no matter the consequences. “I think I’ve come out to be more confident than I ever was before this trip. I am the younger child in my family, so I always fall back on my husband, father or brother for decisions. But on this trip, there was no option to ask anybody for advice. Even when I did reach network areas, I couldn’t call my husband to ask ‘what to do?’ He has never been to this side of the country!”
To travel is to love
It all began when Nilanjana, who moved to Australia in 2011, got a new job in Perth this year. “I had been applying for some time and finally cleared an interview. When I got the offer, I thought I could use the long weekend to drive there, considering I would need my car while commuting to my new workplace every day.”
Her husband insisted that she ship the car and take a flight to Perth instead, but Chakraborty politely declined the offer. “What’s the fun in that!” she declared.
On April 5, she started the trip – having charted out her long route to Perth. “My husband has always encouraged me to follow my passions, but he is a serial killer movie buff, so you can imagine his paranoia. Jokes apart, I think the biggest concern he had was about my safety – in the sense that the route I picked had many remote sites and if my car were to break down, there wouldn’t be anyone to fix it.”
Traveller for life
In her professional life, the Kolkata-born Chakraborty is a hard-working IT employee. For her close peers, however, she is known as a traveller for life. “Both my parents and my brother are passionate travellers, so I think it runs in the family,” she smiles. “My son, who is in the high school today, was a C-section baby. Even before my stitches had completely healed, I went for a trek to the Goecha La – a mountain pass in India’s Sikkim state, past the Kanchenjunga base camp.”
Goecha La is one of the oldest and toughest trekking routes in the Himalayas. Accompanying Chakraborty was her supporting husband and some friends.
“If you ask me to take a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower, that is boring for me. I like challenges,” she reiterates.
Ask her if she regrets anything about her Nullarbor adventure, she simply says, “I forgot to download songs on the phone to keep me company in no-signal areas.”
“Don’t be like me,” the 43-year-old laughs out loud.
To all those who calls her brave or crazy, all she has to say is: “I am not alone, there is a bunch of us out there.”