“As you travel solo, being totally responsible for yourself, it’s inevitable that you discover just how capable you are”
Its when I started searching randomly for the blogs of outstanding personalities, that the blog “Travel With Anjaly” which has been nominated for “Best Asian Blogger” at the UAE 2014 Masala Awards captured my attention. Anjaly Thomas, a passionate Indian traveller in her early thirties, the first Indian woman backpacker to travel alone and away from the tourist tracks. I was privileged to have an online chat with her. Her friendly demeanour and frank responses to my question, added as a catalyst to my spirit for adventure….
1 .A brief note on yourself
I am a lawyer-turned-traveller-turned travel writer. I am not your average tourist sticking to the regular touristic-tracks, I am a solo traveller/backpacker, love trekking and climbing. I am also a writer for Lonely Planet and an occasional poet. I love riding on the back of cattle trucks in Africa, I am never worried about where I would stay or eat. I am strong believer in humanity and love good cup of coffee before I begin anything – and through it and after it.
2 .As the first Indian woman backpacker….
There are many myths about single Indian women backpackers – basically because it is a new concept and the lack of knowledge of the same makes it seem very daunting. To me backpacking denotes freedom – as it would to women who have ventured out alone. Wanting to travel alone doesn’t make you “a weirdo” nor immoral. Today’s woman is fiercely independent and to me, travelling is an extension of that freedom to do what one pleases.
- The concept called Travel and Relief……
My relief work is really simple and straight forward. I am a backpacker – hence never carry too much luggage. So when traveling to developing countries, I use the baggage allowance to take any essential items that include over the counter drugs, stationery, milk powder, soaps, paste, clothes etc. Or, I end up buying food stuff from the destination country and deliver that to any orphanages. I do volunteer at orphanages or old people’s homes. There are so many people in need, especially kids and old people and I like to do my bit for them as well. I have been lucky to travel a lot and see even more – because I tread away from the regular touristic path and I use that experience to be able to change something for someone.
4 .The first Indian woman to do a solo climb of the 5,895m high mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa….
I wanted to climb the highest mountain in Africa-Kilimanjaro. Deciding rashly to embark on this climb I arrived at Moshi, Tanzania in the rainy season when hardly anyone climbs the mountain. No wonder, I was soaked to the skin during the ascent when my guide revived me with massage. I scrambled to the top to set a crazy record as the only woman to reach the peak without a bra! But it was my proudest moment.
5 .Major differences while traveling in India and outside……
I have realized that people all over the world are the same! A Mexican will behave exactly like a Cambodian when hungry or an Indian will react exactly like a Frenchman at the sight of a hapless traveller. . What really makes them different is the language and geography. But there is one thing that easily helps dissolve that difference too – SMILE. You don’t need a language to communicate.
- It is said, travelling alone at night is not safe for women. Challenges that you faced in your life….
As Indians and more specifically girls, we are warned against being too friendly with strangers, of wandering about at nights, of wearing the right clothes, of ‘behaving’ in a certain way etc. I have realized that all these make for a wholesome travel experience. I no more walk around wondering when I am going to be mugged. I have learnt to believe in myself. I have survived knife attacks, being molested, being held at gun point, extreme colds, extreme humidity – these were challenges that happened along the way – one can never prepare enough for these. But when you are on your own, there is some kind of survival instinct that kicks in when you are in danger- you have to trust that instinct.
7 .The passionate writer and traveller….
Writing and traveling are two of my passions and it was a great idea to combine them. So I did. . I thoroughly enjoyed all that I experienced – living out of a bag, hanging out with perfect strangers, eating with locals – I thought it was important to share that experience and hoped in some way to prove that the world is a safe place for women wanting to go solo.
8 .Almost Intrepid…..
I absolutely loved writing Almost Intrepid, for me it was like going on those journeys all over again. As you read in the book, it is about (me) a solo Indian woman backpacking around the world, climbing mountains and trekking in jungles – but the one essential component is that (she) is always alone. So, I guess, joining me on a journey is a bit off the mark – plus you might end up hating the way I travel.
9 .Fund for Travel and Relief …..
Travel and Relief is not a ‘fund-based’ operation. It is about sharing a little of what you have excess of. It is about compassion. Whenever I speak to friends about it, I am amazed at how willing people are to be a part of it – in their own ways. Often, I end up having to find a volunteer to carry much of the stuff that gets left over!!! It is such a joy to know that even non-travellers who haven’t seen as much poverty as I may have, feel for those unknown sufferers and generously open their hearts and share. “I do not buy expensive dresses, cosmetics, handbags, shoes, jewellery and all the things women usually purchase,” she says, “I travel with the minimum gear in a rucksack on my back, stay in low priced hotels, eat street food and do not go shopping when I’m on the road. After every journey, I start saving for my next trip.”
10 .Unforgettable memory of a place/person…….
You know, it is hard to single out ‘one unforgettable memory’ of a person or place – because as a traveller, each place or a person has added a different meaning to my travel. All of them have, in their own unique ways enriched my travel and travels, reinforcing my faith in humankind. They have humbled me with their sheer generosity, kindness and trust
11 .Next book….
‘There are no Gods in North Korea’ is coming soon. It will include my experiences travelling in the Hermit Nation of North Korea, the awesome steppes of Mongolia and the freedom in poverty in Africa.
12 .The first trip alone told Anjaly that you don’t need a travelling companion, just a desire to get somewhere to start travelling.
With two older brothers, and liberal parents, I was always one of the boys. I made male friends more easily than female friends and never fit in completely in my convent school in Mangalore. One weekend, we, a gang of girls decided to escape for a trip to Goa. But as the day drew nearer, every one backed out one by one. I had built the trip so much in my head that I couldn’t bear to NOT go. So I decided to travel alone for the first time in my life. I had been to Goa before and wasn’t as afraid as I would’ve been if it was an absolutely new place.
- Pleasure of travelling….
A backpacker at heart, for me the thrill of the travel is the solitary nature of exploring new locations on my own. Of testing your limits, and seeing what little you can manage without .Of immersing myself in local experiences and the warm community of backpackers around the world.
14 .Thought of settling down
Hmm, I really cannot answer that honestly right now. All I can say is, there is really no need to give up one thing for the other – life is all about maintaining a balance and I have managed very well so far and will continue to do so.
15. Greatest achievement…
I think breaking the mould of “traditional travel for Indian women” was my biggest achievement. I don’t really care much for social approval and to me achievement is more about overcoming everyday biases to embrace something new, different and better.
“Travel has defined me as a person, and made me so tolerant and patient that nothing surprises or angers me.” – Anjaly Thomas