Anjaly Thomas, single, smart and savvy, has travelled the world on her own
Photo: Anjaly Thomas at Jinja, the source of the River Nile
By Shevlin Sebastian
When the Dubai-based traveller Anjaly Thomas stepped on to the 'Kokoda Track' in Papua New Guinea, she knew what she was getting into. It is a 96-km trek through the thickest jungles, in a single foot trail, battling mosquitoes, leeches, heat and humidity. Quite a few people had died while trying to do the trek.
Nevertheless, she decided to push on, accompanied by two Papuan guides, Vico and Jones, who knew just a few words of English. “There were rivers which I had to cross, balancing myself on narrow bamboo bridges,” she says. “I had to walk up steep trails, over slippery rocks, and grab branches, to keep my balance.”
But she was courageous, and with the help of her guides, she trudged on for 11 days and completed the trek. “I am the first Indian, male or female, to do this journey,” says Anjaly.
This single woman traveller has had an enduring love affair with Africa. “The animals, the wildness, the rawness,” she says. “Everything is so strange. I have been to Tanzania three times. Africa is such a different continent from Asia. That is what makes travelling so interesting.”
But sometimes it can be life-threatening. In Nairobi she was waylaid by three rough-looking men who tried to rob her. “I have also been held at gunpoint, and chased by people with knives because they wanted my watch,” she says. But there are other moments, recounted, with a refreshing frankness, in her book, 'Almost Intrepid' (Konark Publishers), when she has romantic escapades with handsome-looking Europeans and South Africans.
Thus far, Anjaly has travelled to 29 countries. They include a trip to Jinja, in Uganda. This is where the River Nile begins its 6650 km journey, through ten countries, towards the Mediterranean Sea. In Uganda, she went to that part of the country, about 75 kms from the capital, Kampala, where the Equator passes through, dividing the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. In Thailand, she walked on the bridge made famous by director David Lean's classic film, 'Bridge Over The River Kwai'. In Cambodia, Anjaly was disturbed by the atrocities committed by the Pol Pot regime (1975-79) and highlighted in the War Crimes Museum.
She also had Sex On The Beach, which, in an anti-climax, is the name of a drink. In Tanzania, she became the first Indian woman to do a solo climb of the 5895m high Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa.
All this is quite daring when you consider that Anjaly is a single Indian woman, the daughter of a Malayali father and a mother who is from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh. She spent many years in Bangalore, where she qualified as a lawyer, but worked as a journalist, before she moved to Dubai. Today, she works as an online editor for a radio station. “I save money and then go travelling during my vacations.” she says.
Interestingly, Anjaly has no fixed itinerary. When she arrives at the airport of a country, she will head towards the taxi stand and ask a driver to take her to the inexpensive places to stay. “When they see a backpack, they know what I am looking for,” says Anjaly. Sometimes, she will talk to other backpackers who will advise her on where to go.
Despite the risks, Anjaly has always lived in cheap hotels. “I have been lucky that rarely have I had bad moments,” she says. “In Turkey, for three weeks, I stayed in strangers' homes, and nothing untoward happened. You have to show people that you trust them. And they will trust you back.”
But the situation is different when Anjaly travels in India. “Indian men think that if a woman is travelling alone, she must be a slut,” she says. “They always think dirty. They can never look at me as just a traveller. This letching is a sub-continental problem.”
But letching has never been a deterrent for this lively woman, with a dazzling smile. And, thanks to her long experience, Anjaly is able to bust a few myths.
The world is not a safe place
“Blame the media for making you believe that any place outside your mother's womb is not safe.”
Men are hostile towards female travellers
“False. You can avoid that by not being too conspicuous.”
Never have sex with strangers
“Heard of condoms? They are meant to be used.”
You can get raped
“The odds of getting assaulted on the road are negligible when compared to it happening by someone you know.”
Anjaly's future plans include more travel and definitely no husband on the horizon. “There is no such thing as an understanding husband,” says Anjaly. "Instead, I have a husband in every port, but that is a different story altogether.”
(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)