When 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 have died trying to finish the trek.
Nevertheless, she decided to take the dare, accompanied by two Papuan guides—Vico and Jones— who knew very little 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 what cannot be achieved with a little courage and perseverance. Anjaly trudged on for 11 days, and with the help of her guides, completed the trek. “I am the first Indian, male or female, to do this journey,” beams Anjaly, who is in her early thirties.
This single woman traveller has also had a long and 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 compared to Asia. That is what makes exploring Africa so interesting.”
Her daring adventures in the land of Sahara can easily be the stuff of celluloid scripts. In Nairobi, she was waylaid by three hefty, 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. The adventurer has recounted her journeys and romantic escapades, with refreshing frankness, in her book, Almost Intrepid (Konark Publishers)
So far Anjaly has travelled to 29 countries across the globe. These include trips to Thailand, Cambodia and Jinja in Uganda, where the Nile begins its 6,650 km journey, through 10 countries, towards the Mediterranean Sea. In Tanzania, she became the first Indian woman to do a solo climb of the 5,895m high Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.
The daughter of a Malayali father and a mother who is from Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, Anjaly spent many years in Bangalore. She studied to be a lawyer, but worked as a journalist before moving to Dubai. Today, she works as an online editor for a radio station in Dubai. “I save money and then go travelling during my vacations,” she says.
Anjaly says she follows no fixed itinerary and steers clear of the tourist packages and planned tours. On arriving in a country, she heads for the taxi stand outside the airport and asks cab drivers about inexpensive places to stay. “When they see a backpack, they know what I am looking for,” says Anjaly. Sometimes, she consults other backpackers beforehand, gathering advice on must-see places in a country.
Despite the risks, Anjaly has always preferred cheap accommodation. “I have been lucky that I almost never had bad experiences,” she says. “During my three-week stay in Turkey, I couch-surfed at houses of local people and nothing untoward happened. You have to show people that you trust them. ”
But the situation, she admits, is very different when travelling in India. “Indian men think that if a woman is travelling alone, she must be ‘easy’,” she says. “They always think dirty. They can never look at me as just another traveller. This leching is a sub-continental problem,” she says.
But leching has never been a deterrent for this free-spirited traveller whose love for new adventures has taken her across the globe.Anjaly’s future plans include more travel and definitely no wedding bells. “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,” she says, tongue firmly in cheek.