Anjaly Thomas: A Life Less Ordinary

“When you dream, you set in motion the process of transformation,” believes Anjay Thomas. The lawyer – turned journalist – turned travel writer is acknowledged as a pioneer in solo female backpacking in India. From her first solo trip at the age of 17, she has traveled to more than 70 countries since.

Anjaly Thomas is the first Indian to walk the grueling 97 km long Kokada Track in Papua New Guinea. Her courage and spirit for adventure has taken her to the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, into the expanse of the Gobi desert, and the little known labyrinths of North Korea. In fact, that was the first travelogue I read of Anjaly’s – her visit to North Korea. It struck a chord, a solo woman traveler in a country where most fear to even tread! I knew I had to find out more about Anjaly Thomas, her passions – travel and writing – and a life less ordinary.

The adventure seeking, fun loving, outspoken and empathetic travel writer grew up in a small town near Mangalore, Karnataka. Sent to a boarding school when she was in class 2, Anjaly Thomas credits her school years for her independent streak and love for writing. Quite aptly then, her latest book, ‘Plentiful Springs’ comes with a red painted postbox emblazoned on the cover as an ode to her writing journey. Her previously published books include – ‘Almost Intrepid’, ‘There are No Gods in North Korea’, and ‘Lonely Planet Dubai for the Indian Traveller’.

Given below is an excerpt of my conversation with Anjaly Thomas

How did you go from being a lawyer to a solo travelers and travel writer? 

In my defense, I never practiced law, which is not such a bad thing I guess. I joined a newspaper in India as a reporter hoping that it would lead to many travels. When that didn’t happen the way I expected, I moved to Dubai. I made enough money to travel and I trekked, hiked, climbed mountains, backpacked, and hitchhiked. I combined my love for writing and travelling and voila! The transition from not wanting to practice-to traveling-to being a travel writer took me over four years. I cannot say I have achieved the ultimate, enviable status of being a traveller and writer, but I’ll get there soon. I am in no race.

When you first travelled solo, was it what you expected? 

I didn’t expect anything at all. But like every young traveller with no experience, I did picture a perfect postcard world. However, those scales fell very fast from my eyes when I realized that to get to those “postcard-perfect’ destinations, there was a lot of leg work involved, including sometimes, long flights and expensive tickets. So, I very quickly learnt to stop expecting and enjoying whatever I saw.

What are the destinations you would recommend to first time solo travellers? And the ones that you wouldn’t? 

That would largely depend on one’s budget and ability to deal with situations, so recommending a certain destination might not be wise. Personal safety must be taken into consideration, but certain reactions and ability to deal with a tricky situation come from experience. So, I wouldn’t discourage anyone from travelling to anywhere because every place has something of interest to everyone. What I might find dull might be a highpoint for someone else and vice versa. I would suggest that instead of rejecting a country outright, take your time to know about it, see what or how you’ll benefit from it and make an informed decision.

Share with us the 3 biggest myths and lessons learned from solo travel.

Myths? Oh, I am sure there are hundreds surrounding solo travel, but it never crossed my mind to defy or burst them. The most important lesson I learnt is that no matter where you go, you are dealing with people. And everyone likes to be treated with respect. I learnt a few truths – it is important to show people you trust them. When you do that, you are halfway to being friends. Listen to them, be honest (but never show fear or vulnerability) and compliment them. You’ll be fine.

Whether it is a myth or not, solo traveling often comes with lots of ‘downtime’ – its not always merrymaking and joyous, you might find yourself questioning your decisions – but keep moving. I have been asked (quite often too), if I ever get bored on my own. The answer is yes – sometimes. It is human nature. There is nothing wrong about you or the place, sometimes boredom sets in even if you are with company. As a wannabe-solo-traveller, it is important to understand these things first, that way when you do feel yourself down or bored, you’d know there is nothing wrong with you.

What are some of your best and worst moments from solo travel?

You know, I have never really thought that much about it. As I see it, if I am able to put myself in a new place, embrace everything that it offers, learn from that experience, then those are the best moments. Waking up in the Savannahs, in the Gobi Desert, touching the skies at Uhuru Peak, greeting the morning snow at St Moritz, waking up to the smell of coffee over wood fire in the jungles of Papua New Guinea…these are among the best moments.  

The worst? All my money got stolen in Vietnam and when I arrived at the Laos border, I had no money to pay for the visa (I was doing a land crossing). The fellow travellers on the bus pitched in to pay, but it was a lesson learnt.

How does Anjaly Thomas the travel writer, approach researching a new destination before a visit? 

I like to arrive at a destination knowing little and then get talking to the locals to know about the place. Of course, being a travel writer, I am not entirely unaware of top attractions in any country even if I haven’t been there. And one does hear and see things on TV and the internet, so detailed research is not needed, at least not for me. Besides, I don’t have the patience for it.

What is your writing process like?

My writing process is rather strange. First, I need a noisy place to write – like a café or airport lounge, a chair with a straight back (no sofa or bed for me). I am a morning person, so I work best between the hours of 8 am – 12 pm. In those four hours of writing, I feel as though I’ve run a marathon. Plus (strange as it might sound), I need to have two other projects going on side by side. My idea of taking a break from writing is to write something else completely different. I write humour when I am sad. Like most writers say, whatever works! In the end what matters is getting your work done.

Please share some tips for aspiring travel writers. 

The trick is to start. Never mind if you haven’t got a complete plot in mind, because often the story writes itself once you start. So, start writing. It is your story, your deadline. Take your time over it.  You don’t owe it to anyone but yourself to complete the book. Write the story you want, the way you want – own your story, your words. But remember, once you start, you need to obsess over it. Involve yourself in the plot line, the characters, and the conversations. Lead the story with clarity and purpose. Don’t start editing as soon as you have completed two pages! That way, you will never get anything done. Also, never begin with self-doubt – “Will anyone like it? Will I get a publisher?”, etc. These doubts are deterrent to any good start.

Finally, how do you like your coffee?

Ah! I wish you’d asked this first! My coffee…hmmm…always black. And Strong. I do prefer single origins but will contend with dark roasts and blends in the absence of single origins. I have travelled a fair bit and always insist on drinking the local coffee wherever I go, even if it means I have to stray off track or invite myself into the local’s homes…for coffee anything!

“Plentiful Springs” can be purchased HERE.

2 thoughts on “Anjaly Thomas: A Life Less Ordinary”

  1. The lady’s gumption is praiseworthy. A lively interview, that packs in a lot of information . Rashmi, you do so much justice to offbeat interviews.

  2. Miles to go….and the journey continues….travel goals … inspirational…Rashmi…loved the article ..

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