Anee is a dear friend from my mountaineering days. I remember seeing her sit up all night due to the altitude related insomnia, but never once missed a single day of training. She was an incredible leader for her team (Rope) and a great support to all of us. She went on to do more wonderful stuff in life, that continues to inspire me and hope it is to you too.
At the Blanca Lake Hike, Washington, US
1) Anee, tell us a brief travel profile of yours
I have travelled a lot of places in India and abroad with my parents but would talk more about the places that I visited and experienced on my own. My travel plans had been devised to either do sightseeing or adventure or both. I have done a lot of solo travelling in areas of Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and MP in India; and parts of US and Thailand among foreign nations. With friends and family, have travelled to a lot more places like Laddakh, Rajasthan, Himachal, North-Eastern States, Bengal, Gujarat, Daman & Diu, Maharashtra, Bihar, MP, many hill stations and religious destinations in Southern states which were mostly road trips.
2) Tell us your story about ‘where you are from and what choices in life got you here?’
I did schooling from 9 different schools in different cities this gave me exposure to different cultures and people. I did Engineering from Indore, MP and management studies from Mumbai, Maharashtra. Needless to say, visited lots of places around these cities and build lots of memories. I made friends everywhere and got interested in learning as much as possible about different parts of the world. After starting earning and getting independent and seemingly wiser, my geographical span of travel destinations increased. I understand how my parents worried about me, getting on solo exploratory trips, but I have no words to express my gratitude for the trust they put in me. I am grateful for the education they gave me which got me to this level of independence and the practical knowledge about the world they taught which gives me the confidence of explore further learning on my own.
3) How did the travel bug bite you and how did that change your outlook towards life?
Although born in India, had started my studies in Libya. My parents love travelling so more than any choice that got me into travelling, I would say, I got it readymade into my genes!
With my parents, I travelled in Libya, Egypt, Malta (A European Island in Mediterranean sea), Dubai and lots of destinations in India. Spent years in different cities but the longest that I have lived in any city is Indore, MP. Finished schooling and engineering there. During last two years of schooling got bitten by the trekking bug. I had a group called Outdoor Adventures run by Mr. Rakesh Jain, from whom I learnt a lot of things in day camps, Himalayan treks etc. I started volunteering for college and corporate camps that he used to set up with the theme of learning and adventure, while being in school. Later this inclination got me into learning paragliding, skiing, mountaineering and backpacking throughout the country and abroad.
4) Does your travel have a theme? What all places have you traveled to and tell us some interesting experiences you have had
I like travelling for different reasons depending on available time and company I have. For example, in Bangalore with my brother, who likes comfortable trips, I would go on road trips to Coorg or Kodaikanal or Pondicherry and try different cuisines or meet random people for conversation. While with my husband who also loves adventures, I would make impromptu plans, pick up tent and climb mountains or put cycle in car, go for road trip, half of which he would cycle and I would crew for him.
One of interesting experiences was a cycling trip to Chandra Tal in Spiti valley (Himachal Pradesh) with friends out of which 5 were bikers and others in vehicle. We hired mountain bikes from Manali and took a camper with us. It was a 4 days trip. First day cycling was dangerously downhill from Rohtang to Chhatru. Although it required low efforts for paddling, a cyclist must be very careful about speed to take sharp turns because almost always at one side of road there were very deep gorges. We rode 35km on first day and stayed in tents for the night. On the way were many stream crossings formed by water melting from glacier located just on the road side. We had to take off shoes and walk through those chilled gushing waters leading our bikes through. There were other tourists in vehicles who were clicking our pictures and giving us thumbs-ups.
We had campfire that first night and slept like babies as we were all very tired. Next day cycling became further more tiring with mostly uphill efforts. I am sharing a picture of me, clicked when I literally ‘fell’ asleep at the bank of Chadra Tal (lake). On our return cycling trip, Rohtang to Manali stretch of 50km downhill was amazing fun in the continuous light rainfall.
5) Tell us your craziest travel experience
Have got many experiences where ‘crazy’ played a significant part! Example, there was a Life and Adventure Camp that I organized with my team in 45 degree Celsius temperature in a tribal town of Jhabua, MP. The first afternoon itself we got very tired and exhausted. We noticed a small lake at a faraway distance from terrace of a school building. We all raced each other in dry hot weather, in the direction taking turns on roads which none knew about, and finally jumped into it! Amusingly enough, we saw buffalos bathing at a distance and a cars being washed at the other side, all being in the same waters! But we splashed, swam, joked and enjoyed heartily and gained back the energy we needed for organizing the camp.
6) What drove you to quit your job as Project Manager in Asian Paints and travel full time…How that decisions changed your personal life and career. Did you have to make any sacrifices that you regret?
There were multiple factors that drove that decision for me. All the past years I had been sincere towards my studies and my jobs. I did schooling, engineering, MBA and job without any break, while secretly nurturing the desire to take a break and spend some considerable time to travel and understand the society better so that I can contribute to it in some way. While still working at Asian Paints I found a team of mountaineers thinking of a way to reach out to people in remote towns of Kargil and attempting a seven thousand-er peak too, during the visit. That’s when I thought I can start with this and build plans moving on. That trip taught me so many lessons of life and we did a good job reaching to hundreds of people there. I later visited many places in Gujarat, MP, Himachal, Maharashtra, Assam and Meghalaya most of which were solo-trips. I organized Breast Cancer awareness run in Indore in collaboration with Milind Soman, which got media coverage and a reach to wider audience. After visiting interior towns of MP, I came across Jhabua town which is predominantly a tribal area. In an attempt to bring outside world and its wonders to the kids of a school there, I set up 2 days camp with a team of volunteers. It was basically about boosting morale about various avenues lying ahead of them, along with adventure activities like obstacle run, rappelling etc. I kept looking for such opportunities while travelling. In the same break, I went to eastern and western coasts of US and some cities of Thailand.
I set most of my camps under the banner of Dimensions Explorers. Meanwhile, I also joined an NGO called 3 Billion Initiative on a stipend, which further empowered me to make a difference to society through its initiatives
A famous quote goes, “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for”. I find this absolutely true. I took the first step and doors started opening.
After year and a half of collection of innumerable learning and memories, I got married and took up a job. Irrefutably, these learning can be applied in corporate, relationships and many daily life interactions too.
Ofcourse there were sacrifices. I left a high paying job after MBA from one of the top B-Schools of the country, met random people, trusted them, some betrayed the trust and some efforts of bringing change failed, but all-in-all, I learnt so much in those months of travelling that it was all worth it!
7) Is quitting a job and travelling really possible and affordable for everyone. How did you mange to do it. Share us some tips.
Thanks to my well paying job of 4 years, prior to my adventure cum travel cum entrepreneurial stint, I had saved enough to survive at least 2-3 years comfortably. So I had that security. Besides, I managed to get sponsors for most of my camps (kids camps, medical camp, awareness camps etc) hence the expenses on events and such travels weren’t from my personal savings. Hence, I could freely spend on backpacking trips abroad. Still to keep expenses in check, I traveled using public transport and crashed at friends’ places or economical dormitories most of the times.
8) What were the strange questions you had to encounter on road – Prejudiced, concerned and all that’s in between?
Most of the strange questions that I encountered were at the time of my solo travels. Once while going in a city bus in Srinagar a guy in a Muslim attire asked me where is my father, brother or husband? He asked me to be wary of walking alone on street. However, I found myself comfortable visiting mosque and gardens of Srinagar. There are army men posted at many parts of the city and I even found them smiling and waving while I was strolling on the road.
Also, after my solo trip to Thailand people were somehow not convinced that a girl would go to Thailand alone. I was even asked by a friend if I had gone with a boyfriend and claiming it to be a solo trip to hide the fact! 🙂
9) Any life changing experiences in your trip that you would like to share.
I would definitely mention the Kargil medical camp trip as the most significant one of all others, which had a life changing impact. As mentioned before I came across a team of moutaineers while I was still working at Asian Paints. We managed to get sponsorship to set medical camps in few towns which are accessible through roads only for 4-5 months of the year. We had a dynamic doctor from Kolkata who had done 27 expeditions including 2 to Mt. Everest. We did mountain climbing and organized camps in Raungdum (famous for monastery occasionally visited by the Dalai Lama), Parkhachik, Sankoo and other places on the way. Among the visitors to our camps were monks, farmers, village chief, pregnant ladies etc. Learnt so much about their humble background and culture. They seemed so innocent and aloof to all selfishness and corruption spread in the larger part of the country. These villagers were simple people caring only about each other and survival from harsh weather conditions. However if you come to Kargil city, I found something that disturbed me. Talking to shopkeepers I realized, many of the inhabitants of the place believed they aren’t part of India and its governance. Our team tried to make an impact everywhere we went, that we all are citizens of same country and there are people from other parts of the country who feel for them and have enabled us to help and support them there.
This trip changed my outlook towards life. We let so many trivial things in life like money, office politics, city traffic etc. worry us on a daily basis. Stress these days has brought old age heart conditions and other health complications to people now at a very young age. At the same time there are people who work very hard just to get enough food and fodder to survive when they know weather would stop favouring them any time and they won’t be connected with rest of the world. While I also became a victim of 4-5 days continuous snow storm, living in a tent all alone at 4500m above sea level, I realized, a rucksack full of limited resources is also enough to survive then why do we stay so unsatisfied in our city life having all the amenities of the world.
10) Tell us how you met your husband, and if marriage as in anyways changed your life goals, what are your goals now with respect to travel and life?
I met my husband during one of the most wonderful journey of my life. That was the time when I had finally decided to take formal training in mountaineering from Himalayan Mountaineering Institute of Darjeeling. It is a 28 days course which starts with 7 days of on-campus training, followed by practical training in Sikkim mountains and ending with two days of rigorous exams. People from all walks of life enroll for it. I met an enthusiastic guy at the breakfast table on the first day of my training. We became friends and stayed in touch after our mountaineering course. We had started realizing that both of us share the same pursuit of learning and sharing. Even before we knew each other, we had been to same place (Manali) to learn paragliding at different times, had done mountaineering in same regions and shared similar feeling to make a difference. We both are ardent travelers and love to pick up a tent and travel on any opportunity we get. He is also into endurance sports hence devotes time in training for Ironman and other endurance events. Although I am not into that, his lifestyle keeps me also motivated to have a decent fitness level so that I can take up any mountain hiking, skiing or other adventure trip whenever I get a chance.
11) What was your lowest moment in your travels
Although almost every journey had an overall positive impact on me but there definitely had been low moments in some of them. Once, I volunteered for a mountain cycling race of 504 km distance spread over 8 days, starting and ending in Shimla. My trekking buddy, who is more like a brother to me always, was with me. We had fun while working long hours being in Shimla for 2 days in doing race arrangements. But as soon as we hit the mountains I found the lack of planning of the organisers for volunteers. Tents for night stay were distributed for participants but volunteers were kept to wait for hours. We were called very late and asked to hike uphill at a distance to stay in some school, the keys for which they were trying to arrange. That didn’t sound right so we said we will wait there only. An hour after dinner when most of campers had gone to tent, I was sent to some female participants’ tent and my friend to tent of cooks which was stinking of smoke and alcohol. We both felt very bad about the experience, knowing that we are out of network, our parents were worried and the trip wasn’t turning out as expected. We took a decision to get out of the forest and reach Shimla somehow(We were 70km away from Shimla in middle of nowhere). Finally we saved our trip by joining a paragliding course in Manali!
12) What would your advice be to the wannabe women travelers
Trust your instincts! This is the first advice I would give to all women travelers. Science also suggests that women have a stronger ability to make a successful intuitive decision because of their exceptional skills in reading other humans. If your gut says, “don’t trust someone” or “don’t go that way” then do follow. But that doesn’t mean not to step out of comfort of home. Plan your travel carefully. If it is a completely new city or area where you are travelling, book public transports and well known hotels after reading reviews online. The parts of US where I travelled alone, I booked female dormitories where I met females of many different nationalities who also said they prefer such a place when they travel.
13) Any book recommendations.
I don’t read books on travelling so won’t be able to suggest any of those. However, I would like to mention my recently read book, “A Life Without Limits” by Chrissie Wellington, who is a four-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion. Athletes may like it more compelling, but the details about how she travelled across the world while facing emotional ups and downs in her life, are captivating for any reader. Chrissie followed her heart by leaving a successful civil services career in US, searching her true inner calling and finally excelling in the same by breaking multiple world records.