Happy Women Travellers’ Day

I am reproducing here my article on trailblazing women travellers that appeared as a Women’s Special feature in The Tribune. Can’t think of a better tribute to our wandering tribe. More power to us!

Travel is fun. Travel tales, even better. And trailblazers? They qualify as the icing on the proverbial cake. And if these path breakers constitute women, they sure make it newsworthy.

Minakshi Chaudhry has worn many a mantle through her journey of life: as a journalist, cancer survivor and prolific author. But what defines her best is her endless love for travel, especially in Himachal Pradesh, her home state. Born in Solan, she was schooled in Nigeria before landing a job with the Indian Express after completing her education. She believes the travel bug bit very early on, for when the family returned from Nigeria, her father booked hopping flights, choosing a different destination to visit each time. Her husband, an officer with the Indian administration, also shares this love for exploration; together, they have trekked virtually every inch of Himachal Pradesh and visited over 42 countries. The travel enthusiast has translated her love for mountains, lakes and forests into very many well-received books: Exploring Pangi Himalaya–A World Beyond Civilisation, A Guide to Trekking in Himachal, and Destination Himachal, a travel book on lesser known destinations in the state. She went on to collate writings from the Shimla hills in a book titled Whispering Deodars, before chronicling first the Love Stories and then the Ghost Stories from the region. While Sunshine, accords the reader a window to her experiences with cancer. Minakshi has recently returned from an all-women holiday to Singapore and Malaysia that she cobbled together with her school friends.

Epiphany Moment: Discovering the true meaning of “weekend rush” while arriving in Munich without hotel bookings. And that even soup kitchens turn away well-travelled tourists.

A few years ago, Chandigarh girl, Supreet Dhiman, nature enthusiast and Head, StoneArt at Besten & Co realised the adventure quotient of the laid-back denizens of City Beautiful needed some shaking up. Hence, the Chandigarh Adventure, Treks and Sports (CATS), the city’s first adventure club, was born. Today it boasts of all manner of members: students, doctors, bureaucrats, business managers, IT-professionals. Trekking, hiking, biking, parasailing, paragliding, rally crossing, rafting, rock-climbing, rappelling, fishing and much else; CATS has made it all easy and accessible by identifying areas around Chandigarh.  Supreet’s interest in adventure sports was ignited during her education at the University of Warwick, itself beset by thick forestland, hills and water bodies. She counts being marooned on a deserted island in the Bahamas as one of her memorable escapades. For three days, she had to fend for her food and shelter while in the company of exotic birds and animals. Supreet has raised funds for Cancer Research in England by scaling the highest peaks in England and Wales; and by swimming a stretch of 2.5miles in 40mins everyday for a month. She continues to give back through eduCATe and medicate, initiatives that collect money for education and medical care for the less privileged.

Epiphany Moment: The safest place to spend a night in Sonamarg is a police post when faced with protesters in a volatile mood. 

From Dehradun, Supriya Sehgal, ostensibly lives in Bangalore while actually traipsing around the country on work. She travels map-less and un-Googled, and loves getting lost. An occurrence, she confesses, that has befallen her with unfailing regularity over the past 8 years, since she exchanged her office cubicle for the road. As one half of the team that leads Photography Onthemove, a travel photography initiative, she finds that the addictive chaos of Varanasi has her enthralled. Supriya enjoys researching festivals of India from a filter of unique access and behind the scenes action; and counts the Kambala buffalo races of coastal Karnataka, the Champakulam Snake Boat Race & Theyyam of Kerala as most intriguing. This copious diet of hers–replete with anecdotes and chai with inquisitive locals, co-passengers, auto drivers and cabbies–qualifies her to author for the Australian publishing great, Lonely Planet. She is presently wandering around Kerala, penning down her second book for them.

Epiphany Moment: Nirvana. While witnessing non-commercial Ram Leelas from close quarters at Varanasi.

Lawyer turned journalist-turned-travel writer, Anjaly Thomas, author of Almost Intrepid, prefers the humidity of jungles to air conditioned suites. Her travel mantra is roughly based on “is hard, must do” which has led to her eating tarantulas, facing machete-wielding rebels, being held up by gun-toting soldiers in Tanzania, scaling Mount Killimanjaro and trekking in wildlife infested tropical jungles. Anjaly is from Kerala, but her day job with a radio station finds her currently residing in Dubai. She is the first Indian woman to have walked the peril-laden Kokoda Trail, a 96 kilometres long track through the tropical forests of Papua New Guinea. She does not believe in splurging on food when traveling and doesn’t mind helping herself to someone else’s plate – because she believes it breeds interactivity. A champion of solo travel, she goes it alone most times because it means freedom – to explore, to experience, to blend in, and to revel in anonymity. In step with her declaration–as long as she can put her right leg in front of her left, she will keep exploring–she is off to the Amazon next. Why? Because she once held a giant python around her neck and now she would like to try an anaconda!

Epiphany Moment: It’s best not to bite into the squishy stomach of a fried tarantula.

Kanan Dhru is the founder of Research Foundation for Governance in India, an Ahmedabad based think-tank working towards legal and political reforms. Armed with a law degree from the London School of Economics, she has worked with the National Knowledge Commission. A Fulbright-Nehru Fellow, she is a Global Shaper at the World Economic Forum’s Ahmedabad Hub and was one of the 37 ‘Indians of Tomorrow’ featured by India Today in 2012. Yet, she finds the time and energy to live out her passion for the road less travelled, and mountaineering. She forged her bond with the mountain while on a holiday at Mt Abu. Soon after she enrolled herself for the Brighu Lake Trek organised by the Bangalore Mountaineering Club in 2009, and today, egged on by her trek instructor at Mt Abu, she has scaled endless peaks in India and abroad: Kumar Parvatha in Karnataka, Mt Hira in Japan, The Peak in Hong Kong–also finding time to bungee-jump from the Macau Tower–and the Yosemite National Park in the US. Kanan added to her impressive record by undertaking an eight day trek to Mt Killimanjaro last year. She is now preparing to launch herself at Mt Elbrus in Russia. The highest peak in Europe, she expects it to be quite challenging. But that’s no deterrent as she believes her passion is not just a reflection of her personality but has also equipped her with the survival instincts and toughness of character that her profession necessarily demands.

Epiphany Moment: The Delhi male does not deserve the notoriety accorded him; after being genuinely helped by three random men at New Delhi Railway Station.


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