Appooppanthaadi’s travel fellowship helped women push boundaries

Aruna VR in Hampi   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Through women’s travel group Appooppanthaadi, founder Sajna Ali proved that many women could indulge their wanderlust within a budget. Recently, she launched the group’s first travel fellowship, ‘Prayaana’, to finance and motivate women to pack their bags and explore the world. Planning the itinerary was left to the participants, helping them push often self-imposed, boundaries.

Bindu J, Bindu Meher, Akhilandeswari Sivanesan, Minu J and Aruna VR were the five women selected for the fellowship. Their destinations were Dhanushkodi, Puducherry, Nelliyampathy, Gokarna and Hampi respectively. Each had to overcome fears and inhibition of different kinds to make their a solo trip a success.

Kozhikode-based Ayurveda physician Bindu J’s internal dialogue went something like this: ‘I am 46. If not now, then when? It would never work if I am waiting to fulfil my obligations towards everyone before doing something for myself.’ A self-proclaimed introvert, even applying was a big step. “I am not a tech whiz. Somehow, I managed to shoot a video of Kozhikode beach with a friend,” she says.

Bindu J in Dhanushkodi

Bindu J in Dhanushkodi   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

When Sajna called with the news that she had been selected and that beach town Dhanushkodi was her destination, Bindu’s initial feeling of elation was quickly replaced by anxiety. “My world had shrunk over the years. Apart from trips with other families and on work, I had never been anywhere to explore by myself.”

Another women bitten by the travel bug is Bindu Meher. As a child, her ambition was to become a gypsy! After 15 trips with Appooppanthaadi but no solo ventures yet, Bindu felt it wasn’t an opportunity to be missed and sent in her entry right away. The enterprising learning consultant who turns 50 next year was assigned Puducherry, which she took on gladly. She planned her two-day trip meticulously, to decide what to see in the township, the outer area and Auroville.

Bindu Meher at Ousteri lake in Puducherry

Bindu Meher at Ousteri lake in Puducherry   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

She also read up and talked to those who had been there before. “All it takes is some effort and faith in humanity. I was always boring to my two adolescent boys. But after the trip, they are all ears, eager to hear about my experience and see my photographs. They even joined me and my husband on an outing organised from office,” she says.

Like with every solo journey, unexpected kindness from strangers, keeping calm and listening to their intuition added to the women’s confidence. For Bindu Meher, a chance meeting with a restaurant chain owner to ask for directions prompted the man to arrange for a quick delivery of breakfast en route her next destination. Quoting legendary traveller Ibn Battuta, she says, “Many of my experiences did leave me speechless but after this trip, I have definitely become a storyteller too.” Bindu J vouches for the same.

Akhilandeswari Sivanesan in Nelliyampathy in Kerala

Akhilandeswari Sivanesan in Nelliyampathy in Kerala   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Based in Coimbatore, Akhilandeswari travels with friends every year. On her first solo trip, she decided confidence would be her calling card. Once she was deep inside the forest, poor network left her cut off from the rest of the world. However, the initial wave of panic made way for some precious ‘me time’, she realised. “I had often felt disappointed about tourist attractions that only allowed people to see waterfalls and the like from afar, even if for the sake of safety. But here I was, right in the middle of the forest. The view was so amazing that I had no time to worry.”

Confidence booster

Minu laughs when she recalls how she was more worried than her family members about what Gokarna held in store. Despite several trips and a paragliding adventure, a solo adventure was giving her the jitters. “I don’t warm up to people easily and had a lot of inhibitions about myself.” But Minu surprised herself by befriending a group she shared accommodation with at the backpacker’s hostel in Gokarna. “I learnt that all travellers have the same intention — to explore more. So I needn’t be scared in the least.”

Minu J in Gokarna in Karnataka

Minu J in Gokarna in Karnataka   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Like everybody else, it was a chance for Aruna to fight some personal demons. “I have never been enthusiastic about posting anything on social media, mainly because I was too conscious about my looks. But I love travel too much to let that get in the way of applying for the fellowship. I had been looking for such an opportunity.”

Five for adventure
  • Sajna chose the five finalists from 30-plus entries. With no age bar, applicants had to submit a video of a local destination, serving as a guide for viewers apart from an essay explaining how the fellowship would be used to conquer one’s fears and explore the world. The latter offered a peek into the apprehensions that were holding many contestants back till then. “The video and essay required applicants to put in effort on their part and reflect upon their desire to travel,” she adds.

Sajna notes that it was Aruna’s video submission that made her a finalist. “Although it was about Shankhumugham beach her smart presentation of the place made it refreshing to watch.” The happy ending? Her inhibitions flew out the window. She also knows to travel with an eye on budget now. Otherwise a luxury traveller, Aruna says it was a new lesson.

The next edition of Prayaana will be more challenging, with a five-day trip and two slots. “There are plenty of women who have dreams of travelling but are hesitant. Some women may be cash-strapped, others may have inhibitions. My intention was to see that the trips help break the many shells that people build around themselves,” Sajna says.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 11:08:41 PM |

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