Rucksack & a car are all you need to explore new worlds, says explorer Anuja Vakil

Rucksack & a car are all you need to explore new worlds, says explorer Anuja Vakil

Lawyer by degree, former insurance advisor and motivational trainer, and now an accomplished baker, all-rounder Anuja Vakil has been city hopping since forever. As an infant in her diapers, she moved from her birthplace in Calcutta (Kolkata) to Ahmedabad where she has spent most of her childhood. Her profession took her to Bombay (Mumbai) and her marriage has brought her all the way to one of the best cities in the world – London.

Travelling solo is a bit of a bizarre concept according to Indian parents who tend to “worry way too much”. Fortunately, along with her equally adventurous husband Dhaval Vakil, they make the most of their journeys.

Having travelled to over 36 countries, Anuja indeed has a lot to share with iGlobal’s Travel Tales.

Like father, like daughter

Back in the day, the picturesque landscape of Kashmir was largely captivated in classic Bollywood movies. The flanks of mountains with a sliver of snow on one side and your favourite actor, either the chocolate boy Rishi Kapoor or the disco dancer Mithun Chakraborty, wrapped in wool and shawl performing the romantic songs on the other side. What bliss!

Anuja harks back to the time when she witnessed a film shooting with the finest hero from the South, Kamal Haasan in the lead. “We ran after him and my father’s leg got stuck in the snow. It was tough to get a six feet man out. Crazy enough we were leaving him and running behind the actor instead.”

From hill stations – Nainital, Mussoorie, Coorg – to pilgrimage trips to Yamunotri, Jamnotri, Badrinath, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Anuja has done it all. “My father was a big-time traveller. We used to have at least five trips in a year.”

She narrates her guided tour to Dharamshala: “Every morning, the incharge would wake us up at 5 am and stuff us in a bus. We stayed in a hut, shivering in the cold as there were no heaters 30 years ago.” A real deal for the late riser that she is.


Rucksack & a car are all you need to explore new worlds, says explorer Anuja Vakil
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Around the world

Every inch of our Earth is eye-catching! Anuja trails to newer lands for its unique natural and architectural wonders. Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, are individually distinct. “For people, it is counting countries, for me, it is counting beauty. Whatever I feel is left to be seen, I will go there even if I have to go thrice.”

The globetrotter finds it mind-boggling that for most Indian families, the entire continent of Europe can be covered in 21 days. “But have you visited Chamonix? Zermatt?” Those are the less discovered bits in France and Switzerland.

Norway madness: Twelve days, ten motels. Iced fjords and snake-like roads were their only companions. The zeal in the couple had driven them along the world’s longest Laerdal Tunnel that stretches for 25kms connecting Oslo to Bergen. She exclaims, “they even have a wedding venue inside.”

She has been a lucky charm to the skies of Tromsø. During her visit to the Arctic city, Anuja not only got to watch the dancing of the dynamic green and purple northern lights at a 4.5 radar but also managed to get a glimpse of the rare phenomenon – fallstreak hole.

Heavenly Iceland: As she packs her bags for her second visit, this time to experience the midnight sun, Anuja shares moments from her last. Soaking in hot geysers, walking over glaciers, this country is pure magic. With her 3-year-old son strapped to her chest, she has gone whale watching and ice caving in the cold and windy weather. “When I took him to Iceland, there was no other kid to do this.”

The party animal in her has ticked Ibiza and Budapest off her list and made her a faithful guest at the iconic Belgian music festival, Tomorrowland. “I decided that I have to go there every year. It is another level!”


Rucksack & a car are all you need to explore new worlds, says explorer Anuja Vakil
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Summer getaway

Besides the customary family hikes in Snowdonia and the Lake District, the Vakil household is always ready to park their car on the roadside and head up the slopes. “When we pass something good on the highway and we feel that this is a good hiking spot, we stop by.”

Anuja places her top bet on Cornwall, a place where she can “go again and again”. This patch on the southwestern coast of England has a completely Mediterranean vibe to it. Surf through this summer heat by grabbing a pint at a beachside café and dipping your toes in the Cornish sands.

Some of the attractions that the English riviera has to offer includes the tidal island of St Michael’s Mount, the luscious green Lost Gardens of Heligan and a melodious choir at the Minack Theatre under the night stars that she refers to as “giving goosebumps”.

Take it from the daredevil who gets her thrills from walking on mountain edges: Sea kayaking, surfboarding, mountain climbing are fun outdoor experiences. Visitors can indulge in a holistic spa treatment and bless themselves with some local seafood delicacies fresh from the fisherman’s net to name a few to-dos.

Souvenirs for life

Apart from the usual miniature figurines and refrigerator magnets, she feeds herself with culinary knowledge from her destinations. The “flying baker” as her clients call her for her frequent holidays, might have her mind switched off during her travels but she always has her learning cap on.

Wherever Anuja goes, she makes it a point to visit popular eateries and chefs to continuously update her menu at Anuja’s BakeHouse. “In Bombay, I met a baker who taught me to make French patisserie.”

She has incorporated the Baklava recipe from the famous Hafiz Mustafa upon her return from Istanbul and launched the eggless tres leches.


Rucksack & a car are all you need to explore new worlds, says explorer Anuja Vakil
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Booking and packing

Planning a trip is all about Google, Google and Google. The pair drafts their own itinerary using skyscanner and bookings.com and check all the costs that fit their budget. “We may spend £5000 on a trip but every endeavour is worth it.”

#1 mantra is to say no to luxury hotels unless it is a once in a blue moon leisure trip then that definitely requires a private villa with a pool. “We always go for a 3 or 4 star because we are going to be on the road all the time.”

#2 Goodbye suitcases! Backpackers they are. “We never carry a single suitcase.”

#3 Hire a car. “The best way to explore any country is to self-drive.”

They prefer to book their activities on the spot for better deals and to save the big bucks for shopping. “In Cappadocia, we got the hot air balloon tickets for just £50 at the counter contrary to £200 online.”

Anuja warns travellers about the added commissions of unknown agents that might rip a hole in your pockets. She adds, “make sure you have enough time gap for connecting flights as you can get stuck in lengthy immigration checks.”

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