Sajna Ali runs Appooppanthaadi, which arranges women-only tours across India. She’s planning to explore international destinations soon.
Appooppanthaadi is milkweed in Malayalam, that grows in abundance in the Kerala countryside. It relies on the wind to disperse its seeds and sort of represents gay abandon, a burst of freedom in the midst of a crowd, spreading its gossamer wings to wherever it wants to go.
Appooppanthaadi, a women’s only travel group from Kerala started by Sajna Ali, embodies this spirit to the fullest. A software engineer, her interest in travel was kindled in childhood itself.
“I hail from Kozhikode. My father is a truck driver who brought home photos from every trip. I always wanted to accompany him but he used to dissuade me from coming on long rides as there were not enough washroom facilities for women. However, he used to take me on short one-day trips and I enjoyed them very much,” she says.
Four years back when she was working as a software engineer at Technopark, Thiruvananthapuram, Sajna began travelling solo all over India. The first trip was actually planned with a group of friends who backed out at the last minute.
“I continued going on different trips alone. I would come back and post updates and photographs on Facebook, following which most of my women friends would ask me to take them along on future trips,” she says.
This led to a plan that unfortunately did not take off.
Undeterred, Sajna planned a one-day outing to Rosemala in Kollam district. Twenty women expressed their interest in the trip, but only eight of them turned up. They went on a jeep safari to Rosemala and a trek to Kurishumala. It was a small beginning and victory for Sajna’s efforts.
The all-women travel group did not start with a bang, a despite many women evincing a keen interest in the venture.
“I was really struggling when I started Appooppanthaadi two years back. Women were doubtful about the genuineness and safety of the trips offered. To make them feel comfortable, I used to pick the women up from their homes. Soon, everyone started meeting at a common point,” she recalls.
In the past one year and six months that Appooppanthaadi has been operating, Sajna has organised 65 trips with 600 women. These include places like Hampi, Dhanushkodi-Rameshwaram, Valley of Flowers (Uttarakhand), Kudremukh, Tawang, Meeshapulimala, Kolukkumala, Varanasi, Chikmanglore, Agumbe, Gokarna, Mahabalipuram, Gandikota, Yellappetty, Ramakkalmedu, and Wayanad. Her day trips include Munroe Island, Mahaganithottam, Chitharal, St Mary's Island, Dhoni, Vattakottai, Vazhvanthol , Udayairi Fort, Nilambur, and many more.
She quit her job a few months back. In the future, Sajna is planning more trips to North India; she will also announce women-only trips to international destinations by the end of the year.
Sajna explains that all her trips are budget-friendly.
“I don’t offer any luxuries. I arrange comfortable trips and take those who love to travel. I keep an open group for those who travel frequently; it’s an open forum for them to discuss anything under the sun. For the same reason it’s more like a family. Those who have met during the trips as strangers are now friends for a lifetime.”
The aim of Appooppanthaadi is to create memorable experiences and memories. Sajna speaks in awe of seagulls circling them during sunrise on a boat on the Ganga at Varanasi, the first snow of the season in Tawang, the sun rising over the red hills of Gandikot, and the excitement and surprise on everyone’s faces at every place.
Currently, Sajna handles Appooppanthaadi alone but she’s slowly building up a team called Buddies to handle trips in her absence. Lissa from Bangalore, Radhika and Viji from Kollam, Aswathy from Trivandrum, Praveena from Kochi, and Swetha from Kozhikode are also equipped to handle tours.
Joining the group is easy. “I have a Facebook page where I update details of tours with registration links. Once you register, you will be sent details of payment. After this, your participation is confirmed and you are added to the WhatsApp group for the trip,” she says.
Age is no bar when it comes to travel and the women who have joined Appooppanthaadi have proved that travel gives them wings.
“Women come from varied and different backgrounds and places. They feel empowered by each other. In the beginning I used to get queries like, ‘I am 35, so please plan trips where there is not trekking.’ But recently a group of women who were 50 trekked 20 km to Meeshapulimala and Kudremukh. In the Kolukkumala camp there were seven senior citizens who climbed uphill. Bindu Mehar, a cancer survivor, has been with us right from the first trip,” Sajna says.
When asked what her revenues are, the enterprising entrepreneur says, “Each trip gives me a margin; that helps me to survive.”
Ultimately, she says, it’s all about women and their dreams. “There is no age bar for dreams. The only thing is maybe I am looking at life a little differently than others.”