Celebrity travel experiences usually involve exotic locations, seven-star resorts with amenities that one possibly didn’t know existed and perhaps even a private jet – that is if you’ve made it to the Forbes list of the highly paid. But for VJ-turned-host Anoushey Ashraf, travelling is more like pack and go and let the world know. She has always been a perpetual traveller – frequenting the fabled Thai island of Koh Samui, sipping coffee on the streets of Lisbon and watching Federer play live at Wimbledon. It’s no surprise then that she has decided to establish a long-term career out of her passion for travelling. She has set up a personal blog ‘Wandering Pakistanis’ to document her experiences and share stories from across the globe to mark the beginning of her dream job. Her first stop on the road, however, is rather an unusual one.
Surrounded by colossal mountains that often serve as a hideout for Taliban fighters and guarded heavily by military helicopters, Kabul may be the heartbeat of Afghanistan but is a no man’s land by and large. In fact, the entire country is perceived to be so. Yet Anoushey embarked on what she describes as a “brilliant” journey to a place that sounds more terrifying than liberating.
“Afghanistan was amazing and not because it’s really developed or far ahead of its times but just because of the fact that I was getting to explore a place that people hardly venture into because well it‘s ‘Afghanistan’,” Anoushey shared while speaking to Instep. “I was really excited to find out how people live there, what they do for entertainment, what’s their music scene like, and I met a whole bunch of people from all walks of life. My personal perception changed drastically. Perhaps not regarding the security because it’s understandable that the environment isn’t as conducive for vacationing but definitely about the people. They are not as conservative as assumed to be. On the whole, it was an attempt to make the world, especially Pakistanis, see that the war aside, everywhere in the world there are regular people like you and me with regular dreams.”
Anoushey’s trip to Afghanistan is not only part of her expeditions as a ‘wandering Pakistani’ but also part of the fifth season of Afghan TV channel Tolo’s travel show On the Road. The show, which was co-hosted by Afghan TV presenter Mujeeb Arez and has a significant fan following in its hometown, is currently on air in Pakistan on PTV. A particular episode features the country’s national women’s cycling team – a startling contradiction to the perceived culture of Afghanistan. If all goes well, Anoushey and Mujeeb will also take off to Iran and India for the next seasons. But before that happens, she has another trip on the cards – one to Philippines, which she would like to document for a social media show meant specifically for her personal blog.
However, Philippines wasn’t the debut she had intended on. In summer last year, Anoushey was all set to hit the road across Pakistan, covering the length and breadth of the country from Sindh all the way up to the Pak-China border. Her plans met with disappointment as her partner-in-crime and friend Faizan Haque got into a terrible accident just near Nawabshah.
“It did scare me initially but I am very accepting of things that happen around me. What is meant to happen will happen and accidents don’t happen all the time. It was a one-off incident and though it wasn’t a nice feeling, I know that at least the chances of it happening again are probably less now,” Anoushey said, adding that the two of them still plan to go on the road trip but hopefully in the coming summer season because it’s too cold up North, for now.
Anoushey may have far-reaching dreams for her travelogue but not so much for her career in showbiz. While it’s natural for VJs and TV presenters to indulge in acting – examples include the likes of Mahira Khan, Ayesha Omar, Urwa Hocane – Anoushey has stuck to the basics mostly because she is not as passionate about it. “A lot of people venture into acting because it gives a celebrity a lot more value. Actors are the real stars in Pakistan. Having said that, somehow I never really made acting my area of focus. But then since everybody ventures into acting, there is a lack of good hosts and so I have work all the time. Had I been passionate enough, I would’ve quit everything else and just focused on acting but because I wasn’t, I hardly ever had time for it,” she revealed.
That, however, doesn’t mean Anoushey has free time on her hands. She is all set to host the second season of Pakistan Idol, which is most likely to take off in February, and will soon be seen in the TV serial Sehra Main Safar. “I am really looking forward to Pakistan Idol and I hope it happens without any glitches because these are the kind of shows I want to do. It’s something I am passionate about and it’ll bring commercial success as well so it’s the ideal combination. But I’ve just received the first call so far and they are looking for sponsors so I hope it pulls through,” Anoushey continued. “As far as the drama is concerned, I had three to four days free in the middle of my schedule so my director called me to give it a shot and he seems impressed. I am usually a very happy person but the role demanded that I cry a lot and I didn’t do a bad job. I was pretty convincing actually.”
Hopefully the tears will remain in the virtual world only as Anoushey did encounter a couple of serious mishaps last year. Not only did her father and Faizan got into an accident but also her best friend Ayesha Omar. Ayesha and Azfar Rehman met with a severe car accident on their way to Hyderabad. The first images of the crash site casted doubt over whether the two had even survived but Anoushey revealed that the image was a fake one.
“The car wasn’t theirs. It was an image from some other scene but yes the accident was major because they came between two trucks. Ayesha’s injury was really scary and a constant reminder of how fragile life is. But I spoke to her immediately and so when I saw the images I wasn’t as freaked out,” she said.
Despite going through some tough phases, Anoushey keeps a positive outlook on life. A nasty turbulence encounter recently almost made her fearful of flying and the constant mishaps with local airlines aren’t helpful either but she continues to remind herself that it’s just a random phase. “Having a fear doesn’t really mean you are unsafe and that’s the last thing I need in my life because I am really fond of travelling. Travel shows may not bring me as much fame as a film star but it’s a long-term plan for internal satisfaction,” she said, ending our conversation on a high note.