Anil Agarwal grew up in Bombay, India, about an hour’s drive away from his favorite destination: Aksa Beach. Agarwal’s childhood memories of spending the day at the beach with his friends, then watching the sun set into the Arabian Sea have become an adult passion — what he fondly calls his “sunset trips.”
Agarwal appreciates the colors at sunset, but what really defines a great sunset for him is clarity. He prefers a clear sky, with no clouds or mountains to obscure his view as the sun slowly sinks into a horizon of open water.
Everywhere Agarwal travels, he researches the best places to see the sunset. If he plans a trip to Florida, he will choose Tampa over Miami because of its west-facing beaches. On a trip to Iceland earlier this year, he hiked to a secluded beach in hopes of glimpsing the sunset there. (The clouds obscured his view.) At home in New Jersey, Agarwal will occasionally make a seven-hour round trip to Cape May, the only beach in that state where you can see the sun set over water.
Agarwal, the senior vice president of global compensation for American Express, says there’s no match for watching the sun set this way, preferably with a bottle of Malbec, some cheese and crackers, and his favorite Bollywood songs playing in the background.
“I don’t meditate, but this is how I relax and calm down, and get away from stress,” Agarwal said. “There are a lot of childhood memories of it. Probably that emotional connection takes me back to my happy place.”
How does the sunset influence your travel plans?
I’m not saying I pick 100% of my vacations based on that — but it does factor in and plays a big role. It does create a stop. We went on a West Coast trip during the July 4 weekend, and we went to San Diego specifically because it has a great sunset spot there. It does influence where I go, where I stay, and which beaches I go to. I spend a lot of time before I travel on the Internet, looking for pictures posted by others. But it’s not always clear when you visit a place whether there will be something blocking the view. There’s a website that gives you the sun’s position throughout the day, including the sunset, so you can see if it’s setting in the water or not. But it doesn’t tell you that on the Santa Monica beach, for example, the sunset will be blocked by mountains.
In some spots over the water, you can see both sunrise and sunset. So, for example, when we went to Rio in Brazil, we went to a spot at the corner of Ipanema Beach and Copacabana Beach — the place’s name is Arpoador — where you can see the sunrise coming out of the water and then the sunset going into the water from the same spot. Cabo, Mexico, has the same thing. It’s rare to have a spot where you get to see both.
When you get to your destination, you have to think about the weather. How do you deal with that element on your trips?
That, I leave to the weather gods. You can’t control that. The ideal is the sun going in the water, when it’s not cloudy. Even if it doesn’t rain, more than 50% of the time, I make it there — I’ve done my best — and I am disappointed. I’ve made trips three or four days in a row to see the same sunset without much luck. The sunset might be beautiful from a color point of view, but you don’t get to see the sun going into the water because of the clouds. You take your chances.
What does your family think of this hobby?
They think I’m crazy! I think there’s a part of them that loves it, but it gets annoying when I’m leaving them behind. They’re like, “What’s the big deal, it sets every evening? And you have seen so many.” I’ve left them alone at the dinner table to see the sun set. A friend of mine came from Bombay to San Francisco, and San Francisco, even though it’s on the West Coast, doesn’t have good sunsets because of the weather. I dragged him on a three hours’ drive from San Francisco to a sunset spot.
Why do you think this kind of sunset resonates so strongly with you?
Because I grew up near the beach, I’m more of beach guy than a mountain guy. The water is endless. I was watching the HBO show “Big Little Lies” and the main character, played by Reese Witherspoon, says something about the ocean that I really connected with: “It’s so big, you don’t know what’s underneath the water, there are so many secrets and so many unknowns.”
What is the best sunset you’ve ever seen?
The best is what I grew up with. That’s the one I connected with. That’s the one to die for. I’ve been fortunate to visit so many countries and so many places: the Caribbean, Florida, San Diego — they all are beautiful. But if someone said, “you can only see one more in your life,” I would go to Bombay. One of my friends bought a place at my favorite beach, and when I go there, it’s mine. All of my family, all of my childhood friends are still there in Bombay, so now, since we have a great place at the beach, we party every night when I am in Bombay.