One of our favorite travel writers on GirlsGetaway.com, Dianne Sharma-Winter, a New Zealand ex-pat, has recently published the ‘India for Idiots’ a funny, informative guide on the culture and etiquette of India. Dianne developed a mad love for India through her travels and has been writing about India as a travel destination for the past 15 years.
Want to read this wonderful book? Want to win a gorgeous golden silk wrap from India, perfect for that sexy LBD?! Check out our India Contest Giveaway at the bottom of this post!
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We recently caught up with Dianne to talk to her about the book, her insights on India and experiences as a woman traveler in Asia.
Please tell us about yourself and your background. Where do you consider home at this point?
I am moving into my fifty-third earth year and my seventeenth year of living on the road. Aotearoa, New Zealand is where I come from and where I have family, but my true home is The Road. I have two kids and four beautiful grandchildren. I own a couple of boxes of books and a collection of travel bag. I live with the motto that Less is More.
How did you discover your passion for traveling?
I read a lot as a kid, the usual kids adventure stuff. There has always been a fine line for me between a story and reality and so when I was seven, I decided to hit the road. Everyone was doing it then, at least according to my information. It was the sixties, everyone was on the move and I had just heard the story of Huckleberry Finn. My partner in crime backed out at the last minute and told on us. It was only when I realized what big trouble we were in that I realized there was a line between the book reality and the reality. It still blurs for me, especially in India.
How did you get interested in Indian culture?
I met a guy at a party who had just come back from India. His face was the most alive face I had seen, his eyes shone with something that looked like a mad kind of love to me. He described India as the craziest place in the world and talked to me for hours about India. I went home that night and woke my kids up, told them I was going to India when they were eighteen and that time was counting down. My daughter was only ten months old then and my son almost four. It was a reasonable amount of notice I thought. I did it too, a couple of years ahead of schedule.
Why did you decide to write “India for Idiots”?
India is the first country where I threw away a guidebook and began to travel by my wits. As a Maori woman, my own culture is that when we are the visitor we give respect to the cultural practices of our host and follow along. India for Idiots is a humorous bamboo bridge between East and West, an attempt to de mystify the East.
The Idiot’s Guide to India was written as an attempt to demystify India for beginners. What is it about India that captivates, seduces and beguiles visitors?
For me it is always the people. You can make amazing heart connections there. The other thing is that it’s a culture rooted in the storyteller’s tradition, so for a writer its one big story box.
What was your most unforgettable experience in Asia and India?
Most unforgettable was marching to the Shipra River during the 2004 Khumba Mela with three thousand naked sadhus. But there are so many moments that have melted my heart over the years, it all reflects back on the people you meet. I measure journeys in smiles not miles so there are a lot of memories of that.
As a traveler, what is your biggest challenge on the road?
Language. If I could have one wish it would be that I could understand every language in the world so that there would always be that point of connection between us.
What advice do you have for women who are considering travel to India for the first time?
First I would say that the days of India as a budget backpack destination for women are thankfully over. It’s important to dress beautifully, preferably in Indian clothes as the people see this as a sign of respect and love you for it. The other thing is to not get involved in inane conversations with men. The best thing to do if you arrive fresh in any culture and plan to stick around for a while is to watch the local women and do as they do.
What places have you visited in South Asia? Where do you usually stay? What about your experience adjusting to the local cultures and way of life? And what makes South Asia special to you?
There are lots of places still to explore in SE Asia. While I have traveled around a little bit, I have to say that I am always in a rush to get back to India. What I appreciate about the cultures in India and Asia is that element of respect is still there, and people have very good manners.
Please give us your insight into traveling in India as a woman. What about safety on the road?
If you are traveling India as a solo woman there are a few things to take into consideration. Firstly, to be alone in India is to be vulnerable. So as a woman you are doubly so. Indian women who need to travel alone usually take the following precautions. First class by train or bus, travel alone at night is not recommended. The biggest hassle is always going to be the men, unfortunately. In all the years of travel in India, I have never been robbed so there is no fear of that. The people are just lovely though, so friendly and curious. Expect a lot of attention if you are blonde!
What places would you recommend for women interested in visiting India?
India has so much variety that it’s impossible to recommend a place. India is an experience and as such, I always ask women what their passion is, what experience of India are they looking for? There is a saying in Hindi, Sub Kutch Milega. This means everything is possible. And its true!
What learning experiences have you gained from your travels?
I used to have this quote from Keroauc on my notice board during the Nappy Years…it was there to inspire me to believe in my dream and its what has been proved true to me over time, that the whole world is a holy place.
“I promise I shall never give up, and that I’ll die yelling and laughing, and that until then I’ll rush around this world I insist is holy and pull at everyone’s lapel and make them confess to me and to all.”
What are your plans in the next while, travel and otherwise?
Shortly I will be relocating to India where I have taken up a position with Far Horizons India where I will be devising new itineraries and taking charge of the PR and Communications.