TA Writer of the Week: Dianne Winter Sharma, the intrepid traveller

Unhappy with the commercial tourist packages thrust on to foreign tourists under the brand of ‘Incredible India’, TA Writer of the Week Dianne decided to open shop such that more foreign travellers experience India more locally and sustainably.


Unhappy with the commercial tourist packages thrust on to foreign tourists under the brand of ‘Incredible India’, TA Writer of the Week Dianne decided to open shop such that more foreign travellers experience India more locally and sustainably. 

She’s the only writer in The Alternative whose headache has been cured by a monkey. Well, she might be the only person I know. Dianne came to India like thousands before and after her. Much like the thousands, she stuck around trying her head and hand in volunteering, spirituality and meditation. Unhappy with the commercial tourist packages thrust on to foreign tourists under the brand of ‘Incredible India’, Dianne decided to open shop such that more foreign travellers experience India more locally and sustainably.

Tell us a little about yourself

I think I was born under a wandering star! The first time I decided to hit the road I was probably less than ten years old, my idea was to set out on the Great Western Highway that bisected my Sydney childhood life but my bestie bailed on me and the whole idea went pear shaped! My parents thought that something terrible had happened to make me want to ‘run away’ and when I tried to explain to them that I just wanted to ‘hit the road’ my father roared, “HIT THE ROAD? I’LL SHOW YOU HIT THE ROAD!” Well, I couldn’t sit down for a week and waited a long time before I tried that again!

My explorations of India have taken place over a period of 20 years and there is still more to see and do, it’s my never ending story!

What made you decide to travel to India and what made you stay? What difference did you want to make with women travel in India through your start up?

I had my children quite young. While all my contemporaries were doing their big OE (Overseas Experience) I was washing nappies and still dreaming of a life of adventure. It was during that time I met a guy who had just returned from India. As he talked and described India, I saw the light in his eyes and realised that none of my friends had come home from their travels looking like this guy, he positively lit up! I went home that night and said to my babies, “When you grow up, you will have to leave home and go flatting at 18 because I am going to India”.

Women Travel Mother India came about as a way of sharing my knowledge about how it is to travel India as a woman alone. There is a concern about women making safe choices but there is also the desire to help people to travel to the very heart of the country and that is by meeting the people, getting off the tourist trail and starting a dialogue with the world within a world that is India.

All the good changes happening in travel in India today, what remains painfully stagnant and what is taking a turn for the worse?

First of all I have to say I am excited to see young Indians traveling and exploring their own country! There are so many ethical travel options and rural tourism options that it’s disappointing to me to see foreigners follow the worn out tourist trail, usually for the lack of better information.

What is stagnating is the tourism promotion of India! And this from a government level! I often wonder if the Tourism Department even understands what foreigners want from a holiday in India. From my experience in leading groups I know that what people take home with them is stories of people they have met and heart connections they have made. Give someone a story to take away with them and they become automatic ambassadors of India. They are not going to repeat a bunch of facts recited at them by a tour guide who is usually more interested in getting them to a commission shop than sharing the country with them.

It’s also disappointing to hear travellers complain that they have been ripped off by unscrupulous agents who work the streets of Delhi, these people give the rest of us in the industry a bad name and means we have to work twice as hard to promote India as a safe and heart- warming destination.

How do you define sustainability in your own life? Is it a difficult thing to do or you find yourself and more folks joining the brigade, especially with your blog and articles?

As a Maori woman, I believe that the earth is my mother and that we are guardians of the land. This is a deeply held belief that engages me at every level of how I live my life.

The personal is always political, I make a point of using and promoting home stays and family run businesses and making sure that my money goes back into the community that is hosting me. I also make a point of introducing my groups to sustainable tourism options in India. I just completed a tour of women who ate in family homes, danced in village squares, rode in local trains and dressed up to the nines to join in the Royal Procession for Dusshera at Kota. In terms of sustainability this kind of tourism is what I am passionate about, cultures connecting and people getting together to talk about this kind of issue.

My biggest concern is the use of water and the ways in which we can reduce our impact on local communities. I have carried my own water so I know the value of this. People can talk about being an ethical traveller and yet still stay in hotels with swimming pools for example while women are sitting by the roadside waiting for water to run their households.

The best thing you ever read in The Alternative. Or maybe quote your favourite lines / share a picture from any article that you really liked.

“If we are really serious about water conservation then we have to look to traditional uses of land and water management. Indigenous people have an integral understanding of this and are often the first people to suffer from land and water is seen as revenue rather than a gift that must be respected and preserved”, from Water and livelihoods in the Nilgiris Part 1

How do you think can The Alternative spread the message on sustainable living to a wider audience of the uninitiated and naysayers?

Sustainability is the new cool! I love that The Alternative promotes positive stories about people making changes at every level of society in India, everyone wants to be a good person I believe that some people just inspiration, to think “I can do that”. Every journey begins with one small step. I am such an optimist that I find it hard to believe that there are still naysayers in terms of sustainable living!

But if you want to change the world then you have to begin with the very people to whom we will pass it onto – the children.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created--created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created--created first in the mind and will, created next in activity. The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. more
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