High Commissioner of Australia to India, Harinder Sidhu, talks about visiting 17 states in India, her plans of revisiting the caves of Ajanta and Ellora and her love for Bollywood’s Khans. Shrabasti Mallik takes notes
When did you come to India?
I arrived to take up my post in February 2016.
Had you been to the country before?
Yes, I had visited India as a tourist once or twice over the years, and also for business.
How has your experience been?
Living and working in India is a fascinating experience. India is evolving. Watching it progress and working towards strengthening the bilateral relationship between Australia and India have been immensely rewarding. The warm and friendly people here have made me feel very welcome.
What are the similarities that you find betweenthe two countries?
The main similarity is the diversity of our people and culture. Australia is home to people from over 200 different backgrounds. So the cuisines, cultures and traditions we enjoy come from all over the world. The Indian-origin population in Australia is large and growing – almost two per cent of Australians are India-born. Like Indians, Australians are sociable, friendly and warm, which is why we get along so well.
Where have you travelled to in India? Do you have a favourite place here?
I have travelled extensively in India and have vis-ited 17 states. And not just their capital cities, but sometimes even the smaller places, such as Cooch Behar in West Bengal and Paralakhemundi in Odisha. It is, however, difficult to pick a favourite. I enjoy Delhi, but I also love Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Kochi and Goa. And also other parts of the country which have a rich history, for example the caves at Ajanta and Ellora.
Is there any place in India that you wish to travel to in the future?
That is a very long list! I am keen to visit Hampi and explore more of Northeast India.
What are the five things that you would suggest an Indian should do in Australia and vice versa?
Generally, when Indians visit Australia, they gravitate to well-known tourist destinations – Sydney, Melbourne (the Melbourne Cricket Ground) and the Gold Coast. These are beautiful places and, unfailingly, attract a lot of tourists. I’d encourage Indians to go further afield – for instance, to see our red interior in Uluru and experience indigenous culture and history; to travel to Tasmania and enjoy its beautiful forest cover and savour mouthwatering food and wine; as well as other parts of the country. While Australia is renowned for its beaches, we also have wonderful night life and cultural attractions in the big cities – comedy, music and writers’ festivals. And we are a nation of foodies – our cuisine captures the best produce and tastes from around the world. In India, I would advise Australians to get off the beaten track. Indian festivals are a delight to see and to participate in. I would also encourage Australians to try the entire diversity of Indian cuisine.
What is the best time to visit Australia? What are some of the other sights in Australia one should not miss?
Australia’s climate is generally pleasant all year round, and there is something here for everybody. In the middle of winter, for example, there are excellent skiing opportunities in the mountains of Victoria and New South Wales. If you like nature, there is not just the Great Barrier Reef, but also the rainforests in Queensland and Tasmania, the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia and the beautiful natural parks in Arnhem land. We have numerous wine making districts as well, including the Barossa Valley in South Australia (home of the popular Jacob’s Creek), Mornington Peninsula and the Hunter Valley. And cricket fans should not confine themselves to the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) or the WACA stadium in Perth, but also stop in at a small town called Bowral in New South Wales, where they can visit Don Bradman’s childhood home.