Not too many people can turn their passion into profession. Bernhard Wrabetz, though, is a lucky exception. He loves to travel and, as the Austrian ambassador to India, does so – extensively!
In India for almost three years, Wrabetz has had a fascinating experience so far. “I realise I still know very little about India, because there is so much to explore! And this is the one place where you have at least two surprises a day, guaranteed!”
Answering my puzzled expression, Wrabetz elaborates: “It’s the small things that surprise you. Jugaad is something Indians and Austrians have in common. In fact, in Austria, we have a saying: there is nothing more permanent than the improvised. We fix things, but just enough to get by. And India shows me instances of its jugaad philosophy every day!” Improvisation aside, there is much he loves about India. “I love the vibrancy and optimism of Indians even in the face of adversities. It’s something to learn from,” he says, nodding.
What of his passion for travel? “Exploring India has been the most fascinating aspect of my job,” he gushes. “The culture, the food and the language change almost every 200 km, which is amazing!” He has travelled to a lot of places in India, including Kashmir. The Northeast, though, he is yet to see. “My favourite city is Kolkata – I love its atmosphere, food, people and the whole cosmopolitan feel.” Mumbai – with its vibrant business life, the Bollywood flavour and the ocean view – and Bengaluru – with its modern, youthful and high-tech face – are two of his other favourites. Has India tickled his palate? “Oh, I love Indian food, especially the spices, even though I turn red and start sweating,” he laughs. “A good day starts with a fine masala dosa, continues with Goan fish curry at lunch and ends with lal maas (a Rajasthani mutton curry) for dinner.”
Wrabetz has many recommendations for fellow Austrians visiting India. “You need a bunch of separate trips: one, South India’s beautiful beaches and Ayurvedic experience; second, classic Rajasthan, for Jaipur, Jodhpur and Udaipur; and third, the Himalayas. Also, the modern face of India – such as the Infoys campus in Mysuru – is fascinating.”
Vienna, the Austrian capital, has much to offer Indians, he says. “Walk through Vienna and enjoy its culture, classical music and museums,” the ambassador says. “Go to Salzburg, where Mozart was born, and The Sound of Music filmed. Visit Innsbruck in the Alps, by lift or on skis from the city centre.” And to find a little Srinagar in Austria, drop by at Klagenfurt in south Austria, “because it is just so beautiful”.
Travel between India and Austria has now become easier with the new Air India direct flight from Delhi to Vienna. Wrabetz says: “A businessman would prefer a country reachable by direct flights. Also, we had a 40 per cent increase in Indian tourists to Austria last year, which is set to grow as a result of this incredible venture by Air India.”
Words: Gaurav Nagpal