As India and Austria celebrate 70 years of bilateral relationship, the Austrian ambassador to India, Brigitte Öppinger–walchshofer, talks about the strong bilateral ties, the rich cultural exchanges and tourism prospects of the two nations.
“whenever I return to Austria I take thedi flight with Air India from NewDelhito Vienna. That is the shortest connection between our capitals. At the moment ther are four weekly flights and many of us, are hoping for a fifth flight per week.”
India and Austria are celebrating 70 years of bilateral ties. How has the relationship strengthened?
India and Austria have come a long way since they established formal diplomatic relations in 1949. Seventy years later, Austria is one of the wealthiest countries in Europe with an annual GDP per capita of approximately US $ 55,000 and India has become a major regional power and a driving force in Asia. Our bilateral relations have also come a long way and have developed strongly. Culture and science also constitute important elements in our bilateral relations. Many of our universities cooperate with each other and the embassy’s Cultural Forum organises a number of events every year.
How has tourism contributed to the ties between the two countries over the years?
Tourism is a good way to learn more about a country. Those who return home happy and with good memories become the best ambassadors for the country they have visited. Last year more than 200,000 Indians visited Austria, mainly Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck. A particular point of interest are the Crystal Worlds of Swarovski in the Federal State of the Tyrol.
Austria has been a favorite destination for Bollywood films. Your comments.
Over the years more than 80 Bollywood films have partly been shot in Austria, the two most recent ones being Tiger Zinda Hai in 2017 and Saaho this year. Our palaces, castles and fortresses are as interesting for film producers as are our beautiful mountains, in winter as well as in summer. Austria’s film industry offers attractive incentivesfor foreign film companies and supports them wherever it can. “Location Austria” in Vienna advises film companies from around the world and is very welcoming.Riegersburg Castle
How has your India experience been so far?
Very good. My stay as an ambassador gives me the opportunity to travel intensively within India but also to the neighboring countries to which I am accredited as well. I also like to spend some holidays in the country and enjoy the beauty of the natural parks, palaces and landscapes.
Tell us about the places that you have travelled to in India? Any favourite?
Since my arrival in India I have travelled to Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Goa and Andhra Pradesh. I found all of these states interesting and each of them has its own beauty and fascination. I do not have a favourite. But there are still a lot of places in India that I need to visit.
According to you, are there any similarities between the Austrian and Indian cultures?
The beauty of our cultures lies in their differences. That makes it worthwhilefor Indians to travel to Austria and vice versa. But of course, there are also links. For example, German as well as Hindi are Indo-European languages, and scientists as well as artists have travelled between the two continents for centuries. That has left traces in our respective cultures.
What are the three things that you would suggest Indians do in Austria, and vice versa?
I can only suggest any traveller from India to take their time and not to rush from place to place. One can only absorb the atmosphere of a country if one stays there at least for a few days. Wander through the narrow lanes of Vienna or Salzburg on foot and sneak into the beautiful courtyards of the century-old buildings. Explore the little boutiques off the tourist tracks and rest in a coffee shop. Linger in the beautiful parks and adore art and craftsmanship of many centuries in our museums. If your time schedule permits, visit the countryside. There are charming castles to be explored, good country inns to be tested for local food and beautiful scenery to be adored.
For Austrians coming to India I would say the same: take your time to inhale the atmosphere of the country and see the diversity.
The best time to visit Austria
For those who do not like snow the best time to travel to Austria is between May and October. Those who like winter sports should travel to Austria between December and March. Winter also offers Christmas Markets, mulled wine and ice skating rinks.
What I love the most in India
India fascinates me. India’s heritage is so diverse, just like its cuisine. There are distinct regional differences and I like to explore them. Handicraft has always fascinated me because it mirrors the culture and regional identity of the people. I like visiting craft markets, emporios and museums to explore as much as possible.