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Interview With Shalu Sharma From ShaluSharma.com

1. Can you start by giving us a little bit of background about yourself and your blog. How did you start traveling? When did you start blogging, and what did you expect readers to get out of it?

My name is Shalu Sharma and I was born and raised in Patna, the capital of Bihar (India). I first started travelling from school in the form of school trips to places in local areas. I got to know about my own state, its history, people, and culture and got to see historical temples and amazing sites. This triggered a desire to explore other places beyond the boundaries of my own state and further. In addition to all this, my husband used to travel for conferences and sometimes he used to take me to foreign countries. While he was attending the seminars, I used to go site seeing. This is when all the foreign travelling began. You know what they say, “Once you pop, you can’t stop”.

Then it occurred to me that I need to advice people about India and this is when I started the blog about travelling guide to India on my own domain name of ShaluSharma.com since mid 2012. I already was a running a site called YouBihar.com which was a social networking site so I had some experience of maintaining websites.

When I started blogging on the site, my aims were to provide genuine, no fluff information about travelling to India, its people, its culture, travel tips, what to buy and everything about India. In the beginning, most of my readers were from India itself but now the top visitors are from the USA, UK, Canada and Australia.

At the Windsor Castle

2. Your from the Bihar state in North India. How does this state differ from the rest of India? Can you discuss some differences between the North and the South of India?

The state of Bihar is geographically situated south of Nepal and the Northern part of India, politically called the “cow belt of India”. Unfortunately this state was one of the poorest in India till recently. It is now one of the most progressive of all states and has done well as far as development is concerned.

Bihar also happens to be where Buddha came from. Born just on the India/Nepal border, he lived and preached in a place called Bodh Gaya. This is where he got his englightment (Nirvana). Basically, he used to sit under a tree and one day, he realized the causes of suffering of the world and the ways to get rid it. The word “Bihar” comes from “Vihar” meaning monastery.

When the mighty Ashoka the Great came to power whose empire extended from Bihar to Afghanistan, he converted to Buddhism and sent his sons and brothers as ambassadors to countries that later converted to Buddhism.

In addition, Aryabhatta the Indian mathematician who invented zero was from Bihar, Mahavira the founder of Jainism was from Bihar, part of the Kamasutra was written in Bihar. You get my drift about Bihar and its importance.

The North Indians use different language mostly Hindi or those languages that have been derived from Sanskrit. The food is different in North India. While South Indians have different languages and I don’t understand one bit. So basically even in our own country, sometimes communication can be a problem. But all in all, most people speak Hindi.

South India has great beeches, temples and many sites of interested. I love South Indian food.

It is often discussed that North and South Indians could of different race as well. It is said that nomadic tribes invaded India from Central Asia and settled in the North while pushing the native people towards the south.

3. Whenever we talk to travelers who have been to India they almost always have a crazy story to tell. It seems like a country that can completely overwhelm people. What gives?

Indian can be overwhelming. Most people get a culture shock when they step out of the airport. It’s mainly because of the population. Also it can be hot at times specially during the summers, where the temperatures in Delhi can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius – now that’s really hot.

Also many travelers get heckled by street touts selling them something, beggars in India are common sites, way too much noisy traffic which all add to the craziness of the place.

But whatever the case maybe, India is still a country that has to be visited once, a great country by all standards be it the warmth of the people or the food – I highly recommend visiting India.

The traffic is what gives it away. When you step in a taxi, you will realize that there are really no rules and even if there are, it’s flaunted to the extremes. Honking the horn is something of tradition in India; most drivers will have their one hand in the horn and the other on the steering wheel.

You will see a lot of overcrowding on buses and trains. Do not worry too much about, it all adds to the Indian experience.

Crowded Bus in India

4. India has been in the news lately for several violent crimes committed against India – to put it bluntly, how safe is India? Does it vary by area and does it help to be traveling with male companions?

I agree, India has been in the news lately for violent crimes against women. This is unfortunate and I really feel sad about what has happened to these women.

But no one talks about those tourists to India who go to India and return with great memoires. We never hear about those have great times and go back home with their lovely souvenirs. India is a safe country to travel to, in fact it can be safer then New York where chances of being mugged or subjected to violent crimes are quite high.

It’s all about perspective and how you think about it. But yes, you do have to be extra cautious. Solo women travelers are particularly vulnerable and they need to be careful when travelling to India. But if precautions are taken then I do not think there is anything to worry about.

5. India is famous for the notorious “Delhi Belly” aka food poisoning – what are some tips for staying healthy in India?

The best ways to avoid a bad belly or Delhi Belly is to have your hepatics C, cholera and typhoid jabs. Most food poisoning in India is due to water borne microbes hence avoiding water is a must. Always buy bottled water, try not to eat too much street food. But all in all, if you have your jabs, you will be fine.

When eating at stalls and eating street food, make sure that they are hygienic specially the way they are washing the dishes and their location. If they are located in clean location then there is really no harm in trying the street food.

Indian Chaat - Street Food

6. What are some of the must dos to someone travelling in India that might not be that obvious?

Some do’s: You must eat at the “Dhabas”. They are little road site restaurants. In my opinion they serve the best food. Most travelers to India are missing out on a great opportunity if they are not eating at the Dhabas. Always take a camera with you and plenty of storage space or extra memory if you can, India is very photogenic and you will soon have your camera memory finished. Take photocopies of your passport and a few passport sized photographs. If you are travelling to India, then buy some Indian clothes. I suggest “kurta pajama” for men and “sari” or “salwar kameez” for women.

7. Do you have any recommendations on coping with begging in India? When is it real – when is it a scam and when, if at all, should you consider giving money?

Although a lot of people has been lifted out of poverty in India, beggars are a common site especially in the tourists areas such temples, historical monuments, railway and bus stands. Many are genuine beggars but some are doing it for free money. Some are part of scams where the money ends up in the hands of gang leader. But I have only heard of this, I really don’t know what the truth is.

You just have to cope with the beggars in India, if you really feeling sorry for them, you can give them a few Rupees. I often hand out some money to beggars but try not to give them a lot. Alternatively, you can give them something to eat. When you look at a beggar, you will know those who are genuine and who are faking it. End of the day, it’s a personal choice if you want to hand out money or now. Perhaps you could give them a few Rupees (not more than 20 Rupees), just do not get carried away.

8. What are your top three Indian cuisines?

My best Indian cuisines have to be masala Dosa, Indian thali (complete Indian dish with chappatis, rice, lentils, yogurt, some side dishes, vegetables etc and thirdly the chicken biryani. These have always been my favorites and you will find these dishes in most restaurants in India. You must try them. You can have the masala dosa for lunch and dinner. Most Indian dishes can be found in Indian restaurants around the world. I suggest you try them out in your local country and then you come to India, try it again and see which one tastes better.

9. In your section “The Bad’ concerning Indian, you mention corruption and filthy cities, do you feel that India is making strides in this area? Where do you hope to see India say, 20 years from now. 

I think so; India is definitely making significant strides in all aspects. However, corruption is rampant in all areas of Indian life. In fact, there is a current movement asking the government to introduce bills that will make every single government employee accountable for their actions including the prime minister. I hope something will come out of this movement which will ultimately help companies who wants to set up businesses in India.

Sometimes you feel there is no improvement in aspects dealing with filth, although cities where tourists frequently visit are incidentally immaculately clean so that’s nothing to worry about as far as tourism to India is concerned.

I think in the next 20 years, India will be one of the major economic powers. More and more people are now being uplifted out of poverty and into the middle class giving Indians huge economic buying capacity and prowess. India is in the G20 – give it another 20 years, and I think G8 might expand to accommodate India.

About

Shalu Sharma provides information about travelling to India. She loves watching movies, listening to music and shopping. You can connect with her on Google+, Twitter account @bihar.

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8 Responses to Interview With Shalu Sharma From ShaluSharma.com

  1. Hi Shalu,

    And hello Dave and Vicky as it’s my first visit to your blog too 🙂

    This is indeed a lovely interview of my dear friend because it tells a lot about her and the vast knowledge she has about India, which is commendable. She is a very promising enterprising women and has made a name for herself through her blogs.

    Not only India, but her blog is full of ways to help tourists and other visitors to India, and all that they need to take care during their visit here. A must visit place for everyone wanting to visit India.

    Thanks for sharing more of her with us. Have a week ahead 🙂

    Harleena Singh May 6, 2013 at 5:54 AM Reply
    • Thanks harleena!

      Dave and Vicky May 6, 2013 at 8:48 AM Reply
    • Thank you Harleena for reading my interview and commenting here. Thank you for your generously kind words about me.

      Shalu May 7, 2013 at 11:27 AM Reply
  2. Hi Dave & Vicky,

    Great work on this interview with Shalu. I’ve visited her blog (due to her guest post on Flipnomad’s site) and it was very helpful and informative. I’m glad that you are featuring more diverse travelers/bloggers. Maybe one day you’ll feature an African, a Middle Easterner, or a South American? Just a thought. 🙂 Btw, will you be featuring the Cambodian NGO worker in the future? I noticed that after Larry from China, you haven’t posted another “interview with a local”.

    To Shalu – great interview – I’ll look you up on your site! I may have a question for you on the “Ask Shalu” portion. I haven’t gone to India, but it’s on my bucket list. However the security situation worries me, as I sometimes travel solo and am female. Continue blogging and inspiring. Cheers!

    Katie May 11, 2013 at 1:41 AM Reply
    • Great idea about the interview with a local for the Cambodian NGO worker – we’ll have to think up some questions. It’s true we didn’t expand on that series, I can’t see anyone we met in Burma or Thailand or even Laos seemed like it would work. This one does, though!

      Dave and Vicky May 11, 2013 at 7:39 AM Reply
    • Hi Kate, thank you for your comment. Please feel free to ask me anything you like. I have lots of posts on security issues, feel free to read them and don’t hesitate to ask.
      Best wishes to you.

      Shalu Sharma May 12, 2013 at 5:10 PM Reply
    • BTW, are interviews are generally filled with people who reach out to us nowadays and we don’t turn anyone away, so that’s why the selection tends to be very one sided aka white european backpackers.

      Dave and Vicky May 12, 2013 at 11:48 PM Reply
  3. Typical india Wow!!

    [email protected] September 3, 2013 at 8:26 AM Reply

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