“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
This famous quote by a former first lady of the USA is what resonates with Dr. Parul Sharma’s own beliefs of how travel should be.
Parul, who is Head of Department, Ophthalmology at Max Hospital Gurgaon, has never let her career come in the way of her love for travel.
In fact more than 50% of her travels have been as a result of her work. As an eye surgeon, she has travelled extensively to Iraq and Afghanistan and Turkey, among other countries to conduct workshops and camps for the locals.
“When I travel for work, I always make it a point to extend my trips and take off on my own for a few days. Of course I look for the untypical experiences everywhere I go,” she says.
On her work assignments in Afghanistan and Iraq, not only does she interact with locals for their medical needs but she has also enjoyed their hospitality and been welcomed to their homes, tasted local cuisine and witness local culture firsthand.
“You always end up staying in hotels in such places but it is a privilege to be a doctor working in these areas and getting to see the other side of these places.”
During one of her trips to Iraq, she stayed on for a few days. Locals told her of the Shia shrine at Karbala which rivals the Sunnis’ Mecca.
“I would have never known about the Ghazwat Karbala if locals had not directed me there. Everyone goes to Mecca, most tourists don’t know about this shrine. It truly was the most beautiful experience.”
But being offbeat doesn’t necessarily mean that travel should be all about backpacking or being rugged, she believes.
“I do look for hygiene and comfort first and foremost. It shouldn’t be a five star hotel but yes, definitely a place that is comfortable and quiet.”
Addressing the safety concern as far as India goes, Parul says that although parts of India are unsafe, it shouldn’t stop women from missing out on beautiful places.
“Yes, safety is a concern in North India but I never hide the fact that I travel solo. People are very understanding; I have received royal treatment in many places I’ve stayed at. You can’t be scared with everything.”
Do not book in remote places and always check do a safety check before getting to your location, she advises on solo travel.
Most of us feel that we are bound to our homes, to take care of our families or bound to our jobs with no time to travel. But Parul doesn’t agree that family or jobs should keep you from travelling.
“My daughter is in college now but I have travelled with her when she was as young as three days old. Once when she was 5 months old, we took a trip to Chandigarh. There was nothing hard about it. You just have to be prepared.”
With a pretty heavy schedule as a doctor, Parul is a family person and loves spending quality time with her loved ones and is popular among her friends. But none of these keeps her from travelling.
And even though she has been across the globe, Parul is a mountain lover at heart. Her favourite destination is Mukhteshwar – she has been there about five or six times!
“I love trekking in the mountains. Whenever I go on a trek, I always make it a point to chit chat with the locals. You know how usually there will a group of elderly women on the roads sipping tea? I make it a point to go up to them and have a cup of tea and engage in some banter and I am never refused. It is a good way of knowing the locals and their way of life.”
Her advice for women who want to travel? Well, she doesn’t subscribe to the cliche ‘Me Time’.
“You can have your ‘me time’ at home in your living room. It should be all about getting out there, gaining new experiences and breaking the barriers in your mind. Be open to new experiences. Travel is what you make it – it is all easy or difficult in your own mind.”
Parul’s next destination is Japan, where she has already gotten in touch with a local travel group – the ‘local connect’ is important, she says.
“I can’t wait to go there!”