Attendees at last week’s Women in Travel Awards got to witness something very special. And we’re not talking about the two separate paella stations.
There was a speaker on the night who took the audiences’ breath away, stirred emotions and received a standing ovation.
It was Intrepid Travel Tour Guide Usha Mary, the first female tour leader in Southern India, and the only female leading multi-day trips in the region today.
Her speech at Women in Travel also marked the first time Usha had left India.
While this feat may seem somewhat run of the mill to us in Australia Mary’s story is utterly remarkable.
So rather than paraphrasing it, let’s hear it from the champion herself.
“I’m really proud to be here tonight to share my story with you, this is my first visit to Australia”, she began.
“I’m from a very small city in southern India, just 2.5 million people. The place where I grew up looks like the town in the movie Lion.”
Usha is from extremely humble beginnings, and her story reads like a Disney movie.
“I grew up in a middle-class family, my parents are tailors, don’t speak English, didn’t go to high school, they don’t own their own property.”
“My father cannot read and write in the mother tongue. When I told my mum I was coming to Australia, she asked, ‘Is Australia near New Dehli?'”
It wasn’t always easy though, Usha faced adversity from family and friends when she decided to work in travel.
“Now, my family, relatives are very proud of me and my work but it did not start like that. Since I was young, I have always been different.”
“I stayed in school and studied science but my parents worried about my marriage.”
“Because in India the husband should be more educated than the wife, so it may be very difficult to find a husband for me.”
Her transition into travel is relatively recent, as Usha explained the crucial change in her life happened just three years ago.
“Three years ago it was the turning point in my life, it was very tough. I was 31 years old and had been married 2 years with no children.”
“Everyone was asking about babies. God has not blessed us with child, so that made me sad.”
“But one day my life changed, a group of travellers came to our university for a tour, I had never seen westerners before.”
“Most Indian only know westerners though movies, so that means we will treat you as a celebrity.”
Usha didn’t let her shyness get in the way of her ambition though.
“I love to meet people, the travellers inspired me to apply to a tour guide.”
“At the time there were 5 female local guides to 175 local men. My parents were not happy.”
It was Intrepid Travel that changed Usha’s life.
“I was there for one year then I had the opportunity to meet the Intrepid CEO. He told me to become a tour guide.”
“Everyone told it was dangerous, criticised me, even people in the travel industry.”
Usha and her husband’s backlash was volatile.
“My parents and husbands parents stopped talking to me and kicked us out of the house.”
“I knew it difficult but I loved it and my husband saw how much I loved it and encouraged me.Now two years later we make good money and now support our relatives.”
“Now my family and friends are all very proud of me and use me as an example to my friends. They say ‘you should become like Usha’.”
“This job showed me that there is more to life than having baby, still, I’m trying to have a baby.”
“But two years I was really worried about it and I cried, and now I’m ready to be bold and answer the tough questions from my society, and it’s thanks to the job.”
“I have also inspired my husband to become an intrepid group leader. He started leading southern India trips.”
By this point, there were few dry eyes in the house.
“I hope I will inspire other females in my industry. I strongly believe women are like teabags, we don’t know how strong we are until we are hot water.”
“Be strong, jump in, you’ll learn how strong you are.”