This woman is travelling the world in a saree…and she’s giving us major saree goals!

My mother is 67. She has worn a saree her entire life, and yet, when we travel, she changes into a ‘more comfortable’ salwar kameez. I am going out on a limb here and saying you do it too - salwar kameez, jeans, sweatpants, whatever makes you get out of a saree, you wear.

And right opposite all of us stands a young traveller, Shmruthi Gowrisankar. She wears jeans, yes, but when she is travelling the world, she brings out her sarees. Now based out of Liechtenstein, Shmruthi is an inspiration to countless Indian women who consider the saree ‘an inconvenience’. And to countless Indian women who don’t travel because they are worried about how they will be perceived in a foreign country if they travelled in a saree. Shmruthi’s photos of her overlooking Izola, Slovenia in a saree, or on the streets of Dubrovnik, Croatia in the six yards, have made her an unlikely superhero for women travellers who could never imagine going around the world in what is not usually considered to be travelwear.

Shmruthi used to be another IT engineer in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, who went away to do her Masters in Paris. That is when she began travelling, and over the years, has lived and travelled extensively in Europe and SE Asia. And every time, she has done it in a pretty saree. We bring you the extraordinary story of Shmruthi Gowrisankar, the woman who changed how the rest of us look at sarees.

What prompted the idea of wearing a saree, not a salwar kameez, on your travels? We know that you wanted to connect with your roots. But why the saree?

I grew up watching my mom wear a saree to work every single day. Subconsciously, I started associating sarees with “power and authority”. Naturally when I wanted to gain more confidence in expressing my roots, I went for the power attire ☺ It’s beauty and versatility was an additional bonus that I came to love immensely and enabled me to bring out that crazy stylist in me.

You travel extensively in a saree. Have you ever faced any challenges because of it?

Honestly, no. Whether its hiking in mountains or running to catch a train, everything is doable in a saree and our women have been doing much more in sarees for centuries. I sometimes modify the draping style to accommodate my needs for the day, for example wearing a pant saree during hikes to take those long steps! Hence there has been no instance when I felt handicapped to do something just because I was wearing a saree. 

How do you pack light for your travels, given that a saree needs a little extra?

You are right in saying that sarees need a bit more space compared to your dresses or shorts, but you will be surprised at how a little creativity can go a long way in saving up space. For instance, instead of taking separate blouse pieces, reuse your jean tops or t shirts. Also, go for lighter weaves such as the Kota Doria which is airy and feather light.

Is there a saree that is close to your heart? Why?

All the sarees that I own have been recently purchased through small handloom businesses run by women. So all of them are incredibly special, having been chosen after a great deal of thought and the satisfaction that I am doing a tiny part in sustaining our handloom industry. I am looking forward to raiding my mom’s and grandmom’s sarees this time when I go home and maybe then I will find something which is extra special. Follow my journey on Instagram to find out ☺

Tell us about your fondest memory of travel in a saree

I can never forget the look on the face of an AirBnB host in the middle of nowhere in Slovenia. We were checking in after a long day of travel and I was so tired that all I wanted to do was jump into bed. However once the door was opened, there was an instant boost of energy as the host started gushing about how beautiful I looked and that she had never seen a saree before. That excitement and happiness that she continued to share with even the other guests was super contagious and will remain one of our fondest memories of bringing joy into people’s lives.

You currently live in Liechtenstein. And we know you have largely lived abroad in the last 5 years. How did you get your hands on so many sarees?

You will be surprised (as were many others) with my answer, “Instagram”. There is a growing community of amazing sellers on Instagram who specialize in curating handloom sarees sourced straight from weavers. The quality of sarees, service level and just sheer inspiration you get from these predominantly women entrepreneurs is fantastic! You can get them shipped practically anywhere.

Have you travelled much in India? If yes, which are your favourite saree shopping spots?

My travels in India are limited to family vacations so far. This is soon going to change though, my next vacation coming up very soon is to the North east of India and Rajasthan. I am so looking forward to all the shopping, especially in textile heaven Rajasthan.

My memories of saree shopping in physical stores so far have been restricted to my wedding saree shopping. And when it comes to Kanchipuram Silk Sarees I lost my heart at Tulsi Silks, Mylapore, Chennai and purchased almost every saree for my wedding from there.

Would you have embraced the saree even if you were not a traveller?

Yes, infact my saree journey started as a weekly affair of “Friday Saree to work”! I have been wearing sarees once a week to my workplaces in Singapore, Germany and Liechtenstein – so basically wherever in the world I am on a Friday ☺ Travelling in a saree happened as I got more comfortable and confident in them and didn’t want to break my Friday saree pact even when I was on the road.  

This is for our readers, some of whom have to/choose to wear a saree every day. How is a woman in a saree perceived in another country?

A woman in a saree is seen beautiful in all parts of the world. Infact, it helped to break the ice between locals and us while travelling, which enriched our travel experience overall. I strongly believe that the barrier to wearing sarees in the current generation is largely in their mind. As long as you have the confidence and pride to carry a saree, there is nowhere in the world where you cannot wear one.

Any advice for those who also want to wear a saree more often/on trips?

Start with lighter weaves like chiffon or georgette to get comfortable in wearing and carrying yourself in a saree. But soon progress to cottons as they are the best fabric for hot weather! Don’t worry about wrinkling the sarees. Live in them and be yourself, and you will see the saree become a part of you.

Dropped your jaw yet? We know we have! To follow this extraordinary, saree-clad traveller, follow her on Instagram or read her blog here!

Image credits: Shmruthi Gowrisankar