India - A Change For Life
My trip to India in May 2016 had been 20 years in the making. Ever since beginning my yoga journey in 1996, Mother India had been calling to me – through books, pictures, teachers, workshops, asana practice, meditation, and pranayama. I devoured every book I could find about this beautiful country and only visualized in my mind’s eye what it must be like to visit there. We all have those little gremlins in our heads that tell us it’s either not the right time, or it’s not financially feasible, or even that we don’t deserve to fulfill a dream. When my friend Chris Lane presented this trip to me, something inside me made an immediate executive decision – it’s now or never.
As I prepared for the trip, it still seemed surreal. I knew it was not going to be easy, as I had decided it was to be a spiritual pilgrimage and not a tourist trip. My best friend Lori Gunn presented me with a beautiful journal into which my experiences would be chronicled. I packed, re-packed, and over-packed. I laid awake at night with anticipation. Even though I vowed to go with no expectations, and with an open heart and mind, I played out scenes in my mind over and over about how I thought it was going to be. Finally the day arrived, and I met my travel companions Chris Lane and Danielle Wheeler at the airport. As we prepared for the 24 hour flight, we were giddy with excitement. We arrived in Mumbai still anxious and ready, but a bit tired. We stayed in Mumbai for a day to rest before traveling north to Indore, where we would join the rest of our group. We were met at Indore by several drivers who would take us and a group of Italians directly to Ujjain, where Kumb Mela 2016 was in progress. Kumb Mela is the largest spiritual pilgrimage in the world – an estimated 60 million people visit over the 4 week period. During the time we were in Kumb Mela, I am certain we saw at least half of that 60 million. The heat was oppressive and the conditions harsh, but we were able to take a holy dip in the Sripa River, where I was befriended by several locals who embraced me as one of their own. Back in Indore, we stayed at the Paramanand Asharam for 1 week, where we met the rest of our group –some from Slovakia, Argentina, Germany, and a handful of Americans. The heat continued to be overbearing – 113 degrees at 8 p.m. with no A/C. But immersing myself in the culture, sights, smells and sounds seemed to mitigate the continuous heat exhaustion. We left Indore May 24 to travel north to Haridwar by train. After a 24 hour train ride and 4 hour bus ride, we made it to the Paramanand Ashram in Haridwar. This ancient city is on the banks of the Ganges River, one of the holiest rivers in the world. This was where I was about to experience something that is beyond words – a holy dip in the Ganges. We arrived at her banks early in the morning – at sunrise. As I stepped into her waters, I immediately felt a connection I’ve never had – connection to everything: nature, other human beings, God. Words are inadequate to describe this feeling. I was complete. It was home. From Haridwar, we took a day trip to Rishikesh, which quickly became my favorite stop on the trip. We were welcomed by the director of one of the Sikh Ashrams there, who fed us, took us to their temple, and shared with us their lives. They are truly one of the most peaceful, loving peoples I’ve ever met. After an amazing whitewater rafting trip down the Ganges (who gets to do that????), we headed back to Haridwar, where we were able to visit some temples – one of my favorites being the Devi temple not far from the ashram. After a week in Haridwar, it was time to head to New Delhi. Again, the conditions were harsh and the travel was long and tedious; but that is India. Arrival in New Delhi provided us with the comforts of a nice hotel, western food, a real shower and A/C! The next day we traveled 4 hours to Agra to behold the magnificent Taj Mahal. Our guide took us on a private tour, and we hung out with local artisans who showed us their crafts of hand-knotted rugs and marble carving. Then it was back to the U.S. all too soon. India showed me many things, and there were too many experiences to recount in this short summary. What Mother India taught me was immense gratitude. She slowed down my pace, and brought me a spiritual experience like none other. She continues to teach me daily, even months later, because now I have a connection to her that will never be broken, and will continue in my heart forever.