I heart India. I seem to have an affinity with this sacred land. I attribute this largely to my Indian heritage. The seed. Though I was there as a 6-month-old baby for the first time, for a couple of months, it was as a six-year-old that I lived there with my family for one year, in Punjab, Northern India. I went to school, wore cute uniforms, ran around the village with my little friends — and enjoyed an all around delightful time. We are so incredibly sensitive at that age, little sponges, and so I absorbed so much, including reading and writing my mother-tongue, Hindi.
It was the mystic and chaos of my six-year-old experience that first captivated me. Upon moving back to Canada then, I thought to myself, “One day I will return, I don’t know how or when, but one day…”
It was not until 17 years later that I returned in my early 20s, backpacking solo from south to north over seven months, visiting ashrams, and exploring all things yogic, as I had just (re)discovered the path of yoga. Of course I did the touristy things too, like visiting the Taj Mahal, riding on an elephant in the jungle, and going on camel back across the Rajasthani desert. It seems I played out the tourist trap early on.
Lately I have devoted four of the last six winters to Indian life in India for study, devotion, community and connecting back to my roots. I am well travelled, having visited and/or lived in over 20 countries – including parts of Africa. I have engaged in a fair amount of volunteering and overseas work, which was a great way to stretch out my trip and also delve deeper into the culture – all the while making a meaningful contribution.
Yet it is India that I keep on returning to. I feel I have played out all the other places that called me, on this planet. (Well, maybe one day I will make it to Madagascar…and Kauai….and…just kidding).
India is unlike any other place on Earth. The deep sense of devotion there is intertwined into the very fabric of everyday living. For in India it is a Dharmic society. Every where you look there is a form of devotion unfolding – be it a baba, swami, temple, murti (sacred statue), prayer, kirtan (devotional singing), a ‘Namaste,’ anointment on the third eye (tilak), aarti (sacred hymn), a diya lit (sacred flame), and so on. Indian life is structured around a Dharmic culture. I find this supports me greatly on my path. I meet others there who also feel this deep connection to the Mother Land, and too feel so nourished by the depth of devotion there. When you meet a traveller in India, you have an instant connection simply by choosing to be there. Most travellers are there taking a course in meditation or some form of yogic study – that is the norm’. While in the west, the general norm’ is to work, work, work – and then build the rest of one’s life around work, ie: partnership, family and other material forms like a business, house or jet skis – just fill in the blank. There’s nothing inherently wrong with western life — yet for me, it just doesn’t have the same sacred resonance and focus on simplicity.
In India there is a great sense of community among travellers, and it is a place where you attract the frequency you are on, quite easily in my experience. This supports deep connection, which can be rare in the west. It is there too, yet more rare amid the everyday, mainstream culture. And it is precisely this connection at such a great depth that forms the most nourishing soul food for me.
Here are 52 reasons why you should consider visiting sacred India too!
- You will become a more patient person for everything takes longer in India. Your meal order. The wifi. The bus trip. There are no sense of queues in this country. More like a mad scrum, everyone for themselves. It’s very hilarious to witness after coming from a place like Canada, where someone can easily give you their spot in the very straight and long line up. There is also basically no sense of customer service, professionalism, nor efficiency. Yet that is also part of India’s charm. Remember, you’re on “Indian time.” The term “patience is a virtue” is kind of like the anthem there! So make peace with India early on in your trip!
- Your sense of focus is sharpened in India. Because you must pay attention to what’s happening or you’ll be: a/ run over, b/ ripped off, c/ lost, d/ left behind, e/ feet deep in cow dung – shall I keep going on? Pay attention!
- Everything single thing is sacred there. Your right hand, the stray cow, my forehead, your feet, the 100 rupee bill, etc. If only we knew this in the west!
- The diverse range of mouth-watering cuisine in India is to die for! Whatever state you are in, the menu and tastes will deliciously change – Rajasthani, Gujarati, Keralan, Madrasi, Bengali, Punjabi – the list just goes on and on. All I got to say is YUM!
- India emanates the deepest sense of devotion you will ever encounter on the planet. With the oldest tradition in the world (Vedic), devotion is steeped in every day life. Before anything else, you are the Self (Pure Consciousness). Always have been. Always will be. Even when the material form is no more. Always have been. Always will be. This is common knowing in India. No wonder people live on the edge there, there’s nothing to lose. Right?
- Your sense of humour is ignited there, because you must have one to travel this land – otherwise it will chew you up and spit you out. Quickly. So be light-hearted and go with the flow.
- Cows are sacred and they have the right of way (always)! If you get licked by one, apparently it’s a good omen. Watch out for cow dung on the streets, it is – well, everywhere. I heard it may be auspicious to step in it, accidentally of course!
- It’s relax and go with the flow in India. Nobody is in a rush there. You will be challenged daily by noise, swerving traffic, smells, crowds, poverty, sellers, delays, lack of personal space, stepping in cow dung – you name it. Just breathe deeply and roll with it. It’s all a part of the colourful Indian experience, don’t you know?!
- India gets you out of your comfort zone. After all, they say that your life hasn’t started until you’ve left your comfort zone right?! It will challenge you, it will make you laugh, it will melt your heart. Remember, sit back and enjoy the wonderful gift before you.
- Where else will you have a stand-off with a monkey regularly?
- You will move through India on instincts, intuition – and your gut feeling. A great opportunity to go deep within yourself and listen, listen, listen.
- You will no doubt be adopted by an Indian mother!
- Any time is chai time. It is served everywhere. Everyone always has time to stop for a chai! I remember when growing up in the west, my parents always made a pot of chai around 3 or 4pm daily, and we’d stop whatever we were doing and sit and have chai together. Still happens to this day!
- Surrender or suffer. That may as well be your motto in India. Because if you fight the flow, you will be unhappy. So just let go, and let God.
- India’s entire calendar is based on the lunar cycle. As a result, a celebration, special occasion or festival is never on the same day each year. Locals are so connected to the Earth’s cycles and rhythms. Love it.
- Every spiritual occasion/festival is a public holiday, including full moon! Indians make time to celebrate. The rat race is not taken so seriously – the sacred trumps dollar bills. Yes, yes, yes.
- There’s one day of the week where everything is actually closed in most communities. A day of rest still exists there, where as in the west it’s all about the money train.
- In India devotion is currency. It is common knowledge there that money does not buy you happiness.
- Sunrise and sunsets are potent times for devotion. And there’s a day of the week devoted to every deity. For example Mondays are the day of Shiva, and Fridays are the day of Shakti.
- There’s a deity for everything: moon, sun, earth, thunder, Self, river, forest, abundance, art, education, music, etc. – you name it! So get out your mala beads and invoke away, through a chanting practice.
- Pilgrimage is the norm’ for Indians. Families will take time out to travel or trek to a sacred site or temple on the weekends and during holidays and vacation time. Yatra (pilgrimage) season is April – September. It is what people do ‘for fun.’ Devotion, devotion, devotion – LOVE IT.
- A great sense of hospitality is ingrained in the culture. You will always be offered a drink (chai typically) and something to eat upon arrival at someone’s home. It’s what we do! (This is so conditioned in me, that it is my common practice in the west. So if you want chai or something tasty, come over!)
- You will meet like-minded people, and feel a great sense of community there. Instant sangha. You will always have deep and heart-full conversation with total strangers who will fast become some of your closest friends.
- As a single woman, it’s actually totally acceptable to be a Brahmacharini or sannyasi. So as a woman, it deflects the constant questioning of “Are you married?” and “Why aren’t you married?” (Or the scrutiny of someone always checking your ring finger.) By rolling with brahmacharini or sannyasi, you will get a “Oh! Very good!” instead of looks of disapproval and relentless questions. Some men will think you have been waiting for them your whole life. Sounds funny, but it gets old. Fast. The true sense of sannyasi actually refers to that who has given up attachment. This does not mean the enjoyment of objects, but the need or grasping to them. Enjoy what’s in front of you. And still you enjoy when that object is not there anymore. Nothing’s changed.
- Topics of conversation are generally about practice, sadhana, the Divine, and devotion. Sweet!
- You go deep quickly. There are no formalities with fellow travellers. You connect right away, simply by each of you taking time to be in the Mother Land, to live a life of devotion.
- You have ample time to focus on study. Not having to devote so much of your week to making a living leaves plenty of time to study all those topics you have been drawn to. It’s the norm’ here. Everyone is studying some aspect of yoga/non-dual wisdom/meditation/devotion, etc. This makes for great conversations over tasty chai.
- You get to practice Hindi. If you’re going to be in India for a few months, take some time to learn a few common lines. It’s a great way to connect with the locals, and they are so happy when you do. They will respect you greatly for simply saying “Namaste, aap kaseh ho?” (Translation: Hi, how are you?) And their whole face will just light up! Very nice.
- Your currency goes a long way there. Once you buy your air ticket, the cost of living is pretty inexpensive compared to the west. If you stick to trains and buses and eat thalis, your rupees will stretch out even more.
- Intimate discussion happens pretty quickly. For instance, bowel movements will be a regular topic of conversation. Get use to it!
- You will bargain for most things. And then when you get back to the west you will say to the clerk, “what do you mean this is $15?! I’m only paying $10!” And she/he will look at you like you’re crazy. It is comical. Remember #6 above!
- As solo western women travellers, you will often empower local women there by simply appearing as a strong, independent woman travelling alone. Yes, yes, yes.
- You will live simply. Cold water, hand-washing your clothes, and choosing the one brand of whatever at the store, because well, there’s only one. You are living close to the Earth in a very simple form, and as they say, simple is beautiful.
- You don’t take anything for granted. There are many people with very little, so you cultivate an appreciation very quickly for the simple things in life. What we consider necessities in the west, are most often luxuries in the developing world.
- You appreciate what you have. Food, clothing, and shelter is living rich. Only if we knew this in the west!
- You won’t waste. Anything. You will see many people with very little so why would you waste anything? Ever. You just don’t. Instead you save, reuse, recycle, and refuse what’s unnecessary. Every time. Your footprint becomes lighter.
- Sunshine and lots of it! Sept. – Oct. is ideal for northern travel; Nov. – Feb. in the south; and Mar. – Jun. back to the north. The west’s summer months are filled with a humid monsoon that you probably want to avoid, unless you get up real high like Ladakh (highest vehicle pass in the world!).
- The Himalayas! Mind-blowing, picturesque peaks! Largest mountain range on the planet! Rooftop of the world! Need I say more? If you love mountains, you will be in a state of high bliss here. Constantly.
- Sacred Ganges River. India’s mother river spans 2,500km across northern India, blessing and purifying all that she touches along the way. The high purification element of this river is scientifically proven! (I mean, if you need proof.) Very refreshing for a dip too! If the heat starts to get to you, just hop into the river. It’s glacial quality will wake you up. Instantly. But be careful not to get a charlie horse from the sudden contrast in temperature! (That’s what happened to me, and I barely made it back to shore.) The holy Ganges is known as India’s life blood.
- It’s a place to practice discipline in order to stay healthy and safe. For more on this see How to Avoid Delhi Belly in India & Other Useful Health Tips + Be A Solo Woman Traveller in India, It’s Ok.
- There is a huge scale of diversity that you will be exposed to in terms of landscapes (desert, mountains, country, beaches, forest, urban, village, slums, etc.), languages (over 200 dialects), cultures, and cuisine – depending on which region you are in. Travelling in India is like travelling in a mini-world!
- Railway travel is a blast. The singing, easily developed camaraderie, conversations with locals, amazing scenery, and sense of train community is so very wonderful.
- There is an abundance of fresh fruits like mangoes, pomegranate and pineapple! Things that cost a lot in the west are plentiful and inexpensive. A whole lot of juicy yumminess to be had!
- I get to play the Indian, the Canadian or the Indo-Canadian, depending on the situation. It can be very comical (for me) at times. You can play too if you can pass for Indian. This doesn’t necessarily mean you must have Indian roots. I have friends who are Persian, Italian, Brazilian and First Nations that often get mistaken for Indian in India.
- If you get the chance to play along (see above), then you will most often receive the comment/question: “You looks like Indian?” (“But you don’t act like one, lol.”) Remember your sense of humour!
- Shopping! It’s a great way to support the local economy and add a few exotic, colourful pieces to your wardrobe. There are a lot of Asian fusion options too. And well, it’s just fun!
- Indian sweets are delicious. Just stay away from street stall jalebis! (The deep-fried, sticky/syrupy orange pretzel-shaped sweets. Why? Because they are deep-fried, and you should avoid deep-fried foods. Always. See How to Avoid Delhi Belly in India & Other Useful Health Tips for more on this.
- You don’t have to cook. Delectable meals are inexpensive and readily available everywhere.
- You can always find someone to help you, even if they don’t know the answer, they will still be happy to try and help. Sometimes they want to help you so much, that they don’t necessarily give you the correct answer! Pay attention and review #11 above!
- Animated street life! India’s streets are alive and vibrant, and ALL of your senses will be busy taking it all in. Sometimes your senses will feel overloaded. When this happens, see #8 above.
- There is a festival pretty much every month. You will have plenty of opportunity to dance in the streets, stream colour everywhere, light diyas (clay lamps), chant hymns in the temple, view an array of fire works, listen to drums, hang out with beautifully decorated cows, the list just goes on and on.
- Yoga. They don’t call it the world capital of yoga for nothing. India is where yoga was birthed. Here if you take time to do your research well, and talk to plenty of friends and travellers for referrals, you will experience the most authentic yoga of your life. What an amazing opportunity!
(Cover Photo: Me on top of the sacred Arunachala mountain in Tiruvannamalai, South India. Elevation: 2,671ft. Arunachala is a fire incarnaton of Shiva.)