The journey began the moment I decided to go to India. My focus swiftly drifted from daily herbal projects to all the hurdles of receiving a visa from the consulate. I recommend giving oneself at least two months to apply for a visa, and contact me about the process because I wish I had someone guide me through it every step of the way.
One week before my flight, the visa was delayed and it did not look hopeful. So, I decided to go to NYC where the visa application center is located to move the process along. I became extremely stressed about the entire procedure and was close to canceling the trip. On my way back from the city, I caught a virus that had me in bed for 3 days. Now, I was really looking for a way out. I couldn’t imagine boarding a plane in four days half way around the world to a country where I would more likely than not, get sick again. Oy vey!
My friends told me to read the signs as a test of my dedication to this journey, not as a deterrent. If I was meant to go to India, they assured me, I would get there. They believed it would all work out and told me not to worry.
Without a visa in hand, I took a train to NYC the night before my flight so I could be at the visa center as soon as they opened the next morning. I carried my lightweight backpack with only the bare essentials for the month to the visa center and prayed that my visa would be waiting for me. If it was ready, I would be boarding a plane to Delhi in 4 hours. If not, I would be discouraged and angry about the whole ordeal. Plus, a lot of money right down the toilet.
The doorman recognized me as the anxious woman who came last week. He asked what my departure date was. I replied, “In 4 hours, my friend.” He sighed and told me to wait a moment while he checked upstairs.
While he was gone, I saw an email on my phone from the visa center. Sure enough, there was a status update on the tracking of my visa informing me that it had arrived from the consulate at the center, however it had not yet been sorted. Thirty seconds later, the doorman came running downstairs and told me it had arrived but they had to paw through 1,000 visas to find my passport and visa. Yes, they had my passport, too!
Fifteen minutes later, I check out of the office and caught a cab to the airport. I called my mom, of course, to tell her the fantastic news: I am going to India after all!
After a relaxing 14-hour flight, sensory overload became my new best friend. Coming from the quiet back roads of Western Mass where the air is pure and solitude is at my fingertips, Delhi was a shock.
My friends and I (AKA “the chooches”) rejoiced in our reunion after many months. It is a
term of endearment. We recalled stories of the past and excitement for our month of traveling together. But, in the present, my lungs could hardly get a full breadth of air. The pollution made my eyes burn and my lungs ache. How can people live here? Grief penetrated my lungs as fast as the particulate matter.
Nothing lasts too long and everything is temporary, I learned early on in the trip. In an instant we were in a taxi racing around all the other vehicles on the road. My attention shifted from my lungs to my gut, the place where I hold fear of death. I took a deep inhalation through my scarf and as I exhaled, I released all fear and expectation. Surrendering to the divine orchestration, I felt held amidst all the chaos surrounding. A small voice inside me rose again saying, “trust that you are safe and held in the arms of the universe.”
Like meditation, the entire trip for me was about trying to be present with what is happening now. Not only were the internal sensations quite uncomfortable at times, but the external could not always be relied on for relief. Among the momentary discomfort, I made a choice very early on in the trip: I chose to set my mind free, to surrender.
“It’s good to be back in India,” said Martin and Colette, who had just returned from a month in Cambodia. Their positive outlook was reassuring as I watched women with babies nestled to their breasts beg for food and money. “I never hand them money,” said Martin, “only food.” I watched as he bought coconut slices from a man and then handed them directly to the woman.
At breakfast the first morning, we called upon our ancestors and spirit guides as we embarked on a journey together. We asked for safety and guidance. We expressed our gratitude for the opportunity to come together, the three of us, in India. We opened our hearts and minds to all the possibilities.
Colette and I shared a similar vision and the mountains were calling. Through a series of circumstances including there being no trains available, we booked a flight to the province of Kashmir and Jammu for a few days of rest and recuperation. We stayed in a houseboat on a lake. Bottomless pots of Kashmiri Tea were provided along with as much rice and curried vegetables we could consume. Finally, I could rest and adapt to the 10.5 hour time change. The calming affect of sleeping on top of water was exactly what my body needed. As I dozed in and out of sleep listening to the sounds of boats paddling by, again, I felt held by something much larger than myself.