Charlie: Linda and I recently returned from a three-week trip in India. Of course, it’s impossible to see all or even much of this extraordinary country in three weeks, but we did manage to not only see a significant portion of India and its people, but we were able to get off of the tourist track and experience the land, the people, religious and cultural sites and many of the creatures that inhabit the streets, countryside, and waterways of the country. Along with the omnipresent sacred cows that rule Indian roads, we observed goats, stray dogs, monkeys, elephants, and camels wandering the city streets.

When we told our friends that we were giving ourselves the gift of a trip to India, we got one of three responses. The first response was: “India?? Why would you want to go there?”  Another was: “India!! Oh, I’ve always wanted to go there.” Or: “Oh, India! I’ve been there. It’s such a magical place! You’re so lucky to be going there!”

I had been to India once previously in 1994, and had been looking forward to another trip ever since. On that trip I spent two months on an assignment working for the World Health Organization in Bangladesh during which I had the amazingly good fortune to have a personal private meeting with Mother Teresa whom I unexpectedly met in Kolkata (Calcutta). My surprising encounter with Mother Teresa was an example of one of the magical experiences that are said to often occur in India. I have tended to be somewhat skeptical about the nature of these occurrences but I’ve experienced enough “coincidences” that I’ve become skeptical of my skepticism.

This was Linda’s first trip to India and one that she too had been looking forward to for a long time. When we landed in Delhi, after being in transit for over twenty-four hours, we were both deeply relieved to be on solid ground, albeit half way around the world from where we had started.

Over the past few years Linda and I have been taking advantage of our post child-rearing years by indulging a passion that we had both had but rarely fulfilled for most of our lives. That is, the desire to travel internationally, particularly to cultures very different from that into which we were both born, in the USA. We’ve been fortunate to be able to have brought many groups to many exotic places and travel and learn together through group work and immersion in various cultures in places including (but not limited to) Bhutan, Peru, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, New Zealand, Bali, Japan, and China, to name a few. In our trip to India we learned and confirmed once again that while there are significant cultural, social, and religious differences between countries and even within countries, that these differences often obscure some fundamental similarities that all peoples throughout the world share. For example there are 1652 languages spoken in India, 150 of which have a sizable speaking population. There are nine officially recognized religions, with 80% of the population practicing Hinduism. Yet despite these differences there is much common ground in regard to underlying feelings, desires, needs, hopes, and emotional experience.

On our trip we were able to see how despite the cultural and religious differences of the 1.3 billion people living in India, there was a remarkable ability live in very close proximity to others who held very different beliefs and come from very different traditions, with acceptance and respect. Of course there are exceptions and religious tensions do exist in some places to a greater degree than in others, but there seems to be a relatively high tolerance for the different perspectives that one might expect in a country with so many people. We got to visit and participate in services in several different religious temples and places of worship, including Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh. While in the city of Jaipur we attended a Sikh temple service after which a meal was provided, prepared and served by volunteers. This service is offered to all who attend regardless of anyone’s religious belief. Volunteers clean up after the meal with all food provided by donations. What is truly amazing about these events is that they occur seven days a week and there are 10,000 meals served every day! Except for Sunday 25,000 meals are served!

Later on that day we took a walk through a desperately poor part of the city where tourists rarely go and thanks to the language skills of our amazing guide, got to speak with many of the residents and engage with the children who were at first shy and suspicious of us, but very quickly became friends with whom we shared some universal, international games of play like football (soccer to us Americans), tag, chase the monkey (in this case ‘me’), and check out your picture in the camera. While we had expected to see miserable, unhappy and malnourished children in this impoverished urban village, these kids had sparkly eyes and seemed healthy, vibrant and happy. This is not to sentimentalize of idealize poverty, but rather to understand that one can be physically or financially impoverished but wealthy in spirit if there is love and community connections in one’s life.

We also got to visit a rural village and shared a lunch with several of the residents. We provided the vegetables which were obtained at a local market. Our group purchased enough vegetables for about 15 of us for just under $2.50. The villagers provided the rice.

Another destination that we visited was the town of Khajuraho where we visited Hindu temples dating back to 900 AD many of which having been protected from marauding invaders were still in remarkably good condition and decorated with carvings of couples featured in the Hindu book of love, the Kama Sutra, which is not only a sex manual which illustrates a wide variety of sexual positions, but is also a guide to virtuous and gracious living that discusses the nature of love, family life, and other aspects pertaining to pleasure-oriented faculties of human life. Most of the Kama Sutra focuses on what triggers desire, what sustains it.

We also had lunch in a cafe in Agra, named Sheroes Hangout, located just a few blocks from the Taj Mahal that was managed and staffed by women who had been victims of acid attacks which had left them disfigured and wounded in body and soul. While I had some trepidation about seeing and meeting the women who had survived these horrific attacks, I left the restaurant feeling inspired and profoundly moved by the depth of their courage and their commitment to demand that the government provide greater safety and justice for the many women who have been victimized by these attacks. If you are interested in finding out more about their organization, check out their website, www.stopacidattacks.

Perhaps most notable about our experience in India was the kindness and generosity of the Indian people themselves many of whom not only believe in the karmic principle that what goes around comes around, but they embody that understanding in their lives on a daily, ongoing basis. In being in the presence of such beings it is difficult to return to self-centered ways. My time in India has affected me deeply and it is my hope that it will continue to do so.

If you find yourself touched by a dose of travel fever in reading this, consider joining us for our next travel adventure in which we will bring a small group of twelve to Ireland in this coming September from the 8thto the 17th. We still have four openings in it but it will probably fill soon. For more details or to reserve a place, call our office at 831.421.9822.