Photo: Wolf Price
I had no desire to visit India until my son asked me to go.
He was living in Nepal and ready for a fresh adventure after volunteering in Kathmandu.
I had missed out on Morocco when he asked me to go with him and a friend when we met in Spain (I had to go to Italy for the first time) so no way was I going to say no to India and a chance to let my son lead me to a brand new country.
So I jumped in with no prior knowledge of India except for seeing the movie Gandhi.
That first trip to India and Nepal changed my life, turned me upside down, and electrified my bone marrow. I was never the same again.
The photo of me above was shot right after rafting down the Ganges River in the winter; drenched with icy waves over our heads as we paddled to stay afloat.
Of course we had to volunteer for the front paddling positions in the boat which means you get the worst of the waves over your head and the rest of the passengers just get sprayed.
But I never felt so alive in my life.
My son pushed me to go.
I just wanted to read a book that day.
India blasted open my spirit, forcing me to leap way out of my comfort zone.
Photo: Bartnikowski, Dalai Lama in India
I was cold in the Himalayas, I got deathly sick, but I also ate tasty delectable food, was immersed in a multitude of religions, saw the Dalai Lama teach at his home in Dharamsala, had my eye balls seared with women’s colorful clothing, met gurus, saints, and friendly elephants!
There is nothing India doesn’t have but order.
Amritsar, India photo credit: student from Miri Piri Academy, during the class I was teaching
There aren’t any rules in India: you can have bonfires in the street with cows who want to get warm in the high ethers of the Himalayas.
People drive recklessly. Watch out crossing the street. You don’t want to get mowed down by a motorbike or attacked by a monkey.
Some monkeys are mean in India, one stole my new dress off the clothes line and I didn’t find it until 2 hours later in the dark with my flashlight.
I’ve since been to India 4 times solo. And as soon as I left that first time, I wanted to go back. I found myself in Bali which seemed awfully tame compared to jolt your eyes open India.
What made me buck up and get strong?
The fact that yes I’m deliciously free and can make all my own decisions.
This is a huge opportunity for possible risk but it was also a leap into the unknown, an adventure beckoning, a bewildering array of options, food I couldn’t identify and stumbling happily through a language I didn’t understand.
I tried to learn Hindi and the Nepali language.
“Sundar” means pretty in Nepal. And meeto-cha means this food is yummy. That’s all I learned and actually I didn’t need to know anymore on that first trip.
After traveling with my son for a month, we went solo on our own paths. And boy did my India adventure change.
Being solo is misunderstood in India.
Local people from India wonder why you’re not traveling with your in-laws, 7 children and two sets of grandparents. Really.
Many people want to help you in India, some are scammers, and some are saints. Both will approach you especially when you are solo.
Here is what I do now. I surround myself with a shield of white light and send out the message with my mind, you will not approach me unless I invite you.
Do you remember the Beatles White Album? Much of it was written in Rishikesh, where I shot the photo below.
The Beatles stayed at a now defunct ashram with Maharishi on the Ganges River while they learned meditation and wrote songs.
Rishikesh, India, Ganges River_Photo: Bartnikowski
What I did was I was lay on the marble floor of this gorgeous “ghat.” (a river side temple, dock, or bathing spot)
The nightly puja was happening.
My tripod was only 6 inches high, one of those tiny jobs that don’t extend, but even though a policeman’s foot was inches from my head, I got this shot from a unique angle.
My body commanded me to capture it.
That’s the real secret of how I get the money shots. My body tells me to shoot and I listen.
So this was our happy hour of prayers, offerings, songs, and chanting.
Puja persuaded me to stop drinking wine when I hadn’t decided to give it up.
But Rishikesh is a holy town in the foothills of the Himalayas; you can’t get booze there.
I was not going to get on the boat, cross the Ganges, and go into town to purchase low grade wine or spirits.
I had spirits at the puja so instead of a cocktail I joined the young Hindu priests, the head swami, and countless tourists from India and worldwide.
I was in heaven.
Afterwards we would meet with Swami for a blessing (darshan) then I’d walk back to my room at the ashram, or go hook up with Skype, being careful not to step in the cow flops along the path.
Yes India has the internet. And this was in 2006.
But India is the mothership. All roads lead to her.
You don’t have to go to the Himalayas to turn your world upside down pineapple cake but it was just what I needed after living in Palo Alto, California, the epicenter of Silicon Valley for 29 years, not knowing that outside this comfortable bubble of technology, splendor, and genius, there was a world named India that whispered to me, Just Do It.
So I did and I thank my son for inspiring me to do it.
I took 3 months off from life in Palo Alto, turned down work, closed my apartment door, paid the rent which was significant, and set out for India, Nepal, and lastly, Bali.
If you ever hear the call to go to India, do it. Your life will never be the same.
Wolf, my son, and me.
Mary Bartnikowski is an author of 4 books, award-winning photographer in Palo Alto, Hawaii, and worldwide for 29 years.
She has led programs at Apple, Stanford, Intel, and globally.
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