"I will give you a boat to cross the river, but you must leave at the other side and continue on." ~ Buddhist teaching
If two weeks ago you had told me I would be backpacking alone into a busy town in India, riding on the back of a motorcycle, and sipping whiskey on a mountain ridge with a few guys I barely knew, I might have entertained the idea for a moment...
Not one week before I departed Mumbai on this six-day adventure, both my flights to and from Dharmasala had been cancelled. On top of that, my cell phone was not making or receiving calls, and I found out that my debit card information was stolen just hours after I left the States.
For a while I pondered whether this inconvenience was a sign or simply a coincidence. But something magical happens when we allow ourselves to cry uncontrollably in a foreign country and find consolation among family, old and new. When we express our vulnerability, we end up remembering that we are never alone, and that our strength is actually greater than our weakness.
Within a matter of days I had rebooked all my flights and was on my way to a charming hostel situated in the foothills of the Himalayas.
I spent that first morning waking up in my private room in Himachal Pradesh sipping a heartwarming chai and jamming out on guitar, harmonium and vocals with some new friends at the hostel.
Around a lazy 11a.m. my new friend Lalit and I decided to trek into town before he had to catch a bus back to get back to work as an advertising agent in Delhi. We ended up spending the entire day together eating street food, marveling at the snowfall, and discovering some of Himachal’s coolest spots.
As we sat overlooking the snow-capped mountains, Lalit asked me what I thought the hawks circling above were thinking. We concluded, “silly humans.” After a promised astrology reading he was on his way to the bus, and I found myself — truly alone in India — for the first time.
Meandering through this Tibetan-exile town, you pass monks talking on smartphones, Muslims, Hindus, foreigners, women and men holding hands, women walking alone, motorbikes zipping through town, rickshaws, taxis, babies, cows, oxen, donkeys, and dogs with adaptogenic plush fur coats to shield them from the harsh winters.
Before this trip I was terrified of traveling alone, until I had the opportunity to sip green tea with a total stranger from Ireland, have a conversation with a Michelin-star chef from Tibet, enjoy “aloo tiki” (fried cheese snack) with a 19-year old backpacker from Sweden, and share a smile with a young man from Kashmir. As I became more and more comfortable I found myself hoping to get lost just so that I could ask a stranger for directions.
The next day my plan was to rest and take in all I had experienced the day prior, until a couple new friends, Bilal and Philip, invited me on a morning hike. As I sat with my new brothers eating Maggi (Indian ramen noodles) and discussing religion, culture and ethics at the top of a majestic mountain top, I was convinced the the three of us had spent a past life together by how quickly we clicked.
Meanwhile, at the hostel, we hadn't had hot water due to a snowstorm the week prior. I hadn’t had a proper shower in four days, and when the hostel manager, Ajay, offered to take me back with him on his motorbike into Dharmashala for a shower at his home, I was secretly more excited for the thrill of riding down the edgy and winding roads than I was to smell good again.
Once we arrived at Ajay’s home, I was greeted by his entire family with open arms who barely spoke my language, treated to a traditional Indian meal of roti and dal, and provided the best shower of my life. In India, guests are seen as gods themselves, but by the time I left I wondered who the real gods were.
With only one day to go before I move onto study Ayurveda in southern India, I find myself trying to process all of the lifelong friendships and lessons, knowing it may take a lifetime to soak in everything this experience has brought me.
When we feel the fear and do it anyway, not only do we end up meeting souls who help to break down barriers within our own hearts, we help to break down stereotypes that keep us living in the constructs of our own minds.
The cancelled flights were merely signals that the universe had seen my strength and wanted to up the anti. If the going is rough in your life, it’s not because god is a mean kid with a magnifying glass on an ant hill. It’s because Spirit knows your potential and wants to blow your mind.
The question is, will you let it?