Reflections of India: Lessons in Balance by Emily Ostos

 

When asked to write about my experiences traveling around India, I found myself initially torn. Do I write a shiny, sugarcoated yogi blog about a Nag Champa scented journey to the Motherland of Yoga? Or should I be brutally honest and open, concerning all aspects of my trip? Having been an experienced backpacker, I’d thought my travels in Central and South America would’ve prepared me for travel in India... I was wrong. 

To begin to understand the subcontinent, one should be prepared to experience extremes. I saw awe inspiring beautiful mountains and forests. Alongside soul-crushing despair and harrowing poverty. Intense smells filled the streets: mouth-watering samosas, moped fumes, incense (there’s your Nag,) feces of various species, and the burning plastics of frequent trash fires. My nose bled after 3 days in Delhi.

Being a foodie, I was not at all disappointed with what India had to offer in the culinary sense. Dosas, a fermented and often stuffed, savory pancake-y delight became a quick favorite. Idli, steamed, fermented cakes of rice and black lentils, dipped in delicious curries and chutneys, were a close second. And, of course, no trip to India is complete without getting violently ill AT LEAST once. Or my case several times, including the duration of the 18 hour flight home.

I was lucky enough to attend a Ganga Aarti in Haridwar, where thousands of people lined the banks of the river for a Puja, fire ceremony, while beautiful Sanskrit chants reverberated through the crowd. The devotion of the participants was unparalleled. Words cannot adequately capture the power of this experience. Sending my offering, a small burning flower barge, down the Ganga, I felt deeply connected to every soul there. 

My 29th birthday was spent in Rishikesh, a yogi mecca and home of the “Beatles Ashram.” This was also my first day as a Certified Yoga Instructor; we’d all just finished the teacher training and were buzzing with excitement. My year of Saturn Return - astrologically speaking, the time when one’s true path takes focus - couldn’t have found a better starting point.  I knew I had found my calling; a life in bodywork began.

Throughout my travels, I met compassionate, generous Indians who offered food, directions, and betel nut (spoiler: don’t try betel nut. It’s awful.) This kindness was equally met with people trying to scam and groping hands in packed crowds. Polarizing. But where better of a place to find balance within the extremes? Amidst the chaos? I would love to return one day. I’ve heard one needs 2-5 years to recover/be ready to go back. I am incredibly grateful to have studied in and traveled around India. However, after the intensity of my experience, personally, I’d have to agree. Until then, I’ll visit “the Motherland” through various works of art I’ve created over the years. Like the Ganga River, the inspiration has continued to flow. India sticks with you. 

Hilary Buckwalter Kesti