"You Wanna Go Where?"

Trip Start Sep 27, 2008
Trip End Dec 02, 2008

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Flag of United States  , Colorado
Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Why India? It's the kind of question that most people ask when you tell them you're planning an unusual trip. Nobody ever asks 'why' if you tell them you're spending a week in Cancun, Trinidad or St. Thomas. Tell your acquaintances you want to spend a week or two in London, Paris, or Barcelona and you'll barely raise an eyebrow.

I work as a bartender in a nice little restaurant in Colorado Springs. A lot of my guests eat several meals a week at my bar and I've become quite good friends with many of them. They are all pretty open-minded and although all of them have traveled for work and pleasure, only a few have been far off the beaten path.

I hadn't seen Fred or Trisha for about six weeks until they came in for dinner just a few nights ago. It was good to see them and we immediately got to filling each other in on news and gossip.

"So, Chris, tell us a story," Trisha asked.

I struggled inwardly for a moment, then deciding I should tell them, leaned in conspiratorially and whispered: "Well, I just bought myself a plane ticket...to India!"

I stood there as if on stage, arms held out in a big 'TA DA!', awaiting my applause. Instead, the silence was deafening. It was as if, on cue, someone had cut the music, turned up the lights and ordered the rest of the patrons in the restaurant to suddenly observe a unanimous and religious silence.

"India?" Trisha said. Her expression of revulsion, as if the word itself was some foul and rancid thing, made me want to offer her a glass of water.

"Well, I just thought, ya know, it would be kinda cool, ya know, to, ya know, maybe go someplace like that...," I stammered. It was all I could get out.

"India?" she said again.

I tried and failed again at some semblance of eloquence. I looked to Fred for support.

"Maybe you should go to Afghanistan or Pakistan," Fred said. "They really love us there."

"India?" Trisha said one last time, her face still curled up in a horrible grimace of puzzlement and disgust.

Over the years that I've been a bartender I have discovered that conversation is an art form. Being able to effortlessly change the subject to avoid the boredom or embarrassment of your guests is just like making a brush stroke on a canvass or choosing the right cadence in a piece of poetry. Fortunately, for the three of us, I have an MFA in Changing the Subject.

I understand why Fred and Trisha may have a hard time understanding my desire to go to such a far away place. For most people, traveling around the world should entail poolside cocktails, afternoon massages and thirty-six holes of under-par golfing. There is nothing wrong with that. I imagine there aren't many people who really want to spend their hard earned time off galavanting around developing countries fending off malaria, typhoid and other charming maladies.

But India? Why India? Actually, I've been asking myself that question a lot lately. My original plan was to spend two months backpacking around Europe visiting various sacred sites like Chartres Cathedral and Assisi. I spent a month or so researching flights, travel gear and possible destinations, but when I got about ten days into my itinerary I realized that I just wasn't feeling it.

Then I read a great little quote in an on-line travel book (www.artoftravel.com). "Assuming you have the money and haven't absolutely committed yourself, the whole world is open to you."

Wow, the whole world! That got me thinking. If this trip is really going to happen, if I'm going to save all this money and commit myself to two months out of the country, then where do I really want to go? And more importantly, will I ever have the opportunity to take on a trip of this size and scope ever again?

For a few days I just let myself quiet down and started to listen to my heart. Where do I really want to go? I kept asking myself that question over and over again. It didn't take long for the answer to arise. In fact, I think I knew the answer all along.

"I want to go to India," said the voice inside my head. It was just as plain and simple and matter of fact as that. My heart overflowed with joy. India! One of the most ancient and spiritual cultures on Earth. The birthplace of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and a host of other strange and beautiful "isms". The land of the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Ganges River and five thousand year-old traditions. A place where ancient myths are still acted out in festivals on street corners in every village and city. A country where many people bow to each other as a conscious act of honoring the divinity within us all. My spiritual imagination, a thing that I thought had died many years ago, was suddenly brought back to vibrant life.

Honestly, I have more fears about this trip than I want to admit. When I went to Prague a few years ago I discovered the true meaning of the term "culture-shock". I can only imagine that India is going to be even more intense and harder to cope with. I'm worried that I'm going to have a panic attack on one of my sixteen hour train journeys. Or maybe I'll start hyperventilating in the crowded market of Puharganj in New Delhi. What if I get sick? What if I loose my passport? What if, what if, what if...?

Then I'm afraid of the questions people are going to ask me. Why are you here? Do you really know what Buddhism is all about? Why couldn't you just meditate at home?

I've got a lot to be scared of but there's something inside me that tells me everything is going to be OK. I get a little scared but then I take a few deep breaths. Then I remember that I am perfectly capable of making this journey. I have enough experience. I have enough desire. I have lots of support from family and friends.

And most importantly, I have a reason.

So why do I want to go to India? From now on I'll be guarding the answer a little more carefully, sharing it only with the people I trust. For most people the answer will be "To do something wholly different," or "Because I've always wanted to learn about Indian culture." But when I'm honest with myself the answer rings clear as a bell. For me this trip is nothing short of a spiritual pilgrimage, a quest to find that old friend, me, who I lost touch with so long ago.
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travelmonster on

Fantastic Entry
I read this entry with great interest. I've had this response many, many times - when I went to the Peruvian jungle last year most of the people I spoke to thought I was completely nuts, couldn't understand it at all. That feeling when you've done the ta da bit is awful - it draws blank looks all round. Go for it - I'm looking forward to reading about your journey.

evensong on

Re: Fantastic Entry
Thanks so much for the encouragement. Since I wrote that entry I've come to believe that all the blank stares and confused expressions are just tests of our will. They make us ask ourselves 'Why am I going on this journey?' If we can survive the scrutiny of our culture and the disapproval of (some of) our peers and still say: 'Yup, I'm going to the jungle,' then I think we have gone a long way to finding our true selves before we even head out the door.

Happy travels to you as well.

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