During my college years in Vermont I took a hiatus and spent 4 months in India, living in the bustling city of Pune. I chose India for a challenge, for an experience and because I saw it as an investment in my yoga practice. I thought that India would lend itself to me, to a spiritual experience.
In my pre-departure vision I was happy, thin and beautiful. Etherial, like the Indian women whose long dark hair fell down their backs. Instead, India kicked my ass. In a really good way. My skin broke out, I gained weight and the yoga I found there challenged everything I had come to believe was yoga.
When my academic program ended in April friends and I ventured up North into the Himalayas. Leaving the 90 degree heat and 90 % humidity of Pune, it was hard to conceive of the cold the mountains held for us. My boyfriend at the time flew over from Vermont to join us on our trek. He was the most prepared by a long-haul and he probably fared better for it.
Tobias and I spent our weeks in Uttarakhand at an Eco-Lodge up north of Uttarkashi. The owner of the lodge an Indian man name Anil took a strong liking to Tobias and on one particularly late night he offered to drive us up to Gangotri, the mouth of the Ganga, the holy Ganges. We had been contemplating a trek that started from this little town and delivered you deep into the mountains. Anil would even do the hike with us.
The next day we piled into his old white truck. Anil, Tobias, my friend Alex who had wandered down from a village he was doing some anthropological “hanging out” in. The windy mountain road that took us to Gangotri was exhilarating (read: terrifying). Not long into the drive we hit traffic, and then we stopped moving. The roads were packed, bumper to bumper, cars, buses and Sadhus all sharing the one lane.
We had picked the most popular week of the year to visit Gangotri; it was opening weekend of the pilgrimage seasons. Hindus from all over the county (the HUGE country) were traveling to the Ganga to bathe themselves, to seek purification and salvation in the cold rapids.
The drive that could have taken 2 hours took us 10. Anil’s regret was visible on his face. At long last, we arrived to a bustling little town. Families, wanderers, women in saris all pushing and shoving, making the way to their hotels, hostels or small space of sidewalk.
We woke at dawn to start our hike. In the cold, crisp morning women were already submerging themselves in the frigid waters.
I remember standing on the balcony wrapped in every layer I had packed: a button down shirt of Tobias’s, the Patagonia fleece my dad had sent along from Vermont, a wool hat and a cotton scarf.
I felt so envious of these women. That they had something that pulled them from their villages to this very distant and remote part of the world, to worship and pray. To connect to the Gods and themselves. I remember a sadness seeping in as I thought to myself “is there anything in this world that is as important to me as religion is to these women?”
And then the simplicity of it all hit me. I had flown across the world. I had driven the same roads. I was cold and tired and yet I had hauled myself here. But for us it was different. We were seeking the salvation of the mountains. The beauty and wisdom and humility that jagged peaks offer. The reverence, respect and contemplation they demand. Magic and god live in mountains and that is my religion. It was one of those quick and undeniable realizations. The one that took root in my heart and has propelled me forward, bringing me west and deep into the mountains.
Special thanks to Alexander Tobias Green for enduring endless whining, and also, editing.