From the moment my feet touched the ground it felt like home. I stepped right into the rhythm on the streets of India. I loved the fast paced walking through the markets and the smell of perfume or spices or incense wafting through the air. I still smell that sometimes when I’m in nature. The merchants shouted Namaste to us when they saw our white faces. They wanted to get our attention because they assumed we had money.
I had brought $2000 with me on my first trip to India which would last me for three months. I planned to stay in ashrams, to sing and pray my way through India. There is a saying in India, make your plans and then when you get there throw them away, and I did. I allowed the sweet energy, mantras and incense carry me where I needed to be. And I met wonderful people from around the world. I finally had a sense of what spiritual freedom felt like. It wasn’t for anyone but me. I had gone there to become liberated, but soon realized that what I was seeking was within me.
After traveling for two weeks with a couple of friends of one of my students from back home I took off on my own. I made it to the train station with my ticket and boarded the train. An Indian family invited me into their circle. No one spoke English except for the father who was traveling with his wife and young children. But they all knew what was happening. They were so kind to me and gave me the top bunk to rest in and told me to lock my backpack up to the side of the bed. They shared snacks with me and kept me safe.
In the middle of the night the train stopped and all got off. They had told me about a place I could stay and offered me a ride there. When we arrived they took me in and introduced me to the owner who showed me to my room. I had finally made it to Shiva land. I was in Haridwar.
The next day I was off exploring this new city that I had read about. The owner introduced me to some people, Indians who were visiting from America who were also planning to attend the International Yoga Festival coming up in two weeks in Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world. We were fast friends and they invited me to join them as they toured some local schools where we peeked in on some very well behaved children in their classrooms. The couple were also there to investigate some property that was for sale here in their home land. They invited me to meet their Guru and took me to his temple. I was blown away by his story. Swami Amlanand was his name.
Whenever you turned on the TV in India you would most likely see commercials for the Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and his inherited ashram. This was one of the largest ashrams in Haridwar and this is where Swami Amlanand used to live before starting his own. When his guru died a few years back he left everything to Swami Amlanand. But he refused. He told his students he did not want to be famous, he just wanted to help people be free. His humility and soft guidance was exactly what I needed. He had taken up residency down the street from his gurus ashram in a small unassuming temple.
When we met he could see that I needed to rest and advised me to stay in his ashram for a week of R & R, massages, yoga and dissertations. My belly needed to heal. He offered me private yoga classes, oil massages and sent me to his Ayurvedic doctor for remedies. I was told to take these disgusting tasting herbs daily that I could hardly get down. He said my body was stressed from the last 2 months of traveling throughout India. A few days later it was Holi Day. I had read about it in my travel book and was excited to experience the festival of colors. But Swami said no. He said it wasn’t safe for me to go out alone. But eventually he agreed as long as one of the boys from the ashram escorted me. We were showered in colorful paints on the streets in celebration and came back with happy faces. He even allowed me to put some colors on him.
I had gotten a belly button ring in Florida a few years earlier when I was in college. When he saw it he told me it was bad for my energy field. During my next massaged he saw that it was gone. I told him I had thrown it into into the Mata Ganga, the holy river, the day before. He was pleasantly surprised I had taken his advice. I stayed there for two weeks and felt grounded when I left. The nice couple and I traveled to Rishikesh by car together after saying goodbye to our Guru and our ashram family. We were off to the International Yoga Festival.