Aboard the auto-rickshaw with its antiquated meter clanging clumsily against the bar handles, I breathe in the heavy air of dawn. I am on my way to an ashram in Mathura, where Hindu god Krishna is believed to have spent his childhood, to embark on a spiritual journey and inner discovery.
The driver drops me in front of a white marbled temple and points out to the direction of the morning’s gathering. I cover my face with a shawl enough to lessen the hostility of the biting cold yet still sheer to witness a mystical image of great devotion from a distance. The fog highlights the silhouettes of bowed heads in a blanket of colors and the religious chanting echoes a faith rooted in the distant past yet prophesizes a hopeful future. They are the followers of Guru Maharaj Satsang leading the path of soul upliftment through rightful and clean living. I creep into the crowd, cross my legs as I sit on the ground wet from the morning dew, and slowly drown in the silence of their meditation.
The gathering lasts for two hours and people scurry back to their daily tasks. A middle-aged lady with her hair in a neat bun resumes sewing a quilted blanket while a young boy beside her winds a spool of yarn larger than his fragile hands. The men take their shovels and milk cans to the dairy along with the women balancing on their heads woven baskets filled of hay. The girls wrapped with woolen blankets are chatting while thinly rolling rotis out of wheat dough. I am lost in the quick transition of activities until an old lady with the kindest eyes greets me, “jai guru dev,” hailing the holiness of the guru. “Welcome. I hope you will feel at home here.” Indeed, I feel that this ashram is never a stranger to me and India is nowhere far from home.
Beyond spiritual recollection, my short stay in the ashram reminds me that profound happiness resides in simplicity. Tearing every roti with my bare hands, walking along the dusty path before sunrise, and welcoming the purple skies with prayer, I feel closer to this land where culture must extend its definition.
India has so much to offer more than its facades of quaint structures, its idyllic landscapes, and its popular epics. As I trace the bricked roads of Agra, sit inside the crowded metro in New Delhi, and sip a cup of hot chai in a bustling café in Mumbai, I freely plunge into the abyss of everyday India and disappear deep in the weathered faces of its people, behind the vibrant colors of their saris and kurtas, beyond the grandiose architectures, and in the meals I share with the earth generously tended by seasons.*
*This is a contest entry for the worldnomads travel writing scholarship. Yesterday, the winner was announced who will get an all-expense paid assignment to Istanbul and a chance to get published in Rough Guides. Istanbul is one of my dream destinations that’s why I joined. I didn’t bag the prize (congratulations to the well-deserved winner) but the pursuit of Istanbul doesn’t end here.
A few of the photos I took while staying at the Jai Guru Dev Ashram in Mathura.