Pleasure is often spoiled by describing it. ~ Stendahl
I’ve been away for three glorious weeks in India and I sit here at my computer searching for the perfect words to begin sharing. It wasn’t my first trip, I’ve written about my pilgrimage in 2010 and even shared my chai recipe in Ritual Vs. Habit on this blog. I’ve loved that Stendahl quote for years, but I think there’s more to it. Experiences trump words and pictures nearly every single time, right? Nothing I could write could possibly capture the nectar of what India has to offer, but in sharing, experiences widen. The pleasure multiplies. The memories come to life again and reignite the spark in me - the traveler, as well as hopefully inspire you - the reader. Thank you for holding space for me while I was away. Thank you for welcoming my words back into your lives. I’m incredibly excited for these next few blog entries unfolding my India trip for all of you. Now, how to put into words something so sacred...
India is mystical. It is a mirror, a teacher, and it should have its own personal ride in Disneyland. Every sense is bombarded. The smell of street food, sandalwood incense, massive amounts of garbage, as well as rose and marigold flower garlands being offered to the deities. The taste of curry, chai, and piping hot rotis. Hearing drums and chants calling out from the temples and the constant beeping of horns. Seeing not just automobile and people traffic, but monkeys, water buffalo, cows, stray dogs, wild pigs, and sometimes camels and elephants all competing for real estate on the streets and sidewalks. The rainbow colors of the incredible sarees the women wear, the vivid technicolor of shrines and the pink and orange sunsets - it is truly a visual feast. The sense of touch in India is a bonus because you feel the cool temple floors with your bare feet and the touch of your own hands coming together in front of your chest to greet people with a Namaskar/Namaste. India cracks you open and you feel with your heart more gratitude, compassion, and love than you ever thought possible. All five senses are engaged and turned up to the highest setting. Divinity rushes in.
I’ve been to some incredibly sacred and holy places in the world - the Vatican in Italy, inside the old walls of Jerusalem, in some of the most famous mosques in Turkey and I’ve bathed my feet in the River Jordan. Now I can add taking multiple baths in the Ganges River and walking barefoot in the dust that Krishna walked upon during his lifetime to that list. But I keep learning as I journey to these spiritual settings that what is sacred and holy has nothing to do with these places. Like my senses, that are part of me, inside me - so is that divinity and I have access to it all the time. Whatever we believe in, whomever we honor and worship, whatever our spiritual practice - are we doing it well? Are we doing it whole heartedly? Are we fully engaged and turned up to the highest setting? The rivers, the temples, cathedrals, and sacred streets don’t need to be found on some map, read about in books, or even visited in this lifetime to define our spiritual life. Our spiritual life is in our daily actions, in our home, our communities and local places of worship, but most of all it’s in our heart. Travel is a luxury. It’s gravy. It amplifies what already exists.
And on to gravy...a friend and I were guests of Dhanurdhara Swami (much more on him next week) for some independent study in Vrindavan, the hometown of Krishna. We were included in a sponsored prasadam lunch in the home/restaurant of a chef friend Gopal K Agarwal. It was such a treat to be in Gopal’s home, meet his family, tour his kitchen and eat his delicious offerings. Prasadam is the religious offering of food to the deities and then eaten by the devotees. I loved seeing the pots of food carried from the kitchen, offered at the altar and then so generously heaped onto our plates. This meal was extra special because it was gifted to us in memory of someone who had passed. Serving Vaishnavas (devotees of Vishnu and his incarnations, most popularly Rama and Krishna) on birthdays and funerals is believed to create a spiritual benefit for the celebrated or departed with the donation.
Gopal expertly served us chickpea daal, rice, homemade curd (yoghurt), cauliflower, potato, and pea subji, pakoras, poori bread with homemade ketchup and tamarind dipping sauce, fresh jilabi and a unique cabbage salad. The salad was my absolute favorite and I’ve made up my own recipe inspired by Gopal’s list of ingredients.
Gopal Raj’s Cabbage Salad
- 4 cups shredded green cabbage
- 1/4 cup sliced carrots
- 1/4 cup finely diced apple
- 1/4 cup diced cucumber
- 1/4 cup diced tomato
- 1/4 finely chopped cilantro
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Combine the dressing ingredients in a bottle with a lid that can be secured, shake vigorously until well mixed. Combine the salad ingredients into a large bowl and toss with dressing.